Previously I went on at some length about the baker’s dozen of strange green sheds that keep London’s black cab drivers fed on tea and bacon butties. And that’s important because a constant diet of those things are required to maintain a cabbie’s healthy disrespect and colourful opinions. Without them, they’d just be short-hire chauffeurs and no one wants that. Which may be why the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund is not alone in saving our taxi drivers from the terrible fate of turning into Parker from Thunderbirds.
Independent Cab Shelters
Outside the six-mile radius within which the fund operates, others have had fleeting visions of cabbies wearing peaked caps and sounding subservient and even — heaven forfend — not voicing opinions more famously held by other peaked-cap wearing people back in the thirties. Something, they have decided, must be done. And thus I have found two more cab shelters, erected by others who looked upon those in central London and approved of this simple solution.
Following in London’s Footsteps
The oldest of the pair was erected sometime around 1880, when the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was busy doing its thing in the heart of London. It too was green, and on the edge of a green, and close by the local station. But it wasn’t in London at the time. Rather it was built in a small town in Middlesex, albeit one rapidly turning into commuter suburbia at the end of what is now the District Line. The town was Ealing and its cabmen’s shelter stands on Haven Green, right next to Ealing Broadway station.
I did not want to believe this.
Do I Walk Around With My Eyes Shut or Something?
If Ealing Town Council had indeed erected a shelter in the late nineteenth century (probably 1879, when the station was opened) then that would be yet another one that I’ve walked past hundreds of times. I worked in Ealing for five years, commuting in and out of Ealing Broadway station. Did I ever see it? Well, almost certainly. But did I notice it? Of course not.
Although, to be fair, it didn’t look like this then:
A Battered Brown Hut
When I worked in Ealing (2005 to 2010), the shelter wasn’t green. Or rather it was, but not on the outside. I’m not making sense, am I? Basically it was in a terrible state and was mostly being used for storage. A second skin of boring brown planking had been erected around it, leaving it looking just like a battered brown hut. Because that’s exactly what it was.
And so it remained until 2012, when the London Borough of Ealing — the town was absorbed into London in 1965 — decided it needed to do something ahead of Crossrail running into Ealing Broadway. The council had plans to create a cycling hub, with spaces for securing many bicycles. They already had some bike stands but they were old and uninspiring. They would, they decided, build some shiny new facilities and revamp the old cabmen’s shelter while they were at it, bringing it back into use. And by “revamp” I mean “demolish” and “replace with an ultra-modern glass cube.”
Squaring Up for Conflict
“Oh goody,” said Ealing’s cabbies. “We’ve always wanted a regular siliceous hexahedron.”
Well, maybe they said that in an architect’s fevered dream; their actual response was both negative and forthright. They might have let their old shelter crumble into utter disrepair but it had been crumbling for a hundred and thirty-odd years. It was history. Crumbly, barely usable history, to be sure, but history nonetheless. And that meant that if the council were going to replace it, then they could replace it with one just the same only newer. There was even talk of getting English Heritage to list it…
The London Borough of Ealing reconsidered. Sure they might have glossy artist’s renderings of how their glass cube would look but such illustrations frequently tend so far towards optimism as to pass out the other side into a realm of sheer fantasy. Besides, architects’ inexplicable fetish for brutal modernism — or maybe modern brutalism, take your pick —is seldom shared by the people who have to live with whatever God-awful eyesore they thought would win them a prize. Whereas, you know, the old shelter had once looked kind of okay.
And so, with their minds changed and new-found affection for history in their hearts they knocked the shelter down anyway before the damned thing could be listed. Because that’s what councils do. Then they built an entirely new shelter, with a nice, new space for cabbies to sit in. A space with heating and everything; they even plumbed toilets inside the shelter. The roof was now that of the bike stands, all combined into one structure, but its walls were not modernist glass. Externally, the roof aside, it’s an echo of its 1879 predecessor, the original walls of which were sadly too damaged to preserve. They even painted it green again.
Ealing’s new cabmen’s shelter is being trumpeted in some quarters as the first one built in almost a century. Note that important “almost”. We already know that the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund stopped building them around 1914, which would be just over a century ago. So who on earth built one after that?
Wharrie Cabmen’s Shelter
The answer, it transpires is Mary Wharrie, the daughter of Sir Henry Harben, a name you have probably never heard of. Sir Henry was the first mayor of Hampstead, which today forms part of the London Borough of Camden but back in 1900 it was its own metropolitan borough within the County of London.
Sir Henry had already provided a cabmen’s shelter on Rosslyn Hill but Mary completely replaced it in 1935. The new one comprised a coffee stall beside a cabmen’s room. The style is modernist but not a glass cube, having been made from elm boarding upon a cedar frame.
There is a striking cubist mosaic in front of the counter which is very much of its time.
Greenness is Inevitable
The shelter was designed by architect Elisabeth Scott of Scott, Chesterton and Shepherd and its doors and window frames were originally painted in a jolly red and yellow scheme. The persuasive force of cabmen’s shelter tradition has since exerted its influence and, while the boarding is still unpainted wood, the doors and window frames are now green as one might expect.
Wharrie Cabmen’s Shelter Fund
Mrs Wharrie also founded a Wharrie Cabmen’s Shelter Fund to own and maintain the structure, which was later formally registered in 1964.
Eight years later, it was essentially subsumed into the Hampstead Wells and Campden Trust (sic) when the Charity Commissioners ordered that the trust take over administration of the fund. It continues to do so today.
Om Nom Nom
I purchased an enormous bacon baguette from the Wharrie Cabmen’s Shelter and wandered up the hill to Hampstead tube, vigorously stuffing my face. I’m not expecting to find any other extant cab shelters but I didn’t expect to find these two either, so who knows?