It’s Saturday, 6th February 1875, and a group of middle-class philanthropists are in a self-congratulatory frame of mind, even though the day has seen two trains colliding at Waterloo Station, only three miles away, and the weather is inclement, a portent of the later months of the year when they will experience one of the heaviest snowfalls for a generation.
There are reasons to feel rather smug, Joseph Bazalgette is putting the finishing touches to London’s sewer network, so at least those assembled will not have to face a soakaway again, and London is the richest and most successful city on the planet.
But the reason the one-hundred or so attendees from the Great and the Good were assembled was a witness the Hon. A. Kinnaird, the Vice President of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, taking a well-earned break from his duties as a Member of Parliament, to open the first shelter purchased from funds raised.
The choice of Acacia Road to install the first Cabmen’s Shelter in London (other cities already had their version of a place cabbies could shelter, rest and eat) was well chosen. This area of St. John’s Wood is regarded as England’s first ‘garden development’, the first London suburb with lower-density villa housing and frequent avenues, but fewer communal garden squares, construction standards were high and the new inhabitants were bankers, merchants and gentlemen of independent means. With Regent’s Park to the south and Lord’s Cricket Ground a short walk away, the road runs between Wellington Road to Avenue Road.
It was the culmination of a campaign by The Globe newspaper to get these shelters erected to deter cabbies from frequenting alehouses. On Friday, 2nd January 1874 The Globe asked for donations to build cabmen’s shelters, a prototype of which had operated fro 1872 in Knightsbridge. By Christmas, the fund had reached more than £200 sufficient to construct the first one.
Standing in Acacia Road today, with St. John’s Wood Tube Station behind, I can see why this spot was chosen, the Tube Station would 64 years away from providing a means to get around London, and according to Rightmove today’s average price for a house is £5,723,833, clearly, this was always an affluent area in need of cabs.
Private security guards patrol the area on foot day and night and the Israeli Ambassador’s residence, with a police presence, with yards away. The Royal Horse Artillery might have moved out of their barracks in nearby Ordnance Hill to make way for private developers, but there is still enough security around here to assuage the most nervous resident.
The nearest Cabmen’s Shelter today is now a 5-minute walk away in Wellington Place, close to Lords Cricket Ground, hence its nicknames – ‘The Chapel’ or ‘Nursery End’.