Tag Archives: the knowledge

Those were the days

Stan decided to start The Knowledge in the 1950s. Here is his story . . .

It was the first week of January 1957 and I had decided to do ‘The Knowledge’. I had found myself a partner who knew absolutely everything there was to know, or so I thought. He had all the runs copied out (by someone else) and a list of every point asked since 1645 AD.

[I] turned up at his parents flat in Downs Court, a block of flats overlooking the Pembury Circle. It was 7.30 am and I was riding my Rudge Whitworth bicycle that my Dad had bought me in 1949 in Club Row for a fiver.

His mother, answering the door told me that he was still in bed. From under the bedclothes he mumbled that it was too cold to get up. In disgust I took off on my own.

My knowledge of London was far less than nil. I had no idea that there was a Euston Station, a Marylebone or Cannon Street Stations, let alone Blackfriars, Charing Cross or London Bridge. Who could possibly want all those stations?

I cannot remember what sort of ‘run’ I was doing, but I found myself in Wilton Crescent leaning back on my bike and looking up at the church spire. It suddenly took on a wobbly shape and everything went black.

When I came too I realized that I had been ‘out’ for at least 30 minutes. and I was lying on top of my bike in the middle of the road. No one had come to my assistance.

With great difficulty I got to my feet and leaning on my bike (it was very difficult to walk), I trudged around up to Hyde Park Corner, and down into the subterranean toilets (they are probably not there now). The attendant there must have taken pity on me. I gave him the 3 pence (just over 1p today) for a standard wash and he gave me the de luxe treatment. Two wonderfully soft white towels, all the hot water I wanted, a face cloth and a bar of soap. That was the sixpence treatment.

After I had recovered somewhat I staggered across Knightsbridge (no underpass in those days and into ‘J. Lyons’ tea shop. I had a steaming hot cup of tea and a large sugar covered Chelsea Bun, it was delicious. So I had another and another.

I rode my bike home and the next day went out and got myself a job as a ‘top machiner’ in a sweat shop.

I restarted The Knowledge at the end of February – and yes passed, eventually.

Blue Book Run 320

[T]here are over 24,000 licensed taxi drivers in London; and in order to ply for hire every single one of them, like every one of their predecessors has had to pass an exam called “The Knowledge Of London”. It was initiated in 1865, and has changed little since. This clip from writer Jack Rosenthal’s 1981 play The Knowledge is the story of four men and their attempts to become cab drivers. In the process, they acquire a different kind of knowledge: knowledge of themselves and of those closest to them, of their strengths and weaknesses, of what they want from life – and how knowledge itself is the means of getting it . . . It perfectly depicts that journey from application form to Green Badge.

So today I thought it might be possible to listen in to a Knowledge student undertaking an examination. When you are accepted to start The Knowledge you are given The Blue Book – the fact that the cover of mine was pink is somewhat irrelevant, the cover was once blue so it remains forever known as The Blue Book. There are 320 Blue Book Runs – just simple routes criss-crossing London which are designed to cover most eventualities – that you are expected to learn by heart.

Upon examination which is conducted on a one-to-one basis (called an ‘Appearance’) you are rarely asked a Blue Book Run, but rather a point nearby which could be anything that could conceivably be asked of by a passenger.

So for this, the last run in the Blue Book (which is Copenhagen Street to Charing Cross Station), you might be asked the Lewis Carroll Children’s Library to the Zimbabwe High Commission, for that you would answer Bemerton Street to Strand (Note: Not The Strand for it appears on the A to Z as Strand).

If you gave the correct answer to both locations you would then be allowed to proceed by relating the route orally (known as “Calling Over”) to the examiner.

As the pupil progresses the examiner will mix and match runs, but the student will still “call over” runs parrot fashion with fellow students so he can recall the 320 runs of roads verbatim.

The examiner is waiting to hear you call the run to him, so here we go:

Leave on right Bemerton Street

Left Copenhagen Street

Right Caledonia Road

Forward King’s Cross Bridge

Right Gray’s Inn Road

Bear Left Euston Road

Left Judd Street

Right Leigh Street

Left Marchmont Street

Right Coram Street

Left Woburn Place

Comply Russell Square

Leave by Montague Street

Right Great Russell Street

Left Bloomsbury Street

Forward Shaftsbury Avenue

Right Princes Circus

Bear Left Shaftsbury Avenue

Bear Left Monmouth Street

Forward Upper St. Martin’s Lane

Right Cranbourne Street

Left Charing Cross Road

Forward St. Martin’s Place

Left Duncannon Street

Left Strand

Set down on Left

If you have access to a London map you will note that many “streets” are only a few yards long even so you are expected to call them to the examiner.

‘Paul’ is recounting his progress on The Knowledge and if you wish to follow his blog it gives a pretty good idea of his progress.

Memory Men

Lord Winston moustache

[Y]ou have to feel sorry for high achievers like Lord Winston. They work hard all their lives and reach the top of their respective professions. Then they find themselves sitting down to dinner with a London Cabbie, possibly sharing a table on a cruise or at a hotel.

The conversation around the table goes something as follows:

Table Chatterbox: turning to Lord Winston “and what do you do Bob”?

Lord Winston: “Well I am a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, I am also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Institute of Biology. I also hold honorary doctorates from fourteen universities. In addition to being British medical doctor and scientist, I’m a television presenter, and sit on the Labour Party benches in the House of Lords.”

Table Chatterbox: stifling a yawn, “Oh, really”. With that he turns to me. “Do you have an interesting career Gibson?”

Gibson Square: “Well actually I’m only a London Cabbie.”

Table Chatterbox: “Well how very interesting, I’ve always wanted to know, just how is it you manage to remember all those roads?”

Just what is the fascination with the Knowledge? I notice you are among the wordpress visitors
who have chosen to read this blog on all things cabbie.

We are not as well educated as many graduates, and contrary to popular opinion we’re not as erudite as we would like to think ourselves. We are reputed, incorrectly, to have narrow Right Wing views, with a propensity to favour the British National Party.

Yet I have shared a table with a nuclear physicist, a director of Unilever and a National Health Service consultant, but all the other diners want to know is, just how it is that I could have done the Knowledge.

If I were clever enough to remember 11,500 roads in central London plus all the theatres, hospitals, clubs, public buildings and all manner of miscellanea and could then take the shortest route between any two of them, I would have the brains to be a barrister and wouldn’t be pushing a cab around London.

If you are reading this Lord Winston, and you find yourself in CabbieBlog’s vehicle, just to help your self esteem I’ll donate the fare (with a generous tip) to the charity of your choice.

Got to go now, I’m halfway through reading Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2010, it’s a riveting read.

Cabbie’s aide-memoiré

London’s licensed black taxis have been voted by a very large margin, the best cabbies in the world, according to a poll published recently. We are famed for our knowledge of the city and our ability to recall a large amount of information.

At this time of the year when cramming for exams is on the agenda, I give you CabbieBlog’s tricks of the trade when learning The Knowledge.

[A]cronyms: By taking the first letters we have created: WASP – the four streets that go from St. Leonard’s Terrace to South Kensington Junction; Walpole Street, Anderson Street, Sloane Avenue and Pelham Street; CAB – Chelsea, Albert and Battersea Bridges and COB- the three respective roads they lead into said bridges: Chelsea Bridge Road, Oakley Street and Beaufort Street.

It was fortuitous that when they renamed the old Globe Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue to the Gielguid it didn’t spoil the mnemonic: Little Apples Grow Quickly Please; five theatres on the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue: Lyric, Apollo, Gielguid, Queens, Palace, and if you prefer, with a greengrocer’s apostrophe ‘s at the end you get the Shaftsbury Theatre.

The Dirty Dozen the twelve streets from Regent Street to Charing Cross Road that get you across Soho.

Our brain would seem to be the opposite of a computer, we have trouble storing large amounts of data, but an inexhaustible capacity for storing images. Therefore when trying to remember the location of Frankie Howard’s blue plaque (27 Edwardes Square, Kensington, London W8 6HH, if you’re interested), just visualise Up Pompeii in that square.

In Praise of the C90

So you’re thinking of starting The Knowledge and are making a list of essentials:


Map check; Pen and paper check; List of routes across London check; Book of places to find check.

But there is one essential that no self respecting knowledge boy (or girl) can do without: A Honda C90.

Stick a clipboard on the handlebars, affix a map to it and you’re away.

So successful are these bikes that the Honda Cub is the most successful motorcycle model in history, with more than 60 million sold worldwide this little bike has made a huge contribution to Honda’s sales and profit. Honda used the slogan ‘you meet the nicest people on a Honda’ as they broke into the English speaking world (say that to a Knowledge student on a wet Sunday afternoon). It’s hardly surprising so many have been sold, with its simple 4 stroke engine, and only the most basic of controls, Honda have produced a machine that’s cheap, reliable, and easy to repair. As long as you keep the oil topped up (as cabbie.blog learned to his cost) this bike seems to go on forever.

But the beauty for your Knowledge student lies in the bike’s manoeuvrability. Stop anywhere while checking a particular place, you don’t obstruct the traffic. Hey! You don’t even have to worry about the gears, its automatic. With its neat little white box behind the seat for sandwich/thermos (you’ll certainly need that) and other essential paraphernalia.

Believe me, a day spent on The Knowledge you could easily travel 100 miles, all for less than one gallon of petrol.

These machines work everywhere: London in the rain, in Delhi sometimes with 2 or 3 passengers, and in the heat of the African desert.

Knowledge students sometimes put clipboards the size of a kitchen table on the handlebars; I have even seen some with reading lights attached to assist night study.

But these ubiquitous little machines have the road holding of a blancmange balanced on ice, brakes with the efficiency of a child’s tricycle and can go from 0-60 in about 5 minutes with a tailwind. But the worst fault of all is they are invisible to drivers of 4x4s. These cretins of the road think these machines are push bikes and pull out in front of you as you travel at 30mph towards them, and they do not hear you coming, as one courier with a 400cc bike once said to me “you need a bit of noise to wake up those bastards”.

But for all its faults, your humble C90 will be still in production long after other volume car manufacturers have consumed all the Government handouts thrown at them and then gone bust taking their debt with them. Just like DeLorean.

One last tip: Get some warm clothes it’s bloody cold on a C90!