If you’ve done your share of walking around London, chances are you’ve seen a green shed or two. What you might not know, however, is that there are only 13 of these hangars in the city and they are top secret structures.
Sheds are part of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund and were built at major taxi ranks in the late 1800s to give taxi drivers a place to shelter and have a drink (alcohol was strictly prohibited) or eat a piece when they needed it. Taxi drivers were not allowed to leave a stand if their car was parked there, allowing them to stay put and stay comfortable.
Between 1875 and 1914, 61 cabbies’ shelters were built in London. Today only 13 remain and some of them sell food to the public from an open window. However, only taxi drivers (and people running shelters) are allowed inside.
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Since they weren’t allowed to be bigger than a horse and cart when they were built, you’d think the interior of green sheds must be quite small. Apparently, however, they are equipped with benches that can accommodate 10-13 men inside. They also have small kitchens for preparing food and drinks.
Knowing that I had passed many green sheds in my day without stopping to look at them, when I heard about the secretive nature of these structures. We non-cab drivers have to rely on word of mouth from those in the know, but I figured I could at least take a peek inside…even through a window.
No, these things keep their secrets well. My first visit was to the shed in Russell Square, known for serving good sarnies and hot food to the public (but only outside) as well as taxi drivers. Google lists the hangar as open 7am-4pm on weekdays but unfortunately there was no one there when I arrived.
I took the opportunity to take a look at the shed and see if I could see anything through the windows. The windows were frosted with what looked like thick curtains blocking prying eyes like mine. A small high window at the very top of the shed showed a long fluorescent light, but that was it.
The same was true for the taxi drivers shelter at Embankment Place, which was closed when I arrived (it closes at 2pm). A fortress in its own right, there was no chance of glimpsing the allusive interiors. Maybe I should just become a taxi driver. Just two to four years of training and achieving ‘All London’ Knowledge. Oh, and I should learn to drive.
OR I could just wait for the next annual London Open House festival. During the festival, which allows visitors to see and celebrate some of London’s housing, architecture and neighborhoods, some shelters open up and allow the public to see inside what is usually the reserved space to taxi drivers.
The next London Open Day will take place between September 8 and 21. I know where my first step will be.