Tag Archives: the knowledge

Knowledge Alarm Bells

How do we save and change The Knowledge of London taxi test?

Alarm bells are ringing in the cabbie community after data revealed the number of students currently being tested to become London taxi drivers has fallen to its lowest level yet, to just 552.

In November 2019 the number of candidates studying the Knowledge of London (KoL) at the testing stages, otherwise known as ‘Appearances’, dropped below 1,000 for the first time and stood at 943. In addition, 714 candidates had not yet reached the testing stages, but were signed on to the KoL and learning the capital’s road network.

Fast forward post-pandemic restrictions to August 2021 and the number of KoL candidates at the testing stages tumbles further to just 552, and worryingly only a further 363 candidates are currently waiting to reach the testing stages.

The KoL taxi driver test has recently come under scrutiny as industry representatives look for ways to increase the number of students undertaking the training.

What is The Knowledge of London?

As the iconic black cabs can be hailed in the street, taxi drivers must have a thorough knowledge of London within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Tens of thousands of road names and places of interest must be learnt. This is why taxi drivers have to learn and pass the world-famous Knowledge.

The KoL was introduced as a requirement for taxi drivers in 1865 and completing the test usually takes students three to four years.

How do you get tested on The Knowledge of London?

Each appearance usually consists of four questions about the shortest route between any two points in London. An appearance takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll get a score from A-D.

Depending on your score you will accumulate points; when you have enough you will progress to the next stage when appearances will become more frequent. However, if you get too many Ds, you may be put back to a previous stage.

At Stage 3, appearances are about 56 days apart, at Stage 4 they are about 28 days apart, and at Stage 5 they are about 21 days apart. On average you will have to score on four appearances to accumulate enough points to progress to the next stage.

According to trade sources, a final ‘Suburban’ test has recently been condensed to include fewer routes out of central London into the suburbs to speed up the final testing stage. Upon completion of the ‘Suburban’ test, the KoL student will then be handed their bill and badge to allow them to ply-for-hire as a licensed taxi driver.

There are currently 20,027 licensed taxi drivers in the capital. Of those 17,910 hold All London licences, otherwise known as ‘Green Badges’, and 2,337 hold ‘Yellow‘ Suburban licences.

What changes are being called for?

Let’s start with the obvious measures TfL could take to improve take-up onto the KoL. Scrubbing the fees to sign onto the KoL would be a great start and even subsidising access to KoL schools would speed up the process for students.

There is also an issue when it comes to the advertisement of the role to become a London taxi driver. In the past, word of mouth encouragement from those working within the trade would have been enough. However, with the explosion in social media that has now changed to become more of a hindrance when it comes to recruitment.

Jay Nicola, a driver who passed the KoL in early 2020, said negative drivers play a big part in the lack of recruitment onto The Knowledge. He said:

Drivers claiming it’s ‘dead’ and ‘not worth doing anymore’ are also 100% part of the problem. We all know it’s worth doing and isn’t dead. If it was that bad, they wouldn’t be sat in their cab on a rank having a moan up on Twitter! The doom and gloom this trade brings on itself are shambolic.

Another cabbie added:

Most responses are negative and that’s all I heard from cabbies when I was on the KoL. Sometimes I would get home and wonder if I was wasting my time, but so glad I persevered because I have the best job in the world in my opinion.

There is also the idea that The Knowledge should be better promoted as a career option to young adults leaving A-Level education in the capital.

You must be 18 years old at the time of applying to join the KoL and can only become a licensed taxi driver once you reach 21 years old.

There are not many jobs that will allow a 21-year-old access to starting their own business up in a stable income trade and many argue this is not spoken about enough.

One cabbie who passed the KoL in 2012 said:

At the end of the day this job is the best, and anyone can do it, but you’ve got to do the KoL. I did it because I was getting paid rubbish money and I was determined to pass it to earn better.

