All posts by Gibson Square

The London Grill: Rebel Tours

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.

Charlie and Ellie started Rebel Tours in 2021 wanting to bring something different to the walking tour scene in London. After years of experience as tour guides and historians, they didn’t want to keep telling the same old stories, instead wanted to show a different, more authentic side to London with alternative walks focused on the city’s social history. Meet the Rebels here.

What’s your secret London tip?

Ellie: The Tate Modern has a great viewing platform from their cafe on the top floor of the new building. I always send tourists there, because it’s free and it’s a nice place to have a coffee after looking at all the amazing artwork.

Charlie: Always carry a small umbrella in London, whatever the weather! As well as an extra layer. Even if the sun is shining and it feels warm, we can go from a cloudless blue sky to rain within 10 minutes. It’s hard to remember that this is a small island nation far from the equator, so our weather is very changeable! Once the sun goes down, it is often very chilly, so if you’re planning on being out for the whole day, always ensure that you have a warm layer and something for the rain!

What’s your secret London place?

Ellie: Anywhere near the river immediately relaxes me. I grew up by the sea, so when I see the water I’m always happy. There’s a pub in Wapping called the Prospect of Whitby, which claims to be the site of the oldest tavern on the river. When the weather is nice, I like to sit on one of the balconies and watch the water swish and swirl under my feet.

Charlie: The Pride of Spitalfields is probably my favourite pub in London. It is a proper East End boozer, where all sorts of people come together, and the pints are cheap for central London! It’s hidden away just off Brick Lane, so tourists rarely stumble upon it. If you’re looking to drink with the locals, this is definitely the place to go.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Ellie: It’s a classic, but it has to be the extortionate rents and terrible quality of the flats. That would be the only thing that gives me ideas for moving. Charlie doesn’t have that issue anymore!

Charlie: Aside from the cost of living, we are a city that really relies on public transport – and if there are signal failures, strikes, or engineering works, then the whole city shuts down. Always plan ahead, and set off earlier than you think you’ll need to!

What’s your favourite building?

Ellie: I’m always impressed by St Paul’s, no matter how many times I see it. It is one of those buildings that makes me think, wow, I live here. And that’s a privilege, not every place has a building with that effect.

Charlie: I’m going to have to agree with Ellie, nothing beats St Paul’s Cathedral. In terms of interiors though, the Painted Hall out in Greenwich is a must-see!

What’s your most hated building?

Ellie: There’s an office block in Mitre Square in Aldgate and it’s just hideous. It annoys me every time I’m doing our East End tour. It’s totally black and oppressive, like something Darth Vader or Sauron would have built.

Charlie: That’s a tricky one, I actually love all of our buildings. So I’ll say the Palace of Westminster – not because it’s not beautiful, but because I am frustrated by its inhabitants… that’s a fair reason to hate the building, right?

What’s the best view in London?

Ellie: I love to walk across the Millenium bridge and look out to the river. But then I always love to look towards St Paul’s on one end and the Tate Modern on the other. I love that juxtaposition of the old and the new, which you find all over London.

Charlie: I think the view from a bar called Aqua in the Shard is incredible. Rather than paying to go to ‘The View’ at the top, I recommend people grab a cocktail there. Or for a truly free view, you can’t really beat Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath (less crowded than Primrose Hill), or the view from up by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

What’s your personal London landmark?

Ellie: It might be Hanbury Hall in the East End. It’s not a big landmark but there’s so much history in one building. It was built as a church for French Huguenots in the 18th century but in the 1880s it was where meetings were held about the matchstick girls strike led by people like Annie Besant and Eleanor Marx. It was such an interesting time, this is when we see the beginning of Trade Unionism and strike action.

Charlotte: I think I’d say Cross Bones Graveyard in Southwark. This is the final resting place of medieval prostitutes who effectively worked for the church/Bishop of Winchester. They were known as the Winchester Geese. In more recent centuries, the graveyard was used as a general pauper’s burial ground for poor people in the area. The site is prime real estate, and developers have been trying to get their hands on it for years, but the locals have ensured that this does not happen. The fences of the graveyard have been transformed into a shrine: there is a memorial to the Winchester Geese, but also names written on ribbons, of other unfortunate souls buried there, who would otherwise be forgotten – as well as some modern-day sex workers who have been murdered or gone missing. It’s a sombre place, but well worth a visit. There is also an excellent wine bar across the road from it, called the Boot & Flogger.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

Ellie: I absolutely love the Shardlake series by C.J Sansom. It’s set in Tudor times and the protagonist is a lawyer called Matthew Shardlake who always gets himself involved in plots or conspiracies. I think the author is incredible at bringing Tudor London to life. One of my favourite historians is David Olusoga and although it’s not about London specifically, his book Black and British does feature a lot of the capital and it’s really an amazing read.

