Category Archives: An urban view

The Kremlin Reopens

Only 13 London Cab Shelters remain out of the original 61 constructed, many of the survivors are Grade II Listed, and all incidentally are found North of the River.

The Chelsea Embankment Shelter opened in 1910 and is situated on the Thames’ north bank, overlooking the romantic Albert Bridge.

Due to the Chelsea Embankment being designated a Red Route and the local authority only providing parking for two cabs, the Shelter closed 20 years ago and slowly degenerated. David Fletcher has created this amazing 3-D model of the shelter in this dilapidated state.

After the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was awarded a grant from the Heritage of London Trust. Despite the difficulty of delivering materials to the site, due to the parking restrictions, the shelter now has new timber around three sides, and a new clerestory roof, all finished with the all-important distinctive Dulux Buckingham Paradise 1 Green.

These works were completed in January 2022, and now Café Pier (a considerably better title than The Kremlin, its former nickname due to the Left-leaning cabbies who once frequented the Shelter) has taken over the lease and is opening tomorrow.

The Shelter enjoys a lovely little terrace overlooking the River enough for 12 diners. The team behind this revival promise to offer a much better bill of fare than the average greasy spoon, and if this wasn’t an excuse to give it a try, its an opportunity to check out one of these little Victorian gems which normally are for the exclusive use of London’s cabbies.

The Nonce

Many of London’s pub names have a royal connotation: The Royal Oak, The King’s Head or The Crown, it dates back to the time when many were illiterate, and the depiction of a well-known image enabled patrons to identify each hostelry.

The Duke of York pub in Fitzrovia continues this tradition, but with an unusual twist.

It displays the only known sign with the image of Prince Andrew (the current Duke of York) on its sign.

Operated by the 200-year-old Suffolk brewers Greene King this pub was first licensed in 1767 and then rebuilt in 1897, and is tucked away at the top end of Rathbone Street.

In 2014, Prince Andrew, the present Duke of York, permitted his likeness to be used on the pub sign. Russian-born American artist Igor Babailov, known for his commissioned portraits of world leaders and celebrities, duly painted the pub’s sign. The painting is now thought to be the only pub in the world featuring a likeness of a living member of the Royal Family.

Fitzrovia, the place of my birth, was also where the literary and artistic crowd hung out, Donovan, Ian Dury, Rod Stewart, Paul Jones, Johnnie Ray, and John Lee Hooker were also regulars, as was David ‘Del Boy’Jason.

In the 1940s and 50s the Duke of York’s clientele had regular encounters with so-called razor gangs and novelist Anthony Burgess is thought to have used his wife’s 1943 experience of razor gangs forcing her to drink copious amounts of beer in his later novel, A Clockwork Orange.

Milking the area’s reputation for knife crime, landlord Major Alf Klein initiated male customers by snipping off their ties, the collection grew to over 1,500. His great dane, named Colonel, starred in the title role in the film Hound of the Baskervilles, apparently, it was partial to drinking customers’ beer.

Despite being stripped of all of his titles in 2021 due to his association with financier and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew’s image remains and after commissioning the painting the publican has no intention of replacing it any time soon.

According to Adrian Brune on her Substack blog, in Soho, locals now colloquially refer to the pub as “the Nonce”.

Nonce (n.) Prison slang a rapist or child molester; a sexual offender.

Featured image: The exterior of the Duke of York pub in Fitzrovia, bearing the image of Prince Andrew, the present Duke of York by Ethan Doyle White (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Coronation Streets

It is nearly 70 years since we have had a coronation, so naturally, I started looking up roads named after that ceremony.

My 1936 copy of Phyllis Pearsall’s Geographers’ A-Z Street Atlas only shows two ‘coronations’:
Coronation Road E13
Coronation Road NW10

But hold on a minute, haven’t there been dozens of coronations since the start of roads being named in the 6th century and the 1936 coronation? But here in London, there are only two.