One cabbie, Russell Simmons, thought KoL students should be handed an exemption from the Congestion Charge to help them learn the roads. Simmons said:

When they sign on they should be exempt from congestion charge so they can come out during the day. My son did it in a Smart car like many other people but could only come out after 10 pm at night.

And finally, the last one, and possibly the most important, is not being ‘coy’ about the earning potential handed to licensed London taxi drivers.

People sign up on the KoL because there’s a guaranteed job at the end of it, but they need to be told reliably what wage they can expect to be earning from the outset.

Is it worthwhile leaving your current job as a postman, a delivery driver or a private hire driver, to take on the KoL? Financially yes, but how many know that and can trust it’s true?

The question potential KoL students should ask themselves is why so many cabbies don’t leave the industry to go and work in other low paid roles instead.

Like with any job, the role of a taxi driver has its drawbacks and will not be for everyone. If you do not like interacting with people, then this is not the job for you from the outset! But the job is rewarding both financially and in terms of job satisfaction.

Tweaks are needed from everyone connected to the trade, should the KoL survive long-term and they must come now.

Suggested changes

• Remove ‘Red Line’ on appearance testing
• Remove fees to start the KoL and look into possible funding options
• Remove Congestion Charge fees for all KoL students
• Remove the need for final ‘Suburban’ runs test
• Promote case studies based on drivers who have recently joined the industry. Was it worth it?
• Promote the true earning potential of the job
• Promote the role of a licensed black cab driver as a long-term career option
• Promote the role on social media via targeted and trusted channels
• Stop the negative ‘doom and gloom’ on social media from those in the trade comparing the industry to decades in the past
• Stop closing road access to licensed taxi drivers to provide long-term confidence in the trade
• Better support from those within the trade to help and mentor those studying.

Reproduced by kind permission of Perry Richardson editor of TaxiPoint the UK taxi industry news source.


Obscure and obsolete

Nothing has quite filled me with the dread and fear that Knowledge of London appearances did, I can still remember how I felt 30 years later.

For those who don’t know how these exams work (or haven’t been so diligent reading CabbieBlog), they are as simple as they are terrifying. You ‘appeared’ at the Public Carriage Office, then located on Penton Street and housed in a post-war building of monumental ugliness, dressed in your smartest suit and sat in the waiting room for your name to be called.

The austere waiting room was devoid of anything but a map of London on one wall that particularly nervous (or lazy) knowledge students would stare at in the hope they would absorb some extra nuggets of information, and a coffee table covered with unread trade publications.

Your examiner would call your name, sometimes from down the corridor so you wouldn’t even see them if they did show you would follow them and enter their office. They would have a seat in front of the window with all their maps and knowledge information safely out of view on an angled draughtsman’s type desk.

The Carriage Officer would then proceed to ask you a series of ‘point to point’ questions and you would then verbally tell them the route you would take, road by road, turn by turn.

So, if you were lucky, you might be asked to take the examiner from the Savoy Hotel to Paddington Station. So you would start “Leave on the right Savoy Court, left Strand etc, etc” until you reached the destination. The ‘Leave on the right’ bit is to do with establishing the direction you are travelling when leaving a particular point, and you all know that Savoy Court is the only place in England you drive on the right-hand side of the road.

If you didn’t know where the start or finish point of the question was you would have to say, “Sorry Sir/Madam don’t know that one”, and they would ask you another, generally more well-known point. This is called ‘dropping points’ and you would be marked on a combination of how good your routes are, how fluently you could call them and, of course, how many points you dropped.

There are three levels of appearances, each more frequent than the last before you do a final stage of suburban routes, a driving test and then you get your badge. Easy huh?

But the point of reiterating all this is to try to give you an idea that when you were sitting in that waiting room you would be thinking that your kindly examiner might ask you anything they want. And they did (and still do) ask you anything they want. There is no setlist of points to learn, that could never work in a city like London, just this vague definition of what counts as a Point of Interest. This can be a street, a square, or a named building, in other words anywhere that a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.

