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Two taxi Cabmen's Shelters listed by Historic England on London History Day

Image credit: Historic England

To mark London History Day today, two iconic green cabmen’s shelters have been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

The shelters in Kensington and Chelsea at Pont Street and Chelsea Embankment were designed as rest stops for licensed cab drivers and join ten others in London already on the National Heritage List. The Chelsea Society applied for the two shelters to be considered for listing.

Only 13 shelters survive in the capital today. They are one of the few relics of nineteenth-century London’s horse-drawn hansom cab trade.

Emily Gee, London and the South East Regional Director, Historic England, said: “We’re delighted to see these two cabmen’s shelters gain the recognition they deserve. They are London icons just as much as the red bus or black cab and a reminder of how our transport systems have changed over time. It’s wonderful to see these historic structures still in use today or finding a new lease of life – long may it continue.”

Rt Hon Greg Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, said: “It was great to receive the news that the Cabmen’s Shelters on Chelsea Embankment and Pont Street in my constituency have received Grade II listed status from Historic England.

"Only 13 of the original 65 shelters dating back to 1875 remain in London and three of these are located in Chelsea. As local Member of Parliament for Chelsea & Fulham, together with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, I supported the application by the Chelsea Society to make them listed buildings and preserve these historic buildings in Chelsea. It is great to see the success of this local campaign and I look forward to possibly see the shelters back in use for the community.”

Dr James Thompson, Chairman of the Chelsea Society, said: “The Chelsea Society was founded in 1927 to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea for the public benefit, and today it has nearly a thousand members. We proposed the listing of the cabmen's shelters in Chelsea because they are a tangible reminder of our history, when taxicabs were drawn by horses. The shelter near Albert Bridge has been fully restored, after the Society persuaded the local Council to serve a dilapidations notice on the owners.

“It is marvellous that the shelters have been listed, thus preserving these emblems of the cabbies who serve London to this day. They learn The Knowledge, and Historic England has preserved it.”

What is a London ‘Cabmen’s Shelter’?

Image credit: Historic England

In Victorian London cabmen were prohibited by law from leaving their cabs unattended in the rank. While on the job there was no protection from the elements, access to hot food or a place to rest. This led many drivers to stop at a pub between fares. However, they would have to pay someone to look after their cab, risk it being stolen, and some drivers were found to ‘drink more than is good for their health or behaviour’.

The idea of providing shelters on the ranks was first conceived by Captain George C Armstrong, editor of The Globe newspaper. When Armstrong was unable to get a cab during a storm because the drivers had all sought refuge in local pubs, he decided to band together a group of wealthy and influential philanthropists to provide a solution. He helped establish The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (CSF) in London in 1875, providing warm and dry rest stops at ranks across the capital. The charity still operates today.

Image credit: Historic England

The first shelter was moveable and was built in February 1875 on Acacia Road in St John’s Wood, outside Armstrong’s home. Designs of cabmen’s shelters varied over time but the most recognisable ‘ornamental’ shelter design we see today was the work of architect Maximillian Clarke. The familiar size, shape and colour helped cabbies spot them easily.

The shelters had a small kitchen run as a café by an attendant and space for around 10 drivers to sit, enjoy a meal and each other’s company. Gambling, drinking and swearing were strictly forbidden.

Most of London cabmen’s shelters have been lost – their roadside position made them prone to damage from traffic and vandalism or impacted by changes to road layout. Of the 61 shelters known to have been built between 1875 and 1950 only 13 now survive.


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