A Sneak Peek at the redesign

A while ago I posted that I couldn’t write and so was intending to repost some of CabbieBlog’s ‘best bits’. Not wishing to remain idle I have been redesigning the site and I’m super excited about the result.

[T]he current design has been used since the 2012 Olympics and although I still like the layout I’ve always felt that the typography was a little difficult to read being displayed in such a small sans typeface.

New typefaces

For the first time in the history of CabbieBlog, the text font will be a super clear and easy-to-read serif font. So what’s a serif font? Serifs are the little ‘flags’ you see coming off the edges of letters. I am using Noto Serif Regular as it is a classic font style that’s perfectly suited for reading longer articles as it was designed for displaying on a website.

Contrasting Noto serif font is Montserrat Bold a stylish sans face for use in headlines, subheads, and more. This combination with abundant white space should make it even faster to read and absorb the information you find here on CabbieBlog.

You will probably notice as the typeface is now considerably larger – the text size is 16pt – it is more easily read, but importantly the line spacing has been widened to 1.6ems which gives more ‘white’ between the horizontal alignment, thereby giving more white space. The new design adds a feeling of light and openness even though the site features the same amount of information, it’s spacious, easy on the eye and clutter-free.

Free fonts

All this has been made economically possible by Google fonts, this huge resource of over 800 typefaces is available completely free, used along with a little piece of open-source software I have been able to access and use these fonts.

For those still reading CabbieBlog on last century’s technology, you will have noticed your laptop or pc shows the sidebar with headings in the more modern Voltaire typeface above text in Helvetica bold, displayed in grey, which should make this important information more legible.

Once being a typesetter I couldn’t drop the dropped letter, so to speak, which I’ve always liked to see displayed at the start of an important paragraph. The new drop letter is now in grey matching the rest of the page, and importantly those more trendy followers reading my missives on their phone can now see the large drop character displayed, instead of a capital letter surrounded by brackets, which for many could have been confusing.

Check out the archives

With almost 10 years worth of content, CabbieBlog has a huge library of information on London: the archive with nearly 1,000 posts is easily accessible; the large database about the Cabbie’s Green Shelters has been broken up into six sections and for those generous enough to become patrons they have an easily accessible route to their exclusive content.

Please tell me what you think in the comments section below.

London Trivia: The law’s an Ass

On 27 January 1854 a proposal to re-site the Law Courts from Westminster to a new building on the Strand was greeted with opprobrium claiming it to be a waste of public money and be liken to the Tower of Babel . . A Nero’s Palace . . . A labyrinth of Crete. The first brick was laid on 30 April 1874, 20 years later, at the junction of Bell Yard and Carey Street; the complete buildings were opened by Her Majesty on 4 December 1882.

On 27 January 1796 Gentleman’s Magazine reported that Lady Caroline Campbell ‘displayed in Hyde Park the other day a feather four feet higher than her bonnet’.

In 1517 ‘Evil May Day’ saw riots against traders from Flanders, Italy and France led by John Lincoln he and other ringleaders were later hanged

The City of London’s smallest church St. Ethelburga-the-Virgin in Bishopsgate dates from at least the 13th century measures 56ft by 30ft

Dr Johnson (or dictionary fame) was known to drink up to 25 cups of tea in one sitting, despite his prodigious consumption he lived until 74 his final words were “I who am about to die”

For years Chelsea Bridge, originally named Victoria Bridge, was only lit on those nights when the Queen was sleeping London

Derelict Beckton gas works provided locations for Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (he refused to leave Britain) and Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun

In preparation for the 1980 Christmas Office Party Nilson brought in a huge cooking pot it was later used to boil his victims’ heads

Only since the 1700s has Chelsea been known as that, before it was Chelsey, Chelceth & Chelchith. Doomsday Book lists Cercehede & Chelched

The greatest elevation above the ground level is on the Northern line at Dollis Brook viaduct over Dollis road, Mill Hill: it rises a total of 60ft

Howard House, 14 Fournier Street, Spitalfields is where the silk for Queen Victoria’s coronation gown was woven

The 1950’s ‘Teddy Boys’ (originally ‘Cosh Boys’) were first seen in London, mainly Elephant & Castle, and became Britain’s first youth cult

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.

Dead boring

It’s the stuff of a science fiction writer’s dreams. Excavating in London one finds something buried that should have remained entombed forever.

In the late 1950s, BBC Television transmitted the Quatermass trilogy, culminating in Quatermass and The Pit, in which a dangerous object is unearthed at a building site in Knightsbridge (of which later).

[B]ringing this film genre up to date the 2002 film Reign of Fire has London Underground construction workers penetrating a cave in which a hibernating dragon is awoken.

This year Crossrail, Europe’s largest construction project, of over 26 miles of tunnel beneath London should be completed, in a city which has after two thousand years has many buried secrets.

The Black Death of 1348-49 wiped out half of London’s population and put such a strain on traditional churchyards two new internment areas were created. “No Man’s Land” was located just outside Smithfield and its annex at Spitalfields which is was reported swallowed over 50,000 souls.

The plague of 1665 was for London much worse. At least 68,000 people perished, that was out of a population at the time of half-a-million. To put that into context, should it occur in modern London it would equate to 800,000. With London having grown exponentially in the succeeding years since the Black Death, by 1665 it was now one of the world’s largest cities. The cramped and unhygienic living conditions, coupled with one of the hottest summers London had known, meant that plague spread fast, and this was not helped by the culling of cats and dogs who had helped keep down the rat population, the carrier of the infected fleas. Although recent research has hypothesised that humans were the main culprit of the plague’s spread.

