All posts by Gibson Square

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

All roads lead to London . . . A4 & A5

This is our third rather pointless exploration of the starting points of five major trunk roads.

A4 London to Bath (103 miles, originally the Great West Road)

The A4 used to start in the same place as the A3, terrorist paranoia in the City of London has beheaded this first mile from the route, forcing the A4 to retreat to the edge of the City beyond a miserable security checkpoint cordon. And now the Great West Road starts somewhere rather less glamorous.

Six roads meet at Holborn Circus, which is now little more than complicated junction overlooked by the only equestrian statue of Prince Albert to be found in London. The new route chosen for the A4 follows the most insignificant of these roads, a tiny street squeezed in between a branch of Lloyds Bank and Sainsbury head office. This is New Fetter Lane, which leads before very long to the similarly quiet and narrow Fetter Lane. At the junction of the two stands London’s only cross-eyed statue, a memorial to 18th-century libertarian John Wilkes.

We turn right into Fleet Street passing Temple Bar, where traitors heads were once displayed in spikes and the westernmost extent of the Great Fire of London.

F Strand
Comply King Charles Statue
L/By Cockspur Street
B/L Pall Mall
R St. James’s Street
L Piccadilly
F Piccadilly Underpass
F Hyde Park Corner
F Knightsbridge
B/L Brompton Road
F Cromwell Gardens
F Cromwell Road
F West Cromwell Road
F Talgarth Road
F Hammersmith Flyover
F West Cromwell Road

5-mile ends at approximately Hogarth Roundabout. Should you be travelling down the A4 approaching the Hogarth Roundabout from the east you probably will be unaware that just yards from the racetrack that this stretch of road becomes during the evening rush hour, that you reluctantly find yourself driving along while following this post, is an oasis of calm.

This small backwater (I use the word advisedly) has been the enclave of choice for artists to reside for over 200 years. One property, Walpole House was once a school which William Thackeray was a boarder. It provided the setting for Miss Pinkerton’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where Becky Sharp fatefully made the acquaintance of Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair.

But take care, the Thames floods the road, the houses have high front walls, surmounted with perspex panels.

A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)

The A5 begins at the site of the Tyburn Tree – London’s popular spot for public executions during more than six centuries. More than fifty thousand criminals were hung here, originally from the branches of a tree beside the Tyburn river but later from a purpose-built wooden tripod of death. A memorial to these notorious gallows is paved into a traffic island at the very bottom of the Edgware Road.

The most famous landmark in the vicinity today is Marble Arch, originally designed by John Nash as a triumphant entrance to Buckingham Palace but moved to its existing location when the palace was extended in 1851.

Like the A2, the A5 follows the Roman road of Watling Street, of which this is the start of the northern section. The road from Marble Arch to the edge of the suburbs is the longest straight line in London, never once deviating to left or right for a full twenty miles. The first mile is a cosmopolitan shopping street, although probably not one you’d go out of your way to visit. Unless you were Lebanese, that is. There’s a distinctly Arabian flavour to the very bottom of the A5 – perfect for stocking up on pomegranates, using your Bank of Kuwait cashpoint card or smoking aromatic tobacco out of some mysterious piped bottle.

F Maida Vale
F Kilburn High Road
F Shoot Up Hill
F Cricklewood Broadway
F Edgware Road
F Hendon Broadway
F The Hyde

5-mile ends approximately here, and look, I’m sorry to have dragged you out here, but there is nothing of interest in Colindale.

Aim for the mouth

I’m really getting fed up with people wanting to eat in my cab. If that was not enough they invariably cannot locate their mouths and the food ends up lying on the back seat for the next passenger to find.

All road lead to . . . London: A2 and A3

This, our second foray into the commencement of London’s trunk roads.

A2 London to Dover (77 miles, originally Roman Watling Street)

This road is the only one of London’s five major trunk routes to begin south of the river. The modern road follows the alignment of Watling Street, along which Roman soldiers would have trooped on their way from London to Dover.

Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims chatting on their way to Canterbury, because of a 20th-century one-way system the journey starts innocuously at a junction with the A3 outside Borough tube station, turning into Long Lane, right Tabard Street, right Nebraska Street before joining the A2 by turning left into Great Dover Street which has a real mix of housing along its half-mile length. There are plenty of council flats in long blocks, some old and some new but almost all with satellite dishes pointing southwards. Just visible to the south-west is Trinity Church Square one of the few unspoilt Georgian squares left in London and the only part of the area where you might aspire to live is 100 yards away to the right.

