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Britain’s last outpost part 2

The Knowledge, of course, is a test of the applicant’s knowledge of London’s 22,000 streets and what is to be found upon those streets . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is the second part of The last outpost of the British Empire from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

The last outpost of the British Empire

Sitting facing the Carriage Officer you are asked two Points, the Knowledge Boy is expected to know the location of each, if, and only if, they are answered correctly, the shortest route between the two Points has to be described in detail. The Blue Book, which is pink remember, has some useful guidance.

Example: Public Carriage Office to British Museum

Leave on right Penton Street, forward Claremont Square, forward Amwell Street, right Margery Street, forward Calthorpe Street, forward Guildford Street, left and right Russell Square, left Montague Street, right Great Russell Street, set down on right.

Sometimes the chair was positioned at the back of the room, or not even facing the examiner, this gave him the opportunity of speaking sotto voce, increasing the tension as the applicant strained to hear the questions. I was once reprimanded for moving the chair closer to his desk when finding it positioned in the opposite corner of the room and asked if I worked for Pickfords.

The long journey along the corridor of fear gave the examiners the opportunity of slowing down unexpectantly so one would clip his heels, or speeding up and letting the doors slam in the applicant’s face.

A favourite ploy to test the mettle of candidates was to adopt the old practice of good cop/bad cop – well, they were ex-police. Mr Lippit would be civility itself: “Is your father in the trade?”/”Have you come far?” before giving you some apparently easy questions. Mr Ormes, his nemesis, would say on a subsequent Appearance that your previous answers, with the implication that the questions were easy, were not up to his high standard.

Dean Warrington who runs the WizAnn Knowledge School remembers one examiner who decided the start and end Points of his questions by throwing darts into a map. Should the student feel this was unfair he would offer to let them throw the darts instead.

Robert Lordon recalls on his blog View from the Mirror being asked a question in the corridor before even entering his office. Another constructive piece of intimidation was invented by Mr Price who one student recalls the examiner putting his feet on the desk and proceeding to read a copy of the Sun.

A BBC documentary, Modern Times, focused on the climate of fear created by the examiners. And the most feared of all examiners was the aforementioned Mr Ormes who had a life-size toy parrot sitting on its perch in his office. It was the stuff of legend that if the parrot was facing you Mr Ormes was in a bad mood. In the television documentary, he was seen asking one nervous candidate with a criminal record how to get to the Penal Reform Society.

When a Knowledge Boy left his office he wouldn’t even remember his own name – a truly terrifying experience. “You can smell if people have what is needed”, Mr Ormes would say.

The difficulty of the questions was said to be directly linked to the length a pigtail, or size of the earring. Questions asked often referred to one’s ethnicity, the Points on Black Boy Lane in Tottenham were to be studied in detail, and for the vertically challenged, like myself, we were given Shorts Gardens, WC2 to Shorter Street, E1.

Mr Ormes, the greatest exponent of this test of patience, was a lugubrious fellow with a dry delivery, the ex-policeman gave the impression that he had seen it all before and heard the excuses. Get to pass his incisive questions and you were well on the way to start driving a cab. On one Appearance he asked me The Royal Society of Arts to the Adelphi Building. After a little nervous thought, I admitted that in my view they were both located on the not very long John Adam Street. Mr Ormes, without a hint of irony, replied: “That’s right. It’s raining, I’m pregnant, and I’ve got a wooden leg”.

When I left Mr Ormes that day I couldn’t recall which way the parrot was facing either. Now the parrot has retired it now resides at another cabbie seat of learning the Knowledge Point School.

You were rarely told how well you were doing unless they were going to be relegated, you also didn’t know how you were scored (many years later I learned the examiners used a marking system consisting of smiley faces). All you understood was that once the examiners felt you knew enough, they’d put you up a stage, and that is why you had spent hours riding around London in all weathers and spending an interminable time calling-over.

Many years later, now qualified, I had to ring the Carriage Office about something relating to my cab. After a couple of rings, a familiar lugubrious voice answered, I swear that I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising.

