This article is dedicated to someone you’ve probably never heard of but who has influenced all who live and work in London. He lived between 1801 and 1885 and his name was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Lord Shaftesbury.
Shaftesbury was one of the UK’s greatest philanthropists and among many achievements it was he who was responsible for the green timber cabmen’s shelters, which you’ll have seen at one time or another in the big city.
Looking like overgrown garden sheds, these distinctive buildings offered food and shelter to the drivers of hansom cabs and hackney carriages and can still be seen on London’s streets.
In Victorian London, cab drivers weren’t allowed to leave their vehicles when parked and as a consequence it was difficult for them to get hot meals while at work. Enter our hero Shaftesbury, who with a few philanthropic chums decided to create the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund.
Between 1875 and 1914, 61 shelters were built at a cost of around £200 each, all designed to provide cabbies with wholesome refreshments at moderate prices without recourse to them leaving their stations.
Thirteen of them are still standing, all Grade II listed buildings. Amazingly, all still perform their original function and are maintained by the fund. They are the size and shape they are because the police stipulated they could not be larger than a horse and cart as they stood on public highways. You can find them in Chelsea Embankment, Russell Square and elsewhere in the capital if you fancy a spot of sightseeing.
Our hero also championed a massive slum clearance programme. The largest of these was to the east of what is now Shaftesbury Avenue. The area used to contain some of London’s most appalling slums.
In August 1872 he funded the construction and laid the foundation stone of the first housing estate in the capital where every house had sanitation.
This allowed residents to avoid the effects of a cholera epidemic that claimed the lives of 50,000 Londoners during the 1870s. Not surprisingly, the area is still called the Shaftesbury Estate. It’s in Battersea and houses there now sell for £500,000 or more.
Make no mistake – this man was much loved and to commemorate his philanthropy, in 1893 the Shaftesbury Memorial was erected in Piccadilly Circus.
The day of his funeral was drenched with torrential rain, yet over 5,000 mourners lined the capital’s streets hatless in tribute to one of London’s greatest sons, whose impact on the city can still be seen today.