Category Archives: An urban view

Green Shelters – Acacia Road

It’s Saturday, 6th February 1875, and a group of middle-class philanthropists are in a self-congratulatory frame of mind, even though the day has seen two trains colliding at Waterloo Station, only three miles away, and the weather is inclement, a portent of the later months of the year when they will experience one of the heaviest snowfalls for a generation.

There are reasons to feel rather smug, Joseph Bazalgette is putting the finishing touches to London’s sewer network, so at least those assembled will not have to face a soakaway again, and London is the richest and most successful city on the planet.

But the reason the one-hundred or so attendees from the Great and the Good were assembled was a witness the Hon. A. Kinnaird, the Vice President of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, taking a well-earned break from his duties as a Member of Parliament, to open the first shelter purchased from funds raised.

The choice of Acacia Road to install the first Cabmen’s Shelter in London (other cities already had their version of a place cabbies could shelter, rest and eat) was well chosen. This area of St. John’s Wood is regarded as England’s first ‘garden development’, the first London suburb with lower-density villa housing and frequent avenues, but fewer communal garden squares, construction standards were high and the new inhabitants were bankers, merchants and gentlemen of independent means. With Regent’s Park to the south and Lord’s Cricket Ground a short walk away, the road runs between Wellington Road to Avenue Road.

It was the culmination of a campaign by The Globe newspaper to get these shelters erected to deter cabbies from frequenting alehouses. On Friday, 2nd January 1874 The Globe asked for donations to build cabmen’s shelters, a prototype of which had operated fro 1872 in Knightsbridge. By Christmas, the fund had reached more than £200 sufficient to construct the first one.

Standing in Acacia Road today, with St. John’s Wood Tube Station behind, I can see why this spot was chosen, the Tube Station would 64 years away from providing a means to get around London, and according to Rightmove today’s average price for a house is £5,723,833, clearly, this was always an affluent area in need of cabs.

Private security guards patrol the area on foot day and night and the Israeli Ambassador’s residence, with a police presence, with yards away. The Royal Horse Artillery might have moved out of their barracks in nearby Ordnance Hill to make way for private developers, but there is still enough security around here to assuage the most nervous resident.

The nearest Cabmen’s Shelter today is now a 5-minute walk away in Wellington Place, close to Lords Cricket Ground, hence its nicknames – ‘The Chapel’ or ‘Nursery End’.

Of Alley off Strand

This little alley close to Charing Cross Station commemorates York House which once occupied a 7-acre site overlooking the River Thames.

Originally owned until the Dissolution in 1536 by the Bishops of Norwich, Henry VIII then passed it on to an old friend the Duke of Suffolk and in 1624 the estate eventually came into the possession of George Villiers, The Duke of Buckingham.

Villiers restored the bishop’s old estate and built the magnificent York Watergate which survives marooned in Embankment Gardens.

Villiers was murdered in 1628 by a Puritan fanatic, but the Duke’s wife lived there until she lost the property in the Civil War. Her son, the second Duke, fortuitously fell in love with the daughter of York House’s new owner and on marriage regained his family’s home.

He had a better eye for heiresses than finance, for by 1672 he found himself in hock up to his neck and sold the house to speculators to redevelop the site. The second Duke of Buckingham secured £30,000 for the house and gardens to repay his debts.

But one stipulation of the sale Buckingham insisted upon was that the developer Nicholas Barbon record literally every sound and syllable of his Grace’s name and title; Buckingham Street; Villiers Street; Duke Street and George Street still remain.

But unfortunately, the Burgers of Westminster don’t possess the wit of Nicholas Barbon when he named the streets, for Of Alley has been given the rather prosaic title of York Place.

A footnote: George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham started the first foxhunt in England, The Bilsdale Hunt in 1668 and later started the Sinnington Hunt in 1680. He died from a chill after digging for a fox above Kirkbymoorside. At his death in 1687, the title again became extinct.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 28th January 2011

Bus stop trivia

Following on from last week’s post on, well, posts and bus stops on top of posts here is some bus stop trivia.

