Tag Archives: London life

A Festival of Plague

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the last great plague to arrive in London. By the year’s end nearly 100,000 people were dead most from infection while many ‘natural’ deaths were probably unreported plague victims. As the pestilence spread houses of victims were sealed for 40 days (biblical overtones?), with those surviving occupants entombed relying on neighbours charity in supplying food from a respectful distance.

[T]here were plenty of quack cures: a pint of garlic infused milk, doctors wore frightening masts infused with herbs to keep away the miasmas; tobacco was another method employed to ward off the aromas, even children were made to light up a pipe, students of Eton college were ordered to light up or be whipped; money was immersed in a bowl of vinegar during shop transactions in an attempt to stop the spread.

Lucky charms were the order of the day to ward off the contagion; a certain Dr. George Thomson wore a dead toad around his neck; plague water from powdered unicorn horn and frogs legs; tail feathers from live chickens administered to the victims buboes were thought to draw out the poison; or as an alternative the application of a recently killed pigeon.

By the time the pandemic had run its course 68,000 Londoners had officially died from the virus. Those rich enough having obtained health certificates mainly meant the rich like Dr. Alston, President of the College of Physicians could leave London while the poor remained to await their fate. It is estimated that 100,000 died in London, incredibly one-quarter of the city’s population perished.

To mark the anniversary the Guildhall Library has on display various documents recording this momentous event. Records of medical advice given, municipal accounts, recording the fatalities spreadsheets of the dead, Bills of Mortality. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday until 11th September – admission free.


If you have contracted a desire to learn more the excellent Tales of Plague tour guides are mounting ‘A Pestilential Festival’. From Friday 4th September until Sunday 6th September music, drama, walks, talks, exhibitions, workshops and one climatic ‘Pepys Party’ celebrating London’s unconquerable spirit.

Billed as the most infectious event in the capital for 350 years it will kick off from Tower Hill on Friday 4th September with a ‘dead cart procession’. Assembling from
9.30 am for a 10.00 am start at the Tower Hill. The procession of peasants, plague doctors, wenches and rogues will weave their way up to St. Botolph’s Church, Aldgate. For the full programme of events visit: www.talesofplague.co.uk/festival

Pictures: Nell Gwyn, Samuel Pepys and a Plague Doctor. Credit: ©Annie-Marie Sanderson.

A Laundry List of Things To Do

The great Samuel Johnson once said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. So, why is it Londoners spend so much time on boring things like laundry when they could be out enjoying the capital?

This Guest Post by Dian Liu suggests ways nowadays there’s so many ways to get rid of your chores that there’s no excuse. Why spend ages ironing or hanging your clothes on the radiator when you could use a mobile laundry service like Laundrapp and spend your time relaxing instead?

[D]ownload Laundrapp on iPhone or Android and you can have your dirty clothes collected whenever you want, cleaned professionally and delivered to your door for free. That means you’re free to spend time doing more fun things, such as . . .

Borough Market
One of the country’s oldest food markets and one that neither locals nor tourists seem to get bored of. It’s free to browse, but with the smell of tempting cookies in the air you’ll definitely want to spoil yourself. Plus, with the Southbank so close, this a fantastic way to share a morning with someone special!

Rooftop Film Club
Watching a movie may not sound like anything special, but it takes on a different meaning when you’re on top of the city. The Rooftop Film Club provides the movie, the comfy chairs and the food – but London provides the dazzling view. It can get a bit chilly, so get your coat dry cleaned and be sure to bundle up warm.

Monthly Festivals
If you live in London then there’s no shortage of festivals throughout the year, so rather than choosing a single one to visit why not visit them all? There’s the Reggae Festival in February, the Seaside Rock Fest in March, Extreme Sports Festival in April . . . every month has something to keep you busy.

The Last Tuesday Society
Every Londoner has been the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, but have you ever seen a two-head lamb or the eggs of the (now extinct) Elephant Bird? These are the sorts of things you can only find at The Last Tuesday Society – and that alone makes it worth a visit.

Soho Comedy Club
The only thing better than a giggle is good luck, which is why we love the Soho Comedy Club. Monday nights always feature special comedy guests and the casino gives you a chance to win big. Want to dress up before your night on the town? Download Laundrapp and get your suit dry cleaned now!

This is only scratching the surface of things to do in London, obviously – and the best things to do are those you discover for yourself. That’s just one more reason to avoid doing the laundry and create your own laundry list of things to do in London!

Central-WashIf you really want a way down Memory Lane the Central Wash in Queensway which was Britain’s first self-service coin-operated launderette, opening on 9th May 1949 still survives today. Photo: Lucy Fisher (CC BY 2.0)

“Can I bring my budgie?”

. . . and other bizarre requests made of London Cabbies

Cabbies in London get to see all walks of life. In fact, you never quite know who you’ll get in the back of your cab or how they’ll be behave.

Some passengers ask very little of you as a taxi driver, just to be taken from A to B safely and within good time. However, there are others that are just a little more demanding or at times, outright bizarre.

[L]eading taxi insurance broker, insureTAXI asked 220 London cabbies to reveal the strangest requests they’ve ever got from passengers and they came up with these fantastic tales. From transporting budgies to visiting the crematorium at midnight, these taxi drivers truly went beyond the call of duty.

