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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The Spirit of Ecstasy

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I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

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The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

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Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

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By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

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Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

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As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

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Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

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MGB

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I was flattered to be asked to contribute To the January-February 2018 edition of The London Magazine – the Capital’s oldest. I was asked to write their 25th “My London” piece which you can see here please – My London by Mark FR Wilkins . I refer to one of London’s tribes, as a  “typical” MGB owner. I suggest that this still holds largely true, despite that the owner may now be in his 70’s although the corduroy’s will still be worn!

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These are adored British cars that have even described by Simon Chalesworth in his brilliant piece on the MGB in February 2018’s “Classic and Sports Car”, as the “gateway drug into whatever this is that we do with old cars”. I understand, that a good quality example of an MGB can be acquired at reasonable cost and by a proficient mechanic or a hired hand it can be up, running and looking fine in reasonably short order and comparable cost.

The MGB is a four cylinder, two-door British roadster – open topped/rag roofed sports car – produced by British Motor Corporation, later British Leyland, between 1962 and 1980, from its famed Abingdon (Oxfordshire) works. It used braking and suspension from the MGA and the engine dated to a design from the late 1940’s.

A previous outing of the MG brand was seen in Aestheticons with the MGA – please see here our previous piece – MG – MGA

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The MGA is a stunner and I thought it couldn’t be surpassed but those who know tell me that the MGB is infinitivly more fun and certainly a greater level of comfort – particularly later models – over its predecessor. The Sunbeam Alpine, also featured here before, seems to have set an newly raised bar one that the MGB sought to attain –  see our earlier post here – Sunbeam Alpine – Bond’s first car

Below is an MGB Mk 1, in Tartan red with a black interior and red piping. It was built in Abingdon in February 1963 and was an early car; the MGB being first shown to the market in September 1962. This car, a stunning example, is Norwegian owned and had 22 previous owners!

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The MGB with its 1798 cc BMC B-Series engine – which was upgraded in 1964 and again in 1967 – initially achieved a 0–60 is around 11 seconds but required detuning in 1975 to be comply to stricter US emission standards, the US being a key export market – you’ll note our featured image is a left hooker. The same year the MGB, which was one of the first cars to benefit from crumple zone technology, was fitted with black polyurethane bumpers to comply yet further with the US Health & Safety codes – some see these as a blight the MGB’s otherwise clean lines and great looks.

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Variants including the MGB GT – which first appeared in 1965 – the MkII MGB and MGC that both appeared in late 1967 with the latter benefitting from a six cylinder engine in a MkII MGB body. With around 9000 examples of the MGC made by August 1969 it was withdrawn and is highly regarded by collectors for its ride and handling.
 In 1993-5 the MGB bodyshell was brought out of retirement by Rover and used for a limited 2000 MG RV8 roadsters to celebrate the MGB’s 30th Anniversary.
As much as I adore these splendid small English sports car my garage is destined for others. I’d be more than keen to have a die-cast model of an MGB on the shelf in my Man Cave – join me by clicking the Amazon link below the image! 

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Photo credits with grateful thnaks – Trygve Sørli/www.petrolicious.com, The London Magazine, Marc Vorgers,

London Transport roundels

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Apparently there is no word that succinctly expresses the emotion of  “love for your home city”. Words are so often replaced by symbols; iconic emblems that partner generations to become enduringly locked in a collective’s civic pride or psyche. One such iconic logo is the London Transport’s roundels – as the instantly recognisable image is known.

First used in a trademark for the London General Omnibus Company and registered in 1905, the roundel first outing on the Underground was in 1908 when the Underground Electric Railway of London (UERL) – as the Tube’s operator was then known – used a solid red circle behind a station’s name-board on a platform at stop now called St James’ Park to highlight the station’s name. An example of the original logo is still in use at Ealing Broadway.  In 1912, in posters designed by Charles Saarland and Alfred France, the word “Underground” was itself used in a roundel.