Charlie: London’s Strangest Tales by Tom Quinn is a great one, full of some of the more unusual and fascinating stories about the history of the city.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Ellie: Charlie and I often eat in the Halal Restaurant in Aldgate after a tour. It was opened in 1939 and is still run by the same family. The food is great, the prices are very reasonable and they have loads of vegan options.

Charlie: There’s an excellent Mexican restaurant in Euston called Mestizo – it’s proper authentic Mexican, rather than Tex-Mex or other American-style. One of the owners is vegan, so again, they do have a separate vegan menu available. The cocktails are also incredible!

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Ellie: A trip with my partner and the dogs to Hampstead Heath with a nice picnic. When they’re all tired from chasing sticks, we drop them off at home and go to our local cinema, The Genesis to watch a film. If I’m not full from all the popcorn, we would go for dinner at the Unity Diner in Spitalfields. Perfect!

Charlie: I live on a narrowboat on the Regent’s Canal; I quite enjoy walking along the towpath to Camden, or around Little Venice. Or I might even drive my boat up to Kensal – there is a great pub there, that you can moor up next to!

Previously Posted: Memory Men

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.

Memory Men (20.10.09)

Memory Men (20.10.09)You have to feel sorry for high achievers like Lord Winston.

They work hard all their lives and reach the top of their respective professions. Then they find themselves sitting down to dinner with a London cabbie, possibly sharing a table on a cruise or at a hotel.

The conversation around the table goes something as follows:

Table Chatterbox: turning to Lord Winston “and what do you do Bob”?

Lord Winston: “Well I am a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, I am also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Institute of Biology. I also hold honorary doctorates from fourteen universities. In addition to being a British medical doctor and scientist, I’m a television presenter, and sit on the Labour Party benches in the House of Lords.”

Table Chatterbox: stifling a yawn, “Oh, really”. With that, he turns to me. “Do you have an interesting career, Gibson?”

Gibson Square: “Well actually I’m only a London cabbie.”

Table Chatterbox: “Well how interesting, I’ve always wanted to know, just how is it you manage to remember all those roads?”

Just what is the fascination with the Knowledge? I notice you are among the many who have chosen to read this blog on all things cabbie. We are not as well educated as many graduates, and contrary to popular opinion we’re not as erudite as we would like to think ourselves. We are reputed, incorrectly, to have narrow Right Wing views, with a propensity to favour the British National Party.

Yet I have shared a table with a nuclear physicist, a director of Unilever and a National Health Service consultant, but all the other diners want to know is, just how it is that I could have done the Knowledge.

If I was clever enough to remember 11,500 roads in central London plus all the theatres, hospitals, clubs, public buildings and all manner of miscellanea and could then take the shortest route between any two of them, I would have the brains to be a barrister and wouldn’t be pushing a cab around London.

If you are reading this Lord Winston, and you find yourself in CabbieBlog’s vehicle, just to help your self-esteem I’ll donate the fare (with a generous tip) to the charity of your choice.

Got to go now, I’m halfway through reading Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2010, it’s a riveting read.

Test Your Knowledge: December 2022

In October we counted the ways to cross the Thames, what other facts do you know about traversing London’s waterway? As before the correct answer will turn green when it’s clicked upon and expanded to give more information. The incorrect answers will turn red giving the correct explanation.

