Black Cabs – London’s Taxis


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”.


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?


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


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.


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.


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”!



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.


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 Joe Parnis and, Millenium Bridge – Foster & Partners

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Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery – Thomas Heatherwick

In early 1700, a ten year old Henri de Portal, a Huguenot emigre from a noble family Poitier (France) arrived in Southampton. In 1718, his young but expanding paper manufacturing business needed new premises. Henry leased Laverstoke Mill in Whitchurch (Hampshire, UK) for an annual rent of £5 plus a ream of foolscap paper!

In 1724, fortune smiled on Henry, who is said to have had a good friend in the son of the Governor, when his company received the exclusive contract from the Bank Of England for the supply of banknote paper.

After a long and illustrious history, in 1963 paper-making at Laverstoke Mill ceased. In 2010 Laverstoke Mill was purchased by Bombay Spirits Company who, in 2014, after extensive restoration opened their stills to create Bombay Sapphire gin and other related products in their new home. I suspect many enjoy their Bombay Sapphire with Schweppes Indian Tonic Water – please see our easier post  Schweppes Indian Tonic Water

The restoration project produced a wonderful re-imagintion of this historic building, but the element that, for me, seals its place in a roll-call of future design classics is the work commissioned to enhance Laverstoke Mill’s visitor’s centre.

Seamlessly blending the indoor and outdoor in a fluid expanse of curves of steel and glass, the visitor centre includes a new construction by Thomas Heatherwick that comprises two iconic glasshouses used for the cultivation of plants that provide the botanicals as used in the production of Bombay Sapphire gin.


Readers will know that I am a very keen follower of the Heatherwick Studio’s amazing work that include the 2102 Olympic Cauldron and New Routemaster Bus – for London Transport  – please see our previous post on Thomas’ stunning work – Thomas Heatherwick



Thomas Heatherwick


Thomas Heatherwick is an English designer and the founder of London-based design practice “Heatherwick Studio” based in Kings Cross. Since the late 1990s Heatherwick has emerged as one of Britain’s most significant designers.

Heatherwick’s signature can be seen on a number of iconic projects including the design in 2010 of the New Routemaster bus, the first new double decker bus commissioned for London in 50 years and a replacement for the much loved and iconic Routemaster.

The new design has extensive use of wrap-around glass for driver visibility and ventilation increasing passenger comfort. With three doors and two staircases, its quicker and easier for passengers to board and alight. A prototype, developed and manufactured by Wrightbus, was launched in December 2011 and the first new bus was commissioned into public service in February 2012 with a further six hundred were ordered in September 2012.

His Studio’s achievements outside the UK include a pier on the Hudson River in New York and, in collaboration, with Foster and Partners, the Bund Financial Centre in Shanghai.

Heatherwick Studio designed the iconic, stunningly theatric and beautiful Olympic Cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics Games at the request of the Artistic Director for the Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle.

The cauldron comprised 204 copper petals, each representing a team taking part in the Parade of Nations. Once these pieces were mounted onto stems and the flames were lit they were raised into place forming one huge flame, expressing the Games core theme of the collaborative human spirit. The copper petals – made by Nottingshire craftsmen – were each sent to the competing countries as a continuing symbol of legacy and unity.


Heatherwick’s compelling philosophy is that of “three dimensional design” whereby complementary skills in sculpture, architecture, fashion, embroidery, metalwork, product and furniture design are brought together as a single discipline.

In February 2015 it was announced that Google were re-thinking its office space at its Mountain View Campus HQ and that it had asked Heatherwick Studio  to collaborate on the realisation of this reconfiguration of four of its current sites using easily adaptable lightweight block-like structures maximising on the use of space  as it became needed. With trees, cafes and bike paths weaving through translucent canopies the aim being to “blur the distinction between buildings and nature”.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, will open next year in Cape Town – a museum that the Heatherwick Studio has designed in a disused grain silo.

Photos TFL and BBC