London’s bus routes first started being numbered in 1906, before then, passengers would recognise their bus by its distinctive livery.

Statistically, 95 per cent of households in London are within a 430-yard walk of a bus stop.

There are 19,607 bus stops on Transport for London’s network, if you visited one per day, for some reason, it would take you nearly 54 years. I have just worked out that at 73 I haven’t the time to test out this statistic, although should I need to sit down 13,400 bus stops have shelters and 3,500 are solar-powered.

Not surprisingly A is the most popular bus stop letter, with 1,759 stops labelled ‘A’ in London. Whilst that might seem obvious given how the alphabet works, the next most popular ones in order are D, B, E, C and then K, so maybe it wasn’t that obvious after all. Transport for London state that they: “will typically follow an alphabetical order wherever possible”, although it must be a lot more complicated than they’re making it sound given that the majority of stops serve more than one route.

I is the least popular bus stop code to consist of just one letter, appearing just 37 times, just behind it is O (156 appearances), and Z (442). TfL tries to avoid using O and I because they look too much like 0 and 1, tragically, there are no bus stops with that say OI on them. But there are 30 PCs, 47 EDs, 5 AWs, and, for maths fans in the Putney Heath area, one PI.

The most westerly bus stop is Slough in Buckinghamshire on route 51.

The most westerly is at Brentwood in Essex on route 498.

The most southerly is Pixham Lane on route 465 North of Dorking in Surrey.

The most northerly is Potters Bar Station in Hertfordshire served by routes 298 and 313.

The longest bus stop name is “Loxford School Of Science and Technology”.

TfL only allows up to 40 character-long bus stop names, although Hampstead Heath Extension / Wildwood Road seems like cheating, there are lots of abbreviations.

The shortest bus stop name is “Jcoss”, it’s in New Barnet, and stands for the “Jewish Community Secondary School”.

The highest number of buses you can catch from a single stop is 23

For example, stop J in Bedford Street, near the Strand, from which you can catch the 9, 11, 15, 23, 87, 91, 139, 176, N9, N11, N15, N21, N26, N44, N87, N89, N91, N155, N199, N343, N550 or N551. But not all at the same time though, for fairly obvious reasons. It shares the title with Savoy Street (stop U) and Southampton Street / Covent Garden (stop A).

The highest number of buses you can catch from a single stop during the day (i.e. excluding night buses) is 19 at stop K on Hounslow High Street.

The N136 bus route has 8 stops beginning with L in sequential order:

Lewisham Hospital / Lewisham Park / Lewisham Fire Station / Lewisham Centre / Lewisham Clock Tower / Lewisham Station / Lewisham Station / Loampit Vale / Loampit Vale / Jerrard Street.

Ominously, there are 666 bus routes in London.

That includes the 50 night bus ‘N’ routes and 2 ‘X’ express routes. Other letters in route names generally indicate the area they serve – the P routes indicate Peckham, for instance. There are, unhelpfully, exceptions – for instance, H indicates Hampstead, except when it means Harrow, except when it means it runs near Harrow but doesn’t actually stop in Harrow itself.

Despite all this, the numbers run all the way up to 969

The 969, a service in south-west London suburbia, only runs twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays: like the 965, the only other remaining bus in the 900 range, it’s a service designed to aid people with mobility issues to get to the shops. There were once many more of these services, but they’ve mostly been phased out as almost all buses in London are wheelchair accessible these days.

The London bus route with the least stops is the 609, this route, which on one leg has only 4 stops, is to take kids from the Harrodian school to Hammersmith station. The 600 range of numbers is reserved for school bus routes – even independent schools like Harrodian can apparently qualify for a TfL service. Honestly, officer, I boarded the bus full of children because I’m doing “a blog”.

The London bus route with the most stops is the N199, which has 114 stops on the outbound route from Trafalgar Square. Oddly, if you’re going the other way and starting at St Mary Cray Station, there are only 110 stops.

