“Where to, Guv’?”

It was an e-mail from the public relations department of a games manufacturer which prompted me to write this post, that, and a touch of post-Easter Festivities writer’s block.

Jim Walker a cabbie colleague of mine who grew up in the shadow of Tower Bridge has devised a three-dimensional board game “Bridge Up”. Characters like Little Maxi the London taxi move around the board while players have to answer trivia questions about the River Thames and the history of Tower Bridge. And to celebrate the launch of his board game Jim has been given the rare honour of pushing the button to open the London’s iconic bridge.

London Cabbie

[A]fter that e-mail I remembered that my daughter had, as more of a joke, from a car boot sale bought for me another taxi based game – London Cabbie – which I’ve found recently on eBay retailing for £65.

The London Cabbie Game (1971) was invented by Drakes, Jarvis, Walsh and Gluck, which sound more like an Eastend solicitor practice than games inventors. The aim of the game is to make money, work out the best routes to get passengers to their destinations, whilst avoiding traffic jams. The four inventors clearly know something about cabbies as the board reassuringly doesn’t go South of the River.


Another London cab based game is TAXI, which worked on the premise that it was more fun negotiating London streets on cardboard than on tarmac. This rather frivolous 1960’s game has among its passengers model Susan Scantly, Bubbles Dimpleby and Felix Softpad.

Although firmly stuck in that era, and featuring an old FX cab on the cover, whose driver looks as if he can afford to ignore a rather smart gentleman hailing him standing at the front of a queue, board game does at least cross the river, if only to the major stations. What is lacking, which no self-respecting cabbie today would be without, is a pair of boxing gloves or an England football shirt hanging from the mirror.

Destination London

When Rachel Lowe pitched her game Destination London to The BBC’s Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs they criticised her in a variety of ways, turning down her idea. The game went on to become Hamley’s best selling game of 2004. She invented the game from her experience working as a cabbie in Portsmouth while studying for a law degree.

Players are, you’ve guessed it, cabbies, moving through the city visiting tourist sites accruing money. The format has been modified for other cities and has even a Destination Hogwarts.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 13th January 2012

London Trivia: Captain Cook’s goat

On 28 April 1772 the world’s most travelled goat died in Mile End. Twice it circumnavigated the world, once with Captain Wallis on the Dolphin and later with Captain Cook’s Endeavour. An Admiralty document vouches for her travels and longevity. The Lords of the Admiralty had, just previous to her death, signed a warrant, admitting her to the privileges of an in-pensioner of Greenwich Hospital, a boon she did not live to enjoy

On 28 April 1994 the Tate Gallery announced the taking possession of Bankside Power Station to convert into a museum of modern art

The Marquess of Queensberry sought permission with a Act of Parliament to shoot motorists whom he thought presented a danger to himself

When renovating Queen Victoria Memorial a workman knocked off her nose, with the bright white replacement she appeared to have snorted cocaine. Alas, it’s now repaired in time for the 2012 Olympics

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

From the reigns of King Charles II to George IV Chelsea’s King’s Road was a private thoroughfare which only the royal family could use

The lions of Trafalgar Square were sculpted from life, artist Landseer used a dead lion supplied by London Zoo until the neighbours complained of the smell. A cat was the replacement

When Regent Street was built windows on its eastern side were larger than opposite to encourage Mayfair residents to cross the road

On 28 April 1923 King George V cut the first turf at the newly built Wembley Stadium,it’s not recorded whether he came back to paint the lines

The name of Blue Post public houses take their title from the markers which denoted the start of a rank for sedan chairs in Georgian London

The drop out rate for ‘The Knowledge’, the stringent test to qualify as a London cab driver is over 70 per cent

House numbers in London always have the lowest numbers starting at the end of the street closest to Charing Cross

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.

