Category Archives: Thinking allowed

The Unknown ‘Mrs’ Everest

The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is Britain’s biggest graveyard with nearly one million within its walls, approached by an impressive Portland stone gateway has, as its most famous internee, Sir Bobby Moore who captained England to the 1966 World Cup victory, culminating at Wembley playing against Germany. You will also find actress Dame Anna Neagle and a couple of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

Within this huge 200-acre Victorian Grade I listed graveyard is an almost forgotten simple cross surmounting a square plinth commemorating the life of a person who arguably changed the course of Britain’s history.

Elizabeth Ann Everest was born in Chatham at around 1832. Like many of her generation she remained a spinster, was childless, she wrote nothing of note, invented nothing, created nothing, she boasted no scientific achievement nor artistic gift.

She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.

Elizabeth-Everest

Elizabeth Ann Everest

We know nothing of her early life. A woman of deep faith, a Low Church Anglican who probably went some way to her first appointment. She was, by profession, a caregiver, spending her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in the Cumberland village of Barrow-in-Furness.

Alas, as is the way with nannies, having raised Ella until she was twelve, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, released her from his service.

To modern eyes, this dismissal of a faithful servant might seem callous, but life in the lower ranks of Victorian society was harsh.

Having had the responsibility of caring for Rev. Phillips’s daughter gave her a huge advantage when seeking employment. Without any means of support the workhouse beckoned. But Rev. Phillips had given her references which served her well to get a new position.

In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had a need for a governess.

A well-known rake from one of England’s families of high noble birth had married a wealthy teenage American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals.

She had given birth ‘prematurely’, seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother. The young lady then hired a wet nurse, who fed the child; when the child was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.

Having discharged their responsibilities as parents devoted themselves to a life of pleasure and debauchery: balls, parties and soirées and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time.

The abandoned child was a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums and Elizabeth Everest was left to bring up and set an example to her charge.

As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well-known politician. As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on, according to the boy, the only five occasions he actually paid attention to the child. He was sent to Harrow and not his father’s alma mater-Eton as Harrow, in those days, was supposed to be less intellectually challenging.

His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.

The parents called the nanny ‘Mrs Everest’ – an honorary title, as was the custom for nannies at the time, as she had in all probability never married.

The boy addressed her as “Woom”, from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman”. Woom changed his nappies, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not.

She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference – or worse.

When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone – without warning – and spent his Christmases alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house.

The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.

Through all this, Woom was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.

As the boy became a young adult Mrs Everest was again fired from her post which, all accounts, was handled abruptly and poorly, given her long and devoted service to the family.

The father’s syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty.

In June of that year, Mrs Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from Sandhurst, his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home at 15 Crouch Hill, where she died of peritonitis on 3rd July 1895.

The young officer then telegraphed the clergyman for whom Everest had previously worked, they met at the graveside. He had become an archdeacon, but even so, he did not see fit to bring little Ella with him.

The ‘intellectually challenged’ sickly redhead now no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day:

‘ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.’

Grave

At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, now severely weathered after 120 years and covered by grass:

‘. . . BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL’

Lazy Days

This has just been the longest March I can ever remember. It just went on … and on …

Perhaps like me, you’ve sorted out photographs, lists, cupboards, drawers etc, while sorting out the computer was a bit like the wardrobe – deciding what to delete from years gone by and now forgotten like bell-bottom jeans and kipper ties … they all come back given time, but not thousands of old emails and long unsupported programs.

While I was there I’ve also updated the blog’s sidebars, and sent off a few book proposals, and received some more don’t call us, we’ll call you replies.

This England requested a piece for next year’s annual, marking 125 years of the black cab. I obliged, noting they also publish Beano and Dandy magazines, which seems to sum up the extent of my fine prose.

All this makes for a rather laid back approach to life these days. This lethargy also manifests in writing, you know how it is, one day ideas are popping out of your ears, then you relax and … nothing.

So I’ve been thinking about a nickname for the new skyscraper nearing completion at 22 Bishopsgate, a gargantuan office building that will utterly dwarf all that has gone before, trumping every property developer’s wildest fantasy. Other huge erections have been given monikers: the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie and my favourite considering it is the home of the London Assembly – The Testicle.

