Black Cabs – London’s Taxis

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Any visitor to London cannot fail to notice that aside from the usual array of private cars, bikes/scooters and delivery vans that the streets are punctuated with two of perhaps the World’s most recognizable and iconic vehicles. The red London Bus – see our previous post here that features the New Routemaster Bus – Thomas Heatherwick – and the Black Cabs – London’s Taxis or more properly “Hackney Carriages”.

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It may be just an impression but certain parts of the West End, that are not already bus and taxi only, but fall within the Congestion Charge Zone – and a daily rate of £11.50 – have taken on a new character. They seem to flow better and are sparsely occupied by private vehicles but are dominated by well managed public transport provided by Transport for London (TfL) – see here our piece on the iconic London Transport Roundels –  London Transport roundels  – and the Carriage Office – the body responsible for the Black Cabs.

The Black Cab is undergoing a revolution. The streets are a battleground where private mini-cabs, recently licence-reprieved Uber cars and Black Cabs vie to secure a ride but they reflect a clash of cultures. The Black Cab driver knows where he/she’s going having successfully completed the Knowledge see our previous post here – London A-Z street atlas – The Knowledge  – whilst the mini-cab or Uber drivers world is linked to one of the many digital street services following pre-selected routes that guide the driver to the chosen post code. Simple but not foolproof!

Price is an issue but I tend to prefer the comfort of Black Cabs. However, with respect to those Uber drivers that I have met, the London Cabbie is often overall much better “value”. They tend to be better informed about London, its Mayor and its political life, the perils of supporting one of London’s eleven football teams, the most recent celebrity they carried and the best route to avoid congestion.

Cabbie’s opinions matter. In a recent and highly effective Twitter piece, Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, the US Ambassador to the UK – probably as a result of looking for someone to go “Sarf of the River” to the new US Embassy in Vauxhall – toured several of the thirteen remaining London’s Green Cabbie’s shelters. The driver’s opinions on Brexit and the US President seem very welcome. US Ambassador Cab Shelter Tour 

A new Black Cab appeared on the streets of London at the end of 2017 competing with the most recent diesel version of the iconic Black Cab, the TX4, that was produced between 2007 and 2017. Called the LEVC “TX” and seen below next to an older TX4, the cab is built in a new Chinese owned factory outside Coventry and combines a 1.5l petrol engine with a 110kW lithium battery driven electric motor. Conforming perfectly to the zeroing of diesel emissions and the promotion of the recharge economy.

 

A recent journey in the new cab, that tend to be rented by Cabbie’s for under £200 per  week on a five year deal, suggests the comfort is still very much there. The new cab’s driver explained the electric motor delivered around 70 to 80 miles on one 50p electricity recharge and whilst the TX leasing arrangement is slightly more costly, the fuel saving is expected to be around £100 per week. Will this bring cab fares more in line with Uber’s prices?

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Other cities around the world have their own distinctive cabs, the canary Yellow Cabs – Medallion Taxi – that have superseded their checker forerunners – in New York, the Black Body and Yellow Doors in Barcelona but in its own right London’s iconic Black Cab – a vehicle designed and built for a single task – should be seen a beacon of security in an unfamiliar city. Just don’t try and flag on done if its yellow roof light is not illuminated – its occupied!

Images used with grateful thanks – Transport For Londons, Daily Telegraph and LEVC TX.

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London’s Iconic Bridges – Vol 1

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Having lived away from London for the last few years, I am occassionally asked where I am from. There is no simple answer but really the place I feel most at home is London.

Whether London is sweltering in 30 degree temperatures or chilled by the “Beast from the East” it is the location of many of my most happy memories and I suspect I shall return for good one day.

Architecturally, London has spent years reinventing itself. From the horrors of post War Modernist utilitarian blocks to the gleaming chrome and glass of the City and Canary Wharf, this New London is starting to look really good again. Developments that have been in planning for years are realised and have turned derelict Thamesside into smart, if expensive, but hugely desirable riverside addresses.

