Cabmen’s shelter built 1915 to replace the original 1882 Maximilian Clarke ‘ornamental’ shelter design for the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund.
Reasons for Designation
The Cabmen’s Shelter of Northumberland Avenue of 1915 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for its distinctive ornamental design and neatly detailed, well-executed carpentry work;
* as a fine example of a shelter erected by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund in 1915 based on Maximilian Clarke’s original design of 1882.
* as a rare and well-preserved relic of London’s hansom cab trade.
* with adjacent designated sites, including the Playhouse Theatre (Grade II), the National Liberal Club (Grade II*) and the Victoria Embankment Gardens (Grade II*).
The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (CSF) was established in London in January 1875 for the purpose of supplying cabmen, when on the ranks, with a place of shelter where they could rest and order refreshments. In the late C19, the drivers of London’s horse-drawn hansom cabs were constantly exposed to the elements and were prohibited by law from leaving the rank when waiting for custom. Consequently, many took shelter in pubs between trips, which had a tendency to lead them to ‘drink more than is good for their health or behaviour’, as the Illustrated London News of 20 February 1875 reported. Under the presidency of the Earl of Shaftsbury, and with the support of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Duke of Westminster and the writer George Moore amongst others, the Fund began constructing small cabins along many major thoroughfares for the benefit of London’s cabmen. The first was a moveable shelter on Acacia Road in St John’s Wood. This was built in February 1875 to a simple design, consisting of a part-glazed timber panelled box with a shallow-pitched roof and canted end bays, without any notable decorative features.
Later shelters designed by prominent architects became more sophisticated. By 1879, George Aitchison was appointed as the first Honorary Architect to the Fund and a more detailed type of design was established. A long since lost example outside the Law Courts on The Strand (photographed in the late C19) with an ornate hipped and double-tiered roof integrating a thin clerestory and decorative finials appears to reflect Aitchison’s influence. Also established under Aitchison was the standard rectangular framework for shelters. Some of these key design tropes were further developed by the architect Maximilian Clarke, who was responsible for the form of what became the most recognisable ‘ornamental’ shelter type, as it was known. This type was distinguished by its hipped roof with gablets and ornamental dormers, overhanging eaves with exposed rafters, central louvered ventilation lantern and decorative fretwork panels bearing the ‘CSF’ monogram. Following a competition in 1881, Clarke’s firm (Harvey and Clarke) were appointed to design the Northumberland Avenue shelter. This was built in 1882 as the first example of this new shelter type. However, the existing shelter is a replacement of 1915 to the same design, positioned close to the site of the original (shown in a late C19 photograph of Northumberland Avenue). The design emerged as the standard shelter type under Clarke’s direction of the Fund, following his appointment alongside Aitchison as joint Honorary Architect in 1884.
The building of new shelters continued throughout the 1880s, although started to tail-off towards the end of the century: between 1890 and 1911 the focus shifted towards upkeep and repair of existing cabins and consequently only seven new structures were built over the period, this taking the operating number to its peak of 47. Owing to the relatively small number of new shelters being built around the turn of the century, there was no attempt to make anything more than modest alterations to the 1882 prototype, despite Clarke being succeeded as the Honorary Architect in 1898 by M Starmer Hack. The rebuilt Northumberland Avenue shelter of 1915 reflects the longevity of the Clarke’s original design model.
Over the course of the C20 most London cabmen’s shelters were lost. Owing to their positions in relatively exposed sites, generally alongside or in the middle of key thoroughfares, the shelters were prone to damage from traffic and vandalism and also vulnerable to the impacts of metropolitan road-widening schemes. Of the 61 shelters known to have been built between 1875 and 1950 only 13 now survive. Included in this number is the Northumberland Avenue shelter, which continues to serve London’s taxi cab drivers and is still overseen and maintained by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. The internal fixtures and fittings have been largely modernised and the boarded ceiling enclosed since 1986 (a photograph of this date showing the boarded ceiling), although the galley kitchen and bench arrangement remains. A plaque affixed to the door of the shelter commemorates restoration work carried out in 1991 under the direction of the Heritage of London Trust.
Cabmen’s shelter built 1915 to replace the original 1882 Maximilian Clarke ‘ornamental’ shelter design for the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund at Northumberland Avenue.
MATERIALS: oak frame with deal cladding, painted green.
PLAN: rectangular footprint, with open-plan galley kitchen and communal cabmen’s mess section with benches set against the walls.
EXTERIOR: shelter of seven framed bays with three end bays, set on an elevated platform. The posts and rails of the timber frame are expressed with panels of vertical boarding set between. The entrance door is on the north side with a central serving window from the kitchen galley to the west end. Square-headed, six-light windows with glazing bars and pivoting hopper lights above (all with replacement frosted plastic glazing) are distributed evenly along both sides of the shelter; two sets to the entrance side flanking the entrance and a trio on the opposing side, of which the western pair have been painted over. The east end has a central window, matching those to the side elevations. Fretwork panels bearing the ‘CSM’ monogram embellished with ribboned garlands are set below the eaves course, positioned alternately between window bays on the sides of the shelter. The roof is half-hipped and has overhanging eaves with exposed joists. Gablets with decorative fretwork panels are set to the ends and to each side, and a square, louvered ventilation lantern flanked by a pair of ornamental dormers (also with fretwork panels) in the centre of the ridge is capped with a tented rooflet.
INTERIOR: fittings are mostly modern, although the basic arrangement of a galley kitchen and serving hatch with a cabmen’s communal section at the opposing end is still in evidence. Replacement bench tops and seating feature in the cabmen’s mess section. A hatch to the ventilation lantern is retained in the centre of the suspended ceiling.