A New River for London

There cannot be many commoners who have given their name to so many parts of London as Sir Hugh Myddleton (or had their name misspelt as much), and today marks the 400th anniversary of the opening of his venture to bring water into London from Hertfordshire. Londoners only had access to water from wells or from the filthy Thames, via a large waterwheel at London Bridge. A challenge issued by King James that finally brought a solution to the problem.

[H]aving made his fortune in London as the Royal Jeweller to King James I,  Sir Hugh Myddleton proposed to construct a water conduit from Amwell in Hertfordshire into the capital. His scheme was to run the water’s flow along the 100ft contour line but he met with vociferous opposition to the scheme as it ran its sinuous path across farmers’ fields on its route to London.

220px-Statue_Of_Sir_Hugh_Middleton-Royal_Exchange-LondonSir Hugh Myddleton’s statue on the Royal Exchange

Some evidence of his venture can still be seen, in Enfield Town, a little park has the New River running through it before going underground. Popping up again at Bush Hill Park as it wends its way through Palmers Green disappearing underground again when it reaches Myddleton Road at Bowes Park. It next appears alongside the two reservoirs constructed for this venture by the Amhurst Park and Seven Sisters Road junction before going underground at – yes, you’ve guessed it – Myddleton Avenue, with a final above ground appearance in Cannonbury at New River Walk.

The original venture comprising of over 38 miles terminated at New River Head was opened on 29th September 1613 when water was let into the Round Pond at New River Head at the site of the Thames Water Board’s headquarters (now converted into flats) at the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Hardwick Street.

Water was then taken from the reservoir into the city in pipes made from hollowed elm logs and then into individual houses through lead pipes. By 1670, up to two-thirds of houses in many parts of London had running water thanks to the New River.

The cost of the scheme proved beyond the means of Myddleton’s private fortune and he approached the King for help. As he was the Crown jeweller the King agreed to pay half the cost of the whole undertaking for half the profit as a sleeping partner. It proved a good investment by 1700 a single share paid about £200 a year but and by 1766 it was worth £8,000 a year.

The New River Company remained London’s most important water supplier for 300 years and the venture is commemorated in many ways around the Islington area of north London.

Sir Hugh Myddleton’s house at Myddleton Corner was at 140-3 Upper Street, built in 1595 the building was rebuilt in 1891 and a terracotta plaque on the first floor attests to this. Myddleton Hall is to be found in Almeida Street and now used as the Almeida Theatre.

Sir_Hugh_Myddleton,_Islington_Green_-_geograph_org_uk_-_320766 Sir Hugh Myddleton’s statue Islington Green

Islington’s finest square is Myddelton Square just south of the Angel, off the square is River Street which runs into Amwell Street commemorating the source of the water supply in Hertfordshire. Almost opposite the old Water Board’s headquarters stands Hugh Myddelton Junior and Infant School in Myddelton Street and Myddleton’s statute is to be found on Islington Green facing towards the end of his venture.

There is a fountain playing at the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Arlington Way where Sadler’s Wells still stands which and marks the New River’s final destination.

myddelton arms Myddelton Arms Canonbury Road, Islington

Other London streets that bear Myddleton’s name include: Myddelton Close EN1; Myddelton Gardens N21; Myddelton Park N20; Myddelton Passage EC1; Myddelton Road N8; Myddleton Mews N22.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 29th September 2013

When I were a nipper


When I were a nipper at about this time of year we would go up West to see the annual pantomime at the London Palladium. In the early 1950s, the Palladium would always have its annual feast of comedy characters in drag: Frankie Howard; Richard Hearne (Mr Pastry); Max Bygraves; and my all time favourite Norman Wisdom.

But the highlight of the trip was not an early introduction into the world of theatre, but the gastronomical delight that preceded the show – a trip to a Lyons Tea Room or Lyons Corner Houses. In the days when Lyons had aspirations beyond a Mr Kipling Bakewell tart these vast emporiums dominated the casual dining market in London.

