The Story of the Cabmen's Shelter
SummaryThe Cabmen's Shelter Fund was established in 1875 to provide London's cabmen with small cabins across the city where they could shelter from inclement weather. The shelters were of timber construction, built on a moveable base and designed to occupy a space on the highway no larger than a horse and cart. The shelters were installed across the city from 1875 up until the First World War. Around sixty examples were built, however today there only around a dozen survivors.
DesignThe shelter is constructed around a timber frame attached to a moveable base, with wheels so that they could be easily moved. It is seven bays wide and three bays deep, with windows in the even numbered bays on each side with fanlights above; each bay has fanlight windows on the shorter sides. The frame is filled with tongue and groove panels. A central doorway on one side provides access to the shelter. The odd numbered bays on each long side feature ornamental fretwork panels, with a pierced motif incorporating the initials CSF for the Cabmen's Shelter Fund. The earliest examples of the shelters had a hipped roof, while later examples (including the 1900-built example illustrated above) had a pitched roof with gable ends. The roof is clad in slate tiles, in alternating bands of rectangular and hexagonal shaped tiles. The roof is surmounted with decorative terracotta ridge tiles with diamond-shaped piercings. Both gable ends are topped with an ornamental ball finial. Each shelter is fitted with a central stove for heating with the stove's flue disguised by a dovecote-style ventilation lantern at the centre of the roofline. The shelter is painted in a distinctive green colour scheme.
HistoryToday, the Cabmen's Shelter Fund is a charity that maintains the surviving cabmen's shelters in London. The Fund was incorporated in 1875 and headed by Lord Shaftesbury and Arthur Kinnaird MP. The fund had a benevolent aim to provide London's cabmen with places of shelter, while they waited for fares. Each shelter was equipped with a stove for warmth and hot water. The fund stipulated that each shelter should be no larger than the space occupied by a horse and cart. By February 1875 the first shelter was installed on Acacia Road in St John's Wood. A further sixty examples were installed. With a rudimentary construction (it was designed to be moveable), each shelter cost approximately £200 to produce. Each shelter could accommodate up to thirteen cab drivers, along with the stove and a basic kitchen. There were essentially two different types; earlier examples are differentiated by a hipped roof while later examples have a pitched roof with gable ends. There were strict rules applied to the shelters; only licensed cab drivers are allowed inside each shelter, although the general public can buy food or hot drinks from a window. Each shelter is looked after by an attendant and cab drivers are prohibited from playing cards, or any from of betting or gambling.
Heritage legacyBetween 1875 and 1914 just 61 examples of the cabmen's shelter were installed. Built of timber, they were only intended as temporary structures. Remarkably then, over a century later, thirteen examples have survvived (about 21% of all London's shelters). There are other regional examples of similar structures, notably in Ripon (North Yorkshire) and Hitchin (Hertfordshire). All of London's survivng cabmen's shelters are Grade II-listed. The example illustrated, located behind Temple Underground Station, was listed on 1 December 1987.
The given number of installed examples is for all London examples (all roof types).
- Historic England (2017) Cabmen's Shelter London: Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1357301
- Leaver, Jane (2012) The First Cabbie Shelter London: St Johns Wood Memories, http://www.stjohnswoodmemories.org.uk/content/arts/architecture-architects/the-first-cabbie-shelter
- Styles, David (2017) Green cab shelters Romford: cabbieblog.com, http://www.cabbieblog.com/green-cab-shelters/