Next turning to a modern road atlas I find the originals plus five new ones:
Coronation Avenue N16
Coronation Close, Bexley DA5
Coronation Close, Ilford IG6
Coronation Road E13
Coronation Road NW10
Coronation Road, Hayes UB3
Coronation Walk, Twickenham TW2

But how many coronations have taken place in the intervening period which would promote the naming or re-naming of a London street?

Precisely two, the late Queen in 1953 and her father King George VI in 1937.

With the increase of Republican support, what national event has taken place in the last 86 years to inspire local authorities to give their thoroughfares a regal connotation?

In a word television.

Since 1960 the world’s longest-running television soap, Coronation Street, has appeared on our television screens, but not one local authority has grasped the nettle and given the moniker Coronation Street, otherwise Bill Roach might turn up.

Featured image: Manchester: Coronation Street Sign. The sign on the corner of the road says we are on Coronation Street by Lewis Clarke (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Bridges of Sighs

If as a cabbie, a group of tourists ask to be taken to ‘Old London Town’, you could do a lot worst than by crossing London’s ancient bridges.

To start take them to Richmond Bridge opened months after America gained its independence (1777); then show them how those industrious Victorians constructed most of London’s bridges: Westminster (1862), Blackfriars (1869), Albert (1873), Hammersmith (1887), Battersea (1890), Tower (1894).

Post-Victoria far fewer bridges have been constructed, with only one road bridge since World War II: Kew (1903), Vauxhall (1906), Southwark (1921), Lambeth (1932), Chiswick (1933), Twickenham (1933), Chelsea (1937), Wandsworth (1940), Waterloo (1945), London (1973).

The bridges’ condition is so poor, the London Assembly’s Transport Committee produced a report which was launched with the rather punchy headline: London’s ageing river crossings – an international embarrassment.

We still have Hammersmith Bridge’s debacle, which saw the bridge closed to motorists in April 2019 after cracks were found in the cast iron pedestals, the bridge was then completely closed. Now reopened for pedestrians and cyclists while ‘stabilisation work’ going on.

One of the big problems with maintaining all these ageing structures is that no one is responsible for them. London Bridge is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates, Transport for London is the one responsible for the road, then one end is in the City, while the other end is in Southwark.

One of the recommendations of the report is to set up a central ‘kitty’ into which ‘all the relevant asset owners would contribute’.

This is needed because the report warns that ‘Twickenham, Kew, Battersea and Lambeth may need extensive interventions within 10 years’ and the estimated cost of the maintenance work that‘s needed to deal with just the existing issues is coming in at around £241 million.

As Mayor Khan is planning to remove thousands of vehicles from London’s roads, closing bridges for repair should not present a problem.

Featured image by Philip Halling (CC BY-SA 2.0) London Bridge: The present London Bridge opened in March 1973 and was designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson. In medieval times the then London Bridge stood slightly upstream from the site of the present bridge, this old bridge had buildings on it and was also the place where the heads of those executed would be placed on a spike.

London’s weirdest bus shelter

Unlike any other, Newbury Park bus shelter rises out of the ground like a huge, magnificent, and strangely beautiful archway, reminiscent of an alien spaceship in a Hollywood film.

Nestling underneath is the Tube station, home to the 66, 296 and 396 London bus routes.

Built on the site of the staff railway cottages built by the Great Eastern Company next to the station in a semi-detached garden city-style plus a posher house for the Station Master, a detached villa with a pillared porch and a large garden.

The bus shelter was designed by architect Oliver Hill in 1937 as part of London Transport’s New Works Scheme, due to World War II, like many other stations on the Central line eastern extension route, the massive shelter wasn’t completed until 1949.

Given a Grade II listing in 1981, the Newbury Park bus shelter with its seven-span copper roof is a Grade II listed building and an iconic feature of the surrounding area.

It won a Festival of Britain award in 1951 for architectural merit there is a plaque with the festival logo.

It is only used by eastbound buses despite westbound buses being specified in the original 1930s brief.