The Battersea Power Station development, with its new tube station due to open in 2020, is a fine example – see our previous post about BPS here – Battersea Power Station.

The Thames, that flows West to East through London, its name deriving from Celtic and Latin sources meaning “dark” gives London its name. It is suggested that the roots of  Londinium means the flowing river or the wide flowing unfordable river. Inevitably this has meant that the Northern and Southern banks of this wide river require to be crossed by bridges. The bridges of London have spectacularly contributed to London’s skyline.

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The earliest and perhaps the most historically important bridge is the iconic London Bridge. The present concrete and steel construction was opened in 1973 and its modest form belies a history of several important bridges over nearly 2000 years.

The City of London and its south bank neighbour of Southwalk, assisted by sand, gravel and clay on the adjacent banks, have been connected by some form of timber pontoon or rudimentary bridge since around 55AD. There followed a succession of bridges, including the Old London Bridge which stood for around 600 years, being finally replaced in the early 19th century and then again in 1973.

The rumour that a Oil millionaire, Robert McCulloch, mistakenly paid $2.4m in 1967 thinking that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge has been subsequently denied. London Bridge was moved stone by stone – at a further cost of $7m – to its new home at Lake Havasu City in the US State of Arizona.

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In my modern love story with London, Albert Bridge has played a key role. It is simply the most iconic and beautiful bridge.

Many will know that it’s frail. A sign warns marching soldiers to “break step” whilst crossing and rumour has it that the timbers are being severely affected by dog urine thought to come from those mutts who end up running around Battersea Park on its south side. When lit by 4000 LED lights against a London summer evening’s sky it is magical, so much so that our kids when toddlers always called it the “Cinderella Bridge”.

Albert Bridge stretches over the Tideway of the Thames joining Chelsea to the North with Battersea to the South. In 1860 Prince Albert – the then Queen’s Consort – suggested a Toll Bridge be built to alleviate the congestion experienced on two adjacent Bridges – Victoria and Battersea – the owner’s of the profitable latter being bought off by Act of Parliament and a takeover once Albert Bridge was completed. It opened as a toll bridge 1871 but the concept was not a commercial success.

It was designed as a cable-stayed bridge and built by Rowland Mason Ordish a master architectural engineer with the Royal Albert Hall and St Pancreas Railway Station on his CV. A dozen years after its initial construction Sir Joseph Bazalgette, famed for his work on London’s sewerage and water system, added elements of a suspension bridge to improve its soundness.

In 1973 two concrete piers were added for extra stability. Given its unusual history and its striking majesty the bridge now holds Grade 2 listed status from English Heritage.

A narrow bridge its struggle with motorized transport is ongoing. On both the North and South approaches there are bollards that sit, I am told six feet apart, that account for many dents on the doors of passing “Chelsea Tractors”!

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The most recently opened of London’s iconic bridges was initially opened in June 2000. Informally named the Millenium Bridge it is a steel suspension bridge built at a total cost of £18.2m from a design by a consortium comprising the Arup Group and the firms of architectural knights Norman Foster and Anthony Caro. It won a RIBA competition for selection. It spans the Thames between Bankside and the City – below St Paul’s Cathedral – giving the bridge the most engaging aspect across the river.

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Within days it had closed and became known as the “Wobbly Bridge” due to its alleged swaying of pedestrians – a recently understood phenomenon. Two years later after extensive modifications with the addition of viscous-fluid dampers to increase its stability, it was re-opened in February 2002.

Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – “London Bridge at Night” by Alison Day/Flickr. “Albert Bridge” – A Travellers View http://www.trover.com Joe Parnis and http://www.MrSmithsworldofphotography.com, Millenium Bridge – Foster & Partners

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Antoni Gaudí

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Living in Southern Europe I embrace a regular tendency to want to visit those national memorials celebrating the icons of local culture. One of the finest examples of this is the work of the Catalan Modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi. I am not talking solely about the trophy building, the outstanding and outrageous – if a little claustrophobic if you’ve ever tried to climb one of the spires – La Sagrada Família – but whilst magnificent there is much more to his wonderful work.

