Rockin’ Roads

As someone who has made a good living studying maps, I’ve come to accept that many roads are named after local worthies, some of these are commemorating politicians, and some commendably feature the name of a local hero or it could be a sports person, in fact, Tessa Sanderson has two to her name.

But one group seems to have been forgotten – musicians. So much so I’ve only managed to locate four in London.

Bob Marley Way, Brixton

Bob Marley arrived in London on 3 January 1977, fleeing Kingston after an attempt to kill him (he would go to his grave years later with a bullet still lodged in his arm), he moved into 42 Oakley Street, just off the King’s Road, giving him easy access to the recording company Island Studios in Basing Street, Notting Hill. Marley would leave London after 16 months returning to Jamaica in April 1978. His eponymous street is off Mayall Road which runs parallel to Railton Road, but so small it doesn’t appear on the map.

Ronnie Lane, Manor Park

With a name that lends itself perfectly to a street, Ronnie Lane was an obvious choice when naming a new development. Close to the North Circular, Ronnie Lane has three entirely separate stunted dead ends leading off two different main roads. A founder member of the 1960s rock band Small Faces, the Plaistow-born musician, who subsequently played bass guitar with Faces, acquired the nickname ‘Three-Piece’, much like the three cul-de-sacs which now take his name. He died in 1997, after suffering from multiple sclerosis for more than two decades.

Vera Lynn Close, Forest Gate

The singer, from East Ham, became known as the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’ for her performances and recordings during the Second World War. She became the first centenarian to have an album in the charts last year when a collection of songs to mark her 100th birthday made it into the top three. Again this close off Dames Road is too small to feature on a map.

Freddie Mercury Close, Feltham

Farrokh Bulsara worked at nearby Heathrow washing dishes in a kitchen, growing up at 22 Gladstone Avenue (another road named after a worthy), which is marked with a blue plaque. Farrokh is better known as Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury, but I’m surprised they haven’t put the giant figure which stood outside the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road at the entrance to this unprepossessing cul-de-sac off Hanworth Road.

Featured image: Ronnie Lane, Manor Park, London Borough of Newham. Street named after British musician Ronnie Lane by Sludgegulper (CC-BY-SA-2.0).

London in Quotations: James Thomson

London’s spiry turrets rise. / Think of its crimes, its cares, its pain, / Then shield me in the woods again.

James Thomson (1914-1953)

London Trivia: Iron Lady wields bar

On 28 March 1979 as Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher brought a vote of no confidence in James Callaghan and his Labour government. It proved to be an important step towards her becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister. The Labour Government lost by one vote (311 votes to 310), which was announced at 10:19 pm. The result forced a general election which was won by the Conservatives.

On 28 March 1858 the original Chelsea toll and suspension bridge designed by Thomas Page was opened

Don’t walk down a London street carrying a plank of wood or even cross the pavement to a waiting car its an offence carrying a £500 fine

The Savoy Hotel has a remnant of Victoriana. A gaslight designed to burn off methane from the sewage system, provide light and remove smells

The statue of William Huskisson in Pimlico Gardens depicts the first person ever to be killed by a train he stands rather informally on his plinth, one sandalled foot over the edge

In 1796 a Commons Committee spent days debating a plan to dig a channel across the Isle of Dogs to save sailing time around the peninsular

The South Bank Lion on Westminster Bridge is made of Coade Stone which resists weather erosion, the formula was lost with its inventor’s death

Londoners are known for their reluctance to talk to strangers but love social networking and send more Tweets than any other world city

On 28 March 1925, the Oxford boat sank during the University Boat Race, it would be repeated again in 1956

The custom on escalators of standing on the right started with a diagonal end to early ones and a sign saying ‘Step off: right foot first’

The pillars in the basement of St. Pancras Station are spaced exactly 3 beer barrels apart designed as Bass beer arrives from Midlands

Queen Victoria’s Memorial outside Buckingham Palace is called The Wedding Cake by cabbies as it still retains its whiteness after 100 years

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.

Royal Albert Hall

This Monday, the 29th March, marks the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary when Queen Victoria inaugurated the hall and fulfilled Albert’s dream of being the country’s premier concert hall.

Here are some fascinating facts about this much-loved venue which, has hosted the BBC Proms since 1942 after the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof, causing a fire.

The foundation stone having been laid by Queen Victoria, and still in mourning for her beloved husband, the Queen renamed the prosaically titled ‘The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’ to The Royal Albert Hall in honour of her late husband, turning a tribute to a prince into a cultural icon.

Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria was a great lover of the arts, he wanted to establish more permanent venues for the public to engage in the arts and sciences after the success of the Great Exhibition. Work was still being done on this scheme when Albert died in 1861.

Albertopolis was the provisional name given to the area which has included within it: The Natural History Museum; Imperial College London; The Royal College of Music; The Royal College of Art; The Science Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum; The Royal Navigation Museum; and The Albert Hall.

The building is not actually circular, but more of an oval shape. The Royal Albert Hall is a Grade I listed building and has been in continuous use since its completion in 1871. Over 350 performances take place at the Royal Albert Hall every year.