Now with a combined bulk of all those three combined comes 22 Bishopsgate containing 32 acres of floor space heaped in a 250-yard-wide hulk, rising to just below the height of the Shard and built after consuming the 7-storey lift shaft stump of the abandoned Helter Skelter.

With the City deserted its streets only populated by the occasional Deliveroo driver and empty cab, it seems a strange time to be completing the largest office building the capital has ever seen.

A large lump, having swallowed up the previous development with steam rising from its air-conditioning and glistening glazing panels, surplus to our needs, there can be only one moniker – I give you The Turd.

Featured image: 22 Bishopsgate from Whittington Avenue looking northeast by © Robert Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Women in the workplace

Close your eyes. Have you got them closed? Now, imagine you’re standing at the side of the road hailing a cab.

The cab pulls up, it’s black obviously. But what of the driver? In BBC TV’s Sherlock: A Study in Pink, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes poses the question: “Who do we trust, even if we don’t know him?”

Do you have an image of the cabbie in your mind? In all probability the driver is white, a man over fifty wearing a flat cap and a scarf around his neck.

You get in and commence your journey, the conversation soon turns to football. Yes, he follows a London team, possibly Arsenal, lives in Essex, and is not the biggest fan of the London Mayor.

You can open your eyes now because you are right. The person imagined by Sherlock Holmes and yourself is your atypical cabbie, for women make up fewer than 2.5 per cent of London cab driving fraternity.

Surprisingly in today’s world, according to Transport for London, in 2019 there was only 519 women amongst 23,301 drivers with licences to cover All London and Suburban areas, even though today’s applications to attain The Knowledge are not reliant on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Women have always played a part in the London cab trade. At one time a widow could inherit her husband’s Hackney Carriage (but not drive it, just hire it out). A list from 1664 reveals that 19 widows had inherited licences.

Much later during the Great War, with many drivers away on the Western Front, who had had the understanding that their licence was protected at the cessation of hostilities, women’s role was questioned. Although the ability to ply for hire rested upon successful completion of The Knowledge, Sir Henry Norman MP asked the Home Secretary, if a refusal to license women was based on “statutory disqualification of a woman or in a decision of the Home Office”. The Home Secretary passed the buck stating “the Commissioner of Police informs me that he cannot in the present circumstances recommend the grant of a licence to a woman”. Sean Farrell writing in Abstracts of Black Cab Lore opines: “With thousands of men dying daily, the women filling the manpower gap up and down the country, it’s hard to imagine just what extra circumstances the Commissioner of Police envisaged.
Eventually, the authorities were forced to license women to drive buses, trams and taxis, although a union official stated driving a taxi was “not a moral occupation for a woman to follow”.

By 1917 four women held taxi licences, although they could hardly be described as your average Londoner. Susan Dudley Ryder (Badge 1366) was the cousin to The Earl of Harrowby and sister of champion women’s golfer Mrs Gavin.

After the Great War, a Select Committee looked into transport problems within London. Much of the evidence submitted for excluding women from driving cabs was the practice by prostitutes of using the passenger compartment to conduct their business, something the upper-class witnesses to the committee seemed to be very knowledgeable. Not so the cabbie, as at the time the driver had no rear-view mirror.
In 1922 the London and Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers balloted its members in strike action should a woman appear on the road working as a cab driver.

Even after World War II, despite their valiant work in keeping Britain’s factories and farms in production, they were unlikely to attain a licence, let alone a vehicle to drive.

Remarkably the first woman to have completed the modern Knowledge of London to become an All London Green Badge driver was not until 1977 when Marie White (badge 25292) passed. She would regularly be seen on the St. Pancras rank with her little dog in the luggage compartment.

Featured image: Stella Wood who has been a black cab driver for 20 years.

Much of the research into this post has been gleaned from Abstracts of Black Cab Lore: A History of the London Cab Driver by Sean Farrell and From Manor House Station to Gibson Square and back again: Secrets from the London Taxi Trade by Chris Ackrill.

