The bus that defined London

In 1947, as I lay in my cot ruminating upon what this life malarkey was all about, engineers in Chiswick were chewing their pencils over a new project.

During the war, Associated Equipment Company (AEC) had been given over to the manufacturer of parts for the Hadley Page Halifax Bomber and now this expertise was to be put to use. They copied the riveted aluminium fuselage of the wartime plane to create a bus that was considerably lighter than its predecessors, thus increasing its passenger capacity and economising on fuel. It could be assembled and taken apart with ease, much like Lego. The open platform enabled passengers to hop on and off the vehicle whenever it was stationary. Provision had been made for large pieces of luggage in a cubby hole beneath the stairs, and the conductor (there always was one) could stand in front of this recess away from alighting passengers. An innovation in mass transit vehicles was a heating system, the wheels had independent suspension, much needed with the post-war roads, and there was a fully automatic gearbox.

These vehicles along with the black cab defined London amongst the drab greys of the 1950s.

It was some time before the bus took to the roads, but by its launch in 1956 the years of research, design and planning was borne out and the iconic Routemaster was a great success.

Between 1954 and 1968 they built 2,875, so many vacancies were created to crew them London Transport actively recruited drivers and conductors from the West Indies, thus playing a part in immigration that was to transform and diversify London.

By the turn of the century, hundreds of Routemasters were still to be found on the streets of London, but their eventual demise can be traced back to a decision by the government in the 1960s, to pour money into British Leyland, in the hope of keeping the doomed business alive. The result, as AEC had been swallowed up by British Leyland, who now manufactured the successor to the Routemaster was a bus – as Boris Johnson as Mayor of London put it – having lorry engines and lorry gearboxes, more suited to carry 32 tons of gravel than a complement of passengers.

The Routemaster was the last bus on London’s streets to be built by Londoners, for Londoners, in London, and with specific regard to the needs of London passengers.

As I write this, Transport for London has announced that, due to a fall in demand, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 15H Heritage Route with the last 10-strong Routemasters running between Tower of Hill and Trafalgar Square will be withdrawn.

Featured image: 1959 AEC Routemaster bus – RM140 © London Bus Museum

The Unknown ‘Mrs’ Everest

The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is Britain’s biggest graveyard with nearly one million within its walls, approached by an impressive Portland stone gateway has, as its most famous internee, Sir Bobby Moore who captained England to the 1966 World Cup victory, culminating at Wembley playing against Germany. You will also find actress Dame Anna Neagle and a couple of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

Within this huge 200-acre Victorian Grade I listed graveyard is an almost forgotten simple cross surmounting a square plinth commemorating the life of a person who arguably changed the course of Britain’s history.

Elizabeth Ann Everest was born in Chatham at around 1832. Like many of her generation she remained a spinster, was childless, she wrote nothing of note, invented nothing, created nothing, she boasted no scientific achievement nor artistic gift.

She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.

Elizabeth-Everest

Elizabeth Ann Everest

We know nothing of her early life. A woman of deep faith, a Low Church Anglican who probably went some way to her first appointment. She was, by profession, a caregiver, spending her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in the Cumberland village of Barrow-in-Furness.

Alas, as is the way with nannies, having raised Ella until she was twelve, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, released her from his service.

To modern eyes, this dismissal of a faithful servant might seem callous, but life in the lower ranks of Victorian society was harsh.

Having had the responsibility of caring for Rev. Phillips’s daughter gave her a huge advantage when seeking employment. Without any means of support the workhouse beckoned. But Rev. Phillips had given her references which served her well to get a new position.

In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had a need for a governess.

A well-known rake from one of England’s families of high noble birth had married a wealthy teenage American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals.

She had given birth ‘prematurely’, seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother. The young lady then hired a wet nurse, who fed the child; when the child was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.

Having discharged their responsibilities as parents devoted themselves to a life of pleasure and debauchery: balls, parties and soirées and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time.