Within just a few months, with graveyards overflowing, plague pits were sunk in Fulham, Gypsy Hill, Tothill Fields, Westminster and Kensington – the site of the fictionalised Quatermass Pit. Another, the Great Pit of Aldgate, measured 40ft x 15ft and was 20ft deep which consumed 1,114 bodies within a fortnight.

In modern times when the Piccadilly Line was being constructed, in a scene reminiscent of Quatermass, workmen found that the section between Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations had to be rerouted to avoid a plague pit, this has resulted in the line swerving dramatically.

Modern Aldgate station is built above the Great Pit of Aldgate, while at Green Park during tunnelling for the Victoria Line the boring machine ploughed straight into an unmarked plague pit. On the Bakerloo Line at the south end lie two tunnels; one exits to the line at Elephant and Castle, the other to a dead end to stop runaway trains and behind the end, wall is another plague pit.

The majority of records for the location of burial pits are piecemeal and parochial. Most parishes had to resort to larger pits simply because of the sheer number of bodies they had to dispose of. These pits can be traced in the parish churchwarden’s accounts, where payment for digging was recorded. A rather illuminating if gruesome map has been produced by Public Grief Junkie.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 17th February 2012

A match made in Hell

Bryant & May

[O]N FAIRFIELD ROAD, Bow stands the Bryant & May match factory, which in 1980s became one of the first industrial buildings in London to be converted into apartments when it was renamed the Bow Quarter.

In the summer of 1888 what happened in this building was to change the history of the labour movement.

The match girls working there were regarded as the lowest strata of society; long hours in appalling conditions, hired and fired at the will of the management, and its workers suffering dreadful industrial injuries.

Bryant & May was regarded at the time as a model employer, much the same as the Cadburys, a similar Quaker employer who built for their workers the Bourneville village.

The Bryant & May strike started when a Fabian journalist Annie Besant after having interviewed some of the match girls wrote a scathing article of their life working in the factory. Entitled ‘White Slavery in London’ Besant highlighted that shareholders’ dividends of 20 percent were achieved only by cutting their meager wages lower than 15 years previously.

The youngest of the women were so malnourished they still looked like children; the factory foreman would beat employees, and if they succumbed to an industrial injury they were sacked.

Far worse than those conditions were phossy jaw where toxic particles from white phosphorous used in the match heads entered the workers’ jawbones through the holes in their teeth.

Initially causing facial swelling eventually the jaw would decay with pieces of bone working through the suppurating abscesses. In the final stages, like lepers, they would live outside London as the smell from their decaying jaw became intolerable, before they succumbed to an agonising death.

Besant’s article shocked the Nation and prompted the match girls to strike – the first of its kind in the country – it the sowed the seeds for the establishment of the modern Labour Party and women’s rights when employed.

Questions were raised in the House by MPs. the Times published editorials shaming the previously unblemished reputation of Bryant & May, and socialite George Bernard Shaw among others voiced his support for them. The match girls even received death threats from someone claiming to be Jack the Ripper, whose reign of fear started some weeks later in East London.

Within two weeks their demands had been met and they returned to work, but it would be a century later before Bryant & May would acknowledge any wrongdoing on their part.

Just a year after the match girl’s victory thousands of the country’s most exploited workers would gain union recognition, the most famous being after the Dock Strike which began at short walk from Bryant & May’s factory in East London.

Annie BesantThis year marks the 131st anniversary of the strike which became a pivotal point in the trade union movement and employees working conditions. As Louise Raw remarked when interviewed on the Robert Elms show recently, now is the time to unveil a Blue Plaque alongside the one dedicated to Annie Besant, to those brave and exploited girls who had the temerity to take on a powerful employer – and win.

A far more comprehensive history of the match girls strike can be found on Louise Raw’s website.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 23rd March 2012

London Trivia: Cold comfort

On 20 January 1989 Sir Ranulph Fiennes decided to test his equipment by paddling a floating sledge on the River Thames by Westminster Bridge, to ensure his equipment was suitable before setting off on his third attempt to claim the unconquered Polar record of reaching the North Pole trekking 425 nautical miles without dogs, motorised transport or air transport supply. With Mike Stroud he achieved his goal.

On 20 January 1802 Joseph Wall, former governor of an African colony, appeared in court charged with murdering a subordinate. He had him tied to a gun carriage and given 800 lashes, from which he died.

In 1868 Michael Barrett became the last to be publicly hanged outside Newgate for attempting to free Richard Burke by blowing up the prison

The Dove Pub Upper Mall, Hammersmith, where Charles II and Nell Gwynne dined, at 4ft 2in by 7ft 10in has the smallest bar room in the world

Fragrance Madeleine was trialled at Piccadilly station in 2001 to make the Tube more pleasant. Stopped after days people said they felt ill

Edward VI punished Westminster Abbey (St Peter’s) by diverting their funding to St Paul’s hence the phrase ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’

The 1951 film The Magic Box starring Robert Donat was the first moving picture on celluloid in a London Park (Hyde Park)

Before its current venue in Frith Street, Ronnie Scott’s jazz club was beneath a Chinese fan-tan gambling den at 39 Gerrard Street

Arsenal’s Paul Merson cashed his first football pay cheque at Barclays Bank Finsbury Park then blew it all at William Hill’s across the road

Transport for London Byelaw 10(2) No person shall enter through any train door until any person leaving by that door has passed through it

Men who searched through Victorian sewers for valuables that had been lost down drains were known as Toshers ‘What a load of old tosh!’

Between 17-25 January 1963 the temperature at Kew failed to rise above freezing that winter is regarded equal to the infamous winter of 1740

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.