More than 60 of these shelters were built at major cab stands around London between 1875 and 1914 in order to allow cabmen to seek refreshment without leaving their vehicle.
The narrow, rectangular, green huts were constructed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – which was established in 1875 by a philanthropically-minded group including the newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong and the Earl of Shaftesbury (the group also had the support of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII).
The story goes that it was Sir George who pushed the idea forward after a servant he sent to find a cab in some inclement weather took a long time in returning thanks to the fact the cabbies were all off seeking a hot meal in nearby pubs.
The shelters, which police specified were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart given their position on a public highway, were initially very simple in design but become more ornamental as time went on (architect Maximilian Clarke, who designed a shelter for Northumberland Avenue which was built in 1882, was a key proponent of this more ornate style).
Most were staffed by attendants who sold food and drink to the cabbies (there were also kitchen facilities for them to cook their own as well as tables to sit at and a variety of reading materials). Drinking and gambling, as well as swearing, were apparently strictly forbidden.
The first of these shelters, which reportedly cost around £200 each, was erected in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, but that shelter is long gone. Just 13 of the huts now survive and all are Grade II-listed. They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.
As to which is the oldest?
Well, that’s proved a bit of a vexed question. According to listings on the Historic England website, the oldest we could find dated from 1897. They included one located in Hanover Square, another in Russell Square (this having been relocated from its previous position in Leicester Square), and a third in Thurloe Place in South Kensington, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum.
But there were three for which we could find no details of the date on which they were built. They include one on the Chelsea Embankment near the Albert Bridge, another in St George’s Square in Pimlico, and the final one in Wellington Place in St John’s Wood near Lord’s cricket ground.
Update: According to our cabbie correspondent – see comments below – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund have said the oldest shelter is that in Kensington Park Road, which they dated to 1877. Historic England have this one listed as dating 1909 – perhaps a rebuild?
Correction: The shelter known as ‘The All Nations’ is in Kensington Road, not Kensington Park Road as originally reported.
PICTURES: Top – The Russell Square shelter (David Nicholls, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Below – the Cabmen’s Shelter in Thurloe Place opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (Amanda Slater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)