Comply Bricklayers Arms
L/By Old Kent Road
F New Cross Road
F Deptford Broadway
F Deptford Bridge
F Blackheath Road
F Blackheath Hill

5-mile ends at approximately here, but unlike other trunk roads, this area is picturesque. Nearby is Greenwich and Rangers House on the edge of Blackheath, a vast high open area.

A3 London to Portsmouth (74 miles)

This road starts where London nearly finished – at the Monument. The Great Fire of London was kindled just around the corner in Pudding Lane, killing only six people but destroying four-fifths of the City. The Monument was built by Sir Christoper Wren to commemorate the conflagration and is exactly as far away from the bakery where the fire began as it is tall. At 202ft it remains the world’s tallest free-standing stone column and became one of London’s first tourist attractions with its stunning panorama over the rebuilt city.

To be truly accurate, the A3 begins in front of the House of Fraser department store on King William Street, but somehow that doesn’t sound so interesting, although the road it stands is the more impressively named King William Street.

Ahead is the capital’s oldest permanent river crossing – London Bridge, which we cross and proceed to Borough High Street, an important bridgehead thoroughfare in medieval times when it was packed with all the bawdy revelry and lewdness that wasn’t permitted north of the river. Only one of the old coaching inns now survives – The George. It may be cunningly hidden up an alley just off the High Street but all the tourists and real ale drinkers still seem to find it, and rightly so. In neighbouring Talbot Yard, a blue plaque unveiled a decade ago by film director and former Monty Python team member Terry Jones marks the site of the Tabard Inn from whence Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims supposedly set off in 1386.

F Borough High Street
F Newington Causeway
Comply Elephant and Castle Gyratory
L/By Newington Butts
F Kennington Park Road
F Clapham Road
F Clapham High Street
R Long Road
F Clapham Common North Side
F Battersea Rise
F Wandsworth Common North Side
F Huguenot Place
F East Hill
F Wandsworth High Street
F & B/R West Hill

5-mile ends at approximately at the top of the incline known as Tibbet’s Corner. A sign depicts a skulking highwayman wearing a long-brimmed hat and brandishing a pistol has been erected in the centre of the roundabout, in memory of a famous highwayman who used to frequent the then lonely wastes of Putney Heath in the days before the highways were well policed.

London in Quotations: Sebastian Faulks

One thing about London is that when you step out into the night, it swallows you.

Sebastian Faulks (b.1953), Engleby

London Trivia: Inconvenient apparel

On 6 September 1889, a letter to the Editor of The Times was published, the correspondent pointed out the inconvenience to a gentleman of the errant low hanging awning rods outside shops. The gentlemen in question complained that on occasion his hat was actually knocked off his head, and at night further obstructions were placed in the way of his headgear, in the shape of lights being hung at unreasonable heights.

On 6 September 1828 the Gothic House for llamas, presented by the Duke of Bedford was opened, he was President of the Zoological Society of London from 1899 to 1936

Buckingham House built 1702 which would later become Buckingham Palace was built on the site of a notorious brothel

A ‘tot’ was an artificial Celtic beacon hill arranged along solstice lines London’s most famous tot hill was Westminster hence Fields and Street

On 6 September 1921 an inquest ruled that 63-year-old retired French cook, Joseph Enecker, had shot himself after suffering hiccups for 48 hours

Pear Tree Court on Lunham Road has an 18-room nuclear bunker in the basement, now closed as Lambeth declared the borough nuclear free

165 Broadhurst Gardens was home to Decca Records until the early 1980s, on 1 January 1962, Brian Epstein paid for an hour audition for The Beatles, but they were turned down by Decca

Bleeding Heart Yard is almost certainly derived from an ancient religious symbol later adopted by a tavern which once stood on the site

On 6 September 1913 Arsenal played their first game at Highbury, 20,000 watched the Gunners beat Leicester Fosse 2-1

Building the tunnels for the first section of the District Line (South Kensington to Westminster, 1868) used 140 million bricks

Until Edward VIII changed the rules in 1936, Beefeaters at The Tower of London were required to sport a beard

Dulwich College founded in 17th century by actor Edward Alleyn has famous alumni including PG Wodehouse and Ernest Shackleton

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.