4,821 can’t be wrong


I drive the world’s best taxi giving a level of service that is second to none. How do I know? Well, the annual survey of 4,821 respondents from 23 countries by Hotels.com has revealed that London taxis polled 28 per cent of the votes putting us way out in front of our nearest rivals in New York who only polled 9 per cent. London Cabbies came first in five out of the seven categories including safety, friendliness, and cleanliness, quality of driving and knowledge of the area. Our famous chat and banter weren’t so popular with 37 per cent of Korean and 30 per cent of German visitors who said that they hated “chatty drivers”.
No matter, group hug chaps.

[B]UT WAIT A MINUTE, what empirical evidence was used to reach this conclusion? Precisely none. Every contributor used their own judgment of what they wanted from their taxi experience. And that is the problem; all these sites on the World Wide Wait provide a means to express one’s own opinion. Mister Angry to Miss Supine all has a chance to express their view. And who are these people? I don’t know, and nor do you, they could be genuine or one of my colleagues’ brother-in-law.

It is the modern curse, this information overload. A guidebook, written by professionals can at least be relied on to be consistent; but these sites rely almost solely on user-generated content – and there is plenty out there in cyberspace – I should know, contributing more than my fair share of personal opinions which my Korean and German customers seem to abhor.

One of the biggest sites is TripAdvisor who boast 45 million users, who once claimed on its homepage that it had ‘reviews you can trust’, but following from an allegation that up to 10 million reviews of hotels, restaurants, and holiday businesses could be fakes, possibly posted by the proprietors of these services, which prompted an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority, TripAdvisor has dropped their claim of trustworthy reviews. Presumably, now you should only use these comments as a rough guide.

So I decided to do a little research of my own in relation to the London taxi service and tripped over, so to speak, to TripAdvisor:

Moi0606 asked, quite reasonably I thought: “Can anyone tell me how difficult it is to get a cab from Marble Arch to [Natural History] Museum and then return at end of the day. Your advice is very much appreciated”. To which ajeleonard gave this valuable advice: “About as difficult as sticking your arm out and hailing one with its light on”.

Linet wanted to know: “We will need to take a 5-10 minute cab ride in London when we visit in May. Approximately how much would this cost?” CheshireCat helpfully writing from Chester some 170 miles away gave this answer on London cab fares which should leave Linet in no doubt as to the cost: “Assuming you hail a taxi in the street or pick one up from a rank, my best guess is budget for about 5-7GBP. But . . . this isn’t a straightforward question. Depends on lots of things as fares are a combination of distance and journey time plus a whole lot of “extras” (e.g. how many people, how much luggage, time of day). Also if you pre-order one expects to see £1.50-2.00 on the meter before you start your journey. Fares are regulated so see: londontransport.co.uk/pco/taxi_fares.shtml for details of how they arrive at a figure.

Clearly concerned by being ripped off Rickamandog inquired: “I was reading a recent posting that said that the cabs [fares] in London were outrageous.” TexasEllen replied: “Black Cab drivers are a whole lot better than they used to be and generally are very appreciative when you tip them. Unfortunately we came across one of the old school who took us to London Bridge Station, his technique was to get out of the cab walk around the back of the cab and accept the fare on the kerbside, the fare was 7GBP I only had a 10GBP note as he walked back around I heard him say “I guess we will call that even” yeah like a tip of 40 per cent whatever per cent is even, I would have given him a pound coin, I’m a pretty good tipper but 3 pounds on a 7 pound fare was an attempted rip-off. I have never come across this before and don’t expect to again. We have found them to be knowledgeable and if you treat them well you get the same back. We even had one sing The Yellow Rose of Texas, after we told him we were from Texas.

Well thanks, Ellen, your review is obviously genuine.

So there you have it, you pays your money and takes your choice, or in the case of the internet don’t pay your money and take your chance.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 11th October 2011

Crocker’s Folly

This building in Aberdeen Place was put on the market for £4.25 million and subsequently converted into apartments, at the time it was on the top 10 endangered list by the Victorian Society in 2007 is a testament to one man’s optimism.

It was built as the palatial Crown Hotel in 1898 by Frank Crocker who had heard that a new rail terminal was to be built here.

[H]E SPARED NO EXPENSE; every wall, window and ceiling is decorated in sumptuous style, with elaborate stucco featuring frolicking cherubs, with fine pillars and nice Victorian wood panelling. It had a grand saloon with marble bar-top and pilasters, marble stringing, marble archways, even a great marble fireplace; with a magnificent Jacobean-style coffered ceiling of the most intricate plasterwork; and acres of gleaming woodwork.

Probably the craziest was perhaps the bust of Caracalla a sly demonstration that the pub’s designers were quite conscious of the excess to which their client was pushing them: Caracalla was a Roman emperor known for his architectural excesses and his complete insanity.

