There are thirteen green huts dotted around central London. These cabmen’s shelters were built by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (established in 1875) and were once part of a much larger network. The shelters were built to provide cabbies with “good and wholesome refreshments at moderate prices”, which is what they have been doing ever since. The surviving shelters, some Grade II heritage-listed, are easily missed. Slightly oversized garden sheds lost in the rush of today’s traffic. Step inside and you will find a tiny kitchen at one end and bench seating for about a dozen customers at the other.
These seemingly modest buildings belie the fact that they are sites of navigational expertise. The cabbies that use them are experts at getting around London. It takes an average of four years to learn ‘The Knowledge’ (a prerequisite for a black cab licence) and, in the process, taxi drivers’ brains adapt to enable them to store a detailed map of the city. The shelters are also conversation hubs, alive with the exchange of anecdotes told and stories overheard as cabbies go about their business of transporting Londoners and visitors from place to place.
Cabbies’ Shelters taps into this rich vein of London life and heritage. Kathy Prendergast, Emma Smith and Victoria Turnbull have created new artworks in response to these unique and distinctive buildings and the knowledgeable communities that use them. This website touches upon their different commissions and approaches. In addition, the project has produced a Learning Resource for Explorers (downloadable from the Learning page) and a website for the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund.
Cabbies’ Shelters has involved an enormous number of people who have contributed in many ways. In particular, it would not have been possible without the support of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, the shelter keepers, London Transport Museum, the London Vintage Taxi Association and a wonderfully enthusiastic crew of volunteers. We are also grateful to Martin Parr for giving us permission to use his photographs here.
Thanks to all!