Cabmen’s shelters

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

Cabmen’s shelters

Cabmen’s shel­ters are green-paint­ed road­side sheds sur­viv­ing at 13 loca­tions in cen­tral Lon­don. Sir George Arm­strong estab­lished the Cabmen’s Shel­ter Fund in 1875 to pro­vide Hack­ney car­riage dri­vers with a refuge where they could get a hot meal and a cup of tea, but strict­ly no alco­hol. Sim­i­lar facil­i­ties had pre­vi­ous­ly been intro­duced in Edin­burgh and Birm­ing­ham. Six­ty-one such struc­tures were erect­ed in the cap­i­tal, many indi­vid­u­al­ly endowed by a local phil­an­thropist, who would also ben­e­fit from the improved avail­abil­i­ty of cabs, and more sober dri­vers.

Depend­ing large­ly on the area in which they were locat­ed, the qual­i­ty of the estab­lish­ment could range from sor­did to almost lux­u­ri­ous. Many of the shel­ters had nick­names, like the Bell and Horns at Thur­loe Place, South Kens­ing­ton; the Nurs­ery End, near Lord’s; and the Junior Turf Club, on Pic­cadil­ly. The lat­ter nick­name was said to derive from an invad­ing clien­tele of aris­to­crat­ic cham­pagne drinkers in the 1920s.

A vis­i­tor to the West­bourne Grove shel­ter in Sep­tem­ber 1888, call­ing him­self ‘Dr J. Dun­can’, was said to have con­fessed to the Jack the Rip­per mur­ders. The explor­er Sir Ernest Shack­le­ton was a reg­u­lar at the Hyde Park Cor­ner shel­ter, while the artist John Singer Sar­gent used the one near the Ritz. In the 1890s bohemi­an poets like Ernest Dow­son treat­ed their local shel­ters as a sec­ond home:

“They [young poets] used them as night-clubs, and retired to them at four o’clock in the morn­ing for eggs-and-bacon. Not because they want­ed eggs-and-bacon at four o’clock in the morn­ing, but because the bour­geois did not eat eggs-and-bacon in cabmen’s shel­ters at four o’clock in the morn­ing.”

Thomas Burke: Lon­don in My Time (1934)

Most shel­ters nowa­days open only from break­fast to lunchtime and enforce a ‘cab­bies only’ rule at the tables inside; sev­er­al also pro­vide a take­away ser­vice from a win­dow.
Kensington Park Road taximens shelter

Recommended viewing: The cabmen’s shelters fuelling London taxi drivers – in pictures (Guardian)