Costing £8,000, the Organ, built in 14 months, the largest in England with 9,999 pipes, was once powered by 2 steam engines, if laid end-to-end the pipes would stretch almost 9 miles. The largest measures 2ft 6in diameter, 42ft high and weighs almost 1 tonne – the smallest as wide as a drinking straw.

Before the dome was placed on top of the hall, it was completely assembled in Manchester to be sure it fit together properly before being dismantled and taken to London. It then was re-assembled, when the props were knocked away it fell 0.08mm precariously dropping into its current position.

The glazed-iron roof of Royal Albert Hall measures 20,000 sq .ft. and was at the time of building the largest unsupported dome in the world. The Royal Albert Hall can currently seat 5,400 people, but when it was first built, it could seat 8,000.

The Royal Albert Hall’s distinct shape may also have spared it from the bombing, as the Luftwaffe reportedly used it as a landmark, although most of the glass panes were bomb-damaged. During the First and Second World Wars, the Hall’s roof was used as a navigation point by pilots on the London skyline.

The design of the hall was based on the Coliseum in Rome, the acoustics inside weren’t perfected until 1969 when 135 fibreglass acoustic damping discs were suspended from the ceiling, they have been redesigned and 50 diffusers were removed, the remaining 85 were reconfigured.

A woman’s mosaic class designed the frieze on the top of the building. The first Sumo wrestling tournament in the sport’s 1,500-year history was held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1991. It has a Grade I listed chimney (called ‘The Chimney’), still in use today sitting above the steam boilers which heat the Hall.

In 1872, the year after the Royal Albert Hall was completed, plans were developed to build a pneumatic railway that would carry visitors from the South Kensington Tube to the Royal Albert Hall by way of The Victoria and Albert Museum. However, the plans went nowhere and the railway was never built.

Featured image: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Grade I listed building completed in 1871. © Copyright Julian Osley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Women in the workplace

Close your eyes. Have you got them closed? Now, imagine you’re standing at the side of the road hailing a cab.

The cab pulls up, it’s black obviously. But what of the driver? In BBC TV’s Sherlock: A Study in Pink, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes poses the question: “Who do we trust, even if we don’t know him?”

Do you have an image of the cabbie in your mind? In all probability the driver is white, a man over fifty wearing a flat cap and a scarf around his neck.

You get in and commence your journey, the conversation soon turns to football. Yes, he follows a London team, possibly Arsenal, lives in Essex, and is not the biggest fan of the London Mayor.

You can open your eyes now because you are right. The person imagined by Sherlock Holmes and yourself is your atypical cabbie, for women make up fewer than 2.5 per cent of London cab driving fraternity.

Surprisingly in today’s world, according to Transport for London, in 2019 there was only 519 women amongst 23,301 drivers with licences to cover All London and Suburban areas, even though today’s applications to attain The Knowledge are not reliant on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Women have always played a part in the London cab trade. At one time a widow could inherit her husband’s Hackney Carriage (but not drive it, just hire it out). A list from 1664 reveals that 19 widows had inherited licences.

Much later during the Great War, with many drivers away on the Western Front, who had had the understanding that their licence was protected at the cessation of hostilities, women’s role was questioned. Although the ability to ply for hire rested upon successful completion of The Knowledge, Sir Henry Norman MP asked the Home Secretary, if a refusal to license women was based on “statutory disqualification of a woman or in a decision of the Home Office”. The Home Secretary passed the buck stating “the Commissioner of Police informs me that he cannot in the present circumstances recommend the grant of a licence to a woman”. Sean Farrell writing in Abstracts of Black Cab Lore opines: “With thousands of men dying daily, the women filling the manpower gap up and down the country, it’s hard to imagine just what extra circumstances the Commissioner of Police envisaged.
Eventually, the authorities were forced to license women to drive buses, trams and taxis, although a union official stated driving a taxi was “not a moral occupation for a woman to follow”.

By 1917 four women held taxi licences, although they could hardly be described as your average Londoner. Susan Dudley Ryder (Badge 1366) was the cousin to The Earl of Harrowby and sister of champion women’s golfer Mrs Gavin.

After the Great War, a Select Committee looked into transport problems within London. Much of the evidence submitted for excluding women from driving cabs was the practice by prostitutes of using the passenger compartment to conduct their business, something the upper-class witnesses to the committee seemed to be very knowledgeable. Not so the cabbie, as at the time the driver had no rear-view mirror.
In 1922 the London and Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers balloted its members in strike action should a woman appear on the road working as a cab driver.

Even after World War II, despite their valiant work in keeping Britain’s factories and farms in production, they were unlikely to attain a licence, let alone a vehicle to drive.

Remarkably the first woman to have completed the modern Knowledge of London to become an All London Green Badge driver was not until 1977 when Marie White (badge 25292) passed. She would regularly be seen on the St. Pancras rank with her little dog in the luggage compartment.

Featured image: Stella Wood who has been a black cab driver for 20 years.

Much of the research into this post has been gleaned from Abstracts of Black Cab Lore: A History of the London Cab Driver by Sean Farrell and From Manor House Station to Gibson Square and back again: Secrets from the London Taxi Trade by Chris Ackrill.