Crocker's Detail Alas for Crocker! The truth is that while London as a whole may have welcomed the influence of the railway, most of the historic landlords and the well-heeled residents of this part of St John’s Wood did not. Their opposition forced the railway builders to tunnel under Lord’s Cricket ground and then the line turned left a few degrees at St John’s Wood, to terminate not at his doorway, but about a mile away, where Marylebone Station now stands, so expensive was this tunnel that the train operators were forced to economise on their own stations, that is why Marylebone Station is modest compared to say, St Pancras.

The Crown Hotel was a palace in the middle of nowhere; the grandest folly in London so tragic that London has been laughing about it for over a century. Crocker, naturally, went bust and then killed himself by jumping out of an upstairs window.

If you want to see what it looked like back in the 1960s the pub was used in a scene from the film Georgy Girl.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 21st September 2010

London Trivia: The Mousetrap

On 25 November 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre opened a play which would break all records. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap ran at this theatre until 1974 transferring to St. Martin’s where it is still performed nightly clocking up over 26,000 performances. The clock on the mantelpiece in the main hall is the only remaining original prop. More than 400 actors have appeared, Richard Attenborough was the original DS Trotter.

On 25 November 1929 architect Ewan Barr mock Tudor Duchess Theatre opened, it became a cinema three years later

Law discouraging imported spirits resulted in 1 in 7 homes in East London distilling gin and weekly consumption rising to 8 pints per person

Park Lane Hilton the first tall building constructed after the war planning objections were quashed when Hilton threatened to move to Paris

Colonel Pierpoint designed the world’s first traffic island in St James’s Street he tripped over while showing his friends and killed by a passing cab

Female MPs were banned from wearing trousers in the House of Commons. Speaker Horace King changed that even though he said he liked to see a ‘nicely-turned ankle’

War of the Worlds author HG Wells and comedian Peter Cook lived at 17 Church Row, Hampstead, although not at the same time

Peach Melba created by the Savoy for soprano Nellie Melba used her favourite ingredients to reduce the cold of ice cream on her vocal cords

If you added up the number of seats available at all of London’s sporting venues you get a total of 780,000 a figure no city in the world can match

The term Hackney Carriage is not connected to East London’s Olympic Park but comes from the French word haquenée meaning an ambling nag

Fortnum and Mason’s head of bakery is known as ‘Groom of the Pastry’ a tradition dating back two centuries

The Lost Property Office has received: three dead bats in a box; two human skulls; an artificial leg; breast implants and a whole stuffed gorilla

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 White Hart Court

White Hart Court is on the west side of Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street.

‘Next unto the parish church of St Buttolph is a fair inn for the receipt of travellers’. So says John Stow in his Survey of 1598.

He probably called in at the White Hart for a swift one while taking time out to catch up on his notes before going on to the ‘hospital of St Mary Bethelem’.

[T]HIS WAS ONE of the two main London hospitals for ‘distracted people’ and occupied the site of the present Liverpool Street mainline station. It was founded by Simon Fitzmary, a sheriff of the City, in 1246 as a priory, the monks offering an open house to the Bishop of Bethlehem whenever he had business in London. Within 100 years of its foundation the priory was transformed into a hospital for lunatics and the monks, for most of their time, were engaged in begging money to support themselves and the inmates.

At that time everybody in London had heard of Bethlehem Hospital, it was the source of daily conversation and became shortened by some to Bethlem, but more in evidence was the corruption to Bedlam. This latter gives rise to the present day usage indicating a noisy disturbance. Stow would have had no difficulty in gaining access to the hospital, it was open to the public as an entertainment venue on payment of a small entrance fee. On Monday 8th May 1775 Johnson and Boswell, always eager to investigate the talk of the town, came to view the ‘mansions of Bedlam’. Referring to the visit Boswell noted in his journal ‘the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.’ What they found at the hospital was quite obviously not a pleasing sight but to the majority, it was an amusement of great delight. Over 100 people at any time, each having paid their two pence entrance fee, could run riot up and down the wards tormenting the miserable inmates. For those who wanted an additional dose of excitement and an element of risk, on payment of an extra penny they could join the patients for dinner. Naturally, the management holds no responsibility for the frequent casualties.

The church of the original priory remained standing until the mid-16th century when it was pulled down and replaced by houses for Christ’s Hospital. As for Bethlehem Hospital, it survived on this site until 1676 when it moved a little way to the west on London Wall and then, in 1815, it was transferred to a new building in Lambeth Road providing accommodation for a thousand patients classified as mental. Bedlam building remained for few more years until the site was acquired by the Great Eastern Railway Company with plans to extend the line from the Shoreditch terminus into the heart of the City. Liverpool Street Station, occupying over ten acres of land, was opened in November 1874.

