All posts by Gibson Square

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Monopoly

MONOPOLY (n.) Game played upon a board, wherein competitors aim to bankrupt opponents, curiously no properties are lokated in London’s southern environs, due to a London cabbie transporting the game’s authors.

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

Pedant Alert

Social media users have been asking what the new route, opening today and marked with purple signage, is to be called.

Now stay with me on this, a pedant’s paradise. Because the Elizabeth Line is not part of the Underground, apparently it’s a separate ‘mode’ with its own roundel colour, like the DLR, the Overground, London Trams, or Emirates Air Line.

Now when it was – and remains with many of us – Crossrail, it could be deemed a separate entity to the rest of the Underground, although the logic blurs when it was branded Elizabeth, named after our current Queen, much like the Victoria was, you get the point.

I have no real qualms about it being called Elizabeth Line but differentiating it from say Jubilee, Circle or Metropolitan is a bit of a stretch. And when Crossrail 2 becomes known as such, will it also need to be a separate entity with its own roundel and become a ‘mode’.

For originally this north/south engineering feat (if it’s ever built) was to be simply another ‘line’. There was early talk about Crossrail 2 taking a mustard colour scheme as its roundel, with the moniker Brunel Line being floated about, which could change when Prince Charles is crowned, then the branding experts will rename it – The Charlie Line.

But it obviously depends on the project happening, and if it is still seen as a ‘Crossrail’ type railway, or a more ‘Underground’ style system, which then it would have red roundels and no ‘line’ at the end of its name. Confused?.

Previously Posted: The Human Lavatory

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.

The Human Lavatory (25.05.09)

Gentle reader, you will come, as I have now, to a time in your life when finding a toilet becomes not a distraction but a necessity.

London loos, until the 1950s, was famous the world over, but now according to the British Toilet Association (yes, there is a pro-toilet lobby group), a third of the lavatories run by city councils have closed in the last three years. While London with a decline of 40 per cent since 1999 is the largest drop in the country. They claim there is now only one public toilet for every 10,000 people in England but only one for every 18,000 Londoners.

London’s magnificent Victorian public toilets were built after The Public Health Act of 1848, which called for “Public Necessaries to be provided to improve sanitation”. The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851 had toilets for visitors. These were installed by George Jennings, a plumber from Brighton. He felt strongly that there should be decent public facilities. To offset the cost, visitors were charged 1d for using the toilets, giving Mr Jennings a net profit of £1,790 in only 23 weeks and so the phrase was coined (sorry for the pun), to spend a penny.

The first public on-street convenience was a gents at 95 Fleet Street; it was opened on 2 February 1852. Another, for ladies, was opened on 11 February at 51 Bedford Street. As well as being a public service these “Public Waiting Rooms” had water closets in wooden surrounds. The charge was 2d entrance fee and extra for washing or clothes brushes. They advertised the facilities in The Times and distributed handbills. But unfortunately, they had very few users and they were abandoned.

William Haywood started the first municipal underground public toilets in 1855. These were outside the Royal Exchange. The contractors were George Jennings; yes it’s that man again. These toilets charged 1d, a price that remained standard for nearly all public conveniences until the decimal currency was introduced in 1971.

George Jennings became a notable campaigner for public toilets, which he called ‘Halting Stations’, hardly surprising after the tidy profit he made at the Great Exhibition. At first he found it hard to convince authorities to adopt them. It was thought a topic which should not be mentioned.

Nearly all public conveniences were for men with few provided for women. The logic was that far more men were away from home than women, either for work or leisure.

These limited facilities were far better than in the Middle Ages where people simply used a bucket or pot and then threw the contents into the gutter or the Thames. With the projecting first floors of medieval London, the pot’s contents would be thrown out with gay abandon to the warning of “gardyloo” (a corruption of the French phrase gardez l’eau hence the nickname for a toilet.

In the 12th century if you happened to be walking in London and needed to spend a penny, you could employ the services of, I kid you not, a human lavatory. These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket. I think you might be ahead of me here, but I will go on. For a farthing you sat on the bucket while they stood above you and enveloped you with their cape, thus protecting your modesty.

In London an Act was passed which allowed cabbies to urinate over the rear nearside wheel of their vehicle, but only if a policeman shielded you from view with his cape. The law has not been revoked, but I have no intention of asking a female police officer if she would help me to relieve myself.

Now over 150 years after those pioneering Victorians built public “Halting Stations” your choice is now limited, do you:
(a) go to McDonald’s
(b) illegally use a suitable wall or hedge
(c) brazen it out, and use a hotel’s facilities; or
(d) go back to the tried and test method of a bucket.

Just don’t expect to find a caped crusader.


Where is London’s first flyover?

London’s oldest flyover is not some ugly crumbling concrete edifice, but a much more elegant structure built well before Britain’s first petrol driven motor car was launched onto the streets of Walthamstow in 1894.

There is an apocryphal story which every generation of Knowledge students hears. It relates to an Appearance [oral test] when a Knowledge boy tells the examiner that you could turn right into Farringdon Street from Holborn Viaduct. The salutary lesson to be learned is that if he had just gone to that location he would have discovered there was a 60ft drop onto the road below. The hapless Knowledge boy had relied on his A-Z map and had learned the hard way that maps should not be slavishly followed.

Spanning the Fleet River valley (the river now covered by Farringdon Street), Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 and links Holborn with Newgate Street.

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. Four bronze statues featuring agriculture and commerce feature on the south side, and depictions of fine arts and science on the north side. There are statues of winged lions, dragons, globe lamps and the City of London’s coat-of-arms.

The buildings containing the stairs each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade: Banker Sir Thomas Gresham, Engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton and Mayors Sir William Walworth and Henry Fitz Ailwin.

Several old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard were relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is 1,400 feet long and 80 feet wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.
Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements, as are the globe lamps – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz.

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

Driver Shortage

Brexit, a pandemic, workers’ rights, the cost of a new electric vehicle, charging problems, congestion and ULEZ charges have all massively impacted on public hire drivers and now their prices are equal to, and sometimes, above that of a metered fare in a black cab.

Social media is awash with Uber supporters who used to wax lyrical about the ‘Wonderful Service’, and ‘Convenience’ are now complaining about the unavailability and high prices.

The irony is that it’s these same people who used to tell the world that their choice of transport was based on helping those less privileged, but now Uber’s prices have risen are all screaming, to be fair many of them are Millennials who have only ever known a time when a Prius was waiting to take them home at all hours for virtually no money, and they are struggling to comprehend why it’s changed.

Uber needs to recruit and get licensed, tens of thousands of new drivers prepared to work long hours for low pay. They also have to persuade recruits to undertake increased regulatory standards such as English language requirements, a topographical test, HMRC registration, a requirement to buy electric cars (which many PH drivers cannot home charge) and ULEZ. In short, it’s no longer cheap and easy to become a private hire driver.

It goes without saying that the last thing any of the big apps want is any more rules or requirements and are doing all they can to bring political pressure and gain support from politicians of all parties.

The Adam Smith Institute, an oh-so liberal free-market think tank, has published a report arguing for less regulation. Rather cleverly their press releases referenced ‘scrapping The Knowledge’ which secured them some great media coverage.

So if we take their hypothesis for replacing London Black Cab Drivers with numpties, we could employ long-distance lorry drivers as short-haul pilots (planes fly themselves don’t you know), and pharmacists could perform appendectomies, after all they know a thing or two about the human body.