London in Quotations: Donald Olson

London isn’t a stodgy place. Trend-setting London is to the United Kingdom what New York City is to the United States: the spot where everything happens first (or ultimately ends up).

Donald Olson (b.1950), England For Dummies

London Trivia: Rooftop recital

On 30 January 1969, the Beatles played their last ever gig. On the roof of Apple Records Office at 3 Savile Row, they played for 42 minutes to the delight of fans. It was then that the police stopped the performance following complaints from neighbouring offices. The police didn’t have to travel far as Savile Row police station almost opposite. Footage from the performance was later used in the documentary film Let It Be.

On 30 January 1965 Sir Winston Churchill was buried after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people had filed past the catafalque during the three days of lying-in-state

48 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea was home to Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull in May 1969 when the police raided the house for drugs

Kensington and Chelsea is London’s smallest borough by area, at 4.7 square miles (12.2 sq km), but probably the richest

The 1887 Coroners Act made it illegal to drop dead within The Palace of Westminster or any of The Queen’s Palaces

On 30 January 1649 King Charles I en route to execution at Whitehall wore two shirts so bystanders wouldn’t think he was shivering through fear

Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis and Demi Moore’s restaurant Planet Hollywood appeared in the British romantic comedy About the Boy

Rules has served food on the same site since 1798 and once had a secret door for King Edward VII to enter with his mistress Lily Langtry

The snow season in London can be said to start in December, however on 2 June 1975 snow fell on Lord’s Cricket Ground

In 1750 the first umbrella used by Jonas Hanway brought back from Persia. Cabbies fearful they’d lose their wet weather called him a Frenchman

Taking 35 years to complete St Paul’s cost a staggering £747,661.50 to build at a time when a labourer building it would be paid 10p a day

Camden painted yellow outlines of squatting dogs with arrows on its pavements telling dogs to use the gutter it’s not clear they understood

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.

Previously Posted: The most dangerous single organism on Earth

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

The most dangerous single organism on Earth (09.03.09)

Happy New Year to all readers of CabbieBlog. So by now, you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolution; have gone back to work to find another round of redundancies being announced; have overspent at Christmas, and are waiting for those credit card bills to drop on your doormat.

It could be worse, far, far worse. As a diversion from Cabbies’ Weekly Whinge, spare a moment to reflect on Thomas Midgley an American mechanical engineer turned chemist. While lauded at the time for his discoveries, today his legacy is seen as far more mixed considering the serious negative environmental impacts of his innovations. One historian remarked that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth history”.

In December 1921 Midgley discovered that the addition of tetra-ethyl lead (“TEL”) to gasoline prevented internal combustion engines from “knocking”. The company dubbed the substance “Ethyl”, avoiding all mention of lead in reports and advertising. Oil companies and carmakers, especially General Motors which owned the patent strenuously promoted leaded fuel as an alternative to ethanol or ethanol-blended fuels, on which they could make very little profit.

The subsequent addition of lead to gasoline eventually resulted in the release of huge amounts of lead into the atmosphere, causing health problems around the world. Midgley himself had to take a prolonged vacation to cure him of lead poisoning. “After about a year’s work in organic lead,” he wrote in January 1923, “I find that my lungs have been affected and that it is necessary to drop all work and get a large supply of fresh air”.

In April 1923, General Motors created the General Motors Chemical Company to supervise the production of TEL by the DuPont Company and placed Midgley as vice president. However, after two deaths and several cases of lead poisoning at the TEL prototype plant in Dayton, Ohio, the staff at Dayton was said in 1924 to be “depressed to the point of considering giving up the whole tetraethyl lead program.” Over the course of the next year, eight more people would die at DuPont’s Deepwater, New Jersey plant.

Dissatisfied with the speed of DuPont’s production using their “bromide process”, General Motors and Standard Oil created the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in 1924 and built a new TEL plant using a more dangerous high-temperature “ethyl chloride process” at the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey. Within the first two months of its operation, the Bayway plant was plagued by more cases of lead poisoning, hallucinations, insanity, and then five deaths in quick succession. On 30th October, Midgley participated in a press conference to demonstrate the “safety” of contact with the substance. In this demonstration, he poured tetra-ethyl lead over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and breathed it in for sixty seconds, declaring that he could do this every day without succumbing to any problems whatsoever. However, the plant was decisively shut down by the State of New Jersey a few days later, and Standard was forbidden to manufacture TEL there again without state permission.

In 1930, General Motors charged Midgley with developing a non-toxic and safe refrigerant for household appliances. He (along with Charles Kettering) discovered dichlorodifluoromethane, a chlorinated fluorocarbon (“CFC”) which he dubbed Freon. CFCs were also used as propellants in aerosol spray cans, metered-dose inhalers (asthma inhalers), and more. In recent years CFCs have been attributed to causing severe damage to the Earth’s ozone layer.

In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley contracted polio which left him severely disabled. This led him to devise an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55, and they say there is no justice in this world.

Such is life.



Two hundred and fifteen years ago, on 28th January 1807, London’s Pall Mall was the first street lit by gaslight.

Pall Mall was laid out in its present location in 1661, replacing a much older highway slightly to the south that ran from Charing Cross to St James’s Palace – then the residence of the King of England.

The name of the street is derived from ‘pall-mall’, a ball game that was played there during the 17th century.

The Pall Mall brand of cigarettes was introduced in 1899 by the Black Butler Company (UK) in an attempt to cater to the upper class with the first ‘premium’ cigarette. It is named after Pall Mall.

The gaslight was developed in the 1790s. The credit usually goes to Scottish engineer William Murdoch, but it was Friedrich Albert Winzer (sometimes anglicized to Frederick Winsor), a German entrepreneur living in London, who lit Pall Mall.

In 1804, the same year he patented coal-gas lighting, Winzer demonstrated the technology during a lecture at the Lyceum Theatre. By 1807, he had moved into a house on Pall Mall, one of the city’s most fashionable streets.

He followed the illumination of Pall Mall with a special exhibition on 4th June 1807, in honour of the birthday of King George III, using gaslight to superimpose images against the walls of the buildings along his street.

There are still 1,500 gas lamps in London. They don’t need lighting every night, but the timer that lights them automatically needs adjusting every fortnight to keep pace with shorter or longer days. Before timers, lamps were lit with an 8ft long brass pole with a pilot light – last used around Temple 1976.

Making Life Easier

Amazon have stopped accepting Visa cards, so I had to switch to my M&S Mastercard. But M&S don’t except cheques (my preferred method of payment), so I had to set up a direct debit. The only way for a direct debit to work was by opening an M&S online bank account. Easy peesy it only took an hour. Now all I have to worry about is that it’s ‘automatically’ paid and I’m not charged 39.9% interest. Thanks Jeff Bezos, happy landings.