All posts by Gibson Square

The London Grill: Jack Chesher

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.

Jack is a London history lover. He is the founder of Living London History (; a blog with a focus on the quirky hidden history in the city. He has also recently launched guided tours to share his love of the city with others. When he is not guiding or walking around the city, Jack loves going to the theatre and a good pub quiz/pint!

What’s your secret London tip?

If open, always pop your head inside London’s churches. They often have amazing free little museums, such as the crypts of St Bride’s and All Hallows by the Tower. These are great places to see the layers of London’s history before your very eyes!

What’s your secret London place?

The City of London is full of little tranquil pocket parks and secret spots. My favourite would have to be the courtyard of St Vedast alias Foster off Foster Lane, but shush don’t tell too many people!

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

My biggest gripe would probably be the number of cars in London and the air pollution that comes along with them. If there were fewer cars, a greener public transport system and better provisions made for walking and cycling; then I think we would have a healthier, happier and more attractive city.

What’s your favourite building?

I think my favourite building is probably St Paul’s Cathedral but another, quirkier one is Two Temple Place off the Victoria Embankment. It was built in 1895 for the richest man in the world at the time, was built to the highest possible standards of the time and looks like an Elizabethan stronghold inside and out! Look out for its magnificent gold weathervane in the form of the Santa Maria; Columbus’s ship to America. They hold art exhibitions and are open for open house weekends.

What’s your most hated building?

I am not a fan of the newest member of the City of London’s skyscraper family: 22 Bishopsgate. I can see it from the window of my flat and I think it is a bit of a bland behemoth that just dominates the landscape too much.

What’s the best view in London?

For inner-city views, I would have to say the Sky Garden in the Walkie-Talkie. For seeing the city from afar I would say the majestic view you get from Greenwich Park with the Queen’s House in the foreground: it never gets old.

What’s your personal London landmark?

My personal landmark would be the Tower of London. I grew up in Essex, so when getting the train up to London, it is the first landmark you see after leaving the train. It, therefore, represents all those day trips up to the city and gives me that buzz of excitement of being in London.

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

My collection of research and local interest books for London is ever-growing. My favourite in terms of enjoyment would probably be Matthew Green’s London: A Travel Guide Through Time. It is very well written, immersive, fascinating and really sparks inspiration for London’s history.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Currently top of the list is Dishoom. Both their breakfasts and dinners are amazing.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Well, it would naturally be a day walking around London. If at the weekend I would walk around the City of London, as it is quiet and there is always something new to discover. I love being by the river so I would also walk along the South Bank and grab a drink at one of London’s historic pubs: the George in Southwark perhaps. I would finish the day off by seeing a show at the Globe; an experience that never disappoints.

Previously Posted: The most dangerous single organism on Earth

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 most dangerous single organism on Earth (09.03.09)

Happy New Year to all readers of CabbieBlog. So by now, you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolution; have gone back to work to find another round of redundancies being announced; have overspent at Christmas, and are waiting for those credit card bills to drop on your doormat.

It could be worse, far, far worse. As a diversion from Cabbies’ Weekly Whinge, spare a moment to reflect on Thomas Midgley an American mechanical engineer turned chemist. While lauded at the time for his discoveries, today his legacy is seen as far more mixed considering the serious negative environmental impacts of his innovations. One historian remarked that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth history”.

In December 1921 Midgley discovered that the addition of tetra-ethyl lead (“TEL”) to gasoline prevented internal combustion engines from “knocking”. The company dubbed the substance “Ethyl”, avoiding all mention of lead in reports and advertising. Oil companies and carmakers, especially General Motors which owned the patent strenuously promoted leaded fuel as an alternative to ethanol or ethanol-blended fuels, on which they could make very little profit.

The subsequent addition of lead to gasoline eventually resulted in the release of huge amounts of lead into the atmosphere, causing health problems around the world. Midgley himself had to take a prolonged vacation to cure him of lead poisoning. “After about a year’s work in organic lead,” he wrote in January 1923, “I find that my lungs have been affected and that it is necessary to drop all work and get a large supply of fresh air”.

