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© David Burnetts


“Queen Henrietta of Braganza, Charles II’s Portuguese wife enjoyed tea as her favourite drink, thus making it the fashionable drink of the day.”


Victorian London, in the Cabmen's Shelter, 1894


had to sit on the open seat in all weather, waiting for their next fare to hail him. Often the cabbie would tether up his horse and coach and step into a tavern for some warm relief and a mug of tea with perhaps a nip of rum or two and have a little power nap. Being a London taxi driver and tour


guide, I, and 24,000 other London cabbies, have come to be quite an author- ity on the perfect mug of tea and where to find it. Well, the secret’s out. Some of you may have noticed odd-looking green garden sheds scattered around London’s roads and wondered what on earth goes on in there. I can tell all: they are cab- men’s shelters that date back to the late 1880s. Tey came about because a certain Captain Armstrong, an editor of a news- paper in Fleet Street, had sent his manservant from his home in St John’s Wood to find a cab to take him to his of- fice on Fleet Street. After an hour, his faithful servant returned, soaked to the skin, with a cab. On enquiring why it had taken so long to find a taxi, he was told that the weather had been so bad that the cabmen on the taxi rank had


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taken shelter in a nearby tavern and no doubt had a quick power nap until the weather improved. Tis prompted Captain Armstrong, who was well con- nected and had the ear of many influen- tial Victorian philanthropists, to facilitate a fund to create Te Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. A total of 61 were built, but, alas, only 13 of them survive today. All now have a Grade II status. Tey were de- signed not to take up any more room than a horse and coach. As they were on the public highway, there was room enough for a tiny kitchen, so they could provide hot and wholesome meals at rea- sonable prices and could accommodate up to 13 cabbies. Regular patrons would have their own mugs lined up on a shelf in the shelter. Tere were strict rules: no swearing,


gambling or alcohol. Only licensed London taxi drivers are allowed into these exclusive eateries, but the good news is that most of the shelters have a hatch where members of the public can order a take-away. Tere you can taste, probably, the best mug of tea in London.


David Burnetts is a London black


taxi driver and accredited tour guide. He offers private guided tours from


the comfort of his iconic London taxi. His website capitalcabbietours.com offers full tour information. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram at@capitalcabbie


FOCUS The Magazine 5


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