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

London in Quotations: Anon

Take a perfect day, add six hours of rain and fog, and you have instant London.

Anon, Dick Enberg’s Humorous Quotes for All Occasions

London Trivia: Marooned

On 25 April 1719, what many regard to be the first work of realised fiction, a novel in the English language, was published in London by W. Taylor. Many of its readers believed Daniel Defoe’s story of a castaway called Robinson Crusoe who spends 27 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad encountering cannibals, captives and mutineers before being rescued to be a autobiographical travelogue.

On 25 April 1682 a severe storm flooded St. James’s Park, it was recorded that a skiff could be rowed up Brentford High Street

Tests conducted in the Thames discovered weight loss in eels from ingesting cocaine, the highest concentrations were outside Parliament

King William Walk, Greenwich named after the statue at its southern end is London’s first in granite which originally stood at London Bridge

Chelsea Physic Garden founded in 1673 to train apothecaries, sent cotton seeds from the garden as the nucleus of Georgia’s cotton plantations

On 25 April 1660 The Convention Parliament voted for the restoration of King Charles II to the throne, the act forgave and pardoned people for past actions and it allowed the new monarch a fresh start

Fassett Square was the model for the fictional Albert Square in the BBC’s Eastenders, in fact two Albert Squares are to be found in London

The “local palais” lyrics in the Kinks’ Come Dancing was The Athenaeum, Fortis Green Road replaced by a Sainsbury’s store in 1966

Millwall (Rovers) were formed in the summer of 1885 by workers at Morton’s Jam Factory on the Isle of Dogs

Only five London Underground stations lie outside the M25 motorway, Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chesham, and Chorleywood on the Metropolitan line and Epping on the Central Line

Julian Lloyd Webber is rumoured to have been the London Underground’s first busker, it’s not known if he managed to make a living busking

In 1886 a visiting group of Americans gifted a piece of Plymouth Rock, the Founding Fathers landing spot, to the Union Chapel, Islington

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.

Shakespeare Wos ‘Ere

Historians aren’t certain that William Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day 1564, although he was baptised on 26 April that year, what we do know that he died on this day 405 years ago.

For several years of his life, Shakespeare’s home was London, although we don’t know where most of them are, there are a couple where we have proper documentary evidence.

1592:

William Shakespeare first moves to lodgings in London

1593:

Now lodging somewhere in Bishopsgate

1596:

Now lodging somewhere in the parish of St. Helen’s in Bishopsgate

1599:

Now lodging somewhere on Bankside, near the Globe Theatre

And that’s not the current Globe Theatre, which is too near the Thames. Back then a row of theatres ran slightly further back, within the ‘Liberty of the Clink’, an ancient enclave whose laws permitted entertainments banned a few streets away.

The site of the original Globe can be found by crossing Southwark Bridge and then taking steps down immediately beyond the large office block, before reaching the traffic lights.

Information boards on Park Street, which runs parallel to the Thames and below Southwark Bridge Road, reveals that the site lays before you, beyond the railings, within the protective realm of a block of flats. The limit of the Scheduled Ancient Monument area is defined by a change in the cobbles, with a late Georgian terrace plonked straight across the middle of it, because nobody back then cared about heritage.

The Globe had burnt to the ground in 1613, ignited by a cinder during a performance of Henry VIII, and only a few minor archaeological traces remain. It’s believed that Shakespeare might have lived in a house adjacent to the theatre, but that’s mere speculation, and nobody knows precisely where.

1604:

Shakespeare now lodging in Cripplegate

By this time, he’d already written most of his classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Othello, perhaps in response to his increased reputation he moved back north of the river and rented lodgings in the City.

His landlord was Christopher Mountjoy, a French Huguenot refugee and a maker of ladies’ ornamental wigs in the elaborate Elizabethan fashion. We’d know none of this was it not for a family dispute following the marriage of Mountjoy’s daughter Mary to his apprentice Stephen Belott. When a promised dowry failed to materialise in full, Bellot took Mountjoy to court and Shakespeare was called as a witness. His words, in this case, weren’t particularly useful, but modern scholars were bequeathed a rare example of his handwriting as a result, and also a precise address. The Mountjoys’ house was situated on the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street, on the boundary between the wards of Farringdon and Cripplegate.

