SOUTH OF KENSINGTON Gardens, just west of the Royal Garden Hotel, there is a small green hut with a pitched roof beside Kensington Road. It is one of the thirteen remaining cabmen’s shelters dotted around central London, which were established by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (‘CSF’) in 1875 and are still maintained by this organisation. Back in those days, cab drivers could not leave a cab stand whilst they were parked there. This made it difficult for cab drivers to obtain food and drink whilst on duty.
The solution to this problem was devised by the newspaper editor George Armstrong (1836–1907) and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885). They conceived the idea of the shelters to provide cabdrivers with refreshment. By law, the shelters had to be no larger a horse and cart, which explains their small size. That way, they did not encroach on the carriageway too much. In the past, these shelters confined themselves to serving cabmen. More recently, members of the public can buy snacks and drinks at these huts, whose attendants are supposed to make a living from their shelters. Cabmen can eat within a shelter, but others can only use them for take-away refreshments.
Recently, when passing the shelter on Kensington Road, I noticed that there were a couple of menus attached to it. Next to them was a small blackboard on which the following was written in chalk:
“Till Rolls 3 for 2.50 Receipt pads 4 for 2£”
This is stationery for the exclusive use of taxicab drivers. I was pleased to see this because it means that although they are open to the public, they are still of special use to cabdrivers.
I have never sampled anything at a cabmen’s shelter, so have no idea of the quality provided. Years ago, when I was practising dentistry, one of my patients was a taxicab driver. He was a ‘foodie’ and told me that he knew great quality, reasonably-priced eating places all over London. I cannot recall that amongst the many places he told me about that there were any cabmen’s shelters.