So, as I may have already said, anywhere! Each examiner would have their own little set of points that they liked to ask and some would be ridiculously obscure and some have even gained enough notoriety outside of the taxi trade that they are quite well known.

Why do the examiners ask these places?

I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to that, but I think it’s for two main reasons. One is that to go and look for these places made you go to parts of the city you wouldn’t have gone to normally and secondly, it gives you a level of knowledge way above just places and roads.

Gathering together as much about the more obscure, interesting and just downright strange places that get asked on The Knowledge, should show why The Knowledge should never, ever be got rid of.

There are certainly Points of Interest that have crossed over to the mainstream, Policemans Coat Hook in Great Newport Street and Giro The Nazi Dog in Carlton House Terrace are two that immediately spring to mind, but I’m going to try and list as many as I can and pass on some of the stories that go with them.

Some of these stories may be completely mischievous lies, some myth, and some the truth, some may even be a combination of all three, but I’ll let you all make up your minds. What I do know is that some of the stories are great and are certainly well worth sharing. So here goes, starting with the more well known.

Secret Policeman’s Hook, Great Newport Street

This hook on the wall near the junction of Great Newport Street and Upper St. Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden is reputed to have been here since the 1870s. Probably used for holding a policeman’s cape while he directs traffic or possibly to let the garment dry after rain. As nowadays this junction is only congested with pedestrians was it a Victorian traffic hotspot? It’s a popular yarn, whether it’s true, who knows?

Giro the Nazi Dog, Carlton House Terrace

The British love of dogs is legendary, visitors to Britain over the past 300 years have commented time and again that we Brits are much fonder of our dogs than our friends or family. One dog that enjoyed the tolerant affection of the British belonged to Hitler’s ambassador to Britain Leopold von Hoesch in the 1930s, but in 1938 Giro was electrocuted and died. As a gesture of goodwill von Hoesch was allowed to bury it in the gardens to the left of the Queen Mother’s memorial on the north side of the Mall. When war came a year later no one would have dreamt of disturbing the grave of his dog – probably because the British had always preferred the dog to a German anyway.

Two Cherubs on the Phone, the garden of 2 Temple Place

Here are two statues of ‘cherubs’ holding what may or may not be early versions of a telephone. I can tell you how many punters have asked to be taken here. None, that’s how many.

The Corsican’s Nose

At Admiralty Arch, at the eastern end of the Mall, a little-known trivia fact concerns the presence of a life-size human nose which protrudes from the inside wall of the northernmost arch. Best viewed on foot, or whilst sat in the 24-hour traffic jam there, bewilderingly it stands at waist height for anyone riding a horse. As many a London cabbie will explain, it is said to resemble Napoleon’s nose and was rubbed by anyone riding through the arch as a snub to the diminutive Corsican. It is but one of 35 noses that were attached to buildings in 1997 by artist Rick Buckley, this is one of less than ten that still survive. One smartarse examiner would include it in his questions so that he could ask Knowledge of London students “Take me from the London Eye to the London Nose”. Oh, how we’d laugh at this great joke.

Methane Lampost, Carting Lane

The rear of the Savoy is a veritable warren of small streets, relatively unchanged over the years. In Carting Lane is last surviving methane lamppost, or to give it it’s full name – ‘Patent Sewer Ventilating Lantern’. Certainly, until recent years it was still operational. Schoolboy humour at Knowledge schools has inevitably renamed Carting Lane – Farting Lane.

Three Camels Corner, the junction of Eastcheap and Lovat Lane

Above the door to what is now an HSBC Bank (or has that, like many others been closed?) is a relief of, er, a Bedouin Arab in his flowing robes guiding a train of three laden camels across the desert, passing the remains of a fourth camel lying in the sand. The building was originally the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co who were by the early 1880s running a very successful business importing tea, coffee and spice with one of its most successful brands being Camel Tea.

