London’s Cabbie Tea Huts

Russell Square Cabbie Tea HutThere are so many, many things I love about London. The most endearing sights for me, as a tealover, are these adorable little green buildings known as Cabmen’s Shelters or, as I call them, Cabbie Tea Huts. These shelters were built in Victorian times as places where a London taxi driver could grab a cup of tea and a sandwich. They serve the same purpose today.

The first shelters were built in 1875. At that time, it was illegal for a cab-driver (in his horse-drawn carriage, called a Hansom Cab) to park his cab and leave it unattended. This made it a bit difficult to get a hot meal during the day. In stepped The Earl of Shaftesbury who, with some other philanthropists, created a charity called the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. The charity built and ran these “shelters” at major cab stands to provide cab-drivers with good, wholesome food at reasonable prices.

Cabbie Tea Hut in LondonIf you have ever watched movies depicting the hussle and bussle of street traffic in Victorian England, you will appreciate the building requirement that these charming little buildings be no larger than a Hansom Cab. Though twee, they still managed to fit in a kitchen and seating for 10-13 men. 61 shelters were built between 1875 and 1914, and 13 remain, located here:

  • Russell Square
  • Chelsea Embankment – near the Albert Bridge
  • Embankment Place
  • Grosvenor Gardens – west side of north garden
  • Hanover Square – north of central garden
  • Kensington Park Road – outside numbers 8-10
  • Kensington Road – north side
  • Pont Street
  • St George’s Square, Pimlico
  • Temple Place
  • Thurloe Place, Kensington – opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Warwick Avenue – Clifton Gardens
  • Wellington Place, St John’s Wood

The next time you are in London, keep an eye out for these tiny tea houses. At most of them, anyone – not just a cabbie – can order a cup of tea or a sandwich.

Cabbie Tea Mug, 1935-1945 (Museum of London)

This 3/4-pint tea mug would have been used by a London cabbie in a Cabman’s Shelter. A cabbie would bring his own mug to the hut, where it was kept and looked after by “shelter boys.” (Image from Museum of London archives.)

 

 

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