HAVE you ever wondered about the green shelters scattered throughout London that look like lost garden sheds?
They are cabbie shelters, of which there are only eleven of these Grade II buildings left in London. The shelters predate the modern black cab and were first built for hansom and later hackney cabs by the Cabmen's Shelter Fund in the 1870s and continued to be built until 1914. Their aim to provide cabbies with a place to buy some decent food and rest. (Ask a cabbie and he will tell you they were built so that the aristocracy would be guaranteed a way of getting home.)
With very few left in London, I felt extremely honoured to be invited inside one when I was last in Kensington. I had always presumed that the front window was all there was. A window kiosk used by workmen and cabbies to get a cup of tea and a sandwich while on the road.
Not so. Around the back is a cabbie-only entrance and inside, a small café equipped with a kitchen with bench tables and seating. (If you have ever wondered about their size, the shelters were only allowed to be the width of a horse and carriage, when built).
Inside, cabbies sit, enjoying variations of a full English breakfast. The menu is classically British and it looked and smelt good. The conversation was equally appetising reminding me that cabbies are a vibrant and living part of London’s history.
Asked for their tips on the best places to go in London, I was told Bermondsey and Wapping. The Town of Ramsgate pub came highly recommended because of its gruesome history. Men pressed ganged into serving on ships and convicts destined for the Colonies, were held in its cellars. In nearby Execution Dock, the condemned were hanged then chained to posts in the river. Another spoke of the spice warehouses along Shad Thames and how the smell continued for five years after they were closed in the early seventies.
So, the next time, you are in a black cab, ask – what is the best place in London to visit. Chances are you’ll be surprised by the answer. The tip will be worth more than your cab fare.
A big thank you to Sidney born on 26 January who introduced me to the folk at Kensington shelter. My cup of tea was one of the best that I have ever had.