Down Your Alley: Appletree Yard

After seemingly having to spend an age trying to remove a virus from CabbieBlog’s website, today it is the turn of focussing on a virus of a different and more deadly nature which once stalked London’s streets.

Walk down the west side of Lower Regent Street and turn right into Jermyn Street. In about 180 yards turn left into Duke of York Street, you will find Appletree Yard on the left.

[T]ODAY WE might approach Appletree Yard with a degree of wary reservation, but until the late 17th century it would have been a gracious honour to be invited to stroll around these grounds.

The story of St James’s began in the 11th century, or as John Stow preferred to put it ‘before the time of any man’s memory’.

It all started with a lonely hospital lying in the fields west of Edward I memorial to his deceased queen (Charing Cross). These were the times when the risk of becoming a victim of leprosy put hysterical fear into the minds of every man and woman. So contagious was the disease that the only effective guard against infection was to keep those stricken with the illness locked up as far away from civilisation as possible.

The hospital of St James in the Fields was ideal, and in the 12th century it was transformed into a place for the confinement of ‘fourteen sisters, maidens, that were leprous, living chastely and honestly in divine service’.

In 1530, when Henry VIII was on the lookout for a base from which he could hunt in the western reaches, he seized on the idea of converting the hospital. All fourteen of the maidens were moved to another location and granted a life-long pension as Henry proceeded to demolish the buildings. Here he built himself a ‘goodly manor’ surrounded by parkland and all enclosed within a ‘wall of brick’.

The great expense to which Henry extended may have seemed at the time an unnecessary extravagance, for he only used the lodging very occasionally. Successive monarchs disregarded the manor until Mary I took a liking to the place, making it her private residence, and there she died in 1558.

During the reign of Charles II, Christopher Wren was commissioned to carry out extensive alterations which included the building of a chapel and state apartments overlooking the grounds. From that time the manor, as it was still known, was in regular use. James, Duke of York, took up residence prior to being crowned James II and when the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698 William and Mary made it their principal home. It was then designated as the official residence of the British Monarch and named St James’s Palace.

However, to return to Appletree Yard, although we have not really strayed from it. As already stated, Henry surrounded his new house with luscious greenery, the envy of all who set eyes upon it. He also laid out flower gardens, vegetable plots and, to the north, orchards of many trees. In these grounds strolled the generations of kings and queens, entertaining their guests, drinking, eating, and getting extremely merry.

Around the site of this Yard, the gardeners pruned and tended the trees that bore the apples that filled the fruit bowls of the royal houses. They continued to yield fruit until the end of the 17th century when most of this area was taken over for development and Appletree Yard was built.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary for 1688 that he did ‘steal some apples off the trees’ in the King’s garden. Some of the trees were allowed to remain during building and were still bearing fruit when the properties were first occupied. At the time of street naming, the preference for the Yard was obvious.

Lying in the shadow of St James’s church, Piccadilly – well, it would be if the office of William Hill were not shielding the view – Appletree Yard bears none of the cheerful pleasantries suggested in its name.

Rough Tarmac has replaced the green grass and where windfall apples were once abundantly strewn, cars are now parked. Wheeler’s of St James’s restaurant occupies a corner spot, offering an enticing menu of all sorts of seafood dishes . . . but woe to him who dares to call for apple pie and cream . . . ‘It’s off’.


CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

London Trivia: Ripper debut

On 25 February 1888 Annie Millwood was admitted to Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary with stabs to her legs and lower torso it was believed to be the first Ripper victim. Severn Klosowski was hanged on 7 April 1903 for the poisoning of his wife, his three other spouses had died under mysterious circumstances. Inspector John Abberline the policeman in charge of the Ripper case suspected Klosowski was also the Ripper.

