Cabmen's Shelters, Chelsea

Restoration of the shelter

The Cabmen's Shelter Fund was established in 1875 by the philanthropist 7th Earl of Shaftesbury to run shelters for the drivers of hansom cabs (horse and cart carriages) and later hackney carriages. By law, drivers could not leave the cab rank while their cab was parked so had no hot meals or respite from poor weather. If they stopped at a pub, they would have to pay someone to look after the cab or risk it being stolen and there was a temptation to drink. The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund constructed 61 shelters across London at major cab stands between 1875 and 1914 and the charity continues today.

Shelters were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart as they stood on the public highway, and each had a small kitchen staffed by an attendant. Cabbies were even allowed to bring in their own food which the attendant would cook for them. Seats and tables accommodated ten to thirteen people. Books and newspapers were provided, most of them donated by publishers or other benefactors. Gambling, drinking and swearing were strictly forbidden. Today the shelters operate in much the same way although only 13 of the original still exist. Inside the shelter is reserved strictly for black cab licence holders. Non-licence holders can however be served from outside the hatch.

This cabmen's shelter was first built on the Chelsea Embankment site in 1910. It has undergone several rebuilds in the early 1970s and again in the early 1980s following a vehicle strike. Following a design competition in 1881, early cabmen’s shelters became particularly ornate with a two-tiered roof and oak frames. Their overall uniform size, shape and colour however made it easy for cabbies to recognise them quickly, even when driving in unfamiliar territory. This shelter follows the later, simpler, designs. Sister shelters of the same design are found in Lupus Street (Pimlico) and Pont Street (off Sloane Street).

“The Pier” (named due to its proximity to Cadogan Pier) fell into decline since the implementation of the Red Route nearly 20 years ago which made it impossible for black cabs to stop. The last attendant left in 2011 and the structure had become increasingly dilapidated.

The aim is to restore and reopen the building so that it serves a sustainable public purpose (though it is unlikely it will return to its original function as a cabmen’s shelter). Phase One will be exterior timber works, cladding the new roof in cedar feather-edge tiles, reinstating all missing leadwork, replacing vents and windows and constructing a new turret. The rotten floor will be stripped and replaced. Phase Two will be an internal fit out and the connection of the shelter to utilities. Work will begin Summer 2021.

whitechapel 2.jpg