In April 1923, General Motors created the General Motors Chemical Company to supervise the production of TEL by the DuPont Company and placed Midgley as vice president. However, after two deaths and several cases of lead poisoning at the TEL prototype plant in Dayton, Ohio, the staff at Dayton was said in 1924 to be “depressed to the point of considering giving up the whole tetraethyl lead program.” Over the course of the next year, eight more people would die at DuPont’s Deepwater, New Jersey plant.

Dissatisfied with the speed of DuPont’s production using their “bromide process”, General Motors and Standard Oil created the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in 1924 and built a new TEL plant using a more dangerous high-temperature “ethyl chloride process” at the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey. Within the first two months of its operation, the Bayway plant was plagued by more cases of lead poisoning, hallucinations, insanity, and then five deaths in quick succession. On 30th October, Midgley participated in a press conference to demonstrate the “safety” of contact with the substance. In this demonstration, he poured tetra-ethyl lead over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and breathed it in for sixty seconds, declaring that he could do this every day without succumbing to any problems whatsoever. However, the plant was decisively shut down by the State of New Jersey a few days later, and Standard was forbidden to manufacture TEL there again without state permission.

In 1930, General Motors charged Midgley with developing a non-toxic and safe refrigerant for household appliances. He (along with Charles Kettering) discovered dichlorodifluoromethane, a chlorinated fluorocarbon (“CFC”) which he dubbed Freon. CFCs were also used as propellants in aerosol spray cans, metered-dose inhalers (asthma inhalers), and more. In recent years CFCs have been attributed to causing severe damage to the Earth’s ozone layer.

In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley contracted polio which left him severely disabled. This led him to devise an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55, and they say there is no justice in this world.

Such is life.



Two hundred and fifteen years ago, on 28th January 1807, London’s Pall Mall was the first street lit by gaslight.

Pall Mall was laid out in its present location in 1661, replacing a much older highway slightly to the south that ran from Charing Cross to St James’s Palace – then the residence of the King of England.

The name of the street is derived from ‘pall-mall’, a ball game that was played there during the 17th century.

The Pall Mall brand of cigarettes was introduced in 1899 by the Black Butler Company (UK) in an attempt to cater to the upper class with the first ‘premium’ cigarette. It is named after Pall Mall.

The gaslight was developed in the 1790s. The credit usually goes to Scottish engineer William Murdoch, but it was Friedrich Albert Winzer (sometimes anglicized to Frederick Winsor), a German entrepreneur living in London, who lit Pall Mall.

In 1804, the same year he patented coal-gas lighting, Winzer demonstrated the technology during a lecture at the Lyceum Theatre. By 1807, he had moved into a house on Pall Mall, one of the city’s most fashionable streets.

He followed the illumination of Pall Mall with a special exhibition on 4th June 1807, in honour of the birthday of King George III, using gaslight to superimpose images against the walls of the buildings along his street.

There are still 1,500 gas lamps in London. They don’t need lighting every night, but the timer that lights them automatically needs adjusting every fortnight to keep pace with shorter or longer days. Before timers, lamps were lit with an 8ft long brass pole with a pilot light – last used around Temple 1976.

Making Life Easier

Amazon have stopped accepting Visa cards, so I had to switch to my M&S Mastercard. But M&S don’t except cheques (my preferred method of payment), so I had to set up a direct debit. The only way for a direct debit to work was by opening an M&S online bank account. Easy peesy it only took an hour. Now all I have to worry about is that it’s ‘automatically’ paid and I’m not charged 39.9% interest. Thanks Jeff Bezos, happy landings.

Johnson’s London Dictionary: Tube

TUBE (n.) An elektric powered stagecoach running upon rails through tunnels, by which means its numerous passengers are squeezed into its vehicles

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