Spies Lamppost, Audley Square

Mentioned in this BBC story the lamppost was used by Russian spies some of whom may, or may not, have lived next door to Ian Fleming.

Nelson’s Fleet, The Mall

I wish I could remember where I read it, but apparently, it is a matter of debate as to exactly what is depicted on the top of the lampposts down The Mall. The story seems to have some variations but generally goes along these lines. Each lamppost along The Mall has a boat on top, they supposedly depict Nelson’s fleet and Nelson is supposedly inspecting his fleet from atop his column. But I know for a fact that Nelson does not look down The Mall and is looking pretty much directly south to Trafalgar itself. There is also the fact that each boat atop the lampposts is identical and therefore we pretty quickly run into some problems trying to see it as his fleet. But it’s a nice story and as is the way with these things, it seems a little churlish to spoil it, so I won’t dig any deeper.

Burton Tailor Mosaic, Chrisp Street

If you do a search on Google Images for “Burton Tailor Mosaic” it’s pleasing to see that quite a few of these lovely mosaics from the doorways of Burton shops seem to have survived. One particular examiner who particularly specialises in obscure east London points would ask for this particular one situated so handily on the corner of Chrisp Street & Susannah St, site of a former shop.

Homage to Fromage – Mice Eating Cheese, Philpot Lane

Two mice are fighting over a piece of cheese high up on a building on the south-eastern corner by the junction with 23 Eastcheap. They date from 1862 when the building was constructed for the spice merchants Messrs Hunt & Crombie by John Young & Son. London’s smallest memorial to a tragic fight between two builders of the Monument over the theft of a cheese sandwich – except the sandwich hadn’t been invented at that time – a fight ensued in which both fell to their deaths.

©Kieran Meeke

Little St Pauls, Vauxhall Bridge

Sculptures on the side of Vauxhall Bridge and only visible from the River Thames depicts a various turn of the 19th/20th Century worthy themes including Agriculture, Science, Fine Arts, Education etc, I’m sure you get the picture. One of these statues (Architecture I’m guessing) holds a small scale St Paul’s. So guess what out smartarse examiners would ask? “Big St Paul’s” to “Little St Paul’s”.

Little Ben, Victoria Street

Last “take me from big to little” type questions that got asked involves a clock tower that mimics its big brother just down the road. Given all of the building work that is going on in the area, I don’t recall seeing it recently. I hope it is being well looked after as London shifts and changes around it.

©Kieran Meeke

Tower Bridge Chimney, Tower Bridge

Is this the only bridge in the world with a chimney? Millions of visitors cross Tower Bridge every year but few notice a cast iron chimney painted to blend in with the lamp-posts. On the north side of the bridge is this series of blue lampposts but if you look carefully enough one of them doesn’t have a lamp on its post. It’s a flue for a guardhouse under one of the bridge piers, facing the Tower. Why have a normal chimney when you can disguise it as lamppost?

So there you have it, a little peek into the perils of Knowledge of London examinations and the kinds of Points of Interest’ that could get asked. But as previously mentioned, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All that stuff goes towards what makes London Licensed Taxi Drivers the best in the world. And that day when somebody asks to visit Giro the Nazi the Dog, how impressed are they going to be when I tell them I know exactly where it is?

Taken from an original article by Richard Cudlip at The Cabbies Capital.

Walking the first Run

For today’s post, I’ve shamelessly taken a piece from Diamond Geezer, London’s best blogger. In mitigation, I’m interested how others view London’s cabbies, and particularly how they see The Knowledge. Here is Diamond Geezer’s take on it, even though he did take a longer route than he should:

Becoming a London taxi driver requires a clean bill of health, a driving licence and no criminal record. They’re the easy bits. The really tricky part, the highest hurdle for any taxi certification anywhere in the world, is The Knowledge. A London black cab driver is expected to know every street within six miles of Charing Cross and every point of interest too, and to be able to recite the quickest route from any one to any other. 320 different routes are specified in the Blue Book, each of which has to be committed to memory, in both directions, and any of which could appear in the test you need to pass at the end. It’s a ridiculously complicated requirement, but it produces the best-informed cabbies on the planet.

