London in Quotations: Sándor Márai

London is a huge, stony desert: even boredom feels endless there.

Sándor Márai (1900-1989), Portraits of a Marriage

London Trivia: St Ethelburg-the-Virgin destroyed

On 24 April 1993, an IRA truck bomb exploded 23ft from the church of St Ethelburg-the-Virgin within Bishopsgate, totally destroying it. First recorded in 1250, and sustaining only modest damage in the Blitz, the church was rebuilt.

On 24 April 1963 HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent married Angus Ogilvy at Westminster Abbey. The marriage was televised worldwide to an estimated 200 million.

The Clink a small prison whose name entered the English language as slang term for gaol, the prison was for those who ran amok in Bankside’s brothels

Strand was the first road in London to have a numbered address Charles II’s Secretary of State residence was No 1 near Northumberland Avenue

Florence Nightingale’s statue outside St Thomas’s Hospital is a glass-fibre copy as the original was stolen in 1970

Near The Houses of Parliament the Silver Cross public house is a licensed brothel as the privilege granted by Charles I hasn’t been revoked

Both Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling both once lived at 47 Villiers Street, Strand now it is Gordon’s Wine Bar

Harrods installed its first escalator in 1898 and dispensed brandy to gentlemen and Epsom Salts for ladies to help the shock of its movement

London’s oldest sporting-related pavilion is at Syon House, built in 1803 by the Duke of Northumberland so his wife could watch regattas in comfort

The River Westbourne was funnelled above a platform on Sloane Square in a large iron pipe suspended from girders. It remains in place today

The original Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair was founded by Lord Byron’s butler, James Brown recently refurbished and is now owned by Rocco Forte

The largest clock in London is not situated on St Stephens Tower (Big Ben) but on the Shell Mex House which is on the Strand

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: A Festival of Litter

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.

A Festival of Litter (05.05.09)

A Festival of Litter (05.05.09)With this deepening recession I was talked into going ‘South of the River’ recently, times really are that hard these days. Just imagine my surprise after passing the hinterland of Vauxhall and Stockwell when eventually we reached Brixton to find them celebrating a Festival of Litter. Citizens had taken time off from their busy activities to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes, and carrier-bags to this otherwise bland and neglected landscape. They fluttered gaily in the bushes and brought colour and texture to pavements and gutters. And to think that elsewhere we stick these objects in rubbish bins.

The city fathers of Brixton must have puffed out their collective chests with pride as their town hall was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary (then Prince and Princess of Wales) on the 29th April, 1908 becoming one of the grandest town halls in London.

Victorian Brixton was the epitome of suburban living. Fine houses abound, some with servant’s quarters, with grand doorways proclaiming their owner’s wealth and influence.

The fine late Georgian church of St. Matthew’s was one of the four new Lambeth parish churches built in response to the growing population in the early 19th century. Consecrated in 1824, and has an imposing façade created by its architect C. F. Porden and sits opposite the town hall. It also has the ubiquitous Victorian cast iron monument donated by the most prominent family in the area.

So how has this fine borough come to the sorry state? The green outside, what was once a prestigious cinema in strewn with drunks and a fine collection of empty cans.

The gutters are gaily decorated with yellow and red McDonald’s boxes.

Don’t any of the residents of Brixton have an iota of their Victorian forebear’s civic pride?

A moving London monument

Along with Beefeaters, Transport for London’s typeface, red double deckers and Big Ben’s bongs, the black cab is a fundamental part of the London landscape. But, as I have noted previously, it may not be for much longer.

Introduced in 1958, the Austin FX4, which was also my first cab, caught the spirit of the age with its combination of timeless proportions and streamlined styling – the cab enclosed in a swooping cocoon, the bonnet tapering to a puckish snout. A scuttling black beetle, it was perfect for a city of black-suited businessmen – as close to a bowler hat on wheels as a vehicle could become.

But it is not only the black cab’s alluring style that accounts for its longevity. Famous for its manoeuvrability in congested traffic, the London taxi can ‘turn on a sixpence’, or within a circle of 25ft – a requirement dating from 1906 and originally dictated by the diminutive roundabout in Savoy Court outside the Savoy Hotel.

That agility made the vehicle an attractive option for celebrities in search of anonymity. Sid James, Laurence Olivier, Stanley Kubrick and the Duke of Edinburgh have all driven their own personal cabs, as have Stephen Fry and Kate Moss. Arnold Schwarzenegger even had a fleet of black taxis shipped out to California.

But the ubiquity of the FX4, originally designed by Austin’s Eric Bailey, was not, particularly due to its success – indeed, it had many faults (slowness, draughtiness, noisy and a heater that couldn’t be turned off). The car soldiered on for 40 years because neither Austin nor its manufacturer, Mann and Overton, could afford to replace it.

It was finally updated in 1997 with the inspirationally named TX1. Criticised by cabbies as looking like a Noddy Car, the TX1 represented the original model’s surrender to middle-aged spread – those corners smoothed out into a streamlined bulge.

The black cab went through two more iterations, retaining the essence of its original self, with flip-down seats, a reassuring engine rattle, and the comforting clunk of the doors. Now progress has caught up with this icon of London, it is now replaced by its prosaic electric successor.

Uber proliferation

Minicabs make up nearly a THIRD of all night-time traffic in London according to the Mayor’s data, and now Uber have said that their aim is 20,000 new drivers on their platform before the start of 2023. Too many, not enough or just right?