Britain’s last outpost part 1

The Knowledge, of course, is a test of the applicant’s knowledge of London’s 22,000 streets and what is to be found upon those streets . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is the first part of The last outpost of the British Empire from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

The last outpost of the British Empire

Entering the old Public Carriage Office in Penton Street you might have just wandered into a 1960s police station, which it really was in all but name. A lady of advancing age was positioned at the entrance vestibule, her job was to check the visitors’ credentials, although her only concession to security was to occasionally ask to see the Appointment Cards of those destined to an Appearance. She was more likely to ask of Knowledge Boys how they managed to answer the questions than check on anyone entering the building. Upstairs, on the second floor, was a wall of reception desks with heavy wooden surrounds much like a railway ticket office in a 1930s black-and-white film, each of the windows with its designated use indicated by signs above in bold black type. At one, you were required to book-in, a minute late and you risked being turned away that day and directed to the adjacent desk boldly marked booking-out.

They say predators can smell their prey when it is nervous, well the waiting room had the brain chemical serotonin permeated into its walls. Inside chairs were placed around the edge of the room with a coffee table in the centre. Upon the table were publications waiting to be read, not that any in that room were ever in a mood to peruse this informative literature.

Each applicant carried their Appointment Card, known by many nowadays as a scorecard. On the reverse you were informed, should it have inexplicably slipped your mind: ‘Knowledge of London Appointments have been made as shown overleaf. This card must be brought at each attendance and presented at the Knowledge of London window, 2nd Floor, on arrival.’ Your Appointment Card contained the obvious information as to the time and date of your Appearance, in addition after an Appearance, scribbled in pencil in the upper right-hand corner was a series of three sets of letters each separated by a shilling stroke. These were the Rosetta Stone for Knowledge Boys, these hieroglyphs were the code as to who was likely to be your next inquisitor, but as in archaeology, the marks were hidden, having been erased by the booking-out clerk, so before making another appointment the more astute would quickly copy the code to be prepared for their next Appearance. If the letters OR were among those indicated, you stood a one-in-three chance of getting the frightening Mr Ormes. In fact, if Mr Ormes called another from the waiting room, a smirk could be detected on the face of any other who had seen those dreaded markings upon their card.

Once called you were expected to answer with “yes, sir”, before following the examiner along the ‘corridor of fear’, as it became known, to their office. The utilitarian decor, with its grey lino flooring, cream painted walls, now turning grey and heavy wooden doors, the building could have been used as the blueprint for the Stasi state security headquarters.

At this point, you are probably asking: “So what’s different from when I sat for exams in college, or being summoned to the master’s office at uni to account for an indiscretion?”

The Knowledge, of course, is a test of the applicant’s knowledge of London’s 22,000 streets and what is to be found upon those streets. It also is a test of character. According to research for the Discovery Channel’s 2006 Hard Labour programme, London cabbies top the list of the ten most ‘arduous’ jobs in Britain, even ahead of trawlermen and lumberjacks. The reasons given for putting cabbies at the top of this list were ‘the nightmarish state of London’s road network’, even worse now since the bike lanes arrived, and ‘the stress of dealing with abusive and frequently drunk passengers’. The problem is exacerbated by having to deal with these problems on your own, and if the situation starts to get out of hand the police are unlikely to come to your aid.

Each Public Carriage Officer, who had once served in the Metropolitan Police, had been very inventive in formulating their own tests of the applicant’s suitability, a polite way of describing how they intended to intimidate and humiliate any prospective London cabbie. Upon entering their office you sat on a small chair positioned in the centre of the room, moving the chair was forbidden, while the examiner sat at his desk behind a high sloped board so that only his upper face was visible. The board also had the advantage of obscuring from the applicant what the examiner was doing, this often was used to heighten the tension as he ignored his victim pretending to be engrossed in some important paperwork concerning the Knowledge Boy who was rapidly losing weight worrying about his fate.

Not for nothing has the Public Carriage Office been described as ‘The last outpost of the British Empire’. Strict discipline was enforced: a suit and tie to be worn by the applicant; never refer to a Carriage Officer by name, always calling him Sir; only speak when spoken to, and never to question, only obey.

Real policemen and fictional detectives

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 . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is my next chapter from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

Real policemen and fictional detectives

The Appearances are arriving with a frightening frequency every 28 days. I now have an unchanging routine. Parking in a nearby supermarket car park and walking into the Carriage Office, before booking in, a visit to the toilet, I check my suit in the mirror, comb my hair and adjust the tie. Using the facilities here is not a pleasant experience, as for many their nerves get the better of them with the inevitable consequences to their body’s functions. After booking in, sitting in the waiting room, I’m struck as to how this small enclosed space must have been when smoking was allowed.

