The man on the Clapham Omnibus

The Man on The Clapham Omnibus is a hypothetical ‘reasonable’ person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party had acted as any ‘reasonable’ person. He is deemed to be reasonably educated and reasonably intelligent but nevertheless a nondescript person. This broadly fictional person is measured against the defendant’s conduct.

The term was thought to have been introduced into English law during the Victorian era, although the exact derivation is disputed.

At the time Clapham was viewed as a commuter suburb seen to represent ‘ordinary’ London, and the man was seen to be commuting to work using the most common form of transport of the day.

Over time the original route of the Clapham Omnibus has been lost but is thought by some that the number 88 bus follows the route of the original Clapham Omnibus from Camden to Clapham Common. The 88 bus has 49 stops departing from Parliament Hill Fields, just north of Clapham terminating at the fortuitously named Omnibus Clapham, operating from 00:01 and ending at 23:49, taking an average 84 minutes to complete the journey.

So today using the terminology of The Knowledge, followed by the appropriate bus stop denoted in italic, I’m following this classic route of a ‘reasonable’ person.

L on L Highgate Road
Parliament Hill Fields (GK)

Parliament Hill is so named when Guy Fawkes intended to blow up Parliament on 5th November the plotters intended to watch The Houses of Parliament burn from that vantage point.

F Kentish Town Road
Gordon House Road (GN)

In 1966 The Kinks used nearby Little Green Street as a backdrop for their 1966 song Dead End Street is has eight bow-fronted homes which were originally shops, selling goods such as ribbons, coffee and mousetraps.

B/L Camden Street
R Camden Road
L Bayham Street
R Pratt Street
Pratt Street (CS)

Pedestrian crossings are the brainchild of the gloriously named First Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon, who in 1934 as Transport Minister was appalled by the statistics that in one year 7,343 had died on Britain’s roads. Soon after being appointed to the post he nearly became a statistic as he used one of his pedestrian crossings. His brush with death came as he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot up – or was that down? It was two-way then – the street narrowly missing the good Baron.

R Camden High Street
L Delancey Street
L Parkway
B/L Albany Road
Chester Gate (Q)

The site of 37 Albany Street was once home to naturalist William Buckland, his friends were guests at Albany Street and were treated to a roasted hedgehog, grilled crocodile streak, slug soup, horse’s tongue, boiled elephant trunk, rhinoceros pie and boiled porpoise head which tasted like ‘broiled lamp-wick’. If you partook of his generous hospitality, the chances are that the dish of the day came from an animal that had roamed Buckland’s house and garden a little earlier as a pet. The stewed mole was a dish that Buckland announced to be the most revolting thing he’d eaten, though this was before he tried ‘horribly bitter’ earwigs and ‘unspeakable’ bluebottles. Buckland acquired exotic creatures when there was a death at nearby London Zoo. On one occasion returning from holiday he was furious to discover in his absence, the zoo had buried a dead leopard. Buckland eagerly dug it up for supper.

L Osnaburgh Terrace
R Osnaburgh Street
F Great Portland Street
R New Cavendish Street
L Portland Place
New Cavendish Street

Over the entrance of the BBC is a  statute of Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolising the future of broadcasting to the world. Eric Gill, its sculptor, insisted on carving the statute in situ. Standing on scaffolding above the entrance, female employees on arriving would be greeted by the unwelcome sight of London’s first ‘builder’s bum’ for Gill wore a monk’s habit with nothing underneath.

F Langham Place
F Regent Street
Conduit Street / Hamleys Toy Store (T)

In the 1960s the Regent Street Association realising their less prestigious cousin had started erecting Christmas decorations and was taking all the compliments were not to be outdone. They hired an Italian designer charged with producing a ‘tasteful’ display to rival their competitor. His solution was to produce giant white flying angels made out of papier-mâché posed with their faces looking down serenely at the crowds below. This particular November saw an exceptional amount of rain, even by London standards. The Italian designer just hadn’t taken in the fact that England is considerably damper than the Mediterranean. Soon the press was running the story about Pregnant Angels as the decorations filled with water, no doubt to the amusement of Oxford Street retailers.