Stage 1: Receive a copy of the Blue Book, then head out onto the streets, carefully tracing each of the 320 routes and exploring the area within a 1/4 mile radius around each start and endpoint.

Stage 1a: An unmarked self-assessment, after you’ve done the first 80 routes, to check how you’re getting on.

Stage 2: A written examination in two parts, checking whether you’ve learned all the routes and know all the points of interest.

Stage 3: A series of one-to-one interviews, known as Appearances, in which the examiner picks four routes and asks you to give details of the quickest journeys between two points of interest.

Stage 4: Another set of Appearances, this time linking more than one route together.

Stage 5: Another set of Appearances, this time potentially linking anywhere to anywhere.

Stage 6: A final Appearance, spreading the net wider to 25 suburban routes covering the whole of Outer London.

If you pass all that, you get to be a cabbie. But when Stage 1 takes most successful applicants somewhere between two and five years to learn, including thousands of miles chugging around the capital on a moped checking everything out, it’s not a job everyone could do. In fact, I’d argue most people would struggle to deal with just the first route, let alone the other 319. So let’s see.

TfL has made the Blue Book available via an FoI request, making it possible for anyone to scrutinise the requirements for themselves. All the runs are set out in Annex B, separated into 20 lists of 16. They’re sequential, so route 2 begins somewhere near the end of route 1, and so on, making the chain slightly easier to follow. And route 1 begins in Hackney and heads south to Islington. Let’s hop on a virtual moped and check it out.

THE KNOWLEDGE – List 1 Run 1
Manor House Station, N4 to Gibson Square, N1

The lists in the Blue Book may have changed over the years, but the first route has always been Manor House to Gibson Square. No specific route is given, only the endpoints, so your first job is to determine the fastest route. It pays to get it right, else you’re about to commit a substandard chain to memory, and that would be a ghastly waste of time.

Thankfully it’s OK to talk to other candidates while you learn, indeed it’s recommended, and a whole industry has built up around committing the Knowledge to heart. This link, for example, is to one company’s sample checklist for the first six routes, concentrating on exploring the areas around the start and endpoints.

The powers that be have been slightly kind to you on the first run because a goodly proportion of the area around Manor House station is parkland, specifically Finsbury Park. But you’ll still be expected to trawl the surrounding streets to track down potential destinations like the Transport and General Workers’ Union Central Office and the Costello Palace Hotel, and this is where an awful lot of the legwork goes in. Minor outlets like the Diamond Kebab shop are not required.

Leave on the left: GREEN LANES
Manor House station has many exits, but there is a specific point of departure, namely the taxi rank on Woodberry Down. I went looking for it on Woodberry Grove instead, which is an easy mistake to make, but not exactly encouraging at the start of the process. ‘Leaving on the left’ takes you to Green Lanes, North London’s cosmopolitan highway, here in one of its less commercial stretches. The John Scott Health Centre is one of those locations you should be jotting down, but not the Castle Climbing Centre, because that’s outside the initial quarter-mile radius.

I thought I knew London well but Brownswood Road is new on me, a broad residential thoroughfare with wiggles cutting west towards Arsenal country. Potential cabbies ought to be particularly interested in the sealed-off streets, noting that Digby Crescent, Wilberforce Road and Finsbury Park Road are gated at the southern end, which is something you could easily get caught out on when listing at interview.

Crossing here into Islington, what follows is a rather pleasant shopping street, a mix of independent stores and cafes, but without the overbearing snootiness that gentrification often brings. The atmosphere changes somewhat if the Gunners are playing at home, with a number of popular hostelries spread out along the road’s length (so perhaps aim your cab elsewhere at these times).