My name is called by Mr Howells, he looks like he might have been a desk sergeant at a large London police station. His short well-cut hair going slightly grey, a straight back, smart grey well-pressed suit, walking slowly with an air of authority, we arrive at his office.

I am remembering more details of the questions now and write them down, along with those pencilled letters denoting who my next inquisitor is likely to be: Messrs Ormes, Price, Shearn, Howells, Mayhew or Hanwell. With this information, I can at least concentrate on the Points being asked by the series of three initial letters pencilled on my Appointment Card denoting with whom I’m likely to face at my next Appearance. Looking at my notes I now see the questions asked today comprised: Royal College of Surgeons to Holloway Post Office; 20th Century Fox to Euston Station; Royal Army Medical College to Liverpool Street Station; and Charterhouse Square to The National Trust. I have obviously managed to satisfy him enough for I get another appointment at Colditz, as it is known by many, in 28 days hence.

One set-back recently has been that my Honda 90 was stolen by joyriders from outside my house and then set alight. Before I leave the Carriage Office I remember to give a quick check of the notice board where bikes, waterproofs and call-over partners are advertised. On an adjacent wall, at the top of the stairs, is a large map of London, its very presence mocking those who fail that day’s Appearance.

I am still working full-time, but fortunately, my shift is in the afternoon and evening, for all 56, 28, 21 and 14-day Appearances are carried out in the morning. Unlike many, I haven’t missed time from work on any visit to the Carriage Office.

After an Appearance I usually take the day off from seeking out Points, the whole process is physically exhausting, but tomorrow is another day.

The next night, after work, I’m checking out Marylebone. The road layout seems pretty simple, the original architects and builders have thoughtfully constructed the east-west roads in a series of straight parallel lines, with the north-south at right angles, presumably, this was done to assist future generations of Knowledge Boys to easily learn this district of London. Between these major road are a number of mews, which when first constructed served to stable the horses with the servants living above.

But first I have to check out the exact location of All Souls Church in Langham Place. This I discover is opposite Broadcasting House, jocularly known by older cabbies as The Tripe Shop. Here on the first floor directly over the entrance with its statute of Prospero and Ariel is the council chamber, the statute depicting – from Shakespeare’s Tempest – Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolising the future of broadcasting to the world.

Eric Gill its sculptor it would seem had other ideas. He 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.

When completed Prospero was found to have a girl’s face carved upon his bottom, the image facing the council chamber. As for Ariel being sent out into the world, he would appear rather well endowed, for such a young child.

Outside Broadcasting House is a cab rank servicing both the BBC and the Langham Hotel. Here is a rather curious symbol of a bygone age, a yellow phone mounted on a post, which once was used by the well-heeled residents of Marylebone to summon a cab before the age of mobile phones.

The next destination is ‘Pill Island’. The straight roads forming a rectangle between Harley Street and Wimpole Street forming a long block of properties full of private medical practitioners. Cabbies after the war nicknamed Harley Street ‘The Resistance’, not for secret operatives working in the vicinity, but because doctors opposed the formation of the National Health Service.

At the centre of this geometric exercise in roads is Marylebone High Street which bucks the trend of straight lines with a small dog-leg at its northern extremity, where there is a Point that I certainly would be asking if I was an examiner. Here, just north of a short one-way system, is the Marylebone Elm, a rare survivor. It stands in the grounds of a church that was so badly bomb damaged that it was demolished in 1949, incredibly the elm standing a few yards away escaped unscathed. Its second escape was in the 1960s when Dutch Elm Disease decimated over 20 million elms that were the epitome of the English countryside. This 150-year-old beauty stands over 100 feet stretching its branches across the high street.

At the top of the high street turning left into Marylebone Road, immediately on the left is the late Georgian, St. Marylebone Parish Church that this area takes its name. It was here that I had a rather surreal experience. The church was built over a large vaulted crypt which continued to receive the dead until 1853, these corpses were removed in 1980 and were reburied in Brookwood Cemetary in Surrey. The resulting space was redeveloped and an MRI scanner installed. By the mid-90s the injury I sustained riding my bike on The Knowledge necessitated further investigation. I found myself experiencing mild claustrophobia sliding into a scanner in an ancient crypt much like a corpse being interned into the sarcophagus.

