Labouring the point

I read recently that an expectant mum if they feel the need to get to the hospital quickly, are being encouraged to use a black cab. In fact, there is hardly a London cabbie who hasn’t dashed to the hospital with their passenger in labour or at least knows one who has.

In an effort to claw back customers from the competition MyTaxi is encouraging its 17,500 members to undertake a first-aid course with the St. John’s Ambulance charity.

[U]SING A London cab makes a lot of sense, as 71 percent of cabbies’ responding to a survey say they’ve made emergency journeys to hospitals. Nowadays ambulances are often tied up for hours waiting to discharge their patient at A&E, your local private hire driver has a saloon car, hardly appropriate should the little one not wish to wait, and an Uber driver is unlikely to know where the nearest hospital is likely to be, even though the route signs direct you to the destination.

For the purposes of research, I decided to check out Mumsnet who had a discussion headed ‘London Taxi recommendations for getting to the hospital in labour’.

Flossam responded:

My taxi driver was really sweet. Said I was bringing a gift into the world and the taxi fore should be his gift to us. We did still pay him though.

Expatkat waited until her contractions were three minutes apart before getting Radio Taxis to transport her the 5-minute journey from the house to St. Mary’s, Paddington. Her husband had to wait for the babysitter to arrive so Expatkat made the journey alone much to the consternation of the elderly cabbie.

Curiously later the same cabbie picked her up with the now 6-month-old baby and informed her that his wife had worried about his pregnant passenger and would delight in being told that the delivery went smoothly.

PrettyCandles had been on a first-aid course themselves and was told, should you need medical help, a London cabbie is unlikely to just dump you in the street and had used a black cab during both her labours.

I just hope she is right and that my colleagues do their best and possibly help, if necessary, in the delivery.

A short drop

The Execution Bell, named in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as “The Bells of Old Bailey“, now on display in St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate used to be rung around midnight outside the condemned cell.

The St. Sepulchre’s clerk would travel across the street through a tunnel, to stand outside the cells of the condemned before their hanging at Newgate Prison.

[L]ondon merchant tailor John Dowe paid the parish £50 to buy a handbell on the condition that it would be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows at Newgate.

John ‘Half-Hanged’ Smith also survived his own execution on 24th December 1705, at Tyburn, surviving after he was suspended by the rope for 18 minutes, he was cut down from the gallows. However, the experience did not deter him from returning to a life of burglary and being sentenced to death again shortly afterwards. His second execution was cancelled due to legal complications, and Smith was eventually transported to Virginia for a third offence.

Execution in England for most crimes was once the short drop. Using a short rope the accused was slowly strangled, hanging using little or no drop was effectively universal up to 1872.

The prisoner could be suspended by a variety of means, from the back of a cart or a ladder. Where a person was dragged off the tail of the cart they usually got only a few inches of actual drop. It was not unusual for the relatives and friends of prisoners to hang on their legs to shorten their suffering.

On 24th November 1740, William Duell, aged 16, was convicted of rape. He was found to be alive while being prepared for dissection at Barber-Surgeon’s Hall. He was returned to Newgate that night. The sentence later commuted to transportation, but he may not have survived the voyage.

Hanging when carried out with little or no drop does not cause instant death, neither does it cause severe physical damage to the neck, as the forces exerted are far lower, but rather it squeezes the life out of the person over a period of time due to constriction of the neck.

On 22nd March 1819, Mary Green had a remarkable survival. Hanged for using counterfeit banknotes, she awoke after her body had been released for burial. She is believed to have changed her name and moved to Nova Scotia.

In some cases, the accused, usually the young and healthy, managed to survive their ordeal, even after leaving the person on the rope for one hour that had become a normal practice by 1760.

The case of Patrick O’Bryan is certainly an odd one. One might think that public short drop hanging would be a deterrent to crime. One might think that having survived hanging one would reform rather than face the same fate again. Not so with Mr O’Bryan. He was hanged the first time in 1686 for highway robbery committed on the outskirts of Gloucester. His body was claimed by friends and carried to one of their homes, where he was seen to be breathing. A surgeon bled him and in time he made a full recovery. His friends entreated him to start a new life and offered to assist him financially to do so. For a time O’Bryan kept his promise to them but could not resist the temptation to return to his old habits. About a year later he met the man who he held responsible for his first conviction. This person was shocked to see him, having thought he was dead. O’Bryan first shot the man and then drew a dagger and stabbed him to death. Two years would pass before he was arrested on the confession evidence of one of his gang who was waiting to be hanged at Bedford.

O’Bryan was seized at his lodgings in Little Suffolk Street, near the Haymarket in London and committed to Newgate. He was returned to Salisbury for trial at the next Assizes. He confessed his crimes and was hanged there on Tuesday, the 30th April, 1689. Afterwards, he was hanged in chains near the spot where the murder had been committed.