In 2014, Hamlets for its own bus stop made entirely of Lego. It was made from 100,000 bricks, sadly it has long since been dismantled.

Between 2012 and 2015, copies of the horror film Hellraiser kept reappearing on a bus stop on the Old Kent Road. It was later revealed to be an impromptu art installation. One witty response was to do the same thing, but with Toy Story videos.

In 1978 the writer Georgi Markov was shot with a ricin pellet fired from an umbrella at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge. He died four days later. He had been on his way to work for the BBC Worldservice.

London’s oldest surviving bus route is the route 24, first started operating between Pimlico and Hampstead Heath under The General Omnibus Company in 1911. The 24 has been subject to only minor changes to accommodate one-way systems since then.

Route 25, crawling running between Oxford Circus and Ilford, is London’s busiest, in 2015/6 it carried 19.4 million passengers.

London’s longest bus route is the X26 from Heathrow to Croydon. At 23.75 miles long and it can take more than two hours to travel the full distance.

Conversely, London’s shortest bus route, with the shortest hop between termini, then the 389 bus from The Spires to Western Way around Barnet is the bus for you. It’s a mere mile and a half long.

London’s bus route with the most stops? The N29 night bus, from Trafalgar Square to Enfield, has 73 official stops.

There’s a London bus route which runs between two Tescos. Introducing the H28 between Bull’s Bridge Tesco in Southall and Tesco Osterley in Isleworth. A must-ride for bus/supermarket fans.

London has no edges

For a building built 50 years ago, the BT Tower looks remarkably modern, entering the generous foyer it could be any number of offices that proliferate in this corner of Fitzrovia.

It’s only when reaching the central core you realise the structure’s uniqueness. For running up its centre is that only means of reaching the viewing platform, and the only viable way of escaping in the event of a fire.

Seldom seen outside expensive hotels and department stores a lift attendant is on duty as you rise silently at 1,400 ft. per minute as the counter proudly shows. He is also there to help evacuate the building, the only structure in Great Britain allowed using the lift as a fire escape

Lift-speed_thumb The reason I was ascending up the most iconic building in London was as a guest of Secret Spaces. It was the sort of access that Google once gave to their Google City Experts encouraging its members to write high-quality local business ratings and reviews on the lamented Google+, rewarding members who had left at least 50 reviews to date, and who produced at least five new reviews each month. ­

The program took advantage of an old Internet rule which states that only a small group of so-called ‘creators’ generate most of the content on the web, while the majority just consumes what others have produced. These requirements are meant to guard against spammers and others who may be encouraged to write a few reviews in return for free stuff.

BT Tower-2 After a welcome drink we were given a talk about the changing cities by Leo Hollis, who stated that at the beginning of the century we became 50 per cent urban as a global population, by 2050 Hollis reckons urban population will be up to 70 per cent. From that he extrapolates that by the end of the century virtually the entire world’s population will be urban. So up is the only way to develop our urban living and what better place to present those views that at the BT Tower?

This was followed by a short talk of the Tower’s construction and history by BT’s archivist David Hay, who explained that the Tower is now redundant and used only for promotional work. An amazing image of London taken from the top of the BT Tower has set a new record for the world’s largest panoramic photo. The image shows a full 360 degree view of London in incredible detail.

We arrived at the famous revolving restaurant platform which takes 22 minutes to complete its circuit. It was closed in 1980 due to security fears. At the time many diners said that eating while being spun round was disconcerting. Being the highest building in Fitzrovia it has unrestricted views across London, from Crystal Palace in the south to beyond Wembley Stadium in the north.

As a so-called ‘City Expert’ much of London looks so different from 600ft. in fact, I needed help identifying many buildings that I only have known from the vantage point of my cab. From the BT Tower London has no edges for, as Leo Hollis predicts, urbanisation stretches for as far as the eye can see.

