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Everything you need to know about... Cabmen's Shelters

Written by
Katie Wignall

Ever spotted one of those quaint little green sheds on the street? Blogger Katie lets you in on a London secret that's hidden in plain sight.  

Photo by Look Up London

 They were the first London drive-throughs

Cabmen's Shelters came about in the late nineteenth century when horse-drawn carriages called Handsom Cabs were the vehicles of choice. While the paying customer got a seat inside the carriage, the humble cabbie had to sit on top; exposed to the elements and in dire need of frequent pitstops for hot drinks (and often something stronger).

They were great for food on the go

In January 1875, The Globe newspaper editor George Armstrong became furious after he was told by his servant that all available cabbies were seeking shelter in a nearby pub during a blizzard. His response was to get together some like-minded philanthropists (including the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury) and create a charity to erect purpose-built shelters providing hot food and (non-alcoholic drinks).

Photo by Look Up London

They're no bigger than a horse and cart

Between 1875 and 1914, 61 shelters popped up across London, costing around £200 each and the very first was in Acacia Avenue, St John's Wood (conveniently near George Armstrong's home).  

All cabmen shelters are the same characteristic shed shape, due to Metropolitan Police ordering that they had to be situated on public highways and could be no bigger than a horse and cart. They also have the same vent at the top, a reminder of the wood-burning stove inside. The statement green colour is also strictly enforced and is the Dulux Buckingham Paradise 1 Green.

Also, see that garland design above 'CSF'? That stands for Cabmen's Shelter Fund, the charity that today helps support them.

You can get a coffee for a quid  

There are now only 13 Cabmen's Shelters in London. What with parking controls and increased vehicle security, we just didn't need them. However, many are still fully functioning cafes where you can get a coffee (instant) for a quid. But, only those with The Knowledge are allowed to go inside and sit down.

Thanks to the Cabmen's Shelter Fund, all 13 remaining shelters have Grade II-listed status, so we won't be losing them anytime soon. 

Photo by Look Up London

Where can you find them?

Want to find one for yourself? Here's a list of the 13 remaining ones.

  • Chelsea Embankment, SW3 - close to junction with Albert Bridge, London

  • Embankment Place, WC2 - near to the Playhouse Theatre

  • Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 - west side of the north gardens

  • Hanover Square, W1 - north side of the central gardens

  • Kensington Park Road, W11 - outside numbers 8-10

  • Kensington Road, W8 - close to the junction of Queen's Gate SW7

  • Pont Street, SW1 - close to the junction of Sloane Street

  • Russell Square ,WC1 - western corner (relocated from Leicester Square)

  • St. George's Square, Pimlico, SW1 - on the north side

  • Temple Place, WC2 - near junction with Surrey Street

  • Thurloe Place, SW7 - in the middle of the road opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Warwick Avenue, W9 - centre of the road, by Warwick Avenue tube station

  • Wellington Place, NW8 - near to Lord's Cricket Ground

Fancy more facts about the capital? Check out 11 things we learned about London from a 116-year-old guidebook.

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