All posts by Gibson Square

A Licensed Black London Cab Driver I share my London with you . . . The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

London in Quotations: Robert Campbell

Earth, yet it is governed with the same Ease, and with less Trouble to the Subject, than many petty Villages in other Parts of the World.

Robert Campbell (1769–1846)

London Trivia: First download

On 14 August 1888 an audio recording of the composer Arthur Sullivan’s The Lost Chord, one of the first recordings of music ever made, was played during a press conference introducing Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinder in London.

On 14 August 2011 the London–Surrey Classic Cycle race took place, starting at Pall Mall and covering 50 miles through Surrey, it was a precursor to the 2012 Olympic Games

The heads of executed traitors were displayed on spikes on London Bridge is now commemorated by a giant white spike on the current crossing

Unusual street names: Ha Ha Road Greenwich; Hooker’s Road Walthamstow; Quaggy Walk Blackheath; Cyclops Mews & Uamvar Street Limehouse

St George’s, University of London was founded near Hyde Park Corner in 1733 and was the second establishment in England to formally train doctors

Stalin, Lenin, and Trotsky met at the Brotherhood Church, Islington for the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party it’s now a Tesco Metro

The Beatles played their last gig on the roof of Apple Corps at 3 Saville Row. It’s now an Abercrombie & Fitch, after 42 minutes the police asked them to turn down the volume

When war broke out in 1939, BBC TV shut down half way through Mickey Mouse cartoon. In 1945 the cartoon resumed with apology for the break

The Rom Skate Park in Hornchurch was built in 1978, and was the first skatepark in Europe to be given protected Listed status

All 22 stations on the Metropolitan Line from Amersham to Liverpool Street have an ‘R’ in their name, only Aldgate hasn’t on the whole line

The plinth supporting the South Bank Lion on the south side of Westminster Bridge has a room for security guards to have a cup of tea

You could fit either the Great Pyramid at Giza or the Statue of Liberty inside the O2 Arena, the largest structure of its kind in the world

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.

London in Quotations: Dylan Thomas

It really is an insane city . . . its intelligentsia is so hurried in the head that nothing stays there; its glamour smells of goat; there’s no difference between good and bad.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

London Trivia: London-wide rioting

On 7 August 2011 rioting and looting spread across London and beyond. Brixton, Enfield, Islington, Wood Green and Oxford Circus were scenes of the rioting – many looters didn’t even bother to mask themselves.

On 7 August 1746 Jacobite captain, James Dawson, was hanged, drawn and quartered on Kennington Common, his fiancée died seconds after watching the execution

In 1959 at Wandsworth Prison Guenther Podola became the last man to be hanged in Britain for killing a police officer

Sir Christopher Wren’s first design proposal for St Paul’s featured a 60ft high stone pineapple atop the dome, it would be one of many rejections

The terracotta animals on the façade of the Natural History Museum extinct creatures are to the east of the entrance, the living to the west

At 4 Henrietta St, Covent Garden in August 1922 writer T. E. Lawrence (…of Arabia) tried to enlist in the RAF as John Hume Ross

When the rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre in 1809 raised ticket prices by 1/- riots broke out during the première of Macbeth

In summer 1974 Nude Show what is now the Peacock Theatre had Lindy Salmon’s bikini removed by dolphins Pixie and Penny

In the London 2012 Olympics Sarah Attar later became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in an Olympic athletics event, when she ran in a heat of the 800m

London buses were not always red. Before 1907, different routes had different-coloured buses, London General Omnibus Company painted their fleet of buses red in order to stand out from the competition

7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham was the home of Luke Howard, the ‘namer of clouds’ who proposed the nomenclature system in use today

Etched into the frosted windows of the Albert Tavern in Victoria Street is an image of Prince Albert’s penis, just don’t ask the barmaid where it is situated

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.

