When it comes to preserving Britain’s heritage, it is often small groups of enthusiasts who end up doing all the heavy lifting. This certainly goes for the fine volunteers behind the Stretcher Railing Society, who are campaigning to save London’s railings made of unused wartime stretchers.

[I]N THE ANTICIPATION of enormous casualties during the Second World War, more than 600,000 steel stretchers were mass-produced by Steelway in Wolverhampton to be used by Air Raid Protection officers.
The stretchers consisted of a wire mesh and two steel poles, while two kinks at either end of each pole allowed the stretcher to be rested on the ground and picked up easily.

Despite high casualties, fortunately not all the stretchers were used and authorities were left with enormous stockpiles at the end of the war. As railings across the city had been removed to aid the production of munitions and war materials, this seemed like the perfect opportunity and stretchers were turned into railings. Across London, particularly in the south-east and east, they were welded together and fixed into position.

Today, there are still many post-war estates that have surviving stretcher railings, although it’s fair to say that most have seen better days.

Now history enthusiasts are pooling their efforts to preserve them and have called for passers-by to send in pictures of railing sightings.

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Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part V

HouseNow we have visited most streets and squares on my Cabbies’ Monopoly board, it’s time now to build a house. The houses in the true 1930s Monopoly fashion should be semi-detached with bay windows with the ubiquitous privet hedge marking their road boundary. The CabbieBlog houses here are just a little grander than your average semi.

Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family; the Dukes of Northumberland demolished in 1874. Standing just south from Trafalgar Square it was the last of the great Strand mansions to succumb. His grace did have another house to fall back on though; Syon House in Isleworth and it was to this estate the giant emblematic Percy Lion – which had stood guard over the main gateway facing the Strand to Northumberland House for over 150 years – was taken. In the 17th century the house formed part of the dowry when the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter married Lord Percy.

Once one of the biggest houses in London once stood on his large square. Celebrated for its rather dangerous entertainments in 1672 John Evelyn dined here and was beguiled by Richardson “the famous fire-eater, who before us devour’d Brimston on glowing coales, chewing and swallowing hem downe”.

Life here was even more dangerous 100 years later when the father of the future “Mad” King George III, when still the Prince of Wales died after being hit in the throat with a cricket ball. And here’s one for the pub quiz: In 1780 the Toxophilite Society was inaugurated here.

The site of the King’s Mews, a vast building in which the Royal Hawks were kept, falconers lodged and daily services held in the “Chapel of the Muwes”. Geoffrey Chaucer once toiled there as a clerk of works. After a fire the mews were rebuilt as stabling during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the civil war the mews became barracks for the Parliamentary Army and after the Battle of Naseby about 4,500 Cavalier prisoners were incarcerated there. In its last years the main building was used as a menagerie and a store for public records, demolished in 1830.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 15th April 2011

London Trivia: A minature St. Paul’s

On 26 May 1906 Vauxhall Bridge was opened by The Prince of Wales. Finished 5-years behind schedule it has decorated on its arches eight allegorical figures: agriculture; architecture; engineering; pottery; education; fine arts sciences; and bizarrely local government. Architecture features a model of St. Paul’s, but you have to lean over the parapet to see it. It was the first bridge to incorporate tram lines.

On 26 May 1868 Fenian Michael Barrett, found guilty of blowing up the Clerkenwell House of Detention was the last man to be hanged publicly

Under the 1752 Murder Act: The Company of Surgeons, Barts and St Thomas Hospitals were each entitled to 10 hanged corpses a year

The glazed-iron roof of Royal Albert Hall measures 20,000 sq.ft. and was at the time of building the largest unsupported glass dome in the world

In Westminster Bridge Road is the entrance to an old station from where passengers took their last journey to Brookwood Cemetery

Within 2 years from the start of World War II twenty-six per cent of London’s pets were destroyed, a quarter of a mile queue formed outside a Wood Green vets

The leather for Lady Penelope’s Thunderbirds limousine came from Bridge Weir Leather, the same company that upholsters Parliament’s benches

The short Holywell Street was the centre for the Victorian gay porn trade, with an estimated 57 pornography shops in as many yards

The museum at Lord’s Long Room has a perfume jar containing the original Ashes, and a stuffed sparrow bowled out in 1936 by Jehangir Khan

On 26 May 1950 the Government ended petrol rationing, the motoring organisations dubbed it VP (Victory for Petrol) Day

South Bank’s Anchor Brewery, once the largest brewery in the world, all that remains is the old brewery tap the Anchor Tavern on Park Street

Dukes Hotel, once part of St. James’s Palace, has knee height locks on doors because the staff used to have to enter and exit whilst bowing

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.

