Tag Archives: London’s streets

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

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part V

HouseNow we have visited most streets and squares on my Cabbies’ Monopoly board, it’s time now to build a house. The houses in the true 1930s Monopoly fashion should be semi-detached with bay windows with the ubiquitous privet hedge marking their road boundary. The CabbieBlog houses here are just a little grander than your average semi.

Northumberland AvenueNORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE
Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family; the Dukes of Northumberland demolished in 1874. Standing just south from Trafalgar Square it was the last of the great Strand mansions to succumb. His grace did have another house to fall back on though; Syon House in Isleworth and it was to this estate the giant emblematic Percy Lion – which had stood guard over the main gateway facing the Strand to Northumberland House for over 150 years – was taken. In the 17th century the house formed part of the dowry when the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter married Lord Percy.

Leicester SquareLEICESTER SQUARE
Once one of the biggest houses in London once stood on his large square. Celebrated for its rather dangerous entertainments in 1672 John Evelyn dined here and was beguiled by Richardson “the famous fire-eater, who before us devour’d Brimston on glowing coales, chewing and swallowing hem downe”.

Life here was even more dangerous 100 years later when the father of the future “Mad” King George III, when still the Prince of Wales died after being hit in the throat with a cricket ball. And here’s one for the pub quiz: In 1780 the Toxophilite Society was inaugurated here.

Trafalgar SquareTRAFALGAR SQUARE
The site of the King’s Mews, a vast building in which the Royal Hawks were kept, falconers lodged and daily services held in the “Chapel of the Muwes”. Geoffrey Chaucer once toiled there as a clerk of works. After a fire the mews were rebuilt as stabling during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the civil war the mews became barracks for the Parliamentary Army and after the Battle of Naseby about 4,500 Cavalier prisoners were incarcerated there. In its last years the main building was used as a menagerie and a store for public records, demolished in 1830.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 15th April 2011

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part IV

Returning again to the 1930’s Monopoly set that I discovered in the attic. This time it’s all about money ‘Pass Go and Collect £200’, £200 doesn’t seem much today, but remember you can buy Mayfair from the Duke of Westminster for only £400, what a bargain. Assuming you have collected your £200 where do you go to spend your gain, the shops of course.

Regent StreetREGENT STREET
Forget Oxford Street, Regent Street is by far a more elegant place to shop. Designed by John Nash, the original construction with its elegant curves had a covered colonnade for pedestrians to walk under to protect them from the elements as they moved from shop to shop.

It proved rather popular for prostitutes to use as a cat-walk while displaying their wares so it was demolished by 1920. The shop fronts now just look like any other row of shops. Hamleys would look rather interesting for the children with the “ladies” parading outside.

Bond StreetBOND STREET
Yes you are right Bond Street doesn’t exist. Old Bond Street is only 14 years older than its newer sibling, both acquired the aristocratic seal of approval when the Duchess of Devonshire in 1784, after a fit of pique, organised a boycott against the hitherto smarter shops of Covent Garden.

Modern Bond Streets are packed with designer label flagship stores and jewellers which have become a favourite with smash and grab thieves on motorbikes. Separating the two streets is pedestrianised and has a sculpture depicting Churchill and Roosevelt seated on a bench.

PiccadillyPICCADILLY
Named after the curious ruff much favoured by Elizabethans, the starched collar was called a piccadill. J. C. Cording the suppliers of tweed and cords to the huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ set is part owned by “Slowhand” himself Eric Clapton. Waterstones opposite was once Simpsons of Piccadilly department store and Jeremy Lloyd having worked as a shop assistant there based his 1970 comedy Are You Being Served on his experience. While Fortnum & Mason was started by William Fortnum Queen Anne’s footman who saved his pennies to start the store by selling cut price candles to the palace.

MayfairMAYFAIR
The Americans wanted to buy the freehold to build their embassy, but the Grosvenor family never sell, all are leased. When told they couldn’t buy the land they insisted and petitioned Parliament; the Grosvenor family were heavily leaned on but all to no avail. Then the Duke thought of a good compromise. He told them that if they were to return to the Grosvenor family all those lands in the United States stolen after the American War of Independence including Maine and New York he would allow them to buy their site on the west side of Grosvenor Square, they backed down.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 1st April 2011

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part III

Go to jailHere is another CabbieBlog excursion into my old 1930s Monopoly set that I found in the attic, this time crime and punishment is featured in our less enlightened times.

Take the punishment meted out to banker Henry Fauntleroy. Having been found guilty of defrauding the Bank of England of £250,000 (today’s Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get out of bed for that trifling amount), his public hanging on 30th November 1824 outside Newgate prison attracted 100,000 people, the largest ever crowd to watch a public execution. Unpopular, not for being a banker, but for squandering the money that he managed to steal from the English people.