The abandoned child was a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums and Elizabeth Everest was left to bring up and set an example to her charge.

As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well-known politician. As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on, according to the boy, the only five occasions he actually paid attention to the child. He was sent to Harrow and not his father’s alma mater-Eton as Harrow, in those days, was supposed to be less intellectually challenging.

His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.

The parents called the nanny ‘Mrs Everest’ – an honorary title, as was the custom for nannies at the time, as she had in all probability never married.

The boy addressed her as “Woom”, from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman”. Woom changed his nappies, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not.

She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference – or worse.

When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone – without warning – and spent his Christmases alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house.

The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.

Through all this, Woom was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.

As the boy became a young adult Mrs Everest was again fired from her post which, all accounts, was handled abruptly and poorly, given her long and devoted service to the family.

The father’s syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty.

In June of that year, Mrs Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from Sandhurst, his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home at 15 Crouch Hill, where she died of peritonitis on 3rd July 1895.

The young officer then telegraphed the clergyman for whom Everest had previously worked, they met at the graveside. He had become an archdeacon, but even so, he did not see fit to bring little Ella with him.

The ‘intellectually challenged’ sickly redhead now no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day:

‘ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.’

Grave

At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, now severely weathered after 120 years and covered by grass:

‘. . . BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL’

London in Quotations: Anon

Take a perfect day, add six hours of rain and fog, and you have instant London.

Anon, Dick Enberg’s Humorous Quotes for All Occasions

London Trivia: Marooned

On 25 April 1719, what many regard to be the first work of realised fiction, a novel in the English language, was published in London by W. Taylor. Many of its readers believed Daniel Defoe’s story of a castaway called Robinson Crusoe who spends 27 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad encountering cannibals, captives and mutineers before being rescued to be a autobiographical travelogue.

On 25 April 1682 a severe storm flooded St. James’s Park, it was recorded that a skiff could be rowed up Brentford High Street

Tests conducted in the Thames discovered weight loss in eels from ingesting cocaine, the highest concentrations were outside Parliament

King William Walk, Greenwich named after the statue at its southern end is London’s first in granite which originally stood at London Bridge

Chelsea Physic Garden founded in 1673 to train apothecaries, sent cotton seeds from the garden as the nucleus of Georgia’s cotton plantations

On 25 April 1660 The Convention Parliament voted for the restoration of King Charles II to the throne, the act forgave and pardoned people for past actions and it allowed the new monarch a fresh start

Fassett Square was the model for the fictional Albert Square in the BBC’s Eastenders, in fact two Albert Squares are to be found in London

The “local palais” lyrics in the Kinks’ Come Dancing was The Athenaeum, Fortis Green Road replaced by a Sainsbury’s store in 1966

Millwall (Rovers) were formed in the summer of 1885 by workers at Morton’s Jam Factory on the Isle of Dogs

Only five London Underground stations lie outside the M25 motorway, Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chesham, and Chorleywood on the Metropolitan line and Epping on the Central Line

Julian Lloyd Webber is rumoured to have been the London Underground’s first busker, it’s not known if he managed to make a living busking

In 1886 a visiting group of Americans gifted a piece of Plymouth Rock, the Founding Fathers landing spot, to the Union Chapel, Islington

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.

Shakespeare Wos ‘Ere

Historians aren’t certain that William Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day 1564, although he was baptised on 26 April that year, what we do know that he died on this day 405 years ago.

For several years of his life, Shakespeare’s home was London, although we don’t know where most of them are, there are a couple where we have proper documentary evidence.

1592:

William Shakespeare first moves to lodgings in London

1593:

Now lodging somewhere in Bishopsgate

1596:

Now lodging somewhere in the parish of St. Helen’s in Bishopsgate

1599:

Now lodging somewhere on Bankside, near the Globe Theatre

And that’s not the current Globe Theatre, which is too near the Thames. Back then a row of theatres ran slightly further back, within the ‘Liberty of the Clink’, an ancient enclave whose laws permitted entertainments banned a few streets away.