Gaudi’s place in the history of Architecture and his influence in a pantheon of modern art, including the likes of the fourteen year old Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1896 and into Gaudi’s circles, was immense. Gaudi’s work – much of which is now classed as World Heritage Sites stems from an era of the Renaixença (or Renaissance) in Barcelona of prosperity and vision. His work remains much appreciate by the likes of the writer Lorca and the artist, and fellow Catalan, Salvador Dali, as a vibrant legacy to this era.

Born 25 June 1852  the son, grandson and great-grandson of boiler workers from the Baix Camp (Catalonia). Growing up appreciating the fusion of copper and iron enabled Gaudi to claim that when he imagined in three dimensions, which became core to his fluid and evolutionary work. Indeed, he rarely created detailed plans preferring models of his proposed buildings. Similarly, he was enraptured by the perhaps conflicting mysteries of nature, especially that of his beloved Mediterranean coast, vegetarianism and his profound Roman Catholic faith.

After school, where he excelled in art, in 1868 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study teaching followed by some time of compulsory military service which was punctuated by ill-heath. In 1878 Gaudi graduated from the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture having funded his training by working as a draftsman to various notable but local architects.

Gaudí rise was meteoric. His first important commission was Manuel Vicens i Montaner, the Casa Vicens, a Moorish revival palace, which, after 130 years as private home, recently reopened to the public.

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Over the subsequent thirty years his work and Barcelona were synonymous. The City changed, and under the patronage of Eusebi Güell, Count Güell – a Catalan industrialist – fine examples of Gaudi’s best work can be seen including:

The Parc Güell:

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The Crypt at Colonia Güell

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Palau Güell

 

Casa Batlló – commissioned in 1904, by Josep Batlló, Gaudi’s task was to design and renovate this extraordinary property, to create a house like no other. Gaudi completed the project in 1906, becoming a masterpiece on Barcelona’s, Passeig de Gracia.

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The Casa Milà commissioned in 1906 by Pere Milà – a developer – and his wife, Roser Segimon, the widow of a wealthy Indiano coffee plantation owner.

In 1883, at the age of 31 Gaudi was appointed to the Sagrada Família project, after original designer quit, becoming Architect Director in 1894. From 1915 until his death on 10th June 1926, following being struck by a tram at the age of 73, Gaudí focussed his entire creative energy on the development and construction of this amazing building.

See below a model of the finished Basilica. Please also see this amazing video compiled for the UK newspaper The Daily Mail highlighting what the Sagrada Familia will look like at completion – please click the link – Sagrada Familia – Completed

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Said to be the most important piece of Gothic architecture in Europe since the Middle Aged, Gaudi combined Gothic and Art Nouveau forms together in the Sagrada Familia with naturalistic and flowing details of plantlife and cleaver uses of light throughout.

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I am also a massive fan of another Modernist Architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, about whom I posted on Aestheticons before, celebrating his body of iconic work – see here our previous post – Charles Rennie Mackintosh 

One of the few projects that Gaudi undertook away from Catalonia was the minaret-like country lodge – a fine example of his oriental influences – of El Capricho in Comillas (Cantabria, Northern Spain). It was built between 1883-85 as a summer home for a returning Indiano Maximo Diaz de Quijano (The Marquis of Comillas and Father in Law of Count Güell). Atypically for Gaudi’s work the stained glass, wood rafters and metal work are exemplary. The emblematic flowers, oriental and stylised ceramics look like they may have come straight from the pallet of Mackintosh. It’s thought that Gaudi and Mackintosh never met, though they died two years apart, but their naturalistic work replendent with great drama, vision and charm is firmly rooted in the same Modernist and Art Nouveau movements.