Here’s where the Knowledge gets tough. Nobody walking or driving down this road would have noticed its name has changed, but you have to be aware that this has happened, and know where. What’s more it happens again further to the south, switching imperceptibly from Highbury Park to Highbury Grove. The area around Highbury Barn is top of the shop, aspirationally. And look at all those side roads leading off, you’re going to need to explore all of those too, but not before List 17 Route 7.

After Highbury’s elevated charm, the northern edge of Canonbury is a little more commercial. The pubs are probably worth a mention in your jottings… turn right at The Alwyne Castle, then on to the Hen and Chickens Theatre Bar.

In good news, you don’t have to commit to memory the correct path around every roundabout you encounter. This isn’t a driving test, it’s a memory test, so knowing the best route is more important than knowing the right manoeuvres. Those studying The Knowledge use the word ‘Comply’ in this situation, before heading out the other side.

‘Leave by’ is also a lot easier than having to remember to ‘take the second exit’. Here the route has reached somewhere more familiar, namely Upper Street, but at the Highbury & Islington end rather than near Angel. Here I spotted my seventh taxi of the journey. There’s a lot of them around when you start to look, around 21000 in total operating in London at the last count.

Enough of the mainstream, it’s time to head into the backstreets. Taxi drivers need to know all the sideroads and cut-throughs, and also the prohibited turns that discredit the perfect line drawn on a map.

Well, this is nice. We’re now amidst the fine terraces on the edge of Barnsbury, in homes that could be split up into flats but appear to be still mostly family homes. Precisely the kind of homes that’d flag down a taxi too, so the Knowledge people know what they’re doing directing you down here.

It doesn’t matter that you’ll only be in Barnsbury Street for thirty metres, you still need to commit its name to memory.

Oh very nice. A Belgravia-like square, elongated into a long thin rectangle, with a well-maintained public garden at its heart. Again it doesn’t take long to drive through, but oh to have the means to live here.

Another almost-pointless namecheck, Milner Place is home to a mere ten families before the road changes name again. But any of these families might one day hire a taxi, and the London cabbie prides themselves on knowing everywhere.

And finally, here we are in Gibson Square. This is another characterfully desirable address, another loop of Georgian terraces surrounding another landscaped garden. This one has a Victoria line airshaft at the centre, suitably camouflaged, and a short cross-Islington rat-run at the bottom with many a taxi driver passing through. I wonder if the drivers remember this as the end of their very first memorised route every time they drive by.

That’s not the end of it, of course, because now it’s time to explore the area within a quarter-mile of Gibson Square. There’s quite a lot here, what with Upper Street close by, including the Almeida Theatre, the Islington Tap and the Screen on the Green. Any of these could be the point of interest your examiner throws at you instead of Gibson Square, hence it’s crucial to nose around and check the area out. Then there’s committing all this to memory, of course. I wonder how good you’d be at remembering the correct list of street names and instructions I’ve listed above? You’d also need to know them backwards, which I think on this first route is a simple reversal, but one-way streets elsewhere often mean learning something completely new.

I’m never going to be a cabbie, it’s all too much for me, but I have to say I enjoyed following the route. Walking the whole thing took about an hour, and led me through some interesting and sometimes unfamiliar streets. I’d almost be tempted to walk the other 319 someday, just to get to know London better, if only that wasn’t some pointless Herculanean task. But much respect to those who learn them all to make a living, so that when you flag one down they can still weave you through the streets of London via the most efficient route. Your average Uber driver brings none of this skill to their job, just a willingness to drive and a satnav as a prop. You might get a cheaper price using an app instead of a black cab, but The Knowledge is surely priceless.

C4: The Knowledge

Tomorrow Channel 4 is courageously broadcasting an hour’s viewing devoted to The Knowledge, or more specifically, one of the schools and its pupils. “If it’s not taking over your life, you’re not doing it properly.” So says one of the examiners for The Knowledge, the infamous test of London’s 25,000 streets; the tens of thousands of places upon those streets, added to the traffic restrictions and the little matter of holding down one’s existing job.