Some places in London the indigenous populace is almost non-existent. Your Dad might have dragged you these tourist destinations when you were young and unfortunately, especially when nowadays you are on The Knowledge, you cannot dissuade your out-of-town friends when they insist they be taken to the ‘real’ London when visiting.

These tourist hot-spots mainly serve two functions. First, they bring in much-needed money keeping the Capital functioning. But secondly, and more importantly, they serve to hoover up tourists ensuring that the best that London has to offer is relatively empty for us to enjoy.

The most popular tourist hot-spot is that waxwork emporium on the Marylebone Road which just happens to be opposite the church that witnessed my MRI internment. Thousands queue outside waiting for a chance to take a selfie with Michael Jackson or David Beckham, not with Rolf Harris who curiously is now absent. Those possessed with forwarding planning have even stumped up extra to bypass the queue, little do they realise the highlight of the visit is mingling with others while standing in the most polluted place in London. This busy road has three-and-a-half times EU limit for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas linked to asthma, lung infections and other respiratory problems, in fact, the Baker Street Marylebone Road junction has no equal, it’s a chance to really take home a long-lasting London souvenir – emphysema. The last time Tussaud’s was worth a visit on a wet Sunday afternoon was years ago to experience the London Planetarium, this now houses the dubious 4D superhero experience.

Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street, but, there is a problem when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned his first Sherlock Holmes ‘A Study in Scarlet’ in 1887 number 221b didn’t exist. Nor for that matter was there a 219, 221 or 223. In the 1890s Baker Street’s numbering only went up to number 85, it then became York Place and eventually Upper Baker Street.

Sherlock Holmes’ researchers suggest that the author based the great detective’s house on either number 21, 27 or 61, and the latest theory, after many, is that number 109, as it is today retaining it Victorian façade and sandwiched between a post office and a betting shop, depicts how the author visualised the great detective’s house.

Now, researcher, Bernard Davies has suggested number 31 Baker Street. He discovered an 1894 map showing all the front doors and lamps. Using forensic analysis of the books and maps he concluded number 31 was the most likely candidate. Alas nowadays this location is now the headquarters of the defunct House of Fraser, the original having been demolished in the last century.

Baker Street was renumbered in the middle of the 20th century and now extends all the way up to 247 Baker Street, which now places the location of 221b at a grand Art Deco building once the Abbey National headquarters. At that time a letter writer was employed by Abbey National to reply to all correspondence addressed to a Mr Sherlock Holmes replying as his secretary.

After the Abbey National vacated the property in 1990 the new owners didn’t wish to keep up the tradition of responding to correspondence. An ex-boarding house at 239 Baker Street got special permission from the City of Westminster to re-name itself 221b becoming The Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Having checked out the Sherlock Holmes Museum I have to locate two more ‘Sherlocks’. Just down Baker Street is the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, but more curiously is the Sherlock Holmes Hotel not far from Trafalgar Square in Northumberland Street. Here behind glass in an upstairs room one may see ‘genuine’ artefacts once owned by a fictional character.

In 1951 Abbey National hosted a Sherlock Holmes exhibition for the Festival of Britain. It featured much Holmes’ ephemera including crumpets supplied each day by a local baker and left on a plate with two different sets of bite marks.

When the exhibition was over, it went on a world tour before returning to London. A publican of a Charing Cross pub, the Northumberland Arms (the re-named The Sherlock Holmes), bought it exhibits and put them on display in an upstairs room where it remains to this day. It features what Holmes’ study would have looked in Victorian London and naturally, the walls are scarlet – yes a Study in Scarlet.

The pub has another strong connection to the fictional detective. In Victorian times, the site was part of the Northumberland Hotel, which features in the early chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The most beautiful road in London

If ever evidence was needed to support the claim that London’s streets were paved with gold the place to find it would be Exhibition Road. This road underwent a transition that transformed it into ‘the most beautiful road in London’ . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 5: Run 65 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

St. John’s Wood Station NW8 to Brompton Oratory SW7

I am now starting my fourth year on The Knowledge, the 468 runs have given me a lattice of routes across London, it is now my task to fill in the gaps. Seeking out points that I don’t already know, and some that I’ve since forgotten is filling my days – and nights. Taking a sector of London at a time, those in the City or West End are tracked down at night, while further afield points are left to the weekend.