F Piccadilly Circus
F Coventry Street
R Haymarket
B/L Cockspur Street
Cockspur Street, London

This statue of King Charles I is the point used as the starting point to measure distances from London. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried it in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He gave it back to Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Comply King Charles I Statue
L/B Whitehall
Whitehall / Trafalgar Square (N)

In the 18th century, London’s streets were not paved, leaving many thoroughfares boggy and treacherous. Craig’s Court was no exception and the sodden road, coupled with the dead-end’s narrowness resulted in Lord Onslow’s coach becoming lodged as he approached Harrington House. So tight was the squeeze that a hole had to be cut in the coach’s roof so that the flustered and infuriated Speaker of The House of Commons could drag himself out. When he returned to Parliament, Arthur Onslow pushed through a bill which required London householders to ensure kerbstones were laid outside their door- thus giving birth to ordered pavements.

F Parliament Street
53 Parliament Street, London

On 2 June 2001, Brian Haw decided to begin camping in Parliament Square in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. Unfortunately for Brian, the Second Iraq War overtook events making him a cause célèbre and preventing him from ever giving up his one-man protest against the forces of the State. Westminster City Council then failed to prosecute Brian for causing an obstruction on the pavement, and his continuous use of a megaphone led to objections by Members of Parliament. Then in a glorious twist, a House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended that the law be changed to prohibit his protest as his camp could provide an opportunity for terrorists to disguise explosive devices. The Government then passed a provision to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, however, because Brian’s protest was on-going and residing on Parliament Square prior to the enactment of the Act, it was unclear whether the Act applied to him.

Comply Parliament Square
b>L/B Broad Sanctuary
F Victoria Street
L Great Smith Street
F Marsham Street
R John Islip Street
L Vauxhall Bridge Road
F Bessborough Gardens
43 Ponsonby Place, London

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. The 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.

F Vauxhall Bridge
R & L Vauxhall Bus Station
R South Lambeth Place
F South Lambeth Road
South Lambeth Road / Stockwell Station (B)

On Lansdowne Way is Stockwell bus garage which was described by author Will Self as “a pod of whales, a concrete Leviathan, frozen in the mid arch as they swim through the rather choppy brick sea of south London”. So how is it that the overnight parking space for 200 buses is so admired and has been given Grade II* listing Opened in 1952, its 410-feet long roof structure formed of ten, extremely shallow ‘two-hinged’ arched ribs covering 73,350 square feet, was Europe’s largest unsupported roof span at the time of construction.

L Lansdowne Way
R Clapham Road
F Clapham High Street
Clapham North & High Street Stations (G)

Clapham’s earliest settlers arrived to escape London’s fire and pestilence of the 1660s later the area expanded due to its easy access to London by stagecoach started in 1690, the village was given prestige by the residence of Samuel Pepys, diarist and naval administrator, from 1700 until his death three years later.
B/R Clapham Common South Side

R Rookery Road
R Clapham Common North Side
F Omnibus Clapham
Omnibus Clapham

When Caribbean migrants stepped off MV Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948, many had nowhere to live. The lack of housing in London following World War Two meant even temporary accommodation was in short supply. So 236 were bussed from Tilbury docks to Clapham, where for six shillings and sixpence a week they got food and a bed in a shelter underneath Clapham South Tube Station. The underground passages had been fitted with bunk beds and washing facilities when they were used as civilian shelters during the war.
Those same immigrants were employed by London Transport to drive buses along the route of the Clapham Omnibus.

4 thoughts on “The man on the Clapham Omnibus”

    1. When ever I collided with a cabby I would always curse loudly for a while, then shake hands and part amicably. London is a strange place eh?
      P.s. I found a heavier bike sticks to the road better, not sure I’d brave the job on a putt putt again!


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