[O]nce qualified the novice London Licensed Black Cabbie becomes a human satnav, in fact, they have more expertise in finding their way across their city than any other taxi driver in the world.

In the programme we see several candidates sweat through the one-on-one examinations they have to sit.

These ought to be tedious to watch:

Leave on left: Green Lanes
Right: Highbury New Park
Left: Highbury Grove
Right: St. Paul’s Road
Comply: Highbury Corner
Leave by: Upper Street
Right: Barnsbury Street
Left: Milner Square
Forward: Milner Place
Forward: Gibson Square

They are just a recital but have the tension of a high-stakes quiz show or one of those evil spelling tests on Child Genius.

Often compared to studying for a degree (although The Knowledge does take longer) the candidates have sunk years of their lives and thousands of hours of study into mastering the map of London.

When they stumble, you feel their pain; when they cross the final hurdle, it’s emotional for all concerned.


The 6-mile radius that has to be learned

I described Channel 4’s decision to screen the documentary as ‘courageous’ for this behind-the-scenes looks at one of the world’s toughest exams which could be its swan song.

Because of recent decisions taken by Transport for London the take-home pay – after covering their overheads – of London’s cabbies is about the same hourly rate of that of a London bus driver. As a result over time recruitment of those willing to undertake The Knowledge will just dry up.

Since Cromwell licensed the London cab trade in 1654 – and in so doing making it the oldest regulated public transport system in the world – and the advent of The Knowledge after the Great Exhibition of 1851, many have tried to destroy London’s cab trade and been proved singularly unsuccessful.

The watermen plying the Thames were the first to try their luck when the early bridges were built, claiming that cabs couldn’t ‘go South of the River’; in 1961 exploiting a loophole in the 1869 Carriage Act, Michael Gotla spent £560,000 buying 800 red Renault Dauphines expecting that the drivers could ‘ply for hire’. Unfortunately for Gotla within a year, the courts begged to disagree with his interpretation of the law.

His rather costly enterprise did have one consequence, and that was encouraging anyone with a rusty Datsun to attach an aerial to its roof, sign on at a dodgy ‘mini-cab’ office, and chance his luck on London’s streets at the weekend. It would be many years before their act was cleaned up.

Others have called for a truncated Knowledge, fast-tracking students to increase the numbers on the road, or for allowing those final year students to be let loose on the capital’s streets in the hope they know where they were going. All of these cunning plans have come to zilch.

But, I’m afraid Transport for London has won. With students unwilling to put their lives on hold as they pursue The Knowledge this proud service, the envy of the world, will wither on the vine.

The Knowledge: The World’s Toughest Taxi Test – Channel 4 21.00 Wednesday 12th April.

If you want a better insight into The Knowledge I can highly recommend Black Cab London here Robert takes you through all the hurdles necessary to pass. I have also used his map to illustrate the 6-mile radius.

Blue Book run number one

It is the only Blue Book run that many Londoners know – Manor House to Gibson Square. The prospective cabbies’ itinerary the Blue Book – which had of course a pink cover – and nestled between those pink sheets were 320 routes criss-crossing the capital. But when embarking on that first journey in pursuit of The Knowledge what do we know of the roads we travel along? The following is a brief description of the beginning of a Knowledge Boy’s or Girl’s odyssey.

[M]anor House This grandly named station takes its name, not from some palatial residence once owned by the local lord, but from an inn called the Manor Tavern. This boozer had a chequered history, first opening its doors in 1820 then closed only to be resurrected before demolition. Over the years its name transmogrified into the Manor House fortuitously in time for the 1931 opening of the tube station that takes its name, much to the relief of residents setting them apart from downmarket Finsbury Park.