I had wanted to join a Knowledge school, in the early 1990s there were plenty to choose from, but unfortunately working more than 40 hours a week there is precious little time left.

This decision has probably cost me another year’s work. Knowledge schools teach you shortcuts to remembering this mass of detail, introduce you to others as keen as yourself to ‘call-over’ and supply the mass of sundries needed, from maps and pen holders to boards to mount on your handlebars enabling you to write down just what you might discover around London.

The secret of finding the right Knowledge partner is that you try to get someone slightly better than yourself to test mock appearances, or call-over as it is known, the school has a greater choice of partner or partners and gives sound advice as you progress. But the most important help they give is the camaraderie of others on the road to achieving your badge and license or bill as it is known in the trade.

A check around St. John’s Wood Station I find Grace’s Gate, a perennial favourite with examiners, these are a pair of ornate memorial gates at one of the entrances to Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood Road. The attraction to asking this, I suppose, is that it rather trips off the tongue. Another important point to check out is the Green Cabbies’ Shelter in Wellington Place – which is close to where the original shelter was erected – known by the trade as ‘The Chapel’ or given its proximity to the home of English cricket, ‘Nursery End’.

Leaving Acacia Road, which always seemed to me to describe an idyllic semi-detached suburban tree-lined road in the 1930s, this is far from that, the multi-million properties around here are guarded by a private foot patrol day and night.

Soon I’m travelling down Edgware Road which can only be described as another of London’s little villages, this one seems to have nothing but Lebanese restaurants lining both sides of the road.

Cutting through Hyde Park Gate, which isn’t a physical gate, to reach my second gate of the day. Victoria Gate is at the northern entrance to Hyde Park, beside which is its lodge, a Grade II listed building that the thousands who pass by its front door barely give a second glance, hardly surprising for this simple three bedroomed building has none of the ornateness of the other lodges, it is now occupied by the assistant manager of Hyde Park Gardens.

It is the garden behind the lodge that makes this little building so special – a pet cemetery dating from the late 19th century with hundreds of miniature, mildewed gravestones bearing the patina of old age.

First came ‘Cherry’, a Maltese Terrier, who belonged to the children of Mr and Mrs J Lewis Barned, who resided at 10 Cambridge Square. They frequently visited Hyde Park and made the acquaintance of the gatekeeper at Victoria Lodge who also sold them lollypops and ginger beer for their children. When Cherry died of old age there was much grievance in the family and they decided to approach the gatekeeper, Mr Windbridge and his employer, to ask if they could lay Cherry to rest in his back garden, which was seemingly appropriate since they had enjoyed such good times together in the Park. Permission was granted and Cherry was laid to rest in a resplendent ceremony. A tombstone bearing the inscription ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881′, was constructed in his memory.

From this simple act of kindness, this mostly canine necropolis gained popularity when in 1880 George, The Duke of Cambridge – who had flouted royal convention by marrying an actress, Louisa Fairbrother – asked that his distraught wife’s favourite dog, Prince, who had been run over, be buried in the garden. The Duke who just happened to double as Chief Ranger of Hyde Park persuaded Mr Windbridge to give the poor creature a proper burial in the back garden of his lodge.

By 1915, graves in Mr Windbridge’s garden were so tightly packed that the cemetery was closed. Over 300 animals are laid to rest here – dogs, cats, birds, and even a monkey are interned here. The epitaphs range from the touching to the maudlin; quotes from the Bible and Shakespearean couplets are sprinkled among personal tributes:

’To the memory of my dear Emma – faithful and sole companion of my otherwise rootless and desolate life’.

’Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy’.

’Prince. He asked for so little and gave so much’.

‘Alas Poor Zoe. Born October 1st. 1879. Died August 13th. 1892. As deeply mourned as ever dog was mourned, for friendship rare by her adorned’

’In memory of our darling little Bobbit. When our lonely lives are over and our spirits from this earth shall roam, we hope he’ll be there waiting to give us a welcome home’.

Some posh dogs even had bespoke coffins. One lady who buried her Pomeranian in a locked casket allegedly wore the keys around her neck until she went to her own grave.

This sad little spot received one last canine resident – also named Prince in 1967 when the Royal Marines were granted special permission to bury their 11-year-old mascot in the southern corner.

