Emphysema tunnel

Tomorrow marks the 113th anniversary of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, opened by The Prince of Wales who was destined to become King George V less than two years later.

This mile-long single-bore tunnel had taken four years to build, at a cost of £2 million, and was, at the time, the largest subaqueous tunnel in existence.

There weren’t many cars around in the 1900s so the Rotherhithe Tunnel was primarily for the benefit of pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, it cuts across the river at an angle, allowing gradients to be shallower and easier to climb for the animals, and it was also constructed with several sharp zigzagging bends, ensuring that horses wouldn’t be able to see daylight at the other end and bolt for the exit.

The wonderfully named Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the council’s engineer, designed it, he had been an engineer (with David Hay) for the Blackwall Tunnel, before going to Egypt to work on the Aswan Dam.

We start at the southern end at Culling Circus, appropriately named since you risk life and limb venturing along this mile-long bore.

It doesn’t look like anyone on foot should be allowed down here, but really, it’s still perfectly legal. Only 20 pedestrians a day pass this way, even though it’s the only walking route across the river between Tower Bridge and Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Even after its upgrade a couple of decades ago, it’s relentlessly bleak down here, especially when the traffic’s light. A few 20mph road signs, various ventilation units, and pavements to keep vehicles from straying too close to the circular roof.

In fact, so close does the traffic pass, once just before one Christmas, a transit van and my cab’s mirrors collided at one of the hairpin bends, yes that’s how close you pass.

At bend number two there is an unexpected sight tucked away in a tiled recess – a large iron spiral staircase, this used to be the pedestrian entrance, a shortcut down the airshaft from the banks of the Thames above, but wartime damage closed it off and the steps are now firmly locked top and bottom.

The central straight section is the longest, and here’s a confession, before the upgrade (and average speed cameras) when returning home from nightshift in Bermondsey, I would see how quickly I could travel between these two sharp bends.

Having traversed the tunnel without any leaks cascading down from the millions of gallons of water suspended somewhere above my head, finally the welcoming sight of North London daylight, eventually emerging almost a mile downstream in deepest Limehouse.

VLW 431 the vehicle that defined London

It’s 14th July 1958 and a revolutionary cab – plate number VLW 431 – is to arrive on London’s streets.

In 1956, with London still pretty much a bomb site, it was decided the FX3 cab, that had appeared in every post-war Ealing Comedy, should be updated and after much thought, this vehicle, which would still be plying for hire in the next century, was to be named the FX4.

For the cutting-edge design a nearside front door was included, not to protect the driver from the elements, but to ensure the passenger’s luggage remained dry.

Apart from a missing nearside door, its predecessor had an opening windscreen to assist navigation in London’s notorious pea-souper fogs, the new design abandoned this innovation.

Headrests for passengers were also to be excluded fearing they might provide a breeding ground for head lice.

A partition between the front and rear compartments was included in the new vehicle to give the cab body improved rigidity, rather than to give the driver protection from criminal acts, it certainly was a different world then.

One key consideration at the design stage was to ensure that the front and rear wings, door panels and outer sills could easily be replaced, so important with the cut-and-thrust and prangs of London’s roads, something I have experienced.

To give passengers a frisson of fear the ‘suicide door’ was retained. Passengers took their life in their hands when alighting from the offside of the vehicle, as the rear doors opened the wrong way, and if hit by a passing vehicle the door would close with force upon the hapless punter, whereas a forward-hinged door would simply be pushed out of the way.

Drivers reported that the bonnet could be released from its safety catch if one of the many potholes were encountered, and in at least one case this led to an accident when the bonnet flew up and blocked the driver’s view.

VLW 431 entered service with a King’s Cross-based cab company and became quite a celebrity, appearing in the official publicity photographs, several promotional films and appeared at that September’s Commercial Motor Show.

On 25th September 1958, the first production version was granted Type Approval and was officially put on sale.

With various modifications, the FX4 was manufactured until 1997 and during its nearly forty-year history, 43,225 vehicles had been sold.

London in Quotations: Robert Smythe Hichens

London’s like a black-browed brute that gets an unholy influence over you.

Robert Smythe Hichens (1864-1950), The Woman with the Fan

London Trivia: School for Thieves

On 6 June 1585 according to John Stow, a school for thieves was discovered in Billingsgate. A pocket and purse guarded by a bell would sound if touched by a clumsy thief. A pickpocket was called a ‘foyster’ and a cut-purse a ‘nypper’.