125 Years of the Black Cab

(Even if it was yellow at the time)

It’s 10.30 on a winter’s evening, stopping at a set of traffic lights, I can just recognise a familiar face approaching through the falling snow. It is Jeremy Clarkson making his way towards my cab’s warm interior. “Sorry Jeremy, I’m booked”, I have to inform him. Pulling away to pick up my fare which was actor Bill Nighy who took great delight at being given priority over the scion of right-wing opinion.

Once, the inside of a cab didn’t offer a warm refuge, far from it, Hansom carriages, pulled by a horse were open to the elements for the cabbie who sat unprotected from the wind and rain and gave scant protection for his passenger. Surprisingly horse-drawn cabs were still to be found in London after the Second World War, in fact, the last Hackney carriage licence was surrendered on 3rd April 1947.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago in August 1897, Walter Bersey introduced to London’s roads twenty-five of his eponymous electric cabs. Affectionately known by cockney cabbies as ‘The ‘Umming Bird’ because of the sound they made, they had 40 batteries strapped under the body, and weighing ¾ ton could travel for 40 miles at a maximum speed of 9mph! The Bersey was almost certainly the first mechanically propelled cab in the world, and curiously like its famous predecessor, today’s latest cabs are now also propelled by electricity.

My first cab, now some 26 years ago, also had very little protection from the elements, it was the ‘classic’ that could have been featured in a post-war Hollywood film with Cary Grant waving it down on a rain-swept London street.

The designers of this Austin FX4 taxi had incorporated some rather novel features. Naturally, it wasn’t blessed with power steering, but to compensate, it had a steering wheel so large it wouldn’t have looked out of place on an ocean liner. The vehicle also had the rather startling habit of swerving wildly just as you approached a narrow road restriction. The rise in summer temperatures, due to global warming, has necessitated the need for air conditioning, which was, of course, absent in the post-war engineering of the FX4. However, another novel feature was included: heating that was continually activated. A clever piece of British technology ensured that hot water from the engine could by-pass a valve meant to arrest the flow, and couldn’t be turned off. Not only were the windscreen wipers ineffective, but careful positioning of the dashboard vent also ensured the driver’s portion of the glass wasn’t troubled by any de-misting air. All these features might have been engineering at its zenith when it was designed, but the problem was the vehicles were still in production nearly half-a-century later. Which made them considerably more enduring than Walter Bersey’s prodigy, his electric vehicles stayed in service for only six years before being overtaken, literally, by the first internal combustion petrol-driven cab, the Prunel.

Another concession for the FX4 to 20th-century motoring was a radio. I suppose passengers were forever complaining to the Public Carriage Office about cabbies talking too much. Today 24-hour Talk Sport radio broadcasting has relieved many passengers from listening to their driver’s opinion of the shortcomings of England’s manager being now replaced by hearing some bloke’s opinion on the same topic blaring out of the radio instead.

The London cab trade is far older than the ‘Umming Bird’, or even some of today’s elderly cabbies. In 1634 the first recognised cab rank was established at the Maypole in the Strand, where St. Mary-le-Strand church is today, by Captain Bailey, a member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions. Twenty years later Oliver Cromwell, ever anxious to control every aspect of English lives, brought in an Act of Parliament, which set up The Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages licensing 200 cabbies. That original Act some 368 years ago makes the London cab the oldest regulated public transport system in the world.

It might not come as a surprise to a lot of people that regulation of London’s cabs and its drivers would later be the responsibility of the Sewers Office. Maintaining the city’s pipes and gullies, as well as the paving of the streets, was originally funded from the licence fees of public vehicles, carts, drays and cabs. Today London’s cabs are licensed by the catchily named ‘Transport for London (London Taxis and Private Hire)’, or TFLTPH, formerly known as the Public Carriage Office.

Taken from my contribution to This England Annual 2022.
Featured image: An 1897 Bersey Electrical Cab Rear at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon © Vauxford (CC BY-SA 4.0).