Only visible through the fence and then before the seasons gives the hedge is summer foliage, it is the place George Orwell called “perhaps the most horrible spectacle in Britain”.

Riding through Hyde Park I’m not subject to the inconvenience of waiting for the traffic inching forward as I travel south towards Alexandra Gate, the next set of gates. After the Great Exhibition was closed, the exhibition building was dismantled, renamed the Crystal Palace and moved to Sydenham where we managed to burn it to the ground in 1936. All that marks its passing here is the Colebrookdale Gates originally made to stand at the entrance to the north transept of the exhibition, the gates were moved to the entrance to Kensington Gardens and remain firmly closed and locked, standing beside Alexandra Gate, and the exit to Hyde Park that has dozens of cars queuing to pass.

If ever evidence was needed to support the claim that London’s streets were paved with gold the place to find it would be Exhibition Road beyond Alexandra Gate. This three-quarter-mile-long road underwent a transition that in the words of Nick Paget-Brown, Kensington and Chelsea’s Cabinet Member for Transport transformed it into ‘the most beautiful road in London’.

Unable to source enough granite locally the Tory council obtained enough stone to match the colour required from China and by using a slow boat from China the council claimed the ‘carbon footprint’ was much reduced. An alternative supplier in the north of England would presumably have parachuted in the granite sets by a gas guzzling Tornado jet. The project cost £30 million which equates to over £22,000 per yard; truly London’s streets are paved with gold.

When completed both drivers and pedestrians shared the same space in what is termed a ‘transition zone’. The most recognisable characteristic of shared space is the absence of street clutter, such as conventional traffic signals, barriers, signs and road markings. This according to the council encourages motorists to slow down, engage with their surroundings and make eye contact with pedestrians – resulting in a higher quality and more usable street area, with enhanced road safety.

Their world is akin to Camberwick Green when everybody is aware of other road users, greeting them with a cheery riposte, and continuing on their journey unimpeded, helping little old ladies cross the road, slowing down for children and dogs so they don’t end up behind the Victoria Gate Lodge.

The western side of Exhibition Road is used by 19 million pedestrians a year visiting the many attractions in the area, by banning vehicles for most of the day they could let everybody enjoy the space and have time to visually inspect in detail ‘the most beautiful road in London’.

Turning left into Cromwell Gardens and forward into Thurloe Place, the Victoria and Albert Museum is on my left, opposite standing in the centre of the road is another cabbies’ green shelter, this one nicknamed ‘The bell and horns’ which derives its nickname from a long-ago extinct public house.

It is Brompton Oratory that I’ve come here to check out, only for the purposes of gaining my badge you understand, for this large Catholic place of worship once had a dark secret. During the Cold War at the front of the building, between the pillars and wall, Soviet spies used the space as a dead drop. Was it the church’s proximity to Harrods that made it the perfect choice? Espionage material was also left near a small Pietà statue just inside the entrance, and behind the Oratory is Holy Trinity Church, its statue of St. Francis of Assisi was used as the marker to point to the base of a nearby tree also used as a dead drop.

Toilets, tantrums and The Tower

The city had just one river crossing, resulting in taking over an hour to cross the river. Combined to this was the additional hazards of mugging in the slow-moving traffic and getting contents of chamber pots which were lobbed out of the ramshackle houses lining the bridge . . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 4: Run 51 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

Southwark Bridge EC4 to Goldsmith’s Row E2

The view from Globe Walk is one of the greatest in London. Positioned across the Thames with St. Paul’s opposite, the panorama takes in most of the City of London. Christopher Wren thought as much as they were building his masterpiece and lived in a house a few yards upriver, sadly the building no longer exists contrary to claims made by modern-day owners of a nearby property.

We English are rather reticent to boast and despite Shakespeare being regarded as the world’s greatest playwright, who introduced dozens of sayings that now are in common use, we choose not to tell anyone that here, in London, many of his greatest works first saw the light of day.

A few years after gaining my badge I happened to pick up the actress Zöe Wannamaker from the National Theatre, on the journey to her house I couldn’t resist telling her that we owe her father, American director Sam Wannamaker, a huge debt. The Americans are not as shy as we Brits, I took Sam years to get a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre built on the banks of the Thames, to celebrate the genius of William Shakespeare.