Top or bottom

Following on from last week’s post, discussing the highs and lows, and giving you an insight to my shortest and longest (journeys that is), we now come to this tricky question: Is a destination at the top or bottom of a street?

If a street actually does, you know, climb a hill then the top is just naturally the top.

Or does top or bottom refer to the street’s numbering?

The British Postal Museum and Archive claim the first recorded instance of a street being numbered is Prescot Street in Goodmans Fields around 1708. Regulation did not take place until 1855 with the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act, by that time there were different numbering systems even in the same street, for example in 1780 Craven Street near Strand had three sets of numbers.

But where does the numbering start?

Odd numbers are usually assigned to the left side of the street and even numbers to the right side, commencing heading out of the town centre from the town hall or other civic building, or even numbers can be placed on the north and west sides and odd numbers on the south and east sides of streets. I hope that clears up some of the confusion.

I was once asked by a customer to go to an annexe of the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place. I asked, quite reasonably I thought, as the road is a dual carriageway, which side of the street is number 66. Her reply the north side, oh dear, the road runs north to south. Now armed with this new information makes the Chinese annexe on the same side as the embassy – possibly.

When asked to go to a destination your passenger expects, quite rightly, to be taken via the shortest route. But when someone does say “I’m at the top of the road”, what do you think they mean?

Portobello Road, with its two postcodes of W10 and W11, is mainly one way (sometimes in different directions) for its entire length of over a mile and travels in an S(E) to N(W) direction, I would think that it’s a no brainer that the Notting Hill end was the bottom, wouldn’t you? After all, that end is its most southern extremity, but, spoiler alert, Notting Hill is on a hill, thus making it the top end. But wait it also starts to rise at its westerly end and is 6ft. higher than Notting Hill.

According to the previously described numbering regulations surely its numbering should start in Notting Hill (nearest to central London), but its located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea whose town hall is directly south of Portobello Road.

Some of you might think this slight nit-picking, or perhaps slightly obsessional, but when your job is to get people as efficiently as possible to their destination, these things really are important.

Incidentally, the numbering of Portobello Road starts at the eastern end at Notting Hill with the odds on the left.

So it would appear, the top of the road has the bottom numbers, with the odds on the left. There I’m glad I’ve cleared that up.

The India Club

Oh! How we would laugh on The Knowledge, finding two strand hotels situated on Strand (note the absence of the definite article, unlike The Knowledge).

The first hotel, the Strand Palace – 4-star, 785 bedrooms, doorman, concierge service, gym and afternoon tea – with a room rate of £400 a night.

Its namesake, the exotically named Hotel Strand Continental with a tea maker, shared bathroom, twin bed and breakfast thrown in for £37.

Basic, but not bad considering Theatreland is opposite and the Strand Palace at £400 is 150 yards down the road, and curiously the more expensive is currently closed due to coronavirus, while its cheaper brother is still open.

But what we didn’t realise while on The Knowledge was that the Hotel Strand Continental has hidden up a flight of stairs a social and dining club. Founded in 1951 when its founder members included Lady Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru, it still retains its original colonial features with portraits and photographs from India’s independence.

Unlike most London clubs, the India Club is open to all and feels like stepping back 70 years. The very reasonably priced food gets mixed reviews but there are few in such a central location offering this level of service and value.

Now this venerable institution looks to be lost as the building’s owners want to redevelop the hotel.

Marston Properties, the hotel’s owners tried two years ago to revamp the building. Following an outcry, the planning application was refused, due to the “loss of an important cultural and nighttime entertainment use (the India Club restaurant/bar)”. They did then offer to revamp the hotel while retaining “a restaurant” on the second floor but then withdrew that planning application.

Now they are trying to circumvent the planning problem of having an “important cultural venue” as a tenant by evicting that tenant by employing an 80 per cent hike in the rent.

During this pandemic, many landlords are helping to retain their tenants by coming to a compromise over the due fees. Marston Properties, however, are bucking the trend by nearly doubling the rent, if they succeed in evicting the India Club they’ll be able to resubmit their planning application and redevelop the hotel as they wish, and then no doubt increase the room rate.

Images courtesy of the India Club