A dilapidated cabman's shelter has been restored after two decades in the doldrums.
Anyone who walks around London with their eyes open will have noticed these distinctive green shelters. They are the secret abode of the cab drivers, a place where cabbies can get a hot meal, exchange gossip and enjoy a cup of tea. No one can usually set foot inside unless they are a black cab licence holder. But not for much longer...
The first cab shelters appeared in 1875. These roadside refuges provided hot meals and drinks for drivers, as well as a friendly place to escape the London elements. Much like phone boxes and police boxes, each was constructed to a consistent design — one celebrated today as a Victorian classic.
A total of 61 were built around London by the Cabmen's Shelter Fund (a charity still operating today). Just 13 remain, and fans of stereotypes might chuckle to note that all are north of the river. Most carry Grade II listed status, and are still used by cab drivers.
The shelter on Chelsea Embankment, beside Albert Bridge, is a later model, opened in 1910, and the only one not in use by cabbies. 'The Pier', nicknamed for its Thames-side location, fell into disrepair after the road was designated a red route. With no parking available, it was no longer a convenient stop for cabbies. The shelter sat unused for almost 20 years. David Fletcher created this amazing 3-D model of the shelter in its shabby state.
Now, thanks to the Cabmen's Shelter Fund and a grant from the Heritage of London Trust, it has been completely restored. The shelter has new timber round three sides, a new roof and ventilation turret, and a fresh coat of that all-important green paint.
The restored shelter has now opened as a bijou cafe for the general public. ‘Café Pier' enjoys stunning Thames-side views next to the beautiful Albert Bridge - a perfect setting to enjoy delicious refreshments. It opens on Thursday to Saturday and serves pastries and hot drinks to joggers, commuters, and locals walking over the Bridge from Battersea Park.
The cafe offers fresh pastries and breakfast toasties in the morning, including toasted sourdough with honey, kaymak (Turkish whipped cream) and chilli, moving to sandwiches like salami with butter and dill pickles at lunchtime.
The other 12 shelters remain off-limits to non-cabbies (though they do serve remarkably cheap drinks to the public via side-hatches, and you can sometimes sneak a look inside as part of Open House festival).
Café Pier open to the public from Friday 9 June. Images courtesy Heritage of London Trust.