This area of Southwark was outside the city limits and owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Many entertainments were on offer, ladies offering their services were nicknamed ‘Winchester Geese’, bear and bull baiting gave punters the opportunity for a flutter and theatres for entertainment, advertising their production of the day with red, white or black flags flown denoting history, comedy or tragedy. At the original Globe wishing to thrill audience with pageantry and effects, it was decided during a production of All is True (known today as Henry VIII) to fire a cannon to announce the arrival of King Henry. A spark ignited the thatched roof and the theatre burned to the ground. Unsurprisingly its modern counterpart, which is the first thatched building completed in London since the Great Fire of London, has sprinklers along the roof’s ridge and fireproofed reeds have been used in the thatch.

Unfortunately, the city had just one river crossing – London Bridge – the result of which caused jams, resulting in taking  over an hour to cross the river. Combined to this was the additional hazards of mugging in the slow-moving traffic and getting contents of chamber pots which were lobbed out of the ramshackle houses lining the bridge.

For the gentleman who wished to go ‘South of the River’ to reach the tempting entertainments on offer, punters usually chose to cross the river by boat, ferrymen, our predecessors, made their living crossing the wide Thames.

A short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe is Bear Gardens, taking its name from the pastime once performed here by the unfortunate creatures. Situated near its original location is a stone ferryman’s seat, it is quite narrow and very uncomfortable, presumably early cabbies were more stoic – and considerably thinner than today, for I couldn’t squeeze my posterior onto the ledge.

Although the exact age of the seat is unknown, it’s most likely to have been established around the 12th or 13th century; a period when London was beginning to spread south, where Southwark was gaining that reputation as a seedy but popular entertainment district. The Thames was originally wider here and so the ferryman’s seat would have been located about 100 yards further south down Bear Gardens.

Above the seat is a short description:

‘The Ferryman’s Seat, located on previous buildings at this site, was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen, who operated ferry services across the river. The seat’s age is unknown, but it is thought to have ancient origins.’

Most cabbies have a favourite place to stop for a break, as ‘rest ranks’ where they can legally stop to recuperate are few and far between. The prerequisites for taking a break are: fairly immune from traffic wardens; somewhere providing refreshments; and most importantly a toilet. This last necessity has also proved a problem on The Knowledge, as motorcycle gear prevented access to one’s privates. The ‘Iron Lung’ at Regency Place, a urinal in the style of a Parisian pissoir is one of the few public toilets left accessible to cabbies in London. It also has the benefit of a nearby barbers, a corner shop and Portuguese Tony’s Astral cafe much frequented by cabbies.

The 5-star Corinthia Hotel supports cabbies, even allowing the most desperate to have a comfort break as their American guests would describe it, likewise the Goring Hotel had a basement toilet available for our use. Yet the more down market Thistle Euston, now being demolished for HS2 actually tasked a member of staff to prevent cabbies using their facilities. The Elizabethan ferrymen presumably had the nearby Thames should they be caught short.

Having checked out points around the Globe I need to ride across Southwark Bridge. Crossing the river today, riding my small Honda 90, seems as hazardous as it was for our ferrymen predecessors. It is late winter and the wind is whipping up the Thames trying to knock me off my bike and carrying with it flecks of snow which have a propensity to adhere to my visor.

Turning right into Upper Thames Street I am making my way to the now trendy Brick Lane. Upper Thames Street changes its name so I have to note where they occur: Upper Thames Street, Lower Thames Street, Byward Street and Tower Hill are all ridden down in less than half-a-mile. Passing the ominous Tower of London, it’s a fact to remember that more executions took place here in the twentieth century than in any other century.

On the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street there stands a remarkable place of worship. Built in 1742 as a Huguenot chapel, missionaries then used it to promote Christianity to the expanding Jewish population, it then became a Methodist chapel before being converted into the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Today the Grade II* listed building is the Great London Mosque.

My destination today, and considering the weather conditions it can’t come quick enough, is Goldsmith’s Row. It takes it name from a row of almshouses built in 1703 belonging to the powerful Goldsmiths’ Company, its six residents paying £21 per annum. Unfortunately the well-known bun-house selling Hackney Buns which were one as famous as today’s Chelsea buns, is now lost. As far as I can tell the only point around here worth checking out is the now abandoned Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney Road, the building has now joined he ranks of ubiquitous executive flats.