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Whilst we learn in Dan Brown’s excellent “Origin”, set almost exclusively in Gaudi’s Barcelona, that the Roman Catholic Church has not funded either Gaudi’s final resting place nor the building surrounding it, the Sagrada Família. The work on this fine building has been halted over the years whilst additional funds were collected. It is anticiapated that construction will be finally complete by 2026 to coincide with one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

My hope is to have whetted your appetite to know more about Gaudi and his work. Two very useful resources are the following books, please click the Amazon link below the image in each case.

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Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect

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Gaudi: A Biography

Enjoy Dan Brown’s page-turner “Origin” by clicking the Amazon link below the image of the book 

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Origin: (Robert Langdon Book 5)

STOP PRESS: 

In April 2019 it was reported, after a two year dispute, that the Sagrada Famila, which has seen over 139 years of construction and is visited annually by 4.5m, had now received its final planning permission from Barcelona’s City Hall!

Ironically, the City Hall only agreed to pass the final permission for the Basilica, provided that the Catholic Church, which owns the site in Central Barcelona and has spectacularly failed to contributed towards the development costs of the wonderful Basilica, paid €34m towards local community projects.

The predictions are that 2026 is still an achievable completion date for the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Status building.

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks http://www.archdaily.com/Rory Stott, The Barcelona Tourist Association, The Gaudi Foundation and The Daily Mail

Levi‘s 501

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501’s were seen as work-wear for much of its first sixty years being rechristened ‘blue jeans’ in the 1950’s.

Jacob Davis, a tailor, was approached by a workman’s wife asking for a stronger pair of trousers. He sought a solution to pocket and fly tearing experienced by workers using his denim trousers by applying copper rivets to the stress points of the garment. He then went in search of a partner to help make these early examples.

Levi Strauss was a dry goods vender who had sold Jacob the denim he needed for his early samples. They joined forces and the production which following its the grant of Patent on 20th May 1873  for “waist overalls” heralded a massive success.

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In 1886 the Two Horse leather patch was first used and added to the overalls.  In 1890 the Patent passed into the Public Domian, meaning the company lost their exclusive over riveted denim. As a result the company introduced the “501” as the definitive version of their denim work “waist overalls”, with copper rivets and the Two Horse leather and later the “leather-like” patch.

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By 1936 the Red Tab appeared. These ingenious and other design elements have ensured that Levi Strauss have been able to seek protection for their design against cynical copying. The company spend million of dollars annually protecting their Intellectual Property Rights.

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Always at the heart of youth culture, the universal appeal stems from its integrity, a loyalty to the original design, the highest quality denim and sturdy manufacture.

I have loved Levi’s jeans since a teenager. Whilst the waist band may have expanded – and indeed contracted on various occasions due to mad cabbage soup diets etc – I have been through zip-fly, yellow label and 360 degrees back to red-label button-fly 501.

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They are simply my favourite jeans that have seen me through endless concerts and music festivals. Dylan at Blackbush in 1977 (that included sleeping on Waterloo Station concourse due to a missed last train), to Glastonbury mud-caked, U2 and the Rolling Stones at Wembley to Mumford and Sons at Benicassim they have simply been more than a wardrobe anchor.

Today they combine perfectly with classic shoes, an Argentinian woven belt and a great shirt and/or jacket – depending on the season – for London creative business meetings. Less Revolution and more Evolution my 501s – and I now have several favourite pairs – are still beautifully made, ooze classic iconic style and are, above all, hugely dependable.

Would you like a pair of Levis 501? Click this AMAZON link to buy your own iconic jeans click the Amazon link below the image: 

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Levi’s 501 Original Fit Men’s Jeans, Blue (Onewash), 34W x 30L

The essential Argentinian belt can also be added here by clicking the Amazon link below the image – make sure you get the right length!

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Carlos Diaz Mens Womens Unisex Argentinian Brown Leather Embroidered Polo Belt (85 cm/ 32-34 Inches)

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Photo by Levi Strauss