[T]he first Lyons teashop opened in Piccadilly in 1894, the premises are still a cafe and now called Ponti’s where you can still see the original stucco ceiling of the original teashop. The Lyons teashops became so popular that in the 1950s there were seven along Oxford Street alone and 250 nationally, but it was their Corner Houses which were the most impressive. In total London had three: one on the junction with Tottenham Court Road and Hanway Street; a second at Coventry Street and Rupert Street; the third at the intersection of Strand and Craven Street.

They were huge, the entire ground floor was taken up as a food hall where Mum would buy such luxury goods as coleslaw or Parmesan cheese. Above were three or four levels of restaurants each with their own decorative style with an orchestra playing throughout the day.

But the best was the waitresses in their maid like black dresses, with white aprons and tiara type hats. Originally called “Gladys” by 1926 it was felt that name was old fashioned and suggestions included “Sybil-at-your-service”, Miss Nimble”, Miss Natty”, “Busy Betty” and “Dextrous Doris”, but they eventually were referred to as Nippies because of their ability to move speedily around the diners tables and often no doubt trying to avoid the advances of middle-aged men, although it was reported by Picture Post that every year 800-900 Nippies got married to customers “met on duty” and the publication wrote that being a Nippy was good training for becoming a housewife.

The Corner Houses also had hairdressers, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and a food delivery service. These were also pioneers of self-service dining, and an amusing anecdote by John Hall tells of the Lyons Corner House in the Strand which offered a fixed price meal, with the attraction of being able to fit as much as you could on your tray for the one price. Unfortunately, the tray was on a conveyor belt moving down the counter quicker than you could stack it with food.

Two other Corner Houses were managed under the Maison Lyons brand one at Marble Arch and the other in Shaftsbury Avenue called The Trocadero, which during the war was given over to American troops and known as Rainbow Corner, it can’t have been a coincidence
that the Windmill with its proud boast “We Never Close” which offered male entertainment was opposite.

In a world just recovering from a devastating war with much a London laid to rubble by the bombing and sweet rationing still in force, high tea was a luxury but sadly the last teashop closed in 1981. Now the good news is that Lyons style tea houses are set to return. Headed by a former operations chief at Starbucks, but don’t let that put you off, using the Lyons teashop brand the first opened in Bluewater shopping centre.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 3rd January 2012

London Trivia: Good News

On 21 April 1955 a strike which had paralysed Fleet Street ended, the Electricians and Engineers Union, seeking a rise of £2 per week had stopped all publications from the famous newspaper street. The only unaffected paper was the Guardian produced in Manchester. Big news events the Fleet Street papers have missed included Sir Winston Churchill’s resignation and the announcement of a general election.

On 21 April 1834 saw a meeting on Copenhagen Fields, Islington protesting against the deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Australia

One for the Road and On the Waggon derive from condemned prisoners going to Tyburn being given a drink at the Angel PH St Giles High Street

On 21 April 1933 The Rum Quay West India Docks caught fire burning for 4 days. 6,500 puncheons (3.1 million litres) of rum kept it going

On 21 April 1926 The Queen (Elizabeth II) was born at 21 Bruton Street, Mayfair, eldest daughter of George VI & Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon

The clock at Horse Guards has a black square on the dial denoting the time King Charles I was executed outside Banqueting House opposite

The location shots in the 1950s film Passport to Pimlico were shot not in affluent Pimlico but poorer Lambeth and Vauxhall in south London

On 21 April 1964 BBC2 was launched; however, a fire at Battersea Power Station caused power cuts and only brief news’ updates were shown

In 1895, an American visitor demonstrated a new type of basketball where the girls played with wastepaper baskets at both ends of the hall. This was the first game of netball to be ever played in the UK. The rules were codified in 1901

The first man ever to fly from London to Manchester did so by following the whitewashed sleepers of the London and North Western Railway

Established in 1805 Truefitt and Hill of St. James’s Street remains the world’s oldest barbershop having served nine consecutive Monarchs

Only members of the Royal Family are allowed to drive through the central arch at Horse Guards – Kate Middleton did so after her marriage

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.