1. Can you remember how many ways there were to cross the Thames that was publicly accessible to humans?
49
WRONG A total of 11 routes to cross the Thames on a London Underground line, plus 14 other railway crossings. There are 25 roads and/or footbridges to cross the Thames, plus 5 pedestrian/vehicle tunnels. We have 3 boat and ferry services offering direct routes across the Thames. In addition the cable car between Royal Docks and North Greenwich, whatever they call it this week. The total number of ways to cross the Thames by this count is 59.
59
CORRECT A total of 11 routes to cross the Thames on a London Underground line, plus 14 other railway crossings. There are 25 roads and/or footbridges to cross the Thames, plus 5 pedestrian/vehicle tunnels. We have 3 boat and ferry services offering direct routes across the Thames. In addition the cable car between Royal Docks and North Greenwich, whatever they call it this week. The total number of ways to cross the Thames by this count is 59.
39
WRONG A total of 11 routes to cross the Thames on a London Underground line, plus 14 other railway crossings. There are 25 roads and/or footbridges to cross the Thames, plus 5 pedestrian/vehicle tunnels. We have 3 boat and ferry services offering direct routes across the Thames. In addition the cable car between Royal Docks and North Greenwich, whatever they call it this week. The total number of ways to cross the Thames by this count is 59.
2. On 30th December 1952 Albert Gunter made the newspapers for his unusual river crossing. Why?
He was the first to paraglide across the Thames
WRONG On the 30th December 1952, Albert Gunter was travelling north over Tower Bridge when it started to open, he accelerated and successfully jumped the bridge with only one injury, the bus conductor broke his leg. Albert was awarded £10 and a day off work for his quick thinking.
He jumped Tower Bridge while driving a bus
CORRECT On the 30th December 1952, Albert Gunter was travelling north over Tower Bridge when it started to open, he accelerated and successfully jumped the bridge with only one injury, the bus conductor broke his leg. Albert was awarded £10 and a day off work for his quick thinking.
He walked on a tightrope between Tower Bridge’s towers
WRONG On the 30th December 1952, Albert Gunter was travelling north over Tower Bridge when it started to open, he accelerated and successfully jumped the bridge with only one injury, the bus conductor broke his leg. Albert was awarded £10 and a day off work for his quick thinking.
3. What have John Burns, Ernest Bevin and James Newman to do with crossing the Thames?
They’re the names of three 1963-built Woolwich ferries
CORRECT The Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman ferries, named after local politicians, have been chugging vehicles across the Thames to and from Woolwich for more than 50 years. The old sea dogs made their last trip on 5th October 2018.
They’re politicians who opened a tunnel under the Thames on the Jubilee Line
WRONG The Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman ferries, named after local politicians, have been chugging vehicles across the Thames to and from Woolwich for more than 50 years. The old sea dogs made their last trip on 5th October 2018.
They’re captains of Uber Boats by Thames Clippers
WRONG The Ernest Bevin, John Burns and James Newman ferries, named after local politicians, have been chugging vehicles across the Thames to and from Woolwich for more than 50 years. The old sea dogs made their last trip on 5th October 2018.
4. A notice on Albert Bridge commands soldiers to do what?
Stop marching
CORRECT The notice reads: All troops must break step when marching over this bridge. In 1831 the Broughton Suspension Bridge collapsed as a troop of 74 men marched across. Investigations put this down to the effects of mechanical resonance and the army issued an order that troops should ‘break step’ when crossing a bridge.
Stop whistling
WRONG The notice reads: All troops must break step when marching over this bridge. In 1831 the Broughton Suspension Bridge collapsed as a troop of 74 men marched across. Investigations put this down to the effects of mechanical resonance and the army issued an order that troops should ‘break step’ when crossing a bridge.
Stop crossing
WRONG The notice reads: All troops must break step when marching over this bridge. In 1831 the Broughton Suspension Bridge collapsed as a troop of 74 men marched across. Investigations put this down to the effects of mechanical resonance and the army issued an order that troops should ‘break step’ when crossing a bridge.
5. Which bridge carries the A3 over the Thames?
London Bridge
CORRECT The A3, known as the Portsmouth Road is a major road connecting the City of London and Portsmouth via London Bridge, passing close to Kingston upon Thames, Guildford, Haslemere and Petersfield.
Blackfriars Bridge
WRONG The A3, known as the Portsmouth Road is a major road connecting the City of London and Portsmouth via London Bridge, passing close to Kingston upon Thames, Guildford, Haslemere and Petersfield.
Westminster Bridge
WRONG The A3, known as the Portsmouth Road is a major road connecting the City of London and Portsmouth via London Bridge, passing close to Kingston upon Thames, Guildford, Haslemere and Petersfield.
6. Why are there said to be sharp bends at each end of the Rotherhithe Tunnel?
Built to avoid plague pits
