For about 200 years London’s cabs were virtually unregulated apart from limits upon their numbers and from where they could pick up.
It might not come as a surprise to a lot of people that regulation of London’s cabs and its drivers originally was the responsibility of the Stamp Office. Maintaining the city’s pipes, gullies and sewers, as well as the paving of the streets, it was originally funded from the license fees of public vehicles, carts, drays and cabs.
Complaints from owners of the vehicles that drivers couldn’t be traced and the proprietors ended up paying the fines, in 1838 led to all cabbies being registered.
In 1843 control of the cab trade passed from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police, who soon set up the Public Carriage Office, without, of course, taking on the responsibility of the sewers. They had enough crap to deal with.
The regulations were then passed to the Metropolitan Police in 1850 and were undertaken by the Public Carriage Office, which was originally located in an annexe to New Scotland Yard in Whitehall called ‘The Bungalow’.
In 1869 an Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate how the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.
The Carriage Office moved to 109 Lambeth Road in 1919, an old Edwardian building where you walked down an ancient cast-iron spiral staircase for your appearance in the examiner’s office known, unsurprisingly as the ‘snake pit’ or ‘dungeon’.
In 1966 the Public Carriage Office moved to a post-war white-clad Brutalist building at 15 Penton Street, Islington.
On the 1st January, 2000 administration of the Public Carriage Office passed from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.
Then in 2010 the Public Carriage Office was renamed and given the catchy title ‘The London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Authority’ and re-located to the Palestra House at 197 Blackfriars Road.
Featured image: Public Carriage Office, Great Scotland Yard by Leonard Bentley (CC BY-SA 2.0) The building with the Hansom Cabs and Growlers parked outside is the Public Carriage Office built in the early 1870s and standing in Great Scotland Yard. You can see why Scotland Yard was called a yard because of the large amount of space. The building was demolished to make way for GSY Stables and the Central London Recruiting office in 1910/1911, which made GSY into just another street.
If you look to the right of the Public Carriage Office in the distance you can see the pub sign of The Rising Sun. The pub was extensively damaged in May 1884 by a Fenian bomb which was placed in a public Urinal situated on the corner of the Public Carriage office building adjacent to the pub; several other bombs were placed around Central London at the same time including one which was placed at the foot of Nelson’s Column which was defused. In 1973 an IRA car bomb was placed in GSY which subsequently exploded, if nothing else the IRA have a great sense of History. Behind the pub is a Fire Station built in 1883 and subsequently closed in the early 1920s, it is now the Civil Service Club.
Both my father and grandfather were head keepers at the London Zoo, having spent some of my childhood ‘assisting’ Dad at work, I’m always interested in anything zoological related pertaining to Zoological Society of London.
It must have been a quiet news month in February 1965, when Goldie the Eagle escaped and for two weeks London’s press was giving updates of ‘Goldie Sightings’.
When he escaped from the Bird of Prey aviary he was a bird with no name. A newspaper reporter asked a Zoo official, quite reasonably, how was he affectionately known. Not wishing to appear callous he blurted out ‘Goldie’, now London’s population had a purpose. Spotted as far afield as Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road and even Euston. Goldie spotters caused traffic jams in Regent’s Park Outer Circle; the Royal Navy was engaged to use special equipment to effect a capture; veteran BBC presenter, John Timpson played an Ethiopian bird pipe in an attempt to lure him.
Goldie attacked an elderly lady’s two terriers, but was seen off with a well-aimed handbag; he was even referred to in a House of Commons debate, and a diplomatic incident was averted when he was rumoured to have killed and eaten a duck in the American ambassador’s garden.
Goldie was finally caught on 11 March after the zoo’s deputy head keeper tempted him to earth with a dead rabbit. The Zoo’s attendance nearly doubled in the days after his return.
Goldie escaped once again on 15 December 1965 and was recaptured on 19th December 1965.
The roles of the keeper and a caged animal’s dinner were nearly reversed in a well-told Zoo anecdote, which just might have been possibly true. The old lion house had the animals raised on a concrete platform behind bars, with a series of steps to allow spectators to view these large cats (whose faeces are remarkably pungent…I was always amazed at just how many families would bring their lunches to this bit of the zoo, trying to consume a scotch egg with watering eyes within the enclosed and unventilated space of the enclosure).
One evening, after the public had left, the lion’s keeper, who was no stranger to alcohol, was showing his friend, who was also partial to a tipple himself, an old arthritic, virtually toothless, the lioness who at this stage was fairly sober. In his enthusiasm the keeper opened the cage, so his inebriated friend could become better acquainted with the queen of the jungle.
Unfortunately, the old lioness was powerless to stop herself from sliding off its platform. A witness described seeing the two drunks, pinned under an old lion, trying to shove the creature back into its lair.
According to J. Barrington-Johnson’s book The Zoo: A History of London Zoo tells of Cholmondley the Chimp who in 1948 didn’t need an Oyster Card to board a bus:
On one occasion, while temporarily in the Zoo hospital, he managed to escape: he got out of the Zoo, walked across the corner of Regent’s Park, and hailed a bus in Albany Street. Having got on the bus, he sat down next to a lady and put his arm around her shoulders. He then — probably because the lady was having hysterics – bit her!
More recently in 2009, a red panda was spotted during the night sitting in a tree, after spending several hours trying to lure the panda down a tranquillizer dart was used to return it to the enclosure.
In 2014 Belsize Park residents had a year of entertainment, even creating a Twitter account when a peahen escaped when a visitor left a door open to the aviary.
All these tales were nearly eclipsed when in October 2016 Kumbuka a male silverback gorilla managed to enter the service area, allowing him to get into the area used by zookeepers. He didn’t get the chance to explore the rest of the Zoological Gardens.
Featured image: Panthera leo in London Zoo by Pelican (CC-BY-SA-2.0)