The site of the original Globe can be found by crossing Southwark Bridge and then taking steps down immediately beyond the large office block, before reaching the traffic lights.

Information boards on Park Street, which runs parallel to the Thames and below Southwark Bridge Road, reveals that the site lays before you, beyond the railings, within the protective realm of a block of flats. The limit of the Scheduled Ancient Monument area is defined by a change in the cobbles, with a late Georgian terrace plonked straight across the middle of it, because nobody back then cared about heritage.

The Globe had burnt to the ground in 1613, ignited by a cinder during a performance of Henry VIII, and only a few minor archaeological traces remain. It’s believed that Shakespeare might have lived in a house adjacent to the theatre, but that’s mere speculation, and nobody knows precisely where.

1604:

Shakespeare now lodging in Cripplegate

By this time, he’d already written most of his classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Othello, perhaps in response to his increased reputation he moved back north of the river and rented lodgings in the City.

His landlord was Christopher Mountjoy, a French Huguenot refugee and a maker of ladies’ ornamental wigs in the elaborate Elizabethan fashion. We’d know none of this was it not for a family dispute following the marriage of Mountjoy’s daughter Mary to his apprentice Stephen Belott. When a promised dowry failed to materialise in full, Bellot took Mountjoy to court and Shakespeare was called as a witness. His words, in this case, weren’t particularly useful, but modern scholars were bequeathed a rare example of his handwriting as a result, and also a precise address. The Mountjoys’ house was situated on the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street, on the boundary between the wards of Farringdon and Cripplegate.

The catch is that neither the house nor either of the streets still exists, the house disappeared in the Great Fire, and then the local area was wiped from the map again during the Blitz. Pretty much the whole of Cripplegate was consumed, and the street pattern substantially remodelled during the erection of the Barbican estate. The location lies just outside this modern development, either underneath or fractionally to the south of London Wall, which despite its name is another modern interloper on the A-Z. Head to the section east of the Museum of London, close to the actual remains of the actual London wall on Noble Street. The best clue to the precise site of the Bard’s lodgings is St. Olave’s church, a small place of worship whose churchyard abutted the street corner in question. This was also destroyed in World War II, but its footprint remains as a tiny garden, with a raised lawn and a footpath winding through, and an old stone bowl which might be a font or maybe a birdbath, it’s hard to be sure. The City has erected a plaque by a bench to confirm the Shakespearian connection, using the usual convention of ‘Near Here’ to confirm there’s no remaining wall to properly attach it to. If you’re planning on getting up close and maybe taking a photo, best hope there isn’t a modern-day Romeo and Juliet canoodling on the bench when you visit. But if it’s free, take a seat and look around you at the lofty offices and high walks, and try to imagine that Macbeth and King Lear were likely written right here.

1613:

Now with property in Blackfriars

With more than a third of London’s adult population watching live theatre every month, Shakespeare had become a wealthy man he had retired to a fine house in Stratford but was now rich enough to be able to buy a second property here. Maybe it was his bolthole in the capital, maybe simply an investment or a holiday home, there isn’t even enough documentary evidence to prove he ever stayed the night. Whatever the reason, when he bequeathed it to his daughter he left us one of only six confirmed signatures still in existence today.

The best guess is that the property may have occupied the north side of Ireland Yard where it joins St Andrew’s Hill, which is where the City of London have placed another blue plaque.

Things would have been a lot busier around here in early Jacobean times, not least because of the Blackfriars Theatre where Shakespeare’s troupe played out the winter months. These days the bypassed quadrant of backstreets to the south of Ludgate Hill goes mostly unnoticed except by those who work here, which is a shame because it’s almost quaint in parts. It’s also easier here than at the Barbican to imagine our greatest playwright stepping out from home… until that fateful day exactly 405 years ago when Will’s will suddenly become important.