Frank Pick, the then Publicity Manager, who was to become the boss of UERL, was very  interested in design and thought the solid red disc appeared too heavy. So, in 1915 Pick asked Edward Johnston, a typographer, to develop a new typeface – later called the “Johnston” – and a revised symbol to incorporate a red ring and a blue bar for the station’s name – in his new typeface. The result was registered as a trademark in 1917.

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In the late 1920’s, Pick, by then General Manager, recruited architect Charles Holden to design certain new Underground stations and reconstruct existing ones. Holden incorporated the roundel logo into many exteriors – see South Wimbledon Station that dates from 1926 – platforms and bus stop shelters.

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In 1933, the words “London Transport” were added inside the ring to allow the symbol to be used for tubes, buses, trams etc. In the same year, an Underground electrical draughtsman, Harry Beck, was asked to devise the now iconic Tube map. His mission was accomplished with wonderful simplicity – note the use of the Underground roundel.

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By your vintage Underground Map by clicking the following AMAZON link Transport For London 60 x 80 cm London Underground Vintage 1936 Map Canvas

Despite attempts over the years to update or change the roundel in the interest of “modernisation”, by and large the original 1908 logo is still in use. The only material change came in 1983 when after some consideration a new typeface called “New Johnston” was adopted. It has been the official TfL and Mayor of London typeface ever since.

From 2013, forms of the roundel, with differing colours for the ring and bar, were used by the current trademark holder Transport for London (TfL) for its services including London Buses, Tramlink, London Overground, London River Services and Docklands Light Railway.

The huge civil engineering project known as “Crossrail”, which has now been re-named the Elizabeth Line, which runs through the Capital, from Reading in the West to Shenfield in the East, is due to open in 2018 has already been awarded its own roundel – recently unveiled by Her Majesty – of course, in regal purple.

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Photos and images credit courtesy of Transport for London

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London “A-Z” street atlas

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In these days of innumerable Apps and virtual maps a really good piece of advice to  arriving summer-school or university students and all tourists is to buy a London “A-Z” street atlas – book style! My guarantee is that you will use it weekly, if not daily – and that’s if you don’t find a job with Deliveroo, when you be glued to it!

The iconic London “A–Z” street atlas is produced by Geographers’ A–Z Map Company Limited. It was originally compiled in the 1930s by Phyllis Pearsall, who, having had the idea for the “A-Z” when she got lost on her way to party, in 1936 founded the company, which is now the largest independent map publishing company in the UK.

Fearing the loss of the company’s independence in the event of her demise, Miss Pearsall established the Geographers’ Map Trust to hold her shareholding on trust for the benefit of the employees. A variation of the original Trust still operates the business today and employee welfare continues to be a key priority.

In July 2014, the expanding business moved to a new site on a business park in Sevenoaks, (Kent, UK).

Since 2016 the Central and the Greater London “A-Z” street atlases have both been available as an App, priced at £6.99 and £3.99 respectively. I have used the latter, it’s useful, but there is still something more evocative about the printed version.

My old copy dates from the late 1970’s and the paper has a newsprint quality about although it doesn’t seem to smudge. Rather irritatingly a former flat-mate ripped out a single page at some point in the early 1980’s – all I can hope is the date he was trying to find was worth it – but it does mean that I would be lost in the further reaches of Islington!

Prime consumers of the London “A-Z” are London’s “Black Cab” taxi drivers. They are required to hold one of two types of license – All London (Green Badge) or Suburban (Yellow Badge). To obtain their chosen license would-be taxi drivers need to learn “The Knowledge”. Initiated in 1865 “The Knowledge” is an in-depth training course that involves a study of street routes and places of interest in London. Trainees are often seen on scooters with maps attached to a front parcel shelf as they follow planned test routes and determine the best ways to avoid heavy traffic, road works or other delays.

The London “A-Z” – is also published as a flat sheet or as a laminated map for ease of use – helping learners Cabbie’s to get to grips with the over 26,000 streets within a six mile radius of Charing Cross. The average time to prepare for the examination is thirty-four months and applicants will usually need at least 12 ‘Appearances’ (attempts at the final test) to pass.