On 25 February 1899 Edwin Sewell became the first to die in a car accident when the rear wheels collapsed testing a Daimler down Grove Hill, Harrow

In Wapping bodies of hanged pirates were left in the Thames for three tides to wash over them before being removed for burial

From 1808 to 1814 Hampstead Heath had a shutter telegraph chain conveying information by visual signals, using towers with pivoting shutters, connecting the Admiralty to naval ships in Great Yarmouth

Missionary David Livingstone laid in repose at 1 Savile Row, HQ of the Royal Geographical Society, now it’s the bespoke tailors Gieves and Hawkes

Thatcher used to stand on a chair in her Commons room to check the top of the door, “It’s the way you know if a room’s really been cleaned”

The fictitious station of Walford East, which features in the long-running soap opera Eastenders, is supposed to be on the District Line

Upper Street, nicknamed as Supper Street, has more bars and restaurants than any other street in the United Kingdom

Formed in 1886 Queen’s Park Rangers have moved 15 times and had 12 grounds, a record for any other London football club

The Seven Sisters Underground station is believed to have been named after a line of elm trees which stood nearby until the 1830s

In South Street, Mayfair there is a plaque to Catherine Walters known as ‘Skittles’ and described as London’s last Victorian Courtesan

The Museum of London has a whole drawer of codpieces that one embarrassed Victorian curator catalogued as ‘shoulder pads’

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Statistics 2017

Here’s the annual blogging statistics for 2017 and the goals for this year, which, incidentally will be CabbieBlog’s 10th year in cyberspace. According to research, there are over 2 million blog posts published daily (MarketingProfs), and while the average blog post takes 3 hours 16 minutes to write (OrbitMedia), having spent all that time working, the median average time spent reading an article is a mere 37 seconds (NewsCred).

[S]O, GIVEN that, I’m mighty pleased you have reached this far in what is CabbieBlog’s most self-regarding post of the year.

I have now retired after pushing my cab around London for twenty-two years. Decisions made in private by senior managers from Transport for London have reduced the once finest taxi service in the world into a profession only the desperate would now wish to enter. With a vastly reduced income combined with the 18-hour gridlock on London’s roads, I felt it was time to go.

Surprisingly many are still interested in becoming a London cabbie for at Christmas and New Year CabbieBlog always sees a spike in hits on anything I’ve written about The Knowledge. Clearly, my ‘Back of my Cab’ is not likely to be updated, nor will I be writing for the black cab company, Radio Taxis as they are now no more, swallowed up by German company Gett.

Relieved of my obligations will, in theory, give me more time to research and write posts. Anyhow enough of my ramblings, all you want to do is get on with digesting the figures from last year.

As before, with the data amassed over the last year, I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks with comparable figures for the previous year.

Blog visitors and page views
The numbers of visitors have decreased slightly and those willing to loiter around CabbieBlog have also decreased proportionately, indicating that I need to make the site more interesting. (Average hit rate per visitor: 2016 – 1.701; 2017 – 1.630).

Visitors – 33,072
Page views – 56,276

Visitors – 32,951
Page views – 53,718

CabbieBlog’s readers from abroad
Many of you might not be foreign, but simply ex-pats longing to reminisce about the good times spent sitting in the back of a London cab. The different countries whose residents have viewed CabbieBlog include Jersey and Guernsey as if they were sovereign countries and curiously the European Union with 308 visits, first it isn’t a country and therefore WordPress haven’t given it a flag. The United States leads our curious cousins with 7,727 hits and Germany follows with 927.

2016 – 133

2017 – 131

Number of comments
The yardstick of a blog must be, how many of its readers decided to metaphysically put pen to paper and comment. To all of you, a huge thank you for your encouragement or discouragement. Your comments keep me submitting posts for your perusal. Astoundingly Dave seems to be the keenest by posting a comment 2 hours 58 minutes into this New Year. The people who leave comments on blogs have changed. In CabbieBlog’s early days most of the people who left comments were also bloggers, adding to the discussion. Today most of the people who leave comments have no focused online voice, they solely want to comment on what others have written. Social media is increasingly reactive these days, and a much smaller proportion of people now write long-form posts providing the original material that everyone else comments upon. But at least what comments CabbieBlog receives are intelligent, relevant and insightful. I’m delighted, obviously.