The catch is that neither the house nor either of the streets still exists, the house disappeared in the Great Fire, and then the local area was wiped from the map again during the Blitz. Pretty much the whole of Cripplegate was consumed, and the street pattern substantially remodelled during the erection of the Barbican estate. The location lies just outside this modern development, either underneath or fractionally to the south of London Wall, which despite its name is another modern interloper on the A-Z. Head to the section east of the Museum of London, close to the actual remains of the actual London wall on Noble Street. The best clue to the precise site of the Bard’s lodgings is St. Olave’s church, a small place of worship whose churchyard abutted the street corner in question. This was also destroyed in World War II, but its footprint remains as a tiny garden, with a raised lawn and a footpath winding through, and an old stone bowl which might be a font or maybe a birdbath, it’s hard to be sure. The City has erected a plaque by a bench to confirm the Shakespearian connection, using the usual convention of ‘Near Here’ to confirm there’s no remaining wall to properly attach it to. If you’re planning on getting up close and maybe taking a photo, best hope there isn’t a modern-day Romeo and Juliet canoodling on the bench when you visit. But if it’s free, take a seat and look around you at the lofty offices and high walks, and try to imagine that Macbeth and King Lear were likely written right here.

1613:

Now with property in Blackfriars

With more than a third of London’s adult population watching live theatre every month, Shakespeare had become a wealthy man he had retired to a fine house in Stratford but was now rich enough to be able to buy a second property here. Maybe it was his bolthole in the capital, maybe simply an investment or a holiday home, there isn’t even enough documentary evidence to prove he ever stayed the night. Whatever the reason, when he bequeathed it to his daughter he left us one of only six confirmed signatures still in existence today.

The best guess is that the property may have occupied the north side of Ireland Yard where it joins St Andrew’s Hill, which is where the City of London have placed another blue plaque.

Things would have been a lot busier around here in early Jacobean times, not least because of the Blackfriars Theatre where Shakespeare’s troupe played out the winter months. These days the bypassed quadrant of backstreets to the south of Ludgate Hill goes mostly unnoticed except by those who work here, which is a shame because it’s almost quaint in parts. It’s also easier here than at the Barbican to imagine our greatest playwright stepping out from home… until that fateful day exactly 405 years ago when Will’s will suddenly become important.

Sit on Bismarck’s Bench

The ‘baby-boomers’ among you will recall the name, Bismarck. At the beginning of World War II, it was the name of the most powerful battleship in the world. In 1960 the film Sink the Bismarck starring Kenneth More was released and became for many the defining account of naval battles.

The ship was named after Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg, known as Otto von Bismarck.

It was he who was instrumental in unifying Germany in the second half of the 19th century. In 1885, as Germany’s Chancellor, he came to England on a state visit, and having expressed an interest in English ale he was taken to the now forgotten Barclay Brewery in Southwark.

Naturally, at the end of the tour, eager to prove English beer was the equal of the German variety, he was asked if he would like to partake a ‘drop’ of the company’s strongest brew.

A delighted Bismarck was given a half-flagon full of their finest. Etiquette demanded that the visitor would take just a sip and hand the flagon back.

Somehow the courtesy was lost in translation and Bismarck emptied the half-flagon. The manager, probably to hide his embarrassment, commentated to the Chancellor that very few men had ever drunk two half-gallon tankards. In true Germanic tradition, Bismarck proved them wrong by insisting on a refill and proceeded to down the second.

After leaving the brewery his carriage was passing over Westminster Bridge, when one of Europe’s most powerful men ordered his vehicle to stop, alighted and promptly lurched towards a bench. Giving instructions to be woken an hour fell into a deep sleep as senior members of the Foreign Office waited patiently for the slumbering Chancellor to awake.

On the hour he awoke, refreshed and continued his State visit unperturbed.

Alas, the bench opposite Boudica’s statue has been removed and lost, but Scottish brewers BrewDog have risen to the occasion admirably.

Sink The Bismarck is believed to be the strongest beer in the world with a 41 per cent alcohol content and costing £55 for a 330ml bottle. I would like to see the current Chancellor knock that back.

London in Quotations: Virginia Woolf

One might fancy that day, the London day, was just beginning. Like a woman who had slipped off her print dress and white apron to array herself in blue and pearls, the day changed, put off stuff, took gauze, changed to evening, and with the same sigh of exhilaration that a woman breathes … but London would have none of it, and rushed her bayonets into the sky, pinioned her, constrained her to partnership in her revelry.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Mrs. Dalloway