Pictures: Aiming At The Sky – London BT Tower; BT Tower (Post Office Tower) – London Skyline by Simon and his Camera (CC BY-ND 3.0)

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 25th March 2014

The man on the Clapham Omnibus

The Man on The Clapham Omnibus is a hypothetical ‘reasonable’ person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party had acted as any ‘reasonable’ person. He is deemed to be reasonably educated and reasonably intelligent but nevertheless a nondescript person. This broadly fictional person is measured against the defendant’s conduct.

The term was thought to have been introduced into English law during the Victorian era, although the exact derivation is disputed.

At the time Clapham was viewed as a commuter suburb seen to represent ‘ordinary’ London, and the man was seen to be commuting to work using the most common form of transport of the day.

Over time the original route of the Clapham Omnibus has been lost but is thought by some that the number 88 bus follows the route of the original Clapham Omnibus from Camden to Clapham Common. The 88 bus has 49 stops departing from Parliament Hill Fields, just north of Clapham terminating at the fortuitously named Omnibus Clapham, operating from 00:01 and ending at 23:49, taking an average 84 minutes to complete the journey.

So today using the terminology of The Knowledge, followed by the appropriate bus stop denoted in italic, I’m following this classic route of a ‘reasonable’ person.

L on L Highgate Road
Parliament Hill Fields (GK)

Parliament Hill is so named when Guy Fawkes intended to blow up Parliament on 5th November the plotters intended to watch The Houses of Parliament burn from that vantage point.

F Kentish Town Road
Gordon House Road (GN)

In 1966 The Kinks used nearby Little Green Street as a backdrop for their 1966 song Dead End Street is has eight bow-fronted homes which were originally shops, selling goods such as ribbons, coffee and mousetraps.

B/L Camden Street
R Camden Road
L Bayham Street
R Pratt Street
Pratt Street (CS)

Pedestrian crossings are the brainchild of the gloriously named First Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon, who in 1934 as Transport Minister was appalled by the statistics that in one year 7,343 had died on Britain’s roads. Soon after being appointed to the post he nearly became a statistic as he used one of his pedestrian crossings. His brush with death came as he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot up – or was that down? It was two-way then – the street narrowly missing the good Baron.

R Camden High Street
L Delancey Street
L Parkway
B/L Albany Road
Chester Gate (Q)

The site of 37 Albany Street was once home to naturalist William Buckland, his friends were guests at Albany Street and were treated to a roasted hedgehog, grilled crocodile streak, slug soup, horse’s tongue, boiled elephant trunk, rhinoceros pie and boiled porpoise head which tasted like ‘broiled lamp-wick’. If you partook of his generous hospitality, the chances are that the dish of the day came from an animal that had roamed Buckland’s house and garden a little earlier as a pet. The stewed mole was a dish that Buckland announced to be the most revolting thing he’d eaten, though this was before he tried ‘horribly bitter’ earwigs and ‘unspeakable’ bluebottles. Buckland acquired exotic creatures when there was a death at nearby London Zoo. On one occasion returning from holiday he was furious to discover in his absence, the zoo had buried a dead leopard. Buckland eagerly dug it up for supper.

L Osnaburgh Terrace
R Osnaburgh Street
F Great Portland Street
R New Cavendish Street
L Portland Place
New Cavendish Street

Over the entrance of the BBC is a  statute of Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolising the future of broadcasting to the world. Eric Gill, its sculptor, insisted on carving the statute in situ. Standing on scaffolding above the entrance, female employees on arriving would be greeted by the unwelcome sight of London’s first ‘builder’s bum’ for Gill wore a monk’s habit with nothing underneath.

F Langham Place
F Regent Street
Conduit Street / Hamleys Toy Store (T)

In the 1960s the Regent Street Association realising their less prestigious cousin had started erecting Christmas decorations and was taking all the compliments were not to be outdone. They hired an Italian designer charged with producing a ‘tasteful’ display to rival their competitor. His solution was to produce giant white flying angels made out of papier-mâché posed with their faces looking down serenely at the crowds below. This particular November saw an exceptional amount of rain, even by London standards. The Italian designer just hadn’t taken in the fact that England is considerably damper than the Mediterranean. Soon the press was running the story about Pregnant Angels as the decorations filled with water, no doubt to the amusement of Oxford Street retailers.