2016 – 39

2017 – 76

Number of ‘likes’
It would appear that some of you have taken to the cyberverse to mark your approval of CabbieBlog, a huge thank you.

2016 – 2

2017 – 38

Followers of CabbieBlog
For those of you who can’t be bothered or don’t have the time, to check out my missives, you lot would have signed-up for regular e-mail updates or get a heads up from an RSS feed, Bloglovin’ or WordPress, whose simplicity allows thousands to read this blog without ever visiting it. As far as you’re concerned I’m no longer writing a continuous story, I’m generating atomised blog posts – which makes a complete mockery of attempting to count visitor numbers accurately anyway. I can’t calculate how many times you have taken the trouble to follow these notifications and read my rantings, but thanks for following CabbieBlog.

2016 – 130

2017 – 174

Posts written
This should be posts published rather than posts written, as sometimes (about once a month) a Guest Post has been uploaded.

2016– 105

2017 – 157

Most viewed and least viewed posts and pages
It has to be said that some subjects take on a life of their own while others just sit in cyberspace minding their own business. At the bottom of the table lie many posts with only one view a year, and some I suspect just sit there patiently waiting to be noticed.

Highest post
Ten Surprising Facts about the London Black Cab – 1,575
Lowest Post
A Sign of the Times – 1
Highest page
Green cab shelters – 3,997
Lowest page
National Geo – 3

Highest post
London’s top secret tower – 2,295
Lowest Post
White bikes – 1
Highest page
Green cab shelters – 4,536
Lowest page
Time Out – 12

Pages written
Once in a while, I’ll get round to writing a page that remains visible permanently and not buried below the three weekly posts. This year I’ve broken CabbieBlog’s most read page Green Cab Shelters into six digestible chunks which have obviously increased this year’s tally. Here are the number pages I’ve been bothered to write this year.

2016 – 2

2017 – 8

Number of words written
I endeavour to keep posts down to 500 words – we’re back now to the aforementioned attention span of 37 seconds – this I usually manage to achieve, unless I come over all animated about the article’s subject matter. The rise in this year’s word rate derives from now publishing an extra post every Sunday.

Words – 64,792
Characters – 375,629

Words – 71,809
Characters – 408,300

If you ignore the search engines (with Google clocking up an impressive 24,763 hits). The next highest referrers are Facebook at 603 and just behind them Twitter at 561. This year, reflecting how more engaged my colleagues are, now that the trade is being subsumed by the avalanche of private hire, Taxileaks reached the top slot. Unless CabbieBlog is mentioned in an article somewhere else that trends next year, I suspect this will continue.

Londontopia – 373
Taxileaks – 267

Taxileaks – 223
Londontopia – 157

Sitting in the back
I devote a page of CabbieBlog to my bums on seats and in the past, I’ve enjoyed the company, among others, of John Hurt and Barbara Winsor. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recognise most sportsmen, or women, so they are not so faithfully recorded – although I did once see Boris Becker in the back. This year will be the last CabbieBlog is seen on London’s roads, so my final ‘Bums on Seats’ falls to one of our most talented actors and her screenwriter husband.

Nobody of note
I’ll keep a better lookout next year

Thandie Newton (actor)
Ol Parker (writer, director, producer)

In conclusion
This post has certainly taken longer than the mean average of 3 hours 16 minutes. For me, it is, of course, the highlight of my writing year. Thank you for continuing to support CabbieBlog and for having the tenacity to reach the end of what must be the year’s most tedious post.

Going Japanese

The idea that in 1885 there was a Japanese village located in Knightsbridge, the heart of bustling Victorian colonialism, may strike many as something more akin to today’s multi-cultural London, yet, in the nascent years of Anglo-Japanese relations, a corner of Victorian London was, for two years, from January 1885 until June 1887, transformed into ‘The Japanese Native Village, erected and peopled exclusively by natives of Japan’.

