Nothing in my near 46 years has quite filled me with the dread and fear that Knowledge of London (KoL) appearances did. For those who don’t know how these exams work, they are as simple as they are terrifying, In my time you went to the PCO office on Penton Street, housed in a post war building of monumental ugliness, dressed in your smartest suit and sat in the waiting room for your name to be called. The waiting room had a map of London on one wall that particularly nervous (or lazy) knowledge students would stare at in the hope they would absorb some extra nuggets of information. Your examiner would call your name, sometimes from down the corridor so you wouldn’t even see them, and you would follow them and enter their office. They would have a seat in front of the window with all their maps and knowledge information safely out of view on an angled draughtsman’s type desk. They would then proceed to ask you a series of ‘point to point’ questions and you would then verbally tell them the route you would take, road by road, turn by turn. So, you might be asked to take the examiner from The Savoy to Paddington Station so you would start “Leave on the right Savoy Court, Left the Strand etc, etc” until you reached the destination. The ‘Leave on the right’ bit is to do with establishing the direction you are travelling when leaving a particular point, and you all know that Savoy Court is the only place in the UK you drive on the right hand side of the road. If you don’t know where the start or finish point of a question was you would have to say “Sorry Sir/Madam don’t know that one” and they would ask you another, generally more well known point. This is called ‘dropping points’ and you would be marked on a combination of how good your routes are, how fluently you could call them and how many points you dropped. An A, B or C gave you 6, 4 or 3 points and 12 points in total got you through to the next level of appearances. There are three levels of appearances before your do a final stage of suburban routes, one final exam and then you get your badge. Easy huh?
But the point of telling you all that is to try to give you an idea that when you were sitting in that waiting room (and probably for the previous 48 hours) you would be thinking that your kindly examiner might ask you ANYTHING they want. And they did (and still do) ask you anything they want. There is no set list of points to learn, that could never work in a city like London, just this vague definition of what counts as a point of interest (POI) from TfL; “This can be a street, a square, etc. or a named building, in other words anywhere that a taxi passenger might ask to be taken”. So,as I may have already said, anywhere! And all the major places would be covered, stations, hotels, hospitals, restaurