The First Cabbie Shelter

Cabmen's Shelter. Cochrane Street
Jane Leaver
cab shelter in Knightsbridge 2022

The first cabbie shelter was erected in London, in 1875, at the instigation of Sir George Armstrong, a newspaper publisher who sent his servant out one blustery January day to fetch a cab from a nearby stand. The servant was a long time returning because the drivers had all abandoned their cabs and retired to the warmth and conviviality of a local pub. Shortly thereafter, Sir George, with The Earl of Shaftesbury and a few philanthropic friends, decided to create a cabbie’s charity called the  Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. The cabmen’s shelter was designed to provide drivers with a place to get in out of the cold and have a cheap meal without straying from the cab stand. By this provision, it hoped to keep the cabbies out of the pubs, and alcohol and gambling were forbidden.

The Hon. Arthur Kinnaird publicly opened the first of ‘these moveable huts or pavilions, with glass sides in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, in February 1875.

Between 1875 and 1914, a total of 61 shelters were built at cost of around £200 each. Because these green, garden-shed like shelters stood on a public highway, the police stipulated that they were not allowed to be any larger than a horse and cart. Yet even with these restrictions, they squeezed in a working kitchen and seated up to 13 men to provide shelter and hot food for the drivers of hansom cabs  and hackney carriages (taxis).  Each shelter was to be ‘supplied with gas, water and a stove for cooking purposes and will be placed under the charge of a competent attendant’. Cabbies brought their own mugs , which were kept for them at the shelter and looked after by the ‘shelter boys’.

Thirteen of these shelters, all positioned within a 6-mile radius of Charing Cross, still exist and are maintained by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, and are all Grade II listed buildings.  One of these is situated in Wellington Place, near the entrance the St John’s Church Grounds.

A typical listing description reads as follows:

Cabmen’s Shelter 1888. Timber framed, tongue and  groove timber panels; felt clad timber roof. 7 bays by 3 bays. Entrance to centre of north side. Windows to upper wall in second, fourth and sixth bays. Stump of fleche to roof.

On 27 September 1966 The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was registered with the Charity Commission: Registered charity number 236108

The Fund has been aided in the restoration and maintenance of the shelters by the Heritage of London Trust, and other donors.  The shelters are now run by tenants who pay a contribution to the Charity to maintain the shelters, and still sell hot drinks and sandwiches.  Only cab drivers can sit inside but others can buy food and drink from outside.  The number of black cabs in London is now below 15000 ut they keep up to date by using apps to acquire fares and the shelter in Russell Square has acquired charging points for electric cabs.


This page was added on 08/04/2012.

Comments about this page

  • This body was about 4 (so 1951) and being pushed to the ‘Swings’ by my Aunt. The Lady who cooked here leaned out of the window and gave me a hot piece of Treacle Tart. It was the best thing I have ever tasted. Wonderful memories. Thank you.

    By John Brown (06/09/2012)
  • How lovely to find your site. The Hall family seemed to be very much in residence in St Johns Wood Terrace, occupying 9, 11, 33. Is there any way I could find out when they moved there and for how long. Gt Grandfather Thomas, a cabman. Henry a builder. Thank you Val

    By valerie foley (18/07/2012)

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