Manor House

Leave on left: Green Lanes As its name implied, this busy stretch of road was once a bucolic idyll. If you can divert your eyes from the road and the oncoming traffic you will see on your left Stoke Newington Pumping Station [featured picture]. Built by the Victorians in the Scottish Baronial manner, this medieval-style oddity with its crenulations and turrets is now the Castle Climbing Centre. Built between 1852 and 1856 at a cost of £81,500 in an area that then was mostly fields, its curious design is thought to be the result of assuaging local concerns in having an industrial building plonked in the middle of a field. The New River Company which owned and operated it would have been a lucrative investment at the time to any of those dissenters. In 1873 a quarter share was sold for £12; twenty years later a single share was worth £94,900.


Right: Highbury New Park This tree lined road was laid out in the 1850s and given its modern name to set the development apart from the more established Highbury Barn. This street might appear affluent now but between the wars it was very different. An example was No. 150 Highbury New Park, which in 1936 had two flats on the ground floor with a shared bathroom, one flat and two bed-sitting rooms on the first floor, and one flat with a balcony on the second floor; its detached stable block, which had been converted into a caretaker’s cottage in 1914, was a garage with a flat over it, let separately and with its own garden. Despite multi-occupation, overcrowding was not a problem in Highbury as a whole, which had few of the very poor.

Left: Highbury Grove Just 100 yards of travel along this road. If you think all this area is affluent now given that the previous description was taken 80 years ago consider this: as you turn into Highbury Grove on your right is Highbury Grove School. In 2005 Channel 4’s Dispatches sent an undercover teacher who filmed pupils clambering across desks, throwing books across the room and attacking each other. Clearly something was needed and a super-strict headmaster was appointed to this music specialist school, by giving out 300 detentions a day he has turned around, for the time, this failing school now described by Tatler as one of the best in Britain.

First page of routes Manor House to Gibson Square
First page of routes
Manor House to Gibson Square

Right: St. Pauls Road On the left at the junction with Highbury Corner is the curiously named Hen and Chickens Theatre. Seating only 54 this Victorian pub has paid a role in launching the careers of Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle and Rhona Cameron.

Comply: Highbury Corner The title is misleading as this junction is less a ‘corner’ and more a small gyratory system. One contributing factor for this area to have a wide open space was an event that took place at 12.46 pm on 27th June 1944 when a German V1 flying bomb flattened a wide area killing 26 and seriously injuring another 84.

Leave by: Upper Street The question that must be on your lips must be: “Where is Lower Street?” Well, it’s on your left and now renamed Essex Road, not that it goes to Essex, you have to turn right at Balls Pond Road to get there. Upper Street is the start of the Great North Road not that it resembles anything like that great highway. It could lay claim to the greatest number of unused pedestrian crossing per mile in London. As you travel down this trendy road it takes some stretch of imagination to realise that Islington was once an 18th century village and the hub of dairy farming supplying much of London’s milk.

Right: Theberton Street The old field path across these once bucolic lands form the basis of Theberton Street which is named after the Theberton estate in Suffolk the ancestral home of the Milner-Gibson family who developed these old cow pastures. As you turn into Theberton Street on the corner is was the Sir Walter Raleigh pub once the site of an ancient house – the Pied Bull with associations with the old pirate, now renamed the Bull which brings us neatly back to the area’s dairy farming roots.

Gibson Square Islington

On right: Gibson Square the first of two squares built as part of the Milner-Gibson Estate, was laid out from 1832 to 1839 by architect Francis Edwards, a pupil of Sir John Soane. The garden was originally open to residents only, but in the 1930s it had become rundown and was surrendered to Islington Council for upkeep. During World War II the garden was dug up for air raid shelters and later replanted. In 1963, a proposed ventilation shaft for the new Victoria Line, in the form of a 50-foot concrete structure, was staunchly opposed by residents. This resulted in the simulated classical temple [below] designed by Prince Charles’ favourite architect Quinlan Terry with a domed roof which stands in the garden today, designed to be in harmony with its surroundings. The work was carried out in the early 1970s, when London Transport also restored the garden and replaced its railings.


Photo: The Gibson Square Vent David McGroarty