The White Hart Inn was conveniently situated first for pilgrims visiting the priory and in later years it was used as a night stay by those travelling a long distance to experience the spectacle of Bedlam. At the height of its popularity, in the 15th century, there would have been a daily turnaround of about 50 guests staying at the Inn. Not all of these were mad-house spectators; a large proportion would be travellers arriving either too late at night to enter the City, or those wishing to pass through the gate before curfew in order to make an early start the next morning. All of the City gates had the facility of accommodation outside the bounds of the wall and their landlords made rich pickings from frequently overcharging. To assess the magnitude of business passing through these establishments we only need to consider the profusion of inns in Southwark, largely established on the strength of traveller leaving and entering the City via London Bridge, which was also barred by curfew gates.

Of course, the White Hart of today is a modern pub, tarted up and brought into line with the expectations of the up-to-date fraternity of City workers. But the Inn has not forgotten its root, the very history in which its foundations lie, of priories, monks and pilgrims; of mad-houses, lunatics, and the crowds that came to revel at the expense of the unfortunate few. The history of the Inn goes back to at least the time of the foundation of Bethlehem Priory. It was then a much larger place with galleries surrounding the courtyard where during the summer months guests were treated to regular theatrical performances. All this has long gone but the Yard remains, much changed in character, but still as an accompaniment to the Inn and as a reminder of the days when over laden stage coaches rattled and rolled over its cobbles from early morning until dusk.

Featured image: White Hart Court by Baldwin Hamey (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) more information on the history of White Hart Court can be found at London Street Views.

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.

Dr. Johnson’s magnum opus

Samuel Johnson

[T]HAT MOST QUINTESSENTIAL of Londoners Dr. Samuel Johnson has become the capital’s favourite adopted son. He is the most quoted person in the English language after Shakespeare and with his famous verdict on the City “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”, has virtually guaranteed him iconic status.

CABBIE (n.) (colloq). Erudite Fellow much given to express anti-Whig opinion who upon exchange of monies will, by Hansom carriage, convey a Person within London’s northern environs.

Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1709 and educated at Pembroke College, Oxford leaving without a degree due to ill health, Johnson came to London in 1737 and scraped a living as a journalist. By all accounts to remain in Johnson’s company would have required a strong stomach even for those days. He was grossly overweight who “had no passion for clean linen” and “showed no enthusiasm for bathing”, his wig didn’t even fit properly, and was usually singed on one side from holding a candle too near on account of his poor eyesight.

MINI-CAB  (n.) A Sedan with oriental provenance of indeterminate age used to convey the Inebriated by its Driver whose paucity of English is matched only by his geographical knowledge.

Johnson’s wife Elizabeth “Tetty” Porter was no better, who in the opinion of his friend Robert Levett, was “always drunk and reading romances in her bed where she killed herself by taking opium”.

In 1746 Johnson was commissioned by a syndicate of booksellers to write the first comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language. He rented at £30 per annum 17 Gough Square and with the help of his six amanuenses compiled the Dictionary in the garret. It was published in 1755. The painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, on a visit to view the great man at work noted that “besides his books, all covered with dust, there was an old crazy deal table and a still worse and older elbow chair having only three legs”, which Johnson managed to sit upon without support.

KNOWLEDGE, THE  (n.) An accumulation of local information which doth give one granted the illusion of superior powers and wisdom.

For here in 1755 Johnson despatched a messenger with the last proofs of the dictionary to Andrew Millar, the bookseller, in the Strand. When he returned Johnson asked what Millar had said. “Sir,” answered the messenger, “Thank God I have done with him.”

Johnson fell on hard times and left the house the following year, he was arrested for debt in 1758 and was bailed out by his friend Samuel Richardson. He went on to live in a number of lodgings dying in 1784, leaving a body of work as an essayist, journalist, satirist, novelist and as the leading literary critic of his time. He laid down standard for the use of English comparative literature and founded the Literary Club, but his Dictionary of the English Language was not (as is often claimed) the first English dictionary, but it was certainly the most important one published up to that date. It went through numerous editions, and was not superseded until the publication in 1928 of the Oxford English Dictionary.

MUSEUM  (n.) A repository of historic memorabilia much frequented by Children carrying pencils and clipboards, each bearing a bored countenance.

dr johnson house


Little is known of 17 Gough Square after Johnson’s departure until Thomas Carlyle visited it in 1832, who noted its dilapidated condition and described the tiny garden as little larger than a bed quilt.

In 1910 the newspaper baron and Liberal Member of Parliament Cecil Harmsworth purchased the property for a reputed £3,500 and restored the house at his own expense to its original condition, opening it to the public in 1912 and at the same time a cottage was built as the Curator’s residence. The City of London suffered extensive damage during the Second World War and Dr. Johnson’s House was nearly destroyed on three occasions during the bombing of 1940-41.

This elegant late 17th century house is the only original house in Gough Square, and the only remaining house of those many in which Johnson lived in London. The timber used in its construction is American white and yellow pine which was bought back as ballast in ships trading with the colonies. The House (open to the public) is now run by the Dr Johnson’s House Trust and the present Lord Harmsworth is the Chairman of the Board of Governors.

BLOG  (n.) Electronick diary unto which earnest fools do commit their innermost thoughts, safe in the knowledge that no man shall ever read them.


A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 26th November 2010