February’s monthly musings

🚓 What Cab News

In December a cab driver was pulled over in Aldwych by Met Police officers after he was spotted driving whilst rolling what appeared to be a cannabis joint. The cabby then tested positive for cannabis during a roadside test. With a softly-softly approach to drugs in London, I suppose it was inevitable that some idiot would tarnish the Black Cab trade.

🎧 What I’m Listening

I’m still working my way through the previous Ladies who London podcasts. Sadly one of the presenters, Emily, is leaving. The good news is that Alex Lacey will continue with this amusing and informative podcast.

📖 What I’m Reading

For 10 years I’ve been reading Christopher Fowler’s eclectic London blog, writing about books, films and observations all analysed with his wit and practised prose: “Plastic carrier bags floated around the traffic lights at the end of the Strand like predatory jellyfish.” Advance cancer has now put pay to writing for this consummate wordsmith.

📺 What I’m watching

My favourite London hotel is Claridge’s, which for me, has an understated elegance, I just love its Art Deco foyer. A BBC documentary – The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild – follows an extraordinary project to add a five-storey basement, hand-dug by very skilled Irish miners, incorporating two swimming pools and three new floors added to the roof to provide 72 new rooms and luxury suites, all the time keeping the hotel open for guests. Amazing engineering.

❓ What else

Apparently the priciest road in the country is Phillimore Gardens in Kensington & Chelsea, where the average house will set you back £23.8m – or 83 times the national average property price. Just one street outside the capital makes it into the top 20, Titlarks Hill, a private road in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which took 12th place with an average price of £12.3 million.

📆 What date

The Last Post: In 9 years time CabbieBlog will have its last post uploaded. To be precise, on 29th February 2032 at 13.50 GMT. By that date missives about London will have been regularly posted for nearly 24 years. On that leap year day, assuming I’m still alive, I’ll be approaching my 85th birthday, and old enough to take retirement from all this cyberverse malarkey.

London in Quotations: Max Schlesinger

London streets . . . are divided into two classes: into streets where the roast-beef of life is earned, and into streets where the said roast-beef is eaten.

Max Schlesinger (1822-1881)

London Trivia: A safe bet?

On 26 February 1995 Barings Bank, Britain’s oldest investment banking firm, and the world’s second oldest merchant bank (after Berenberg Bank), founded in 1762 was forced into bankruptcy after an employee in Singapore, 28 year old Nicholas William Leeson, speculated in derivatives on Tokyo stock prices that resulted in losses exceeding $1.4 billion. A trading jacket thought to have been worn by Leeson while trading was subsequently sold for £21,000.

On 26 February 1797 the Bank of England issued the first £1 banknote it remained in circulation until 1983 when the £1 coin was introduced

Pentonville Prison held a week long training course for trainee executioners who learned how carry out an execution with speed and efficiency

The first Palladian building built in Britain was Queen’s House, Greenwich commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I

The name ‘Bunhill Fields’ as in the Burial Ground is thought to be derived from ‘Bone Hill’ an area used as a burial ground for centuries

Henry VIII’s Chelsea Manor, which he gifted to Catherine Parr as a wedding present, stood where 19-26 Cheyne Walk now stand

William Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress was inspired by the life history of the infamous Sally Salisbury who worked Covent Garden’s brothels

French Ordinary Court EC3 takes its name from a fixed price menu or as Samuel Pepys called it a French Ordinary

Arsenal tube station was originally Gillespie Road renamed when the club moved North. It is the only station named after a football team

In 1860 Sir Edward Watkins, Chairman of the East London Railway developed plans to build a ‘channel tunnel’ linking Britain with Europe

From his Wapping soap factory John Knight produced the famous Knight’s Castile soap, which won a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851

On 26 February 2010 The Barbican hosted an ongoing concert given by 40 zebra finches with guitars as perches and cymbals as feeders

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: What’s in a name?

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.

What’s in a name? (29.01.2010)

With a city as old as London, which was founded by the Romans soon after their invasion in AD43, eventually surrounding the City with a wall enclosing 330 acres and making it the 5th largest city in the Roman Empire, it’s not surprising that some strange street names have appeared over the centuries.

In the Square Mile of the City for example, an ancient ordinance defines a road as a highway without houses, which is why to this day, no thoroughfare in the City may be called a road; it’s either a street, lane, passage or an alley, much to the dismay of modernisers.

Here are some of the more unusual street names with that Square Mile:

Bucklesbury: An ancient city street from 14th Century named after the Buckerei a powerful family in the 12th century city. In Shakespeare’s time it was known for its apothecaries and the peculiar smell they made he made mention of the smell in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

Cripplegate: Derived from the crepel an Anglo-Saxon word for den or underground passage. After the curfew bells had been rung and the city gates were closed for the night it was impossible to enter, that is apart from that underground passage.

Crutched Friars: Not as rude as it sounds, but is an old form of “cross” and takes its name from the holy order that stood nearby.

French Ordinary Court: Not about mundane Frenchies. “Ordinary” is an eating house, this one dates back to 1670 for French ex-pats.

Frying Pan Alley: The frying pan was the emblem once used by braziers and ironmongers. It was the custom for ironmongers to hang a frying pan outside their premises as a means of advertising their business.
Idol Lane: Formerly “Idle Lane” where lazy sods hung around.

Jewry Street: Again renamed from Poor Jewry to denote it from the rich Jews in Old Jewry.

Little Britain: Alas not as colourful as its name suggests. The Duke of Brittany had a house here before the 16th Century.

Minories: The Sorores Minores (“Little Sisters”) established a convent here in 1293. In 1958 we thought it a rather splendid idea to demolish their church.

