SI SPENCER, JULY 2017
A short series exploring the surrounds of London’s surviving Cab Shelters, established in 1875 to provide sober and secure resting places for London’s hansom cab drivers and still in use by cabbies today.
Part 4 – Warwick Avenue to Wellington Place
Today Warwick Avenue is probably best known for its associations with throaty Welsh popster Duffy, who commemorated the tube station on her 2008 single of the same name. Its cab shelter is relatively unassuming – overshadowed by a large ventilation shaft from the Underground, the art deco railings around the station steps lend a continental air to the surroundings in contrast to the most British signage I’ve ever seen. In the window of the cab shelter is a small laminated sign that simply contains two words – ‘Polite Notice’.
On nearby Warrington Crescent stands another former palace of pleasure, the Warrington Hotel. Now a boutique hotel and bar, the Warrington was built in 1857 as an upmarket brothel masquerading as a public house. However, as public houses developed a bad reputation among the respectable middle classes (ironically because they were seen as haunts of loose women), the landlords refurbished the building to resemble an old ship. Many of those nautical features remain today as do the saucy frescoes on the ceiling harking back to its days a house of ill-repute. So that’s the Warrington – a brothel masquerading as a pub so as not to look like a brothel masquerading as a ship so as not to look like a pub. And originally owned by the Church of England centuries after the Bishop of Winchester ran the prostitutes of Southwark.
On the other ‘arm’ of the crescent, another eccentric Victorian boozer is the Prince Alfred. Its beautiful bowed windows of etched and ornate glass conceal an authentic traditional three-bar layout and it’s the snug tucked between the two larger bar areas that’s unique. Holding just a couple of tables and a dozen bar stools, access from either side is by diminutive doors, perhaps only a metre high. Speculation has it that this dates back to the days of using child labour as waiters but ignore that and let your imagination run riot instead.
Just down from the cab shelter is the elegance of Little Venice where the Grand Union meets the Regents Canal and the Paddington Basin. Heading along the canal-side you’ll eventually come to Crocker’s Folly on Aberdeen Place. In 1897, the Great Central Railway Company that served Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire announced it was extending its lines to the capital, building a terminus in North West London. Publican and entrepreneur, Harry Crocker saw the chance for big bucks and whether through being fed misinformation or just taking a spectacularly poor punt, built a hotel and bar where he believed the new rail network would terminate. He was wrong – the line eventually ended nearly a mile away at what is now Marylebone Station but the Crown Hotel as it became still proved a popular attraction. Renamed Crocker’s Folly in 1987 in his honour, it’s now the Maroush restaurant, selling excellent Lebanese food in incongruously Victorian surrounds.
Around the corner is Lords Cricket Ground and its famous Father Time weather vane. Overseas readers (and many British too) can relax. I’m not going to remotely attempt to explain the complexities of a sport that lasts five days and almost always ends in either rain or a draw regardless of how many thousands of ‘points’ (runs obviously) are scored but I will share a small almost-forgotten piece of colonial sporting history.
In 1868, Lords played host to the first ever Australian sporting team to travel overseas. Not as you might imagine, a squad of London and Irish convicts’ sons with bristling handlebar moustaches, hipster beards and bowler hats (‘bowler hats’ – see what I did there?), but thirteen indigenous Aussies – the Australian Aboriginal XI. The British ear clearly had problems with names like Jungunjinanuke, Murrumgunarriman and Pripumuarraman so the players were known by their anglicised monickers; Dick Dick, King Cole, Twopenny and Jimmy Mosquito to name but four.
This being the height of speculation around Darwin’s theories of evolution, thousands flocked to see ‘the conquered natives of a convict colony’, clearly expecting to have their worst racist prejudices confirmed. In fact the team spoke perfect English and impressed the nation not only with their cultured manners but also with their sporting prowess; of the 47 games they played on the tour, they won 14, lost 14 and drew 19 (because yes, that’s what cricket’s like folks. It almost always ends in a draw). After each match, the team put on a display of traditional hunting skills – boomerang and spear-throwing and of course the millennia-old tradition of batting away cricket balls with a shield.
From Lords, a walk through the beautiful island of peace and nature that is St Johns Wood Church Grounds leads you to emerge outside the florally decorated Wellington Place cab shelter.