Category Archives: A window on My World

Three-quarters of a million

BLIMEY! Sometime in the next 24-hours, CabbieBlog will welcome its three-quarters of a millionth reader. Sorry, no prizes whoever you are.

But more accurately it’ll be the 750,000 times that a slightly ropey stats package has registered a unique visit (a more forensic search attributes another 581,048 to the total), which totally isn’t the same thing, but still very much worth celebrating, even if some other London bloggers can lay claim to millions of ‘hits’. Anyhow you can see that impressive total on the ‘On The Meter’ section in the sidebar.

Thousands of cab rides

Three-quarters of a million equate to 107,142 electric taxis full of passengers including the driver, or every resident of The Kingdom of Bhutan (it’s in the Himalayas) having a peek, not that anyone from that well-known destination on the Silk Route has checked out CabbieBlog.

Social media is king

Few wish to read long-form posts these days. Now that social media is king, blogs no longer have a fraction of the traction they enjoyed a decade ago, this is because the ability to drive traffic has shifted away from those who generate their own content towards those who merely digest the content of others.

Some of us carry on writing stuff because we want to, even if it’s harder to be heard above the social media buzz than ever before.

Additionally many arrive unrecorded at CabbieBlog via feed services such as Feedly or The Old Reader (which seems to describe CabbieBlog’s author) or Bloglovin’ where last time I looked CabbieBlog had over 170 followers.

Regular readers

But the vast majority of my readers didn’t click in just from anywhere, they rely on the force of habit. My most regular readers are fellow WordPress bloggers, you lot keep reading, generally without needing a nudge from elsewhere, which is particularly nice.

Regular posts

I’ve hit three-quarters of a million by being reliable rather than clickable, because there’ll almost certainly be a new post to read at 1.50 every Tuesday and Friday, with Quotes on Monday and Trivia to peruse on Sunday afternoon.

Well chuffed

I don’t mind where my three-quarters of a million came from, I’m just well chuffed that you still bother turning up. Thanks to all of you, and here’s to my first millionth visitor arriving sometime in a few years time . . .

Monopoly Madness

Eighty-five years ago saw the arrival of the first Monopoly game and looking at my pre-war version it would appear that when the selection of properties to include they made, some rather curious choices were decided upon.
The game didn’t reach the shops until 1936, Victor Watson upon seeing his first version on a Friday in December 1935, didn’t waste any time. Prompted by his son he made a trans-Atlantic call (rare at the time) and had signed a deal with Parker Brothers in America to license the game by the end of the weekend.
Over 20 million sets have been sold in Britain. Silk maps were hidden inside Monopoly boards and sent to Allied prisoners, inspiring Get Out Of Jail Free jokes; and once the Great Train Robbers played Monopoly with real stolen notes while holed up in a Buckingham farmhouse.
But back to the rather idiosyncratic choices for my original board.
Why is there an American car with whitewall tyres on Free Parking or a New York policeman instructing me to Go To Jail? And why is Piccadilly’s rent on a par with the cheaper yellows, when it should have been £2 more?
The tokens are, at best, random. A car and top hat for toffs; a rocking horse for children; and I suppose the iron, thimble and shoe were what 1930s women wanted) they did at least introduce a purse later to give women more independence). But where did the battleship and cannon come from just months before World War II?
Back to the 1936 board’s eclectic property portfolio chosen by Victor Watson and his secretary Marjory Phillips on a tour of London in a black cab. Was the cabbie reluctant to go ‘Sarf Of The River’ hence only Old Kent Road on the board is south London’s only property?
Ask a cabbie today for Vine Street and he would have a job locating a dead-end alley 70ft long behind Piccadilly. I was asked Coventry Street on my first Appearance for The Knowledge, most Londoners wouldn’t know it runs from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square and just a few hundred yards long. I didn’t know it at the time of asking.
The Angel, Islington purportedly was where Vic and Marg stopped for a cuppa at a Lyons Corner House tea room (did the cabbie join them?), but why was it included? Surely Pentonville Road, which runs into the Angel was a better choice, whilst following the board’s format of ‘roads’ and ‘streets’, except for Leicester Square.
Marlborough Street as far as know doesn’t exist now or then unless you include some rather upmarket council flats on the Sutton Estate in Chelsea. It’s GREAT Marlborough Street that the Marlbro cigarettes were named after as the company had their London office there.
Bond Street sounds rather posh but has niggled Monopoly purists for almost a century. Looking at my Geographers’ A-Z, three exist, one is 100 yards long adjoining Chiswick High Road, another in Ealing is equally as short, with a third a stone’s – or javelin’s – throw from the Olympic Park.
Unlike its companion, Knightsbridge which is an actual street (but not with Harrods on it), Mayfair is an area mostly owned by the Duke of Westminster. In the late 1950s, the Duke of Westminster agreed to allow the United States to demolish the whole of the west side of Grosvenor Square so they could put up the terrible building we see today. But the siting of the American Embassy led to one of the most bizarre and protracted processes of negotiation ever seen in London.
The Americans have embassies all over the world and in every single case, they buy the land first and then build their embassy. They assumed that this would be possible in England so they asked the Duke of Westminster, who owned Grosvenor Square, how much they would have to pay to buy the freehold of the land. What they didn’t know is that the Grosvenor family never sell. Their vast wealth is based precisely on this simple fact: they own three hundred acres of central London including most of Belgravia and Mayfair, not to mention land holdings all over the world. All the houses and offices on this land are leased; their freeholds are never sold.
When the Americans were told they couldn’t buy their land they insisted that was unacceptable and that they would petition Parliament to force the Duke to sell. Questions were asked in Parliament; the Grosvenor family were heavily leaned on but all to no avail.
Then the Duke thought of a good compromise. He told the furious Americans that if they were prepared to return to the Grosvenor family all those lands in the United States stolen after the American War of Independence then he would allow the Americans to buy their site on the west side of Grosvenor Square. The Americans knew when they were beaten (they would have had to give the Duke most of Maine and New York) and unwilling to hand over the land they had stolen from the Indians anyway, they backed down and the Duke of Westminster allowed them a 999-year lease. And that explains why the embassy in London was the only American embassy built on land not owned by America. Presumably, they own their sparkling new gaff in Nine Elms Lane.
Culling Greater London’s 45,687 streets into twenty-two during a weekend was always going to be challenging, in the 1920s London was the largest city the world had ever known and by 1935 it peaked at 9 million, so I suppose we will have the leave the London board as it has always been, or buy one of the many new permutations.

