Category Archives: A window on My World

A compact shelter

The cabmens’ shelters [‘Bell and Horns’ on left] provided a welcome place for refreshment and rest in their long working day. Of the 47 originally built many have
been lost through bombing or neglect.

[L]EAVING ONLY THIRTEEN, all of them are now listed buildings, they are worth searching out, because of their appearance.

A cross between a cricket pavilion and a large garden shed, its quaint shape serves to underscore the truth that the cab trade is so ancient that it pre-existed the modern city.

A new shelter?

But then Ginny sent me this intriguing email:

The other week, we went for a walk and walked into Westminster Abbey Precincts – Dean’s Yard. Lo and behold on the south-west corner stood a green cab shelter. What was it doing there? On closer inspection, it was brand new, an excellent copy of the Victorian hansom cab shelters we see scattered in London. Its purpose? Well, I leave it to you to find out more!

A pseudo shelter in of all places Dean’s Yard? The appearance of a new ’shelter’ seemed so unusual that I had to find out.

First I contacted Westminster Abbey’s press office for information, receiving no reply Ginny gave me a hint as to its purpose in an article she had found which had appeared on the Guardian’s website:

The bin challenge – or “what to do with a hideous waste compactor” – is being addressed with a delightfully surreal pavilion in the form of a green timber cabman’s shelter in Dean’s Yard.”

The last time a shelter was located in the vicinity of Westminster was one erected in Old Palace Yard paid for by members of both Houses of Parliament, presumably to ensure the politicians would never have to wait for a cab to get them home after a hard day debating in the Chamber.

That one has long since been lost.


Venturing into Dean’s Yard I received some curious glances as I photographed what looks like a large green garden shed in the shadow of the Abbey.

This was different

There are differences, however, from the standard cabmen’s shelter, being slightly larger it doesn’t conform to the proviso laid down by the Metropolitan Police that, as shelters were situated on the public highway, they could be no larger than a horse and cart. The bar encompassing the ’shelter’ with which to tether your horse is missing, likewise the ornate chimney stack, but much else is identical.

Which begs the question: Was the Abbey’s press office unable to give me details of their waste compactor through lack of information, or are they afraid of being accused of copyright infringement?

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 29th October 2014

Code of Conduct

Highway Code

[T]HE FIRST HIGHWAY CODE was published in 1931 and as it was just 18 pages long the publication only cost 1d, on its first page the Ministry of Transport stated that its primary aim was to promote:

good manners for all courteous and considerate persons

In my world when drivers are meaner and ruder re-examining this little antiquated gem of a book shows one how driving standards have declined.

Its first piece of advice stated:

As a responsible citizen you have a duty to the community not to endanger or impede others in their lawful use of the King’s Highway.

In London nowadays every BMW driver before starting his car should be required by law to recite this piece of sage advice found between its covers:

Never take a risk in the hope or expectation that everyone else will do what is necessary to avoid the consequences of your rashness.

The latest habit of sounding your horn when traffic lights are changing are more akin to Beirut than genteel London town and The Men from The Ministry must have anticipated this trend when they gave this recommendation:

Remember that your horn is intended to be used as a warning and an indication, if needed, of your presence on the road

Stating sternly:

It should not be used as a threat . . . [motor horns] should never be used to show annoyance or impatience.

Sometimes I feel that I’m a roaming tourist information centre, so often am I asked directions. But could it be they are just taking advice given in The Highway Code:

Do not pull up alongside a constable on point duty in order to ask him a question which other people could answer. His full attention is required for his duties.

Even Boris Bikes have been anticipated, the pamphlet opined:

Do not wobble about the road but ride as steadily as possible . . .

If you fall, you may be run over.

Or the rather patronising:

Beware if high winds when on your bike, especially when wearing a cape

As for rickshaws:

You must not ride furiously so as to endanger life or limb.

This Penny Dreadful seems to have achieved its purpose. When it was introduced in response to the high number of deaths on Britain’s roads, 7,000 a year were being killed despite there only being 2.3 million vehicles – a figure not helped by there being no compulsory driving test. Today with more than 30 million vehicles on Britain’s roads fatalities are closer to 2,000.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 22nd May 2012

Armadillo swallows London Stone

When learning The Knowledge some days remain etched in your memory forever. One such day for me was when I went to find a ‘point’ – London Stone – note it is not a definite article, even though it patently is.

I searched Cannon Street looking to find a clue to the elusive stone, up the sides of buildings, perched high up on a roof, inside the station, until I tracked down my quarry.

[T]HERE BEHIND A HIDEOUS GRILL attached to a scruffy 1960’s office was one of London’s oldest landmarks, known to have been in the City since 1198.

It is an unprepossessing piece of Clipston limestone or oolite. With its round-shouldered top and twin grooves, measuring about 18 inches across if found in a field, one would ignore it. Legend says that this small stone is linked to the destiny of our capital city, hence its Grade II listing.

Minerva the company who was developing the site wished to move this rare artefact. The name of the company is taken from the Roman goddess of wisdom, but in this instance, concerning a rare Roman piece of history not a lot of wisdom is being demonstrated, it’s just convenient for Minerva as they wanted to move the artefact a few doors down the street to the Walbrook Building.

The Walbrook Building, one of the City’s newer office blocks designed by Foster and Partners’, looks like a metal armadillo, a very modern building but with few heritage nods at ground level. Two of the metal struts planted firmly into Cannon Street incorporate small black plaques that once marked former ward boundaries. They look a bit incongruous, to be frank, but at least they’re still on site rather than scrapped and dumped elsewhere.

The plan was to relocate London Stone to the front elevation of the Walbrook Building and a special display case built to contain the legendary lump of rock. One of the existing grey panels was to be replaced by a laminated glass wall, and the stone placed inside on an etched mild steel plinth. And the grille coming too, given a less prominent position beneath, plus the metal plaque that currently sits on top of them all.

The Stone has had a chequered history. It was referenced in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2, but by the 18th Century, it was known more like a traffic hazard. The Stone was moved back and forth across Cannon Street and eventually ended up in St. Swithin’s Church, until the building was bombed in World War II. Since the early 1960s, the Stone has been housed at street level in an office building, opposite Cannon Street Station, so it certainly has led a life of travel.

Old enough to remember the original Olympics in Rome, should this piece of stone be now relocated behind glass, as if it was a museum exhibit, in one of the most modern buildings of London, divorced from the everyday fabric of the city?

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 21st August 2012

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part V

HouseNow we have visited most streets and squares on my Cabbies’ Monopoly board, it’s time now to build a house. The houses in the true 1930s Monopoly fashion should be semi-detached with bay windows with the ubiquitous privet hedge marking their road boundary. The CabbieBlog houses here are just a little grander than your average semi.

Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family; the Dukes of Northumberland demolished in 1874. Standing just south from Trafalgar Square it was the last of the great Strand mansions to succumb. His grace did have another house to fall back on though; Syon House in Isleworth and it was to this estate the giant emblematic Percy Lion – which had stood guard over the main gateway facing the Strand to Northumberland House for over 150 years – was taken. In the 17th century the house formed part of the dowry when the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter married Lord Percy.

Once one of the biggest houses in London once stood on his large square. Celebrated for its rather dangerous entertainments in 1672 John Evelyn dined here and was beguiled by Richardson “the famous fire-eater, who before us devour’d Brimston on glowing coales, chewing and swallowing hem downe”.

Life here was even more dangerous 100 years later when the father of the future “Mad” King George III, when still the Prince of Wales died after being hit in the throat with a cricket ball. And here’s one for the pub quiz: In 1780 the Toxophilite Society was inaugurated here.

The site of the King’s Mews, a vast building in which the Royal Hawks were kept, falconers lodged and daily services held in the “Chapel of the Muwes”. Geoffrey Chaucer once toiled there as a clerk of works. After a fire the mews were rebuilt as stabling during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the civil war the mews became barracks for the Parliamentary Army and after the Battle of Naseby about 4,500 Cavalier prisoners were incarcerated there. In its last years the main building was used as a menagerie and a store for public records, demolished in 1830.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 15th April 2011

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part IV

Returning again to the 1930’s Monopoly set that I discovered in the attic. This time it’s all about money ‘Pass Go and Collect £200’, £200 doesn’t seem much today, but remember you can buy Mayfair from the Duke of Westminster for only £400, what a bargain. Assuming you have collected your £200 where do you go to spend your gain, the shops of course.

Forget Oxford Street, Regent Street is by far a more elegant place to shop. Designed by John Nash, the original construction with its elegant curves had a covered colonnade for pedestrians to walk under to protect them from the elements as they moved from shop to shop.

It proved rather popular for prostitutes to use as a cat-walk while displaying their wares so it was demolished by 1920. The shop fronts now just look like any other row of shops. Hamleys would look rather interesting for the children with the “ladies” parading outside.

Yes you are right Bond Street doesn’t exist. Old Bond Street is only 14 years older than its newer sibling, both acquired the aristocratic seal of approval when the Duchess of Devonshire in 1784, after a fit of pique, organised a boycott against the hitherto smarter shops of Covent Garden.

Modern Bond Streets are packed with designer label flagship stores and jewellers which have become a favourite with smash and grab thieves on motorbikes. Separating the two streets is pedestrianised and has a sculpture depicting Churchill and Roosevelt seated on a bench.

Named after the curious ruff much favoured by Elizabethans, the starched collar was called a piccadill. J. C. Cording the suppliers of tweed and cords to the huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ set is part owned by “Slowhand” himself Eric Clapton. Waterstones opposite was once Simpsons of Piccadilly department store and Jeremy Lloyd having worked as a shop assistant there based his 1970 comedy Are You Being Served on his experience. While Fortnum & Mason was started by William Fortnum Queen Anne’s footman who saved his pennies to start the store by selling cut price candles to the palace.

The Americans wanted to buy the freehold to build their embassy, but the Grosvenor family never sell, all are leased. When told they couldn’t buy the land they insisted and petitioned Parliament; the Grosvenor family were heavily leaned on but all to no avail. Then the Duke thought of a good compromise. He told them that if they were to return to the Grosvenor family all those lands in the United States stolen after the American War of Independence including Maine and New York he would allow them to buy their site on the west side of Grosvenor Square, they backed down.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 1st April 2011