On 6 June 1922 Child Whispers, Enid Blyton’s first book, was published, it was written whilst she was governess to the four children 207 Hook Road, Chessington

The last man in Britain to be hanged for killing a police officer was Guenther Podola at Wandsworth Prison in 1959

The Savoy Hotel has a permanently lit gas lamp near the river entrance powered by methane gas from the sewers

John Keats trained as an apothecary/surgeon at Guy’s hospital but he gave up surgery for a precarious existence as a poet

Number Ten Downing Street has two front doors, rotated to allow maintenance. The zero is at a slight angle to mimic an earlier one that slipped

In 1905 millionaire George Kessler flooded the Savoy’s courtyard to float a gondola, a birthday cake on an elephant’s back and Caruso singing

A stone in the beer garden wall at the Prospect of Whitby, Wapping identifies the wall as the boundary between Wapping and Limehouse

The ‘Ashes’ are displayed at Lords but the cricket match that led to the ashes being presented is played at the Oval

The first commercial flight from Heathrow was made on 1 January 1946 by South American Airways bound for Buenos Aires in a civilian Lancaster

1757 saw publication of Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies a directory of prostitutes and their special skills, it was very popular!

In January 2005, in an attempt to alleviate a problem with loitering young people, the London Underground announced it would play classical music at problem stations

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Test Your Knowledge: June

Today’s quiz is about cabs and cabbies. If you have been diligent when reading CabbieBlog’s regular missives most shouldn’t present a problem. As before the correct answer will turn green when it’s clicked upon and expanded to give more information. The incorrect answers will turn red giving the correct explanation.