F Piccadilly Circus
F Coventry Street
R Haymarket
B/L Cockspur Street
Cockspur Street, London

This statue of King Charles I is the point used as the starting point to measure distances from London. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried it in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He gave it back to Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Comply King Charles I Statue
L/B Whitehall
Whitehall / Trafalgar Square (N)

In the 18th century, London’s streets were not paved, leaving many thoroughfares boggy and treacherous. Craig’s Court was no exception and the sodden road, coupled with the dead-end’s narrowness resulted in Lord Onslow’s coach becoming lodged as he approached Harrington House. So tight was the squeeze that a hole had to be cut in the coach’s roof so that the flustered and infuriated Speaker of The House of Commons could drag himself out. When he returned to Parliament, Arthur Onslow pushed through a bill which required London householders to ensure kerbstones were laid outside their door- thus giving birth to ordered pavements.

F Parliament Street
53 Parliament Street, London

On 2 June 2001, Brian Haw decided to begin camping in Parliament Square in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. Unfortunately for Brian, the Second Iraq War overtook events making him a cause célèbre and preventing him from ever giving up his one-man protest against the forces of the State. Westminster City Council then failed to prosecute Brian for causing an obstruction on the pavement, and his continuous use of a megaphone led to objections by Members of Parliament. Then in a glorious twist, a House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended that the law be changed to prohibit his protest as his camp could provide an opportunity for terrorists to disguise explosive devices. The Government then passed a provision to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, however, because Brian’s protest was on-going and residing on Parliament Square prior to the enactment of the Act, it was unclear whether the Act applied to him.

Comply Parliament Square
b>L/B Broad Sanctuary
F Victoria Street
L Great Smith Street
F Marsham Street
R John Islip Street
L Vauxhall Bridge Road
F Bessborough Gardens
43 Ponsonby Place, London

On 26 May 1906, Vauxhall Bridge was opened by The Prince of Wales. Finished 5-years behind schedule it has decorated on its arches eight allegorical figures: agriculture; architecture; engineering; pottery; education; fine arts sciences; and bizarrely local government. The architecture features a model of St. Paul’s, but you have to lean over the parapet to see it. It was the first bridge to incorporate tram lines.

F Vauxhall Bridge
R & L Vauxhall Bus Station
R South Lambeth Place
F South Lambeth Road
South Lambeth Road / Stockwell Station (B)

On Lansdowne Way is Stockwell bus garage which was described by author Will Self as “a pod of whales, a concrete Leviathan, frozen in the mid arch as they swim through the rather choppy brick sea of south London”. So how is it that the overnight parking space for 200 buses is so admired and has been given Grade II* listing Opened in 1952, its 410-feet long roof structure formed of ten, extremely shallow ‘two-hinged’ arched ribs covering 73,350 square feet, was Europe’s largest unsupported roof span at the time of construction.

L Lansdowne Way
R Clapham Road
F Clapham High Street
Clapham North & High Street Stations (G)

Clapham’s earliest settlers arrived to escape London’s fire and pestilence of the 1660s later the area expanded due to its easy access to London by stagecoach started in 1690, the village was given prestige by the residence of Samuel Pepys, diarist and naval administrator, from 1700 until his death three years later.
B/R Clapham Common South Side

R Rookery Road
R Clapham Common North Side
F Omnibus Clapham
Omnibus Clapham

When Caribbean migrants stepped off MV Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948, many had nowhere to live. The lack of housing in London following World War Two meant even temporary accommodation was in short supply. So 236 were bussed from Tilbury docks to Clapham, where for six shillings and sixpence a week they got food and a bed in a shelter underneath Clapham South Tube Station. The underground passages had been fitted with bunk beds and washing facilities when they were used as civilian shelters during the war.
Those same immigrants were employed by London Transport to drive buses along the route of the Clapham Omnibus.