WRONG An urban myth is that the bends were installed to prevent horses from seeing daylight at the end of the tunnel too early, which might make them bolt for the exit.
To stop horses bolting for the exit
CORRECT An urban myth is that the bends were installed to prevent horses from seeing daylight at the end of the tunnel too early, which might make them bolt for the exit.
To slow traffic
WRONG An urban myth is that the bends were installed to prevent horses from seeing daylight at the end of the tunnel too early, which might make them bolt for the exit.
7. Which tunnel is longer to walk?
Woolwich Tunnel
WRONG Designed by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the Rotherhithe Tunnel was constructed using both a tunnelling ‘shield’ and the ‘cut and cover’ method, at 4,860 feet in length is four times longer than Greenwich Tunnel.
Greenwich Tunnel
WRONG Designed by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the Rotherhithe Tunnel was constructed using both a tunnelling ‘shield’ and the ‘cut and cover’ method, at 4,860 feet in length is four times longer than Greenwich Tunnel.
Rotherhithe Tunnel
CORRECT Designed by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the Rotherhithe Tunnel was constructed using both a tunnelling ‘shield’ and the ‘cut and cover’ method, at 4,860 feet in length is four times longer than Greenwich Tunnel.
8. Whose motorcade was accidentally split in two when Tower Bridge’s bascules opened in May 1997?
His Holiness Pope John Paul II
WRONG When President Clinton was returning late and behind schedule to the American Embassy from lunch with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a restaurant on the banks of the Thames, to the horror of his forward security detail who had already crossed the Tower Bridge and cleared traffic for the President’s safe journey, the bridge suddenly opened behind them for a yacht called Gladys which passed beneath on the exact scheduled time previously agreed to by the Embassy.
French President Jacques Chirac
WRONG When President Clinton was returning late and behind schedule to the American Embassy from lunch with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a restaurant on the banks of the Thames, to the horror of his forward security detail who had already crossed the Tower Bridge and cleared traffic for the President’s safe journey, the bridge suddenly opened behind them for a yacht called Gladys which passed beneath on the exact scheduled time previously agreed to by the Embassy.
President Bill Clinton
CORRECT When President Clinton was returning late and behind schedule to the American Embassy from lunch with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a restaurant on the banks of the Thames, to the horror of his forward security detail who had already crossed the Tower Bridge and cleared traffic for the President’s safe journey, the bridge suddenly opened behind them for a yacht called Gladys which passed beneath on the exact scheduled time previously agreed to by the Embassy.
9. What is the surname of the father-son team who built the first tunnel under the Thames, which opened in 1843 and now carries trains between Wapping and Rotherhithe?
Brunel
CORRECT Built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard using the tunnel shield, was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but was mainly used by pedestrians and became a tourist attraction. In 1869 it was converted into a railway tunnel which, since 2010, is part of the London Overground Railway Network.
Rennie
WRONG Built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard using the tunnel shield, was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but was mainly used by pedestrians and became a tourist attraction. In 1869 it was converted into a railway tunnel which, since 2010, is part of the London Overground Railway Network.
Locke
WRONG Built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard using the tunnel shield, was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but was mainly used by pedestrians and became a tourist attraction. In 1869 it was converted into a railway tunnel which, since 2010, is part of the London Overground Railway Network.
10. How many times does the Jubilee Line pass under the Thames?
3
WRONG The Jubilee line crosses beneath the Thames an impressive four times within nine stops: between Westminster and Waterloo; Canada Water and Canary Wharf; Canary Wharf and North Greenwich; and North Greenwich and Canning Town.
4
CORRECT The Jubilee line crosses beneath the Thames an impressive four times within nine stops: between Westminster and Waterloo; Canada Water and Canary Wharf; Canary Wharf and North Greenwich; and North Greenwich and Canning Town.
2
WRONG The Jubilee line crosses beneath the Thames an impressive four times within nine stops: between Westminster and Waterloo; Canada Water and Canary Wharf; Canary Wharf and North Greenwich; and North Greenwich and Canning Town.

Effluvia

We just learned a new word: Effluvia: ‘an unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge’. Homes across London remain at risk of being flooded by effluvia as a result of the capital’s Victorian sewage system and heavy rainfall. The London Flood Review concluded current infrastructure is unfit for purpose, especially in extreme weather. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Coffee House

COFFEE HOUSE (n.) Purveyor of an expensive liquid refreshment said to invigorate one who doth partake.

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