Green Door, what’s that secret you're keeping: A brief history of London's cab-shelters

In 1956, Jim Lowe recorded the original version of the song "Green Door" reaching number 1 on the U.S music charts. The lyrics describe the allure and mystery of a private club with a green door

Allure and mystery remain, as many wonder what is behind the green door of the numerous huts dotted around London, commonly known as cab-shelters.

These shelters, which are in fact wooden green huts, were first built in the late 1800s. Their primary function was to make a cabbies work-life a little more bearable by giving cabbies a place where they could eat and take shelter from the elements, especially given that the vehicle used as a taxi was an open-fronted horse-drawn carriage. Under hackney-carriage legislation, cab drivers were required to be present while their horse-drawn carriages were parked or tethered at a cab stand. Generally, cab drivers went to the pub to gain sustenance, and occasionally imbibe in a drop of "old mothers ruin." They would employ somebody to guard their cabs for fear of their carriage being stolen. It wasn't uncommon for those cabbies to return to their vehicles slightly the worse for wear. Due to concerns for both passenger and driver safety a solution was sought. The Cabmen's Shelter Fund was founded in London in 1875 by an ex-soldier who later became the editor of The Globe newspaper, Capatain George Armstrong. Legend has it that Captain Armstrong, who resided in St John’s Wood, was in a bit of a hurry to get to The Globe's headquarters, which was on Fleet Street one day. The weather, being inclement, led Captain Armstrong to ask a servant to go out and procure him a cab. The servant then returned some time later without a cab. The servant proceeded to explain to Captain Armstrong that all of the drivers were inebriated and unable to drive their cabs. It was at that point Captain Armstrong, with the aid of Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, along with several philanthropists decided to act, and so was born the cabmen's shelter, with first green hut opening in February 1875 on Acacia Avenue.

Supporters of subsequent cab-shelters included the Duke of Westminster as well as the Prince of Wales Between 1875 to 1914, 61 cab-shelters were dotted around London's streets. Due to the fact that the huts were built on public streets, the huts had to be the same size as a horse and a cart. The huts are of a timber frame construction, with early ones being placed on a movable base, so as to allow them to change location when required. The railings on the side of the huts were used to tether the cabs horses. Although the huts are small, they had a kitchen and could seat between 10 and 13 people in one sitting. Every shelter had an attendant inside, with hot food and drink being sold, no alcohol was sold or permitted. Strict rules were applied, only licensed cabbies were allowed inside the shelter and foul language and gambling were prohibited.

Thirteen huts survive today and they are all grade II listed buildings. Food and drink are still available from the shelters, although nowadays the general public can also sample the food available from a cab-shelter by ordering a take-away.

Image source: Geograph

Image author: N Chadwick

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