Fleet StreetFLEET STREET
Taking its name from the river nearby, the Fleet Prison was one of the most feared penal centres in London.

The prison provided the starting point for public whipping where offenders were forced to walk the length of Fleet Street to Temple Bar attended by a constable charged with whipping sufficiently hard ‘to make the back bloody’, when the punishment was over the victim could look up at Temple Bar which provided a convenient place to display the bloody decapitated heads of traitors. To stop the head being picked clean by birds it would be boiled in brine and cumin seed.

Bow StreetBOW STREET
Originally built in the shape of a bow it was once an elegant street that later became notorious for its brothels; it was also the site of Will’s Coffee House, a forerunner of Starbucks, where the famous would sit around talking nonsense all day. Home to Bow Street Magistrate’s Court until 2006, Henry Fielding started the Bow Street Runners here in the 18th century and his half brother John was a magistrate who pursued crime “with vigour and success”.

Although blind John Fielding was given the improbable credit of being able to recognise 3,000 thieves by their voices.

Park LanePARK LANE
As its name alludes to, Park Lane was once just a lane alongside Hyde Park, now a six-lane dual carriageway terminating at its northern extremity with Marble Arch. Once the site of Tyburn, the gallows there would, for the economy of scale accommodate 21 men and women at a time. Convention dictated the order of precedence, highwaymen as the “aristocrats of crime” were dispatched first presumably to ensure a higher number of spectators would attend before they became bored with the entertainment, next would come common thieves, with traitors being left to bring up the rear.

WhitehallWHITEHALL
Half way down Whitehall lays Banqueting House the only remaining part of the old Whitehall Palace. It has a gallery where the King’s subjects could watch him dine. The ceiling by Rubens celebrates the benefits of wise rule, the irony of which is not lost on historians as the painted ceiling was one of the last things King Charles I would see before being beheaded for not listening to his people. His neck vertebrae was only recovered hundreds of years later when a horrified Queen Victoria discovered that her surgeon Sir Henry Halford was using it as a salt cellar for his fish and chips.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 11th March 2011

Cabbie’s Monopoly – Part II

Free Parking

You can tell that Monopoly was devised in a more relaxed and gentler age. This, our second trip into Cabbie’s Monopoly, we find a square entitled ‘Free Parking’; for in the 21st-century free parking for cabs lasts just two minutes and one second before Westminster Council issue a ticket.

[M]Y PRE-WAR MONOPOLY SET has tokens comprising a thimble, hot hat and a flat iron more reminders of a bygone age; while this week’s four locations have changed beyond all recognition over the last 75 years.

Old Kent RoadOLD KENT ROAD
When designing the London Monopoly Board in 1936 they didn’t want to go Sarf of the River; a bit like cabbies are accused of saying these days. For the Old Kent Road is the only square on the Monopoly Board from our southern environs, and one of the cheapest. Gentrified nowadays in Southwark and Bermondsey, Old Kent Road remain stubbornly working class.

The route taken by Chaucer’s pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury, there aren’t even any decent watering holes left. The Dun Cow is a surgery and The Thomas à Becket has become a furniture shop.

The Angel IslingtonTHE ANGEL, ISLINGTON
Taking its name from a coaching inn that had stood on the site from at least 1638; I have often wondered what attracts the tree hugging, muesli munching, Guardian readers to this predominantly poor area.

So polarised is it that council tenants live cheek-by-jowl next to £¾ million terraced houses. I then learnt that the republican Thomas Paine, inspired by the French Revolution probably wrote the first part of his The Rights of Man while staying at the pub that gave its name to the area, the Angel in 1790, could the rich be trying to emulate him?

Coventry StreetCOVENTRY STREET
My first question on The Knowledge: Prince of Wales Theatre to Prince of Wales Drive? – Leave on right Coventry Street; right Whitcombe Street; right Panton Street; left Haymarket; right Pall Mall; left Marlborough Gate; forward Marlborough Road; right The Mall; left Spur Road; right Birdcage Walk; forward Buckingham Gate; forward Buckingham Palace Road; forward Ebury Bridge Road; left Chelsea Bridge Road; forward Chelsea Bridge; forward Queenstown Road; comply Queen’s Circus; Prince of Wales Drive on left – easy!

I sat there paralysed like a rabbit caught in headlights.

Marlborough StreetMARLBOROUGH STREET
Correctly entitled Great Marlborough Street and named in honour of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. It is probably the slowest road in London for the pedestrian crossing outside Liberty’s is in constant use, still it gives you the time to look at the famous store with its façade constructed from the timbers of the Navy’s last two wooden warships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. As a footnote Marlboro cigarettes take their name from the street which in the late 19th century the Philip Morris Company’s factory was situated.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 18th February 2011