Above: The Cabmen’s Shelter in Hanover Square looking rather sorry for itself due to the continuing (2019) works in the square, partly due to the construction of Crossrail.
Cabmen’s Shelters are an interesting part of London’s history. They relate to the cabmen who, when the shelters were first erected, operated a carriage to carry passengers – usually a Broham or a Hansom cab – drawn by a horse.
The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was established in London, in 1875, to run shelters for the drivers of hansom cabs and later hackney carriages or taxi cabs. By law, cab drivers were not permitted to leave their cab stand while it was parked in the road. This made it difficult for them to obtain hot meals. If they drove to a pub to buy food, they then had to pay someone to look after their cab while they were inside the building. In addition, they would be tempted to drink alcohol while at work which was also illegal. The Earl of Shaftesbury and other benefactors decided to set up a charity to construct and run shelters at major cab stands in London.
The shelters were small green wooden huts. They were not allowed to be larger than the width of a horse and cart because they stood on the public highway. A hut of larger size was deemed to be an obstruction to the highway. Between 1875 and 1914 there were 61 huts built around London, the first being on Acacia Road, St John’s Wood. They were all positioned within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Most were staffed by an attendant who sold food and non-alcoholic drinks to the cabbies. The huts were provided with a kitchen in which the attendant could cook the food and also food provided by the cabbies themselves. The attendant was not generally paid but was expected to make an income from these sales. The shelters were also provided with seats and tables. There were books and newspapers, most of them donated by the publishers or other benefactors. Most shelters could accommodate about ten or slightly more cabbies. Gambling, drinking and swearing were strictly forbidden.
In the days of horse-drawn cabs, the shelters had a brass rail on the outside for the horses to be tied to. As a general rule, no one other than a cabby is allowed inside the shelters. However, most shelters have a small hatch through which takeaway customers are served. From the days when there were 61 shelters across Central London, the number has now fallen to just 13 at the time of writing. Nearly all the shelters continue to sell food and drinks.
There are no shelters in Soho. The only shelter to be found in Mayfair is in Hanover Square. At the moment (2019) the square is still rather like a building site because the eastern entrance to Bond Street Underground Station is still under construction. Over 225,000 people will be using the Jubilee, Central and Elizabeth lines daily. Two brand new ticket halls at street level – one at Davies Street, the other at Hanover Square – will lead passengers to the platforms. Entrances bordered by colonnades – red sandstone and bronze for Davies Street, pale Portland stone for Hanover Square – are being built.
When Crossrail finally opens, the square will become really busy with pedestrians shopping in nearby Oxford Street, arriving on the new railway line. In fact, the square is expected to become so busy that Westminster Council is considering moving the shelter from its present site to the south side of the square. However, the taxi cabs in the square congregate around the shelter. With a new underground entrance, the shelter would probably be better to be situated near that new underground entrance.