[T]HE EXHIBITION was completely contained within Humphreys’ Hall, which was south of Knightsbridge and east of what is now Trevor Street, employing around 100 Japanese men and women in a setting built to resemble a traditional Japanese village.

According to advertisements placed in the Illustrated London News:

Skilled Japanese artisans and workers (male and female) will illustrate the manners, customs, and art-industries of their country, attired in their national and picturesque costumes. Magnificently decorated and illuminated Buddhist temple. Five o’clock tea in the Japanese tea-house. Japanese Musical and other Entertainments. Every-day Life as in Japan.

The result of the opening up of Japan to trade with Britain in the 1850s, an English craze for all things Japanese had built through the 1860s and 1870s, led by the British perception of Japan as a mediaeval culture.

The Japanese Village was visited by over 250,000 in its first months. Attracted principally by a massive amount of press attention, showing its replica Japanese houses populated by genuine Japanese men, women and children as well as its: “magnificently decorated and illuminated Buddhist temple”.

The Japanese Village opened only two months before Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado opened at the Savoy Theatre in March of that year.

Gilbert had begun work on the libretto of The Mikado long before that, in May 1884, and had in fact finished Act 1 two months before the Japanese Village opened. It was fortuitous, however, that at the height of Japanese mania the most popular songwriters of their day brought their work to a London stage.

The Japanese Village, however, had assisted in various aspects of the stage production. Indeed, the programme of The Mikado in 1885 actually carried an acknowledgement of the support received from the Japanese Village:

The Management desires to acknowledge the valuable assistance afforded by the Directors and Native Inhabitants of the Japanese Village, Knightsbridge.

It was this energy and intense curiosity that contributed to the founding of the Japan Society in 1891, an organization which today still enthusiastically promotes and celebrates Anglo-Japanese relations.

If you have a desire to immerse your senses in Japan, you could go along to the School of Oriental and African Studies – SOAS University – at the western corner of Russell Square. Above the Brunei Gallery, there is a small perfectly formed Japanese garden [featured], complete with raked gravel, wisteria and lemon thyme.

London Trivia: Dying for a drink

On 18 February 1478 George Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine at the Tower of London. Convicted of treason against his brother, Edward IV, and was executed by this dubious method. It was said to have been instigated by his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester. It was Dick, the last Plantagenet who on 22 August 1485 would die on Bosworth Field, presumably more sober than his late brother did.

On 18 February 1901 Winston Churchill made his maiden speech in The House of Commons, justifying the burning of Boer farms

In the 16th century, a London law forbade wife beating after 9:00pm, but only because the noise disturbed people’s sleep

The settled road surface of Charterhouse Square, laid down in the 1860s has been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage

Playwright Ben Jonson couldn’t afford normal burial in Westminster Abbey determined by plot size was buried upright standing for an eternity

During the outbreak of World War II London Zoo killed all their venomous animals in case the zoo was bombed and the animals escaped

The Travellers Club in Pall Mall is the fictional start to Jules Verne’s book Around The World In Eighty Days later made into a film

London has the oldest bicycle shop in the world (Pearsons of Sutton, established as a blacksmiths in 1860), and the second oldest cycle track in the world, Herne Hill, opened in 1891

Twickenham and Harlequins home Twickenham Stoop are a mere 700 yards apart, nowhere in London are two such high profile stadiums in such close proximity

The first crash on the Tube occurred in 1938 when two trains collided between Waterloo and Charing Cross, injuring 12 passengers

Gropecunt Lane once ran north from Cheapside so called as it was a famous haunt of prostitutes it was renamed by kllljoys in the Reformation

On 18 February 1888 the very first Salvation Army hostel was opened by General William Booth at 21 West India Dock Road

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.