A day in the life of a London cabbie

Apsley House – Home of the Duke of Wellington

Apsley House – Home of the Duke of Wellington

By in A day in the life of a London cabbie

One of the first things that London taxi drivers have to learn when doing the ‘knowledge’, the exhaustive test they have to pass before they can drive the famous London black cab, is where to find Apsley House, the ancestral home of the Duke of Wellington, which has the honour of having the address – No 1 London. It can be found on the north side of Hyde Park Corner and gained the nickname No 1 London in the ‘old days’, because it was the first building encountered when entering London through the toll gates from the village of Knightsbridge. Today Hyde Park Corner is one of the busiest roundabouts in London and most tourists tend to gravitate towards the centre of the roundabout where Wellington Arch can be found. But those brave enough to cross the road to visit Apsley House will be richly rewarded. The house was the London residence of the 1st Duke of Wellington, he who attained stardom and celebrity status for defeating Napolean at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. The upper part of the building is still occupied by the 8th Duke and his family but the ground and first floors are open to the public as a museum and art gallery and is possibly the best preserved Aristocratic Town House from the period. For anyone interested in the Battle of Waterloo and the titanic struggle between Napoleon and the Duke, they will be fascinated by the story that these majestic rooms tell. Erected on the site of an old tavern called the Hercules Pillars, Apsley House was originally built in 1771 for the then Lord Chancellor Lord Aspley by the celebrated Architect of the time, Robert Adam. The House then fell into the hands of Sir Authur Wellesley who after getting into financial difficulties, sold it to his more famous brother, who had by now been given the title of the Duke of Wellington and needed a London base to pursue his new career in politics. The Duke was obviously and justifiably very proud of his achievement at Waterloo that he furnished and decorated the house as a testament to his victory over Napoleon and today a walk through its rooms is  like witnessing his personal triumph. From the grand entrance hall to the Museum room, where Wellington kept all...

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Twinings Tea Shop

Twinings Tea Shop

By in A day in the life of a London cabbie

You can be forgiven for passing by one of London’s oldest and most famous shops without even noticing it. Twinings Tea Shop, located at 216 The Strand, is sandwiched between two modern buildings and is a throwback to an age when tea making and drinking was an art to be savoured! Although now justifiably famous for its tea, Twinings originally started life as Tom’s Coffee House, one of the many coffee shops that populated the City of London in the 17th century. Coffee houses in those days were almost exclusively for city gents, who would discuss business affairs and conduct their business. Merchants from the same trades would congregate in certain coffee shops and competition was fierce. Thomas Twining,  having originally come to London from Gloucestershire to carry on the family business of weaving,  saw that an opportunity existed in importing exotic products from the new world that included tea. He saw his opportunity and in 1706 purchased Tom’s Coffee house and began to sell tea as well as coffee. Tea was becoming fashionable with the upper classes and wealthy people flocked to his shop in the Strand. Soon he began to establish a reputation and selling as much dry tea as wet tea, and to local coffee shops. Tea in those days was heavily taxed and only the wealthy could afford it. High class ladies, denied by convention of entering the man’s world of a coffee shop, would wait outside Twinings while a man servant would go in and buy the increasingly fashionable to drink tea. High Tea taxes were eventually dropped and in 1837 when Queen Victoria granted Twinings a Royal Warrant as supplier of teas to the Royal Household, the name of Twinings became famous the world over. Twinings carries the distinction of having the oldest Company logo in the world in continuous use and being the City’s longest paying ratepayer, having occupied the same premises on the Strand since 1706. For tea lovers a visit to Twinings is a must. They only sell dry tea to take away but they do offer tea tastings on request and have a small museum at the back of the shop which charts the story of this famous business, still owned today...

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The Knowledge

The Knowledge

By in A day in the life of a London cabbie

  Even in these days of satellite navigation, to obtain a license to drive one of London’s famous black taxis, you have to complete the world’s most demanding training course for taxi drivers, known simply as ‘the Knowledge.’ This in-depth study of London takes on average a grueling three years to complete, which is just about how long it took me. ‘The Knowledge’ was initiated way back in 1865, and in many ways has changed little since. Though an incredibly tough exam to get through (on average, only a quarter of total applicants do), it does ensure that London taxi drivers have an intimate and unparalleled knowledge of their city. In all, some 25,000 streets in central London are covered and in addition to learning the street names, you have to learn thousands of ‘points’ such as public buildings, hotels, theatres, embassies, restaurants, historic buildings, hospitals, etc. And if that’s not enough of a challenge, you have to be able to recite from memory 320 routes or ‘runs’ made up of several or more roads. These are called the ‘Blue Book Runs’ and form the basis of most taxi journeys through London. After passing an initial written exam, you are then continually tested in one-to-one interviews called ‘appearances’ with very strict examiners. And boy, are they strict. You are only allowed to attend the appearances if you were wearing a suit and arrived well groomed! When you have passed all your appearances, you are awarded the coveted green badge. Phew. Would-be cabbies, known as Knowledge boys – or increasingly girls these days – usually follow the routes around London on a motor scooter and can often be identified by a clipboard fixed to the handlebars showing the roads and the ‘points’ to be learned that day. I always did my Knowledge very early in the morning, when the streets were still quiet, sometimes on a bike and sometimes in a car accompanied by my mother, who also loved learning about all of London nooks and crannies! After years of study, you begin to think it’s never all going to sink in, but I had been told there was a Eureka moment when it all comes together and finally it...

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