Category Archives: Puppydog tails

Barging Around

Despite atrocious weather, with high winds and driving rain, entering the Prince Regent, a floating restaurant on the Regents Canal (where else?) was a welcome, and warmer, relief.

Moored just yards from Paddington Station the two-and-a-half-hour cruise in the converted barge takes you from Little Venice, through the Maida Hill Tunnel, past a large community of barges moored behind the Lisson Grove power station. At this point we were apparently gongoozlers, meaning bystanders who enjoy watching the activities of boats as they pass them.


We were gongoozlers

The trip skirts around the London Zoo, where you can see the wild dog enclosure, and finally ending at Camden Town, where the Prince Regent turned around and retraced the route back to Paddington.

I have spent nearly 30 years discovering London, whilst studying for The Knowledge and later driving a cab, thinking I knew most secret places, but this trip was a revelation. The very large number of people living on well-maintained colourful and not so ship-shape vessels on the water, palm and banana trees at the water’s edge, and barges with deck chairs and plants upon their roofs, one even had a play area with an arbour of wisteria, none of which I’ve ever seen in central London.

Light at the end of the tunnel

As for lunch, just how can you produce an exceptional 5-course meal for 10 diners (more apparently in high season) in a galley measuring 6ft by 15ft?

Not the cheapest meal (it was a gift), with four fish-based courses: oyster in batter; smoked salmon and horseradish; mackerel and tomatoes; and Cornish cod with a stunning raisin and chicken jus. This was followed by pear and caramelised mousse. Highly recommended.

Just Desserts in London

Maids of Honour
A personal favourite of mine. Just opposite Kew Gardens is a rather quaint tea room selling these puff-pastry cakes containing a rich melange of almonds, cinnamon, butter and brandy named after a famous terrace in Richmond. This was built for the ladies-in-waiting to a former Princess of Wales, Caroline of Anspach, who lived at nearby Richmond Palace.

Sandwiches
Those resourceful Romans are said to have stuck meat between two slices of bread to make a convenient way of eating on the move, presumably when conquering their European neighbours.

But the name sandwich is attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. His family insist that he invented its creation to allow him to work on Admiralty papers, but those less charitable suggest that it was more likely he was rather bust at White’s gaming tables.

The current Earl of Sandwich has resurrected his ancestor’s invention and given his name to a chain of upmarket sandwich shops.

Champagne
Don’t mention this to our Gallic cousins but in 1662 Christopher Merrett having moved from Oxford to London demonstrated at The Royal Society how to make champagne, a full 30 years before Dom Perignon started his famed tipple.

Peach Melba
The Savoy’s famous chef Auguste Escoffier was credited as creating this dessert for opera diva Dame Nellie Melba. The combination of peaches, raspberries, redcurrant jelly and vanilla ice-cream were combined to protect her precious vocal chords prior to her appearances at Covent Garden.

Chelsea Bun
On the corner of Pimlico Road and Lower Sloane Street, before the antique dealers arrived selling Georgian furniture, there stood a famous bun house royally patronised by Georges II, III and IV. Note the genuine light fluffy article containing raisins is always square.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 29th March 2013

Aquatic cabbies of old

Unlike today’s cabbies, the London watermen were not averse to going ’South of The River’.

In fact, many were residents of the South Bank, Bermondsey or Wapping.

[I]N THEIR OPEN BLACK BOATS exposed to the elements, working on the turbulent river they were a hardy breed who ferried people across the Thames in all weathers.

As with Licensed London cabbies today they were regulated and required to wear a badge to denote their qualifications. Restricted in number and proud of their ancestry they formed a guild near Garlickhythe.

Starlings were a grave hazard

Working upstream of London Bridge it was a decent option for someone with little capital who had substantial physical strength. The rapids between the starlings of London Bridge were a particular hazard; one waterman freezing to death in 1771 after his boat became caught in ice forming under the bridge.

The papers reported:

A waterman . . . had his boat jammed in between the ice and could not get on shore, and no waterman dare venture to his assistance. He was almost speechless last night and it is thought he cannot survive long.

A week later, the papers reported:

The Body of Jacob Urwin the Waterman who was unfortunately drowned last week at London Bridge was driven up with the Tide on a shoal of Ice and brought ashore at Monsoon Dock.

Much like today watermen would queue – or rank in today’s parlance – at various river stairs, often fighting with unlicensed boatmen, and like today questioning the safety of the interlopers.

Broil’d red herring for lunch

Known for being rowdy and hurling abuse at passing craft they had curious culinary taste of ‘broil’d red herring’ and ‘bread and cheese and onions’. Presumably, their customers would spend as little time in their company.

This manner of travel, particularly in summer, was the least bad alternative. Portuguese merchant Don Manuel Gonzales was quoted:

The pleasantest way of moving from one end of the town to the other in summertime, is by water, in that spacious gentle stream, the Thames, in which you travel two miles for six-pence, if you have two watermen, and for three-pence if you have but one: and to any village up or down the river, you go with company for a trifle.