Undershaft: A maypole or shaft was erected nearby, but its use then banned for many years after the 1571 May Day Riots.

Wardrobe Place: From 1359 until burned down by the Great Fire, a place where you you’ve guessed it, ceremonial robes were kept.

A few more to throw into the mix: Threadneedle Street; Pudding Lane; Hanging Sword Alley; Poultry.

And a small reminder for our Mayor of London, Boris who was a student of history, and for all I know bases his current strategy on what he reads in CabbieBlog, you have only 33 years left to plan for the bi-millennium of the arrival of the Roman to London.

The Christopher Wren Ramble

Tomorrow marks the 300th anniversary of the death of London’s greatest architect. Ironically, it was on a trip to London to see how St Paul’s was progressing that the architect ‘caught a chill’, which eventually led to his death, hardly surprising, despite his advancing age, he would be hoisted up the cathedral in a bucket to view the works.

Rather than celebrating this event by going on about his churches, monuments and hospitals, we’re taking a tour of his plaques.

Famously the inscription on his tombstone in St. Paul’s Cathedral reads: ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice’ – Reader, if you seek his monument – look around.

So today we’re going on a ‘circumspice’ of Wren’s London plaques. A total of eleven plaques, some genuine locations, others whose claim to Wren’s fame is tenuous.

From St. Paul’s, crossing New Change into Watling Street we find at 69:

The Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary Rebuilt 1679-82 by Wren’s office after the Great Fire of London The interior is enriched with splendid plaster fan vaulted ceilings The plan of the church follows its medieval outline.

At the end of Watling Street left into Queen Street and forward to King Street is Guildhall Yard:

St Lawrence Jewry is so called because the original Twelfth Century Church stood on the Eastern side of the City, then occupied by the Jewish Community. That Church, built in 1136, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 The building which replaced it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680. Almost completely destroyed by fire in 1940 this time as the result of action by the King’s enemies it was restored in 1957 in the tradition of Wren’s building. St. Lawrence Jewry is now the Church of the Corporation of London

Leave by Gresham Street it is a short walk down Princes Street to Bank Junction:

At 1 Threadneedle Street, there’s a plaque on the site of St. Benet Fink burnt 1666 rebuilt by Wren demolished 1844:

Further along Threadneedle Street a plaque marks the site of St. Bartholomew by The Exchange, burnt 1666 Rebuilt by Wren, Demolished 1841

Turning right into Gracechurch Street leads you to Wren’s most famous:

The Monument, was designed by Robert Hooke FRS in consultation with Sir Christopher Wren, was built 1671-1677, on the site of St Margaret Fish Street Hill. To commemorate the Great Fire of London 1666. the fire burnt from 2 to 5 September, devastating two-thirds of the city, and destroying 13,200 houses, 87 churches, and 52 Livery Company Halls. The Monument, a freestanding fluted Doric column topped by a flaming copper urn, is 61m/202ft in height, being equal to the distance westward from the site of the bakery in Puddin Lane where the fire first broke out. It’s central shaft originally housed lenses for a zenith telescope, and its balcony, reached by an internal spiral staircase of 311 steps, affords panoramic views of the city. The allegorical sculpture on the pedestal above was executed by Caius Gabriel Cibber and shows Charles II coming to assist the slumped figure of the City of London. St Magnus the Martyr Fish Hill Street, to the south, leads to St Magnus the Martyr, a Wren church, alongside which is the ancient street which led to the medieval London Bridge

Leaving by Pudding Lane, turning right into Eastcheap, St. Dunstan’s Hill takes you to:

The church of St. Dunstan in the East stood on this site from ancient times. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the church after the Great Fire of 1666 and the only part of his design which survives is the tower. The remainder of the church was rebuilt in 1817 and destroyed by enemy action in 1941. This garden was created by the Corporation of London and opened by the RT. Hon. The Lord Mayor Sir Peter Studd. on 21st June 1971

At the bottom of St. Dunstan’s Hill, walk west along Lower Thames Street, climb up to London Bridge forward to Borough High Street and left to St. Thomas Street in the shadow of The Shard find:

Church of St Thomas Apostle (formerly St Thomas Martyr) Southwark, SE1 Parish Church of St Thomas 1136-1862 which also served as the Chapel of St. Thomas’s Hospital 1215-1862 Rebuilt in 1703 by Thomas Cartwright & Son (Sometime Master Mason to Christopher Wren) The roof space was used as the hospital’s Herb Garret and from 1822 as its Operating Theatre Rediscovered by Raymond Russell in 1956, the Herb Garret and Operating Theatre is now a Museum.

Retracing your steps turn left into Borough High Street and bear right at the lights Stoney Street on the right gives onto Clink Street and follow the signs to Shakespeare’s Globe:

On Bankside a disputed plaque states: Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Pauls Cathedral

Fortuitously a cab rank is nearby outside the theatre to take you to Clerkenwell:

43 Hatton Garden has a complete history affixed to its wall:
‘This building, reputed to be from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, was erected as a church by Lord Hatton to serve the needs of the neighbourhood after St. Andrew’s Holborn had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was adapted for use as a charity school about 1696, was severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the 1939-45 war and has since been reconstructed internally to provide offices – the original facades being restored and retained. The figures of scholars in 18th century costume taken down and sent for safe keeping during the war to Bradfield College, Berkshire have been replaced in their original positions as a memorial of the former use of the building.’

The last two mean a trek out to leafy south-west London:

Unusually on a wall of the Old Court House, Hampton Court Green, East Molesey, was unveiled by Virginia Bottomley, Minister for National Heritage:

Thames Street, Windsor, this, strongly disputed claim, asserts the architect designed and lived in the property.

All images uploaded are registered with a Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL).