With all the recent media coverage concerning ‘Uber’ and its regulator ‘Transport for London’ (TfL) refusal to renew their operating licence in London , I thought that I would focus my ‘culture’ day out this week, on one particular aspect of one of the most iconic and globally recognised of London’s institutions…….the “Black Cab” (accepting that they now come in varying colours).
The specific aspect of London’s Black Cab history that I sought out this week, are the “Cabman Shelters” that are scattered all around London, and still very much in use.
Back in the late 1800’s one of the most popular and convenient ways of getting about and about around London was by a horse drawn carriage known as a ‘Handsom Cab’, where a passenger sat inside the carriage whilst the poor old ‘cabbie’ had to sit on top of the carriage, fully exposed to the elements and in desperate need for frequent pit-stops throughout the day (and night) for refreshments.
The folklore story goes that back in 1874 a top London newspaper editor by the name of George Armstrong had sent his man-servant out to hail a ‘Cab’, on a particularly grim evening weather-wise – but because the weather conditions were so bad, all the ‘cabbies’’ were holed up, nice and warm (and possibly slightly inebriated) in local pubs.
This prompted Armstrong to get together with some of his most prominent mates, one of which was the Earl of Shaftesbury – with a view to setting up a charity to fund and erect ‘purpose-built’ shelters throughout London for the specific purpose of providing hot food and drink (non-alcoholic) for the Cabbies – in the hope that this would keep them out of the pubs and thus more available and capable of meeting customer demands.
Between 1875 and 1914 – “61” of these Cabman Shelters were erected across London, at a cost of about £200 each. The very first one was put up in Acacia Avenue-St. John’s Wood….(strangely enough, right near the founder George Armstrong’s residence)
Because they were located directly on some of London’s busiest roads, the authorities, including the Met Police, placed some quite stringent rules and regulations around the design of these shelters – for example:-
- All shelters had to be of the same characteristic
- They could be no longer or wider than the average horse & cart
- They had to be timber framed, with tongue and groove timber panels and a felt clad timber roof.
- They had to have the same chimney/vent installed, to release the steam/vapours from the installed wood burning stove
- All shelters had to strictly be ‘green’ in colour – with the specific paint colour “Dulux Buckingham Paradise 1 Green”
- The decorative woodwork panels would have to, somewhere on the outside, include the initials CSF – which stands for ‘Cabmen’s Shelter Fund’….the charity that still supports them to this very day!!
Of the original 61 Cabman Shelters that were built, only 13 survive today, and they can be found in:-
- Chelsea Embankment, SW3 – close to junction with Albert Bridge, London
- Embankment Place, WC2 – near to the Playhouse Theatre
- Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 – on west side of the north gardens
- Hanover Square, W1 – on north side of the central gardens
- Kensington Park Road, W11 – outside numbers 8-10
- Kensington Road, W8 – close to the junction of Queen’s Gate SW7
- Pont Street, SW1 – close to the junction of Sloane Street
- Russell Square ,WC1 – western corner
- George’s Square, Pimlico, SW1
- Temple Place, WC2 – near junction with Surrey Street
- Thurloe Place, SW7 – opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum
- Warwick Avenue, W9 – by Warwick Avenue tube station
- Wellington Place, NW8 – near to Lord’s Cricket Ground
You will always see black cabs surrounding these shelters, and anyone can purchase food & drink from them, but only those who have passed the ‘Knowledge’ can eat inside those shelters that still have seating.
Fortunately, all the existing Cabman Shelters are Grade II listed buildings, so despite whatever regeneration building work takes place around them, they should hopefully remain a safe-haven for cabbies and part of the ‘street scene’ for future generations to enjoy.