After a 7 year apprenticeship, the waterman obtained their ’freedom’ allowing him to work for his own account. But apart from the River’s hazards, a further peril awaited them.

P39524Because of their familiarity with life on water they were a target of the press gang to be taken to serve in the King’s Navy.

In 1716 the world’s earliest surviving competitive race was started which had the added bonus of immunity from the press-gang for the winner.

Thomas Doggett was an Irish actor and comedian who became joint manager of Drury Lane Theatre. Every year the new journeymen would race the Doggetts Coat & Badge from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier, it was to be the beginning of rowing races on the Thames.

A pub on the South Bank at Blackfriars Bridge – Doggetts – commemorates the race and the watermen.

Picture: When ferrying passengers across the river became obsolete as more bridges spanned the Thames Georgian watermen became lighterman, above is one taken in the 1950. Picture by Organized Rage.

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

It’s a Corker of a leg

Cork Street is a short thoroughfare in Mayfair lined with art galleries and little else, the street has gained its name from the 1st Earl of Burlington who also happened to be 2nd Earl of Cork in Ireland.

[I]T WAS HE, you might recall, who had built Burlington Arcade to stop dead cats being thrown into his back garden.

Before the galleries, this little street was the epicentre of Georgian London’s artificial leg industry. In the 18th century, a broken leg was a common injury brought about through war or more commonly falling from a horse. If you were unfortunate enough to have suffered that fate the high risk of it turning septic, ultimately resulting in death, necessitated amputation.

Prosthetic legs

The fate of the poor was a wooden extension strapped to the stump; just imagine Alastor ‘Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. These were often referred to as Peg Legs – a nomenclature attached (no pun) to its owner.

Mr Foote According to Mr. Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly in 1766 puppet maker Mr. Addison of Hanover Street, Long Acre made for Samuel Foote England’s first articulated prosthesis. Its articulation at the knee and foot, like a puppet’s was not the only innovative aspect, Foote’s bodyweight was held by two circular straps that took the strain when he leaned on the artificial limb’s side of the body, rather than bear down on a wooden stump.

With London’s surgeons producing a steady stream of wealthy unit-pedals, expert craftsmen congregated in Cork Street, meticulously fashioning bespoke, precision-made limbs using hardwoods and leather with articulated joints fitted with intricate spring mechanisms.

Cork legs

This superior class of limb, fitted and purchased in Cork Street soon became known as a ‘Cork Leg’ to distinguish it from the primitively made ‘Peg Leg’.

Dickens describing tourists in Little Dorrit wrote: “These legs were called ‘cork legs’ in England, not because they were made of cork, for they were not, but because the best kind of them were made in London in Cork Street”.

These ingenious devices did have their drawbacks. Although one could walk in a room or smooth ground such legs were not suitable for rough terrain as the springs which moved the foot continually gave way. This instability, with its wearer continually falling to the ground gave rise to the expression “Dropped like a cork leg”.

Picture of Santa Anna’s cork leg

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 22nd November 2013

A bitter pill for all

Once was the time that every Londoner knew who Doctor Butler was, and the alleged restorative properties of his famous brew.

Such was his fame a number of London pubs carried his name.

[A]LAS ALL BUT ONE HAVE GONE or become a generic pub/restaurant. The last survivor to carry his name is to be found in Mason’s Avenue in The City.

The surviving establishment has a good reputation according to Fancy a Pint who give it four-stars which would not be the case if the hostelry still served up the good doctor’s celebrated ’purging ale’.

No qualifications

‘Doctor’ Butler had no medical qualifications, but that didn’t stop him selling an evil concoction of laxatives that included senna, liquorice and scurvy grass (a type of cabbage) all mixed in a strong ale and allowed to ferment for three days.

First produced in 1616 the brew laid claim to treat all manner of maladies:

An excellent stomach drink, it helps digestion and dissolves congealed phlegm upon the lungs and is therefore good against colds, coughs, phthisical and consumptive distempers, and being drunk in the evening it moderately fortifies nature, causeth good rest and hugely corroborates the brain and memory.

With medical science in its infancy King James, when suffering from sciatica reached for a jug of the doctor’s purgative concoction. Its powerful effects took the King’s mind off his original ailment, and when he emerged from his House of Ease awarded Butler a position in court as his physician.

Unfortunately, the powerful laxative didn’t work on King James’s son Henry dying from typhoid.

Old Doctor Butler The success with the King’s bad back encouraged Butler to branch out offering clients the benefit of his expertise. Epilepsy was cured by firing a brace of pistols near the unsuspecting patients face – thus scaring the malady enough to leave its host.

The current incumbents practising in Harley Street might be pleased to discover that should plague return to London, plunging one’s patient into
ice-cold water effects a cure.

Dropped into the Thames

But should that prove unsuccessful an alternative treatment is to drop the infected patient through a trapdoor on London Bridge allowing them to fall
into the Thames.

Doctor Butler’s Medicinal Ale was sold across London from taverns displaying Doctor Butler’s Head on their signs. Remarkably it was available long after his death – he presumably declined the ale’s medicinal benefits upon his own death bed.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 22nd July 2014