Twenty-three-year-old Thomas Reynolds was hanged at Tyburn on the 26th July 1736, having been convicted of crimes under the Black Acts and of pulling down Ledbury Turnpike in Herefordshire. His co-defendant, James Bayliss was reprieved. Bayliss’ wife was given money by Reynolds to purchase a coffin and shroud for him, which she did. He was taken down and placed in the coffin and taken by his friends for burial. A woman asked to see his body so the lid of the coffin was removed and it was seen that Reynolds was still breathing. His friends, concerned that the authorities should discover that he was not dead and try to hang him again, carried the coffin along the Oxford Road. They found a surgeon who bled him and he was given brandy and sack to try and revive him. Nobody would take the coffin into their house for fear of prosecution and in due course, Reynolds expired and was buried by the Oxford road.

A macabre experiment was performed on highwayman William Gordon who was hanged at Tyburn on the 27th April 1733. Mr Abraham Chovett was a Demonstrator in Anatomy and had carried out experiments on dogs by making an incision in the windpipe prior to hanging them. He told Gordon about them and left him a small knife. After attending chapel on his final morning he made an incision in his throat. Two surgeons who were in Newgate attended him and partially sewed up the wound. Gordon told the Ordinary that he had cut himself by accident. So as not to delay the execution, the four men were to hang that day, William Gordon, James Ward, William Keyes and William Norman were loaded into the cart for the journey to Tyburn. It was observed that the last three died quite quickly but that Gordon was still alive after 45 minutes. His body was taken to a house in Edgware Road where Mr Chovot bled him. He was able to open his mouth and groan but died soon afterwards. It was opined that had he been cut down five minutes sooner he might have survived.

London Trivia: Tunnel vision

On 25 March 1843 the first tunnel to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river was opened. Started in 1825 and beset with difficulties it was the only joint venture between father and son Marc and Isambard Brunel. Originally designed for horse drawn carriages it remains part of the Overground Railway. So well constructed was it that the first refurbishment needed was 150 years later.

On 25 March 1946 Heathrow was officially opened by Lord Winster, the Minister of Aviation, the first aircraft to use the new airport was a British South American Airways Avro Lancastrian named Star Light

Dead cats were a popular missile to hurl at criminals locked in the pillory for their crimes, sadly that entertainment was abolished in 1837

London Glass: The British Museum’s Great Court has 3,312 glass panes-no two are the same; the Gherkin’s 7,429 panes are all flat save one top curved panel

Queen Victoria called Buckingham Palace “so fatiguing” with its 19 state rooms 52 royal/guest rooms 188 staff rooms 92 offices 78 bathrooms

On 25 March 1975 members the National Front, flanked by 2,000 police, marched through Islington protesting against integration with Europe

Sir Francis Galton travelled around the country to devise what he called A Beauty Map of Britain concluding the loveliest came from London

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese were famous for their pies weighing 80lbs from beef, kidneys, oysters, larks and mushrooms could be smelt in the City

On 25 March 1950 on Hampstead Heath 25 Norwegian ski-jumpers made use of a newly erected ski jump blanketed in 45 tonnes of imported snow

Lord Kitchener had his Rolls-Royce painted bright yellow in order that he would be instantly recognised when driving around London

Founded 1672 Hoares Britain’s oldest private bank’s front door only locks from the inside as a director is always available for clients

In 1815 George Wilson the ‘Blackheath Pedestrian’ attempted to walk 1,000 miles in 20 days, a nervous authority called a halt on day sixteen

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.

Down Your Alley: Guildhall Yard

Peering around the east end of the church of St Lawrence Jewry brings into view one of London’s most distinguished buildings; this is Guildhall Yard and directly ahead is the Guildhall itself. For near on a thousand years the governing body of the City.

The present Hall is of the early 14th century but the sparkling white south frontage, added in 1789, is the work of George Dance the younger.

[H]IGH ABOVE the central doorway, between two soaring pilasters, is the Arms of the City; a shield bearing the cross of St George, in the left upper quarter is the sword of St Paul, patron saint of this great City of London. On either side, the supporting dragons rest on the scrolled motto: ‘Domine dirige nos’ which means O Lord guide us.

Through the gothic doorway is the partly medieval Great Hall, restored in 1670 after being seriously damaged in 1666. As the Great Fire swept its course through the alleys and courts to the east it quickly took its toll on the tightly packed wooden houses of Guildhall Yard. Two taverns on the west side of the Yard, the Three Tuns and the White Lyon, closed their doors on the night of Monday, 3rd September and never opened again. Highly charged with fuel, it then attacked the Great Hall, but this was of solid stone and only the tremendous heat from without caused the ignition of the timbers within. Gog and Magog, the elaborately painted famous giants, fell casualty and were reduced to ashes. Saved from the flames were the treasured historic records of the City; they were stored in the heavily armoured stone crypt beneath the Hall.

Further restoration work was completed in 1866 by Sir Horace Jones who at the same time added a long-awaited new timber roof. For almost two centuries the outstanding architecture of the Hall had remained spoilt by a hideous flat roof; the design by Sir Horace was closely in keeping with that of the original and was crowned with a lantern and slender spire.

Unfortunately, it lasted for less than 80 years; destroyed in a 1940 air raid and repaired in 1954 by Sir Giles Scott, it now features a panelled ceiling and stone arches. After their fete in 1666, the two giants were remodelled and there stood firm until the tragic day in 1940 when they were so badly disfigured by fire. New figures were created by David Evans in 1953 and once again they stand ever watchful from their pedestals.

Today the Great Hall is used for Council meetings, conferences of importance to the City, it yearly hosts the gathering for the election of the Lord Mayor, it is the venue for many Corporation banquets, and in November of each year the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, attended by the Sheriffs of the City, members of the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister is held within these great walls. But it has not always been the scene of such splendid ceremonial; the Great Hall has also witnessed a fair share of the most tragic moments in history.

Here in 1554 was held the pointless trial of Lady Jane Grey, her fete already decided, and for assisting in her cause Thomas Cranmer was here found guilty and sentenced to his doom at Tyburn.

In 1546 the Protestant martyr Anne Askew was told of her end; frail from previous torture, she was too weak to stand and so had to be chained to the stake while her spectators, the Duke of Norfolk and the Lord Mayor watched the flames consume her body. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, accused of stealing the coat-of-arms of Edward the Confessor for his own use, unsuccessfully attempted to defend his case and was sentenced to death on Tower Hill. There were much more and whilst the Hall of today is a cheerful place, it holds numerous sorrowful memories.

The modern Guildhall Library, to the west of the Great Hall, houses a collection of almost 150,000 books, pamphlets, and manuscripts dealing with every aspect of London, its history, and its inhabitants. If you need to delve deep into the antiquity of this fascinating City then look no further. The Library is open Monday to Friday, 09.30 – 17.00.

At the entrance to Guildhall Yard is the church of St Lawrence Jewry, standing on the site of an earlier church probably built in the 12th Century. In 1294 the patronage of the church was transferred to Balliol College, Oxford and the Master of the College still retains a stall in the front pew. The old church was burnt down in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1671 and 1676 largely at the expense of Sir John Langham, Sheriff in 1642. Incorporated into the parish of the new church was the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street, also burnt down but never replaced. Extensive war damage in 1940 caused the church to be closed until the restoration was completed in 1957 by Cecil Brown.

With the exception of the eastern facade, the exterior is plain and architecturally uninspiring with a tower of similar character supporting a square pedestal and topped with a slender octagonal spire with weather-vane. The interior, however, is typically Wren and has a single aisle on the north side separated from the nave by Corinthian columns and a fine wooden screen. The panelled ceiling with flowers representing the gridiron of St Lawrence’s martyrdom is spectacular and the suspended ornate multi-armed chandeliers are all that we would expect. The oak reredos, containing a painting by the restorer, although new is of very fitting proportions. Remains of the old roof from the Guildhall have been worked to form the covering for the 17th-century font, a relic from Holy Trinity, Minories.

Since the Guildhall was deprived of its chapel in the 14th century St Lawrence Jewry has served as the official church of the City Corporation. The Lord Mayor has the privilege of a private pew, with sword rest, on the front row. A special service, attended by the retiring Lord Mayor, is held here every year prior to the election of his successor.

Featured images: Looking towards the Guildhall, looking down this tiled pavement towards the Guildhall and interior of the banqueting room in the Guildhall by Christine Matthews (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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.

A rocky ride

Tony Davidson’s epigrammatic autobiography, The Green Badge of Knowledge, is the sum of two parts: life before commencing The Knowledge; and his journey to gain the coveted green badge of a London Licensed Cabbie.

Growing up in Hoxton – which according to Davidson is pronounced ‘Oxton – in post-war London, before the millennials made adjacent Shoreditch the place to work and play.

[H]oxton was in Davidson’s time, one of the poorest boroughs in London, and in this little account, the author takes you into the Hoxton housing estates full of villains, gangs and young men asserting themselves both in and out of the boxing ring.

Much of the Hoxton account is written in the vernacular of this little locality, which for me was given too much emphasis, with the F-word appearing in every recounted conversation.

As a London cabbie, naturally I found the anecdotes about learning The Knowledge of most interest. His father-in-law was interrogated by the legionary Mr Finlay. For young Davidson, his nemesis was a Mr Shern, described as six-feet-four, shaven head, dark glasses, ex-vice squad, and not someone who suffered fools gladly.

Davidson’s life post-Knowledge takes a reversal of fortunes, through the fortuitous connections of his sister-in-law he gets to meet Danny DeVito. However the good times don’t last, and as Davidson admits, writing this concise account of his life has been, as much as anything, cathartic for the tribulations to follow.

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