Hitchcock’s head

Only an organisation the size of BT would commission a telephone exchange this ugly, then to reinforce our perception of their poor taste erect a 22ft high aluminium pole with seven sculpted heads . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 20: Run 305 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

Cannon Street Station, EC4 to Southgate Road, N1

There is the temptation to skip the occasional run when you have already covered parts of the route on a previous occasion. This is typical of one of those routes, at first sight, I’ve checked out Bank Junction, Moorgate and Old Street Roundabout. On closer inspection, the first discovery is a means of turning left into King William Street, because at the junction with the north end of London Bridge, there is a no left turn.

Before that, though is the matter of points and the first is the enigmatically named ‘seven ages of man’. After searching for some time I see what can only be described as a pair of heads poking their heads above a parapet. The building in question is the Brutalist Baynard House, only an organisation the size of BT would commission a telephone exchange this ugly. Then to reinforce our perception of their poor taste they erected a 22ft high aluminium pole with seven sculpted heads stacked, in totem pole fashion, on top of each other and located so that only the two eldest heads at the top are visible by the public, who indirectly paid for the artwork.

Ticking that off the list I’m now on the search for London Stone. It took me some considerable time to track down the so-called lonenstan or London Stone, an unprepossessing piece of Clipston limestone or oolite.

Every day thousands rush past a hideous grill attached to an empty 1960’s building awaiting redevelopment not realising that behind the ironwork set into a niche is one of London’s oldest landmarks, known to have been in The City since 1198.

With its round-shouldered top and twin grooves, measuring about 18 inches across, if found in a field, one would ignore it. The discovery of remains beneath Cannon Street Station led archaeologists to believe that a Roman Governor’s Palace once stood on the site. It is known that during the reign of Augustus a central stone was placed in the Forum in Rome, this measured 8ft tall and was covered in bronze. The obelisk was used to mark the starting point for the measurement of Roman highways. When London became the capital of Britannia a similar point would have been needed. Could this be the top part of the golden milestone that was used to measure the straight Roman roads that radiate out from Londinium?

Edward III made London Stone the axis of London’s trade and granted rights to hold markets within a 7-mile radius and Jack Cade during the 1450 Kentish peasants’ revolt struck London Stone with his sword and declared himself Lord Mayor of London, he was subsequently killed and his head ended up on a spike adorning London Bridge.

London Stone has been the subject of various legends including that Brutus brought it here from Rome; the stone marks the site of Druidic sacrifices; that it sits on a Leyline connecting significant places and marks the mystical centre point of London or even the British Isles; that the stone once formed a stone circle of King Lud (whence came Ludgate); and that the City’s prosperity depends on its safekeeping.

The London Stone is pure history, there are so many amazing stories and theories behind it, yet thousands of people walk past it every day not even realising there is anything there. This lump of ancient and mystical limestone must be the most unnoticed and unloved of tourist attractions in the City of London.

Having found the London Stone opposite Cannon Street Station I can now start the run. Leave on right Cannon Street and left into Abchurch Lane. This little cut-through must be one of the oldest streets in London dating back to at least the 13th century. In 1855 excavations for a sewer revealed a 36-foot length of Roman wall.

A short ride takes me to Bank Junction, and facing me is ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’. Without a shred of irony, the Greek inscription above the door translates to ‘Let no one bring dishonest schemes here’.

One of the many stories about the Bank’s famous vault involves an anonymous letter received by the Bank’s directors in 1836, inviting them to meet the letter writer in the bullion room late one night. At the agreed hour they heard some floorboards being dislodged and looked down to see a man’s head appearing. He was employed to work in the sewers and had cleverly calculated that a drain ran directly underneath the vault. The astounded directors rewarded him £800, about £80,000 in today’s money, and presumably spent a little less filling in the drain.

A short ride from Bank Junction I arrive at Old Street Roundabout and before long I’ve reached the inaptly named New North Road, which was built under a private act over 200 years ago in 1812, and travels in a north-westerly direction.

With Southgate Road only yards away my last point of the day is just before the road crosses the Regent’s Canal. Old readers might remember Sunday afternoon television black and white films from the Gainsborough Studio were broadcast.

They all started with the ‘Gainsborough Lady’ turning to look out of a picture frame and smiling. The studio produced films from 1924 to 1951, their most famous was Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock had studied there and would make his early productions.

Today the building which started life as a power station has been converted into apartments, with a rather frightening huge sculpture of Hitchcock’s head at its entrance.

A little knowledge about The Knowledge

First recorded plying of coaches for hire in the street.

The first recognised cab rank established by Captain Bailey at the Maypole in the Strand (where St Mary-le-Strand church is today).

King Charles I issued a proclamation restricting the number of Hackney coaches to just 50, and they were only allowed to pick up passengers who were travelling more than 3 miles.

Oliver Cromwell orders the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.

These are revoked, some say for drunkenness, others that the aldermen favoured Cavaliers to Roundheads.

Restoration of the Monarchy leads to restoration of licences.

The Hackney Coach Office is set up to regulate the trade.

Introduction of “Conditions of Fitness” for hackney carriages.

Parliamentary Act passed to regulate Hackney carriage trade

The number of hackney licences increases to one thousand.

An Act of Parliament gave the Hackney carriage trade the sole right to use their coaches as ‘hearses and mourning coaches at funerals’.

Duties of the Hackney Coach Office transferred to the Stamp Office.

Joseph Hansom patents his two-wheel cabriolet (the Hansom cab).

A four-wheel version follows – the “Clarence”, aka the “Growler”.

Control of the cab trade passes from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police and the Public Carriage Office is formed soon after.

Public Carriage Office opened.

Introduction of ‘The Knowledge’ by Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne.

An Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate the manner in which the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.

The most famous cab the Hansom by Henry Forder of Wolverhampton was introduced as an improvement on the previous model.

London’s first cab shelter is built, thanks to Captain Armstrong.

The Public Carriage Office moves to premises in Scotland Yard.

Wilhelm Bruhn invents the taximeter.

Walter Bersey launches a fleet of battery-operated cabs.

The first internal-combustion engine cabs are introduced by Prunel, a Frenchman.

The first petrol-driven cab took to the road.


Regulations were introduced requiring all cabs to be fitted with a taximeter.

Publication of the first ‘Blue Book’.

The great cab drivers’ strike when cab fleet owners increased fuel charges by 60 per cent.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 109 Lambeth Road and the first taxi school opens, run by the British Legion.

The last licence for a horse-drawn cab is issued (and rescinded the following year).


At the outbreak of the war 2,500 taxis were converted into auxiliary firefighting engines, ambulances and Army personnel carriers.

First diesel cab.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 15 Penton Street.

Gibson gets his green bill and badge.

Administration of the Public Carriage Office passes from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.

The Public Carriage Office is renamed ‘London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing’ and re-locates to I97 Blackfriars Road.

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