1. All licensed taxi drivers in London need to pass a comprehensive test before they can ply for hire. What is the test called?
The Knowledge
CORRECT It can take between 3 and 5 years to complete The Knowledge, to gain the coveted Green Badge that allows cabbies to work anywhere in Greater London, all cabbies must learn 320 routes and everything in between.
The Knack
WRONG It can take between 3 and 5 years to complete The Knowledge, to gain the coveted Green Badge that allows cabbies to work anywhere in Greater London, all cabbies must learn 320 routes and everything in between.
The Opinionated
WRONG It can take between 3 and 5 years to complete The Knowledge, to gain the coveted Green Badge that allows cabbies to work anywhere in Greater London, all cabbies must learn 320 routes and everything in between.
2. Where was London’s first cab rank??
In Piccadilly
WRONG In 1635 Charles Bailey, a retired mariner, placed four hackney coaches for hire at the Maypole in the Strand where St. Mary’s Church now stands. Later, blue posts denoted cab ranks, hence several pubs by that name.
In the Strand
CORRECT In 1635 Charles Bailey, a retired mariner, placed four hackney coaches for hire at the Maypole in the Strand where St. Mary’s Church now stands. Later, blue posts denoted cab ranks, hence several pubs by that name.
In Oxford Street
WRONG In 1635 Charles Bailey, a retired mariner, placed four hackney coaches for hire at the Maypole in the Strand where St. Mary’s Church now stands. Later, blue posts denoted cab ranks, hence several pubs by that name.
3. When a cabbie is awarded a licence, he is given a Bill and Badge. His badge is then displayed whenever he is working, but what is his Bill?
His licence
CORRECT Who would guess that a cab driver’s licence, referred to as his ‘bill’, it is short for ‘bill of health’? This is ironic considering that most Victorian cabbies worked until they died, or ended in the workhouse if they couldn’t continue working, despite the efforts of the Cabmen’s Benevolent Association.
An invoice detailing his expenses up to that date
WRONG Who would guess that a cab driver’s licence, referred to as his ‘bill’, it is short for ‘bill of health’? This is ironic considering that most Victorian cabbies worked until they died, or ended in the workhouse if they couldn’t continue working, despite the efforts of the Cabmen’s Benevolent Association.
A police mentor, as in the nickname ‘old bill’
WRONG Who would guess that a cab driver’s licence, referred to as his ‘bill’, it is short for ‘bill of health’? This is ironic considering that most Victorian cabbies worked until they died, or ended in the workhouse if they couldn’t continue working, despite the efforts of the Cabmen’s Benevolent Association.
4. Frederick Hitch was once London’s most famous cabbie, but for what?
He was also King George V’s chauffeur
WRONG Most would not know of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 if it wasn’t for the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, and its popularisation by Michael Caine’s first major film, where 155 British soldiers repulsed 4,000 Zulus warriors, resulting in 32 British killed or wounded against nearly 900 Zulus. After the conflict medals which everybody would have heard of – the Victoria Cross – were awarded to 11 men one of which was Frederick Hitch. It was the largest number of gallantry medals ever given to a single regiment, for actions on a single day.
He was a music hall entertainer
WRONG Most would not know of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 if it wasn’t for the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, and its popularisation by Michael Caine’s first major film, where 155 British soldiers repulsed 4,000 Zulus warriors, resulting in 32 British killed or wounded against nearly 900 Zulus. After the conflict medals which everybody would have heard of – the Victoria Cross – were awarded to 11 men one of which was Frederick Hitch. It was the largest number of gallantry medals ever given to a single regiment, for actions on a single day.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross
CORRECT Most would not know of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 if it wasn’t for the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, and its popularisation by Michael Caine’s first major film, where 155 British soldiers repulsed 4,000 Zulus warriors, resulting in 32 British killed or wounded against nearly 900 Zulus. After the conflict medals which everybody would have heard of – the Victoria Cross – were awarded to 11 men one of which was Frederick Hitch. It was the largest number of gallantry medals ever given to a single regiment, for actions on a single day.
5. Who or what was The Resistance?
Harley Street
CORRECT The Resistance was a derogatory nickname given to Harley Street as it was populated by doctors opposed the formation of the NHS after the War.
Cabbies who once fought alongside the Partisans in German-occupied France
WRONG The Resistance was a derogatory nickname given to Harley Street as it was populated by doctors opposed the formation of the NHS after the War.
Spoken ironically about poor brakes on early cabs
WRONG The Resistance was a derogatory nickname given to Harley Street as it was populated by doctors opposed the formation of the NHS after the War.
6. When were licences first issued to London cabbies?
1754
WRONG In 1654 Oliver Cromwell ordered the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.
1654
CORRECT In 1654 Oliver Cromwell ordered the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.
1854
WRONG In 1654 Oliver Cromwell ordered the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.
7. The passenger compartment is jolly spacious, but what are the origins of the roof height?
With any lower head height, passengers would hit their heads on the roof when the vehicle hit potholes
WRONG By law, taxicabs had to be tall enough for a passenger to sit comfortably while wearing a top hat, especially important during Ascot. Additionally, at one time, hackney carriages were required to carry a bale of hay for the horse. This law was held over for a time even after motorised cabs began to operate.
So that up to three hay bales could be stacked inside to feed horses
WRONG By law, taxicabs had to be tall enough for a passenger to sit comfortably while wearing a top hat, especially important during Ascot. Additionally, at one time, hackney carriages were required to carry a bale of hay for the horse. This law was held over for a time even after motorised cabs began to operate.
A gentleman didn’t have the inconvenience of removing his top hat when boarding
CORRECT By law, taxicabs had to be tall enough for a passenger to sit comfortably while wearing a top hat, especially important during Ascot. Additionally, at one time, hackney carriages were required to carry a bale of hay for the horse. This law was held over for a time even after motorised cabs began to operate.
8. How, or where should you not hire a cab?
Poking your head into the nearside window of a stationary cab at traffic lights
WRONG Technically, it’s against the law for you to yell “Taxi!” to get their attention. If you see a cab with a lit sign, just hold out your arm to signal them, and if you’re not drunk he will stop.
Outside one of those cabbies’ green shelters
WRONG Technically, it’s against the law for you to yell “Taxi!” to get their attention. If you see a cab with a lit sign, just hold out your arm to signal them, and if you’re not drunk he will stop.
Emulating a scene from your favourite black and white film by shouting “TAXI” while simultaneously waving in a frantic fashion
CORRECT Technically, it’s against the law for you to yell “Taxi!” to get their attention. If you see a cab with a lit sign, just hold out your arm to signal them, and if you’re not drunk he will stop.
9. What is the entomology of the word taxi?
It comes from the taximeter now found on all legal cabs
CORRECT The term ‘taxi’ comes from taximeter, the counter used to measure miles travelled and fare. ‘Cab’ was short for ‘cabriolet’, a French verb for ‘to leap’, which was a type of taxi and what one did to exit them.
The word comes from the penal rates once charged to the proprietors of vehicles
WRONG The term ‘taxi’ comes from taximeter, the counter used to measure miles travelled and fare. ‘Cab’ was short for ‘cabriolet’, a French verb for ‘to leap’, which was a type of taxi and what one did to exit them.
Queen Victoria didn’t like Joseph Hansom the inventor of the famous Hansom cab and always referred the classic horse-drawn vehicles as ‘taxites’, her term for unaccountable
WRONG The term ‘taxi’ comes from taximeter, the counter used to measure miles travelled and fare. ‘Cab’ was short for ‘cabriolet’, a French verb for ‘to leap’, which was a type of taxi and what one did to exit them.
10. When boarding a licensed London cab, apart from your destination, what must you tell the driver?
If you are registered disabled
WRONG It was also once supposedly illegal for people to hail a cab while suffering from the bubonic plague. This is still partly true, as the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984 requires a person suffering from a notifiable disease to inform the cab driver, who may then decide whether to ferry the passenger. If he does so, he is then required to notify the authorities and disinfect the cab before taking another fare.
If you have the bubonic plague
CORRECT It was also once supposedly illegal for people to hail a cab while suffering from the bubonic plague. This is still partly true, as the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984 requires a person suffering from a notifiable disease to inform the cab driver, who may then decide whether to ferry the passenger. If he does so, he is then required to notify the authorities and disinfect the cab before taking another fare.
That you might change your mind as to the destination
WRONG It was also once supposedly illegal for people to hail a cab while suffering from the bubonic plague. This is still partly true, as the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984 requires a person suffering from a notifiable disease to inform the cab driver, who may then decide whether to ferry the passenger. If he does so, he is then required to notify the authorities and disinfect the cab before taking another fare.

Taxi talk without tipping

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