London Trivia: Birth of an ideal

On 30 April 1907 for 20 days history was in the making. At the Brotherhood Church, which once stood on the corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was held. Attendees included Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg and Maxim Gorky. The rest is history. The site is now occupied by a mixed-use residential and business building, with the exact site of the church now a Tesco Express.

On 30 April 1980 gunmen took over the Iranian embassy at Prince’s Gate, under the full glare of the media the SAS stormed the building on 5 May killing 5 and releasing the hostages

In 1906 Messrs Spillberg, Nabian and Aaroris of Nelson Street, Stepney were convicted of smuggling saccharin which then was considered a drug

Liverpool Street’s Great Eastern Hotel (now the Andaz) opened in 1884 and was at one time the only hotel in the City

Builders working on the Builders working on the Bakerloo Line are reported to have suffered from the bends while tunnelling under the Thames

During World War II and the Nazi occupation of Holland Queen Wilhelmina moved her Dutch government into her London home at 77 Chester Square, Belgravia

The Cliff Richard musical Summer Holiday had a bus bound for ‘London to the South of France via Dover Paris’ most was shot in LT’s bus works Aldenham

Museum of London tracing the capital’s history from Prehistoric times to the present day is the largest urban history museum in the world

In 1966 actor, bodybuilder and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger lived at 335 Romford Road Ilford as a guest of bodybuilder Charles Bennett

The first section of the Underground ran between Paddington and Farringdon Street. The same section now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines

Miles Coverdale who supervised the production of the first complete bible in English in 1535 was once Rector of St Magnus the Martyr

When the Millennium Dome was built, a Blue Peter capsule was buried containing amongst other items a spice girls cd, a tamagotchi and a Blue Peter badge!

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: Too romantic to survive

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.

Too romantic to survive (30.03.2010)

What have these two men got in common? The first was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture, after failing his degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, he started his career as a journalist and ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate to date and a much-loved figure on British television beloved by generations, the second a security guard.

Dubbed “The Most Romantic Building in London”, the Midland Grand Hotel is on the cusp of returning to its original purpose after closing its doors three quarters of a century ago. Dot com bubble is nothing new and so it was when this Victorian gothic revival building was nearing completion. It was the last of the great railway termini hotels of the Victorian era and by far the most expensive, costing 14 times as much to build as it near neighbour the Great Northern Hotel.

During its construction in an effort to cut costs a floor was shaved off the original plan and the lavish ornament cheapened, oak was substituted with cheaper deal and for the completion of its interiors, its celebrated and workaholic architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was replaced with a more malleable practice. Upon opening the Midland Grand was the epitome of luxury and one of the most spectacular gothic revival buildings in the world, boasting among other “luxuries” a Ladies’ Drawing Room which later gained notoriety as the first Ladies’ Smoking Room in London, the room was equipped with an electrophone, linking guests to the Queen’s Hall and other London halls and churches.

But within 20 years its clients were expecting what the Grand lacked, for the hotel was built before the time of en suite bathrooms, requiring an army of servants to scuttle around the 300 rooms, laden with tubs, bowls, spittoons and chamber pots.

After struggling on for a few more years the hotel finally closed in 1935, going the way of all large buildings in London and became offices for its owners the railway company, its interiors were enhanced with partitions, suspended ceilings and fluorescent lights.

In the Sixties attempts were made to demolish it with its current owners describing it as “completely obsolete and hopeless” preferring the simpler lines of its neighbour at King Cross.

At this stage in the Grand’s life our poet laureate in the shape of John Betjeman led a campaign and only stopped its demolition at the 11th hour later gaining a Grade I listing in 1967.

By 1988 the building was declared unsafe, and remained unloved and forgotten by the public as they rushed past along the Euston Road, and frozen in time the haunt of film makers and pigeons. 1995-5 saw £9 million pf public money spent on restoring its interiors, but the exterior was for all the world unloved.

Enter now the hotels most unlikely supporter a security guard employed for 30 years to protect its empty shell, Roydon Stock. So captivated was he by this building he’s now the major authority of its heritage, giving tours into its dark interior, correcting historians and even debating with England Heritage on its restoration.

Now after £200 million spent by a consortium of developers which have against all the odds converted its upper floors into 67 rooftop flats, and soon next year the Old Lady of Euston Road will reopen for business as a Marriott Renaissance Hotel.

If people like John Betjeman and Roydon Stock hadn’t fought for its survival we would probably have a modern monstrosity in its place in the shape of Marathon House further along the road.

I’ll finish with the words of Rowan Moore the Architecture Critic for the Evening Standard who has put it much better than me:

The building is also a rebuke to all those who wanted to demolish it in the name of efficiency and modernity. Fifty years ago they were many, but the idea now seems inconceivable. There are currently similar mutterings about a work of George Gilbert Scott’s grandson Giles, Battersea Power Station. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of preserving the latter should go to St Pancras and see what an awkward pile of old bricks can do.

April’s monthly musings

🚓 What Cab News

Transport for London has revoked 327 Private Hire Vehicle driver licences in 2022 for non-medical-related reasons. In that total 39 licences were revoked for serious sexual offences and a further 26 for ‘other’ sexual offences. Other reasons for minicab drivers losing their licence in London include drink or drug driving (19), driving disqualification (122), dishonesty (46), non-sexual abuse or behaviour towards passenger (12), being arrested or charged for a serious offence (9), fraudulent identifiers (14) and violence (7).

🎧 What I’m Listening

On Sunday the 23rd my phone exploded with a test for an emergency warning. Apparently, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, and the Netherlands have a similar system. But we’re British, surely we needed Corporal Jones telling us: “Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring”.

📖 What I’m Reading

John Grindrod has written the secret history of our green belts, Outskirts is the first book to tell the story of Britain’s green belts, a fascinating social history, a stirring evocation of the natural world, and a poignant tale of growing up in a place. Part autobiography and part history of our green spaces.

📺 What I’m watching

I was contacted by Crich Tramway Museum in Derbyshire, who have recently restored a cabmen’s shelter which stood outside Bradford Exchange railway station from 1879 to 1973. On their site, they have produced a virtual tour of the shelter.

❓ What else

I’m not one to talk about health, but on 6th November 2021, I experienced an event. After my excellent GP had ascertained I wasn’t going to peg out any time soon, I was referred to a consultant. Last week, after nearly 18 months, I received my first and only (telephone) consultation. Having paid NI for 50 years and thankfully hardly ever troubled the NHS, one wonders just what are politicians’ long-term plans for this exemplary institution.

A day’s sheep drive

I didn’t know whether to praise my local council or ask of it just why are they spending money on this and not keeping libraries open. A Royal Charter of 1247 (not a typo) could kibosh the plans to move Smithfield and Billingsgate markets to Dagenham Dock because it forbids a market from being set up “within a day’s sheep drive” of the existing Romford Market. In case you need reminding, a day’s sheep drive is the equivalent of the (slightly satanic) 6.66 miles, and The City of London’s proposed new site in Dagenham Dock is about four miles away from Romford market. So if you’re into what you get by giving ‘a drink’ to a medieval king, in this case, King Henry III, here it is

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Raymond Revuebar

RAYMOND REVUEBAR (n.) A bawdy-house where traffick is made by wickedness and debauchery.

Dr. Johnson’s London Dictionary for publick consumption in the twenty-first century avail yourself on Twitter @JohnsonsLondon