London Trivia: Lady Thatcher’s maiden speech

On 30 June 1992 Margaret Thatcher took her place in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. In her first debate she spoke out against the government on the Maastricht Treaty. She would be proved right, its adoption gave rise to Ukip and ultimately the Referendum to leave the EU. She was Britain’s first woman prime minister in 1979, and the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century.

On 30 June 1937 the British emergency number 999 was introduced, the first telephone system of its kind in the world

On 30 June 1967 a sky-blue Bentley collected Mick Jagger from the Scrubs and Keith Richards from Brixton after doing time for drugs

On 30 June 1894, under a cloudless sky, Tower Bridge was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII)

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

The Ayrton Light atop Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower (known as Big Ben) shines to show that the House is sitting

When Ellen Terry visited Whistler’s Chelsea studio Oscar Wilde described seeing her arrive in the full regalia of Lady Macbeth

King James I kept elephants in St James’s Park. They were allowed a gallon of wine a day each to get through the English winter

Dash to Pope’s Road, Brixton in September to watch the Brixton Bolt, see if you can beat Usain’s 100 metre time of 9.58

Jubilee Line trains have been decorated for the Jubilee – appropriate really, as line originally named for 1977 one (hence silver on map)

The Castle pub in Farringdon holds a pawnbrokers licence granted by George IV when he left a heirloom in lieu of a gambling loan

During the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys buried his prized possession, a chunk of parmesan cheese, in his back garden

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.

The elephant in the room

During the time that I was studying there, I would spend a lot of my time at college staring out of the window at a silver cube in the middle of the Elephant and Castle northern roundabout. Today I would bet the thousands who pass through that roundabout don’t even notice the enormous box in front of them. At 75ft wide and 20ft high it is what must be by volume the largest monument in London – and nobody seems to notice it.

[T]HE MICHAEL FARADAY MEMORIAL was designed by the brutalist architect Rodney Gordon who, with the regeneration of the Elephant in the early 60s, wanted to embody his visionary credentials of the man who was the area’s favourite son, who was born in nearby Newington Butts.

No glass

Unfortunately even though the notorious Heygate Estate was still under construction vandalism was already a problem. So out went Rodney Gordon’s box of glass, which would have allowed the public to see the London Underground transformer beneath, and thus make a connection with the pioneer of electricity. The glass was substituted by polished stainless steel panels, but they needn’t have bothered with the increasing traffic levels closer inspection is almost impossible marooned as it is surrounded by the Elephant and Castle gyratory system.

Blue Peter competition

In 1996 Blue Peter held a competition, which was won by a local schoolgirl from English Martyr R.C. Primary School, to design a lighting scheme to illuminate its 728 steel panels and thus draw the public’s attention to its presence.

That same year the monument gained Grade II listing status, unlike its neighbour the Heygate Estate currently in the process of being demolished.

The box has appeared on the BBC’s Dr. Who and Harry Potter, but despite its size and prominence it is ignored by Londoners. In 1995 the Evening Standard carried a picture of the cube with the caption ‘What on Earth is it?’

For more about post-war Elephant and Castle check out my colleague’s View from the Mirror.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 16th November 2012

Lost in translation

London cabbies have the reputation that they have an opinion on everything; they will not go south of the River; and know just about anything to do with London, which we do little to dispel, but are patently untrue.

This third urban myth that we are in fact just a mobile information desk to catch ‘The Lost of London’ and point them in the right direction must consume hours of a cabbie’s time every day.

[C]ONTEMPLATING THE MEANING OF LIFE whilst waiting at traffic lights, The Lost Tourists break into one’s hypnotic state, surprise and momentarily disorientated you. They ask with trepidation sometimes in a northern accent “Do you know the way to the Lyceum for the Lion King”?

You see it’s 7.21 in the evening, they are hopelessly lost and the show commences in nine minutes. Sure you can drive them, but it’s Covent Garden, gridlocked as usual, and you know with the one-way systems it’s far quicker to walk.


You are flummoxed, but you must never reveal this, you’re the world authority on everything London, right? But as you spend an entire lifetime driving, walking in the opposite direction to the road’s one-way system is – well just weird.

Don’t show your indecision, not a frown must pass your countenance, not even for a nano-second. “Certainly Sir, it isn’t far from here, just a few minutes’ walk away”.

That has bought a few more seconds thought. Do you now send them across the Piazza, but what does the back of the Opera House look like? Would they know when to turn right? And are they going to even know when to turn into that famous square?

Your momentarily pause in answering has brought on near hysteria from the girlfriend, who has spent hours getting ready little realising that Londoners dress down nowadays to go to the theatre. They have spent nearly an hour walking around the area’s labyrinthine streets and to cap it all can hardly understand the cabbie with his cockney accent.

Private hire attracting my attention

By now, and I swear TfL do this deliberately – the lights have changed and that nice private hire driver in his Mercedes is suggesting, by the use of his horn, that conversing with pedestrians just isn’t to his liking.

The best pedestrian route that was forming in your brain has disappeared from your consciousness, and to make matters worse at the end of the road, now empty of traffic due to your inability to more forward, is a fare.

“Look walk just down to the end of the street, turn left and you can’t miss it”. Yes very professional, but at least they start to move in the right direction. And come to think of it you haven’t told them that the start of the show is not to be missed with a sun rising over Africa’s savannah.

Now, where was that fare I saw?

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 31st January 2012

London Trivia: A floating pound

On 23 June 1972 the Government floated the pound to shore up its value, assuring the public the pound would return to operating within fixed trading bands in time for Britain to join its European partners in 1973. Britain did join the Common Market, but the economy went from bad to worse. Mr Barber then imposed a 90 day price freeze from 6 November. Prime Minister Edward Heath was finally forced to call a snap election.

On 23 June 1998 the Heathrow Express opened with a railway service from Paddington station to Heathrow Airport

The 1839 Metropolitan Police Act, s.60, ss.3 makes it an offence to dust off your carpet outside in London after 8am punishable by £200 fine

Artillery Lane Spitalfields is named after the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company here before moving to Moorgate

Jimi Hendrix’s last performance was at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, on the day before he died – a jam with Eric Burdon

On 23 June 1951 Russian spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to Moscow but only after a leisurely lunch at the RAC Club

Now demolished, Nicholl House on the Woodberry Down Estate, Hackney was the backdrop for the Warsaw Ghetto in the film Schindler’s List

When Peter the Great stayed in the Deptford home of John Evelyn in 1698 he trashed his garden and drank his wine

Ping-pong bar Bounce at 121 Holborn is on the site where John Jacques created and patented the game in 1901

Roding Valley is the least used station on the London Underground network – it has fewer passengers in a year than Victoria has in a day

18th century Author Dr Johnson tried making pots at the Chelsea China Works but they kept collapsing and he gave up

Prince Edward had collected so many mistresses that a special pew was reserved for them at his coronation: it was known as the ‘Loose Box’

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.

Armadillo swallows London Stone

When learning The Knowledge some days remain etched in your memory forever. One such day for me was when I went to find a ‘point’ – London Stone – note it is not a definite article, even though it patently is.

I searched Cannon Street looking to find a clue to the elusive stone, up the sides of buildings, perched high up on a roof, inside the station, until I tracked down my quarry.

[T]HERE BEHIND A HIDEOUS GRILL attached to a scruffy 1960’s office was one of London’s oldest landmarks, known to have been in the City since 1198.

It is an unprepossessing piece of Clipston limestone or oolite. With its round-shouldered top and twin grooves, measuring about 18 inches across if found in a field, one would ignore it. Legend says that this small stone is linked to the destiny of our capital city, hence its Grade II listing.

Minerva the company who was developing the site wished to move this rare artefact. The name of the company is taken from the Roman goddess of wisdom, but in this instance, concerning a rare Roman piece of history not a lot of wisdom is being demonstrated, it’s just convenient for Minerva as they wanted to move the artefact a few doors down the street to the Walbrook Building.

The Walbrook Building, one of the City’s newer office blocks designed by Foster and Partners’, looks like a metal armadillo, a very modern building but with few heritage nods at ground level. Two of the metal struts planted firmly into Cannon Street incorporate small black plaques that once marked former ward boundaries. They look a bit incongruous, to be frank, but at least they’re still on site rather than scrapped and dumped elsewhere.

The plan was to relocate London Stone to the front elevation of the Walbrook Building and a special display case built to contain the legendary lump of rock. One of the existing grey panels was to be replaced by a laminated glass wall, and the stone placed inside on an etched mild steel plinth. And the grille coming too, given a less prominent position beneath, plus the metal plaque that currently sits on top of them all.

The Stone has had a chequered history. It was referenced in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2, but by the 18th Century, it was known more like a traffic hazard. The Stone was moved back and forth across Cannon Street and eventually ended up in St. Swithin’s Church, until the building was bombed in World War II. Since the early 1960s, the Stone has been housed at street level in an office building, opposite Cannon Street Station, so it certainly has led a life of travel.

Old enough to remember the original Olympics in Rome, should this piece of stone be now relocated behind glass, as if it was a museum exhibit, in one of the most modern buildings of London, divorced from the everyday fabric of the city?

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 21st August 2012