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part IV

Returning again to the 1930’s Monopoly set that I discovered in the attic. This time it’s all about money ‘Pass Go and Collect £200’, £200 doesn’t seem much today, but remember you can buy Mayfair from the Duke of Westminster for only £400, what a bargain. Assuming you have collected your £200 where do you go to spend your gain, the shops of course.

Forget Oxford Street, Regent Street is by far a more elegant place to shop. Designed by John Nash, the original construction with its elegant curves had a covered colonnade for pedestrians to walk under to protect them from the elements as they moved from shop to shop.

It proved rather popular for prostitutes to use as a cat-walk while displaying their wares so it was demolished by 1920. The shop fronts now just look like any other row of shops. Hamleys would look rather interesting for the children with the “ladies” parading outside.

Yes you are right Bond Street doesn’t exist. Old Bond Street is only 14 years older than its newer sibling, both acquired the aristocratic seal of approval when the Duchess of Devonshire in 1784, after a fit of pique, organised a boycott against the hitherto smarter shops of Covent Garden.

Modern Bond Streets are packed with designer label flagship stores and jewellers which have become a favourite with smash and grab thieves on motorbikes. Separating the two streets is pedestrianised and has a sculpture depicting Churchill and Roosevelt seated on a bench.

Named after the curious ruff much favoured by Elizabethans, the starched collar was called a piccadill. J. C. Cording the suppliers of tweed and cords to the huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ set is part owned by “Slowhand” himself Eric Clapton. Waterstones opposite was once Simpsons of Piccadilly department store and Jeremy Lloyd having worked as a shop assistant there based his 1970 comedy Are You Being Served on his experience. While Fortnum & Mason was started by William Fortnum Queen Anne’s footman who saved his pennies to start the store by selling cut price candles to the palace.

The Americans wanted to buy the freehold to build their embassy, but the Grosvenor family never sell, all are leased. When told they couldn’t buy the land they insisted and petitioned Parliament; the Grosvenor family were heavily leaned on but all to no avail. Then the Duke thought of a good compromise. He told them that if they were to return to the Grosvenor family all those lands in the United States stolen after the American War of Independence including Maine and New York he would allow them to buy their site on the west side of Grosvenor Square, they backed down.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 1st April 2011

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part III

Go to jailHere is another CabbieBlog excursion into my old 1930s Monopoly set that I found in the attic, this time crime and punishment is featured in our less enlightened times.

Take the punishment meted out to banker Henry Fauntleroy. Having been found guilty of defrauding the Bank of England of £250,000 (today’s Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get out of bed for that trifling amount), his public hanging on 30th November 1824 outside Newgate prison attracted 100,000 people, the largest ever crowd to watch a public execution. Unpopular, not for being a banker, but for squandering the money that he managed to steal from the English people.

Taking its name from the river nearby, the Fleet Prison was one of the most feared penal centres in London.

The prison provided the starting point for public whipping where offenders were forced to walk the length of Fleet Street to Temple Bar attended by a constable charged with whipping sufficiently hard ‘to make the back bloody’, when the punishment was over the victim could look up at Temple Bar which provided a convenient place to display the bloody decapitated heads of traitors. To stop the head being picked clean by birds it would be boiled in brine and cumin seed.

Originally built in the shape of a bow it was once an elegant street that later became notorious for its brothels; it was also the site of Will’s Coffee House, a forerunner of Starbucks, where the famous would sit around talking nonsense all day. Home to Bow Street Magistrate’s Court until 2006, Henry Fielding started the Bow Street Runners here in the 18th century and his half brother John was a magistrate who pursued crime “with vigour and success”.

Although blind John Fielding was given the improbable credit of being able to recognise 3,000 thieves by their voices.

As its name alludes to, Park Lane was once just a lane alongside Hyde Park, now a six-lane dual carriageway terminating at its northern extremity with Marble Arch. Once the site of Tyburn, the gallows there would, for the economy of scale accommodate 21 men and women at a time. Convention dictated the order of precedence, highwaymen as the “aristocrats of crime” were dispatched first presumably to ensure a higher number of spectators would attend before they became bored with the entertainment, next would come common thieves, with traitors being left to bring up the rear.

Half way down Whitehall lays Banqueting House the only remaining part of the old Whitehall Palace. It has a gallery where the King’s subjects could watch him dine. The ceiling by Rubens celebrates the benefits of wise rule, the irony of which is not lost on historians as the painted ceiling was one of the last things King Charles I would see before being beheaded for not listening to his people. His neck vertebrae was only recovered hundreds of years later when a horrified Queen Victoria discovered that her surgeon Sir Henry Halford was using it as a salt cellar for his fish and chips.

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