Can I bring my budgie?
“Had a customer ask me if she could bring her budgie, told her that she could as long as she kept hold of it. Well…she didn’t and when I broke hard for a car that pulled out in front of me the cage went flying. The door flew open and the bird was flying around my car with her daughter screaming her head off!! The customer had to climb in the back to try and catch it.” Steve (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

I need my charger . . . it’s in my car!
“Had a lad ask me to take him on a 40 mile round trip just to collect his phone charger from his car. This was a £50 fare from the bar he had been drinking at! When I explained the cost he insisted that it was important and that he didn’t mind. I’m sure he could have waited to make some other arrangement the next day” Ali (Central London)

Quick! I’m live on air in 9 minutes . . .
“I once was asked to take an MP to a TV broadcast 9 minutes before he was live on air with Paxton on Newsnight! No pressure I thought. We made it with less than a few seconds to spare.” Anonymous (Central London)

I want a divorce!
“I once took a couple of arguing newlyweds home from their night do and the bride asked to be dropped off at her parents as she did not want to go home with her new husband and wanted a divorce.” Tahir (Croydon, East London)

Secret midnight cremation
“Back in the 80s I was asked to take a male and a female, dressed in Gothic fashion to the local Crematorium late at Night. I said, hesitantly, “what actually inside the grounds?!”I mean I’m sorry to ask but why do want to go there this late at night?” “Yes!” she said. Nervously, I drove into the grounds of the Crematorium, shaking, fearing I was going to face some ritualistic ceremony…it was getting darker and darker until suddenly I saw the lights of a house and breathed a great sigh of relief. The female passenger explained they’d been in a time piece having a laugh and been invited to a friends’ party whose house happened to be inside the grounds of the crematorium. The man, whose identity is still a complete mystery, paid the fare, and wrote “thank you for a great ride, love Alf” in my notebook.” Rasheed (Chelmsford, Essex)

Think you can beat these? Follow @insuretaxi on twitter and let them know about the most bizarre request you’ve ever got as a taxi driver (your story might get published on the website!) You’ll also be able to look out for details about the next taxi driver survey and will be kept updated on other industry news.

This is a Guest Post by Tim Crighton director of taxi insurance specialists Taxi-Insure.

Run for the Hills

At the Tate Gallery among the paintings by Constable and Monet was a sight stranger than any picture by Jackson Pollock which would later adorn its walls. Wearing his pyjamas an off-duty policeman dived into the 8ft deep flooded basement to rescue a trapped man.

The policeman would then go on to spend the entire evening rescuing others before reporting for duty for the morning shift.

[O]n the night of 7th January 1928 the Embankment wall collapsed near Lambeth Bridge, right opposite the Tate. Flood water poured across the road destroying homes and forcing local residents in one of London’s most deprived areas to swim for their lives. Fourteen were drowned trapped in basements where they were living and 4,000 were made homeless.

During Christmas 1927 heavy snow had fallen on the Cotswolds. A sudden thaw on New Year’s Eve had swollen the River Thames and coupled with unusually heavy rain had doubled the volume of water. That night a high spring tide coincided with a storm surge pushing down the North Sea towards the Thames estuary had peaked at the river rising to over 18ft above mean average, the training vessel President floated at street level.

Flooding in the capital was far from unknown, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of flooding in Whitehall and politicians rowing boats inside Westminster Hall. But as today in 1928 in recriminations soon followed.

Dredging the Thames was blamed which had been carried out between 1909 and 1928, deepening the river channel by about 6ft to allow access for deeper-draught vessels into the Port of London. This had the side-effect of making it easier for sea surge to flow up the Thames on a high tide.

The land around Westminster previously was uninhabited marshland that had been reclaimed during the Victorian era and now contained housing and commercial premises where once there was nothing.

Today the Environmental Agency is deliberately allowing areas such as this to revert to a primordial swamp. Have they considered allowing an untamed river, the Westbourne to flood the low-lying, badly drained marshland between Westminster and the western part of Belgravia?

In medieval times it was known as Thorney Island and thus some of its edges were not drained being in the Tyburn marsh itself. In 1850 considerable parts of Westminster were under the high-water mark of the Thames, Victoria Street was designed to drain the area and clear the slums, such developments were termed ‘town swamps and social bridges’ the former street Duck Lane now renamed St. Matthew Street attests to this area was fit for, well, ducks.

Photo: Thames Barrier Kevin Perkins

Jump on a bus

One of my favourite London films is Brannigan, starring John Wayne as a Chicago detective. It is as if Visit London had commissioned Paul Greengrass to direct a travel documentary aimed at American tourists.

Fast paced it has The Duke pursuing villains around London with each shot featuring a tourist destination with an ability to cross the capital at speed is impressive.

[O]ne minute he’s in Battersea (Prince of Wales Drive), next Buckingham Palace appears behind his shoulder as he tears around London.

Driving a 1973 Ford Capri John Wayne leaps over an opening Tower Bridge in pursuit of justice. This could be just a figment of the writer’s imagination if the incident hadn’t happened before at this iconic bridge.

On 30th December 1952 Albert Gunter, driving a red Route 78 Routemaster (for geeks stock number RT793, registration plate JXC 156) across Tower Bridge. The relief gateman failed to ring the warning bell and close the traffic gates.

Near the edge of the south bascule as the lift started, Albert, a veteran fire engine driver in the Blitz, realised he couldn’t break in time to avoid the abyss rapidly appearing ahead of him, accelerating over the 3ft gap to drop 6ft onto the north bascule which had not yet started to rise.

His 20 passengers left the bus unscathed but the conductor was not so lucky suffering a broken leg and the bus unsurprisingly sustained a broke suspension.

Albert fared rather better the City Corporation honoured his quick thinking with a gift of £10.

Picture: Fog, Tower Bridge, London by Ian Britton (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)