Soho is your best bet

Called off the Langham Hotel rank (a 5-star no less) to be asked by the doorman if I could take his Japanese guest to a red light district “Soho is your best bet” I say in my best Mandarin, and show him a telephone box in the said district with its ubiquitous adverts. Not understanding how girls have become hi-tech in offering their services he wanders off into the night.

Lego flats

Central St. Giles development at the end of Oxford Street looks like it’s been designed in Lego by primary schoolchildren, not by a world-class architect.

First and Last

Leafing through my 1951 copy of cabbie Hugh Pearman’s Curious London, it shows a very different city than today.

The book promises to be:

An illustrated guide to the curious things in the twenty-nine boroughs and cities that make up the county of London.

This description alone shows how much London has changed over time.

Each area appeared in alphabetical order with six photos from the area and a description for each. Under The Royal Borough of Kensington, I came across Old Court Place Fire Station.

The LFB Enthusiast website gives the following details:

Command District: Western Opened: 1904
Address: 13 Old Court Place, Kensington High Street, London W8 4PL

It also gives this caution which I heeded “Please be aware that if you plan to visit/photograph this fire station, it is located next to the Israeli Embassy and armed Police Officers patrol the area”.

Kensington Fire Station replaced an earlier station of 1871 in King Street, which was demolished to make way for the expansion of Barker’s Department Store. Fire station designs from other cities across the world were examined to achieve a solution to enable a rapid response without separating men from their families, by accommodating the single men, who crewed the first turn-out, directly above the appliance room, while married quarters were located in the rear block. The station was one of the first to incorporate sliding poles for firemen, a feature copied from American fire-fighting practice.

Hugh Pearman captions his photograph as follows:

This Fire Station in Old Court Place was the last to use horses. At one time, in its stables were kept 300, but this great number eventually dwindled two bay mares, Lucy and Nora, who on returning from their last fire about Christmas time 1921 were received in state by the chief of the L.C.C. [London County Council] who gave them sugar and carrots, served on a silver tray.

So there you have it, one of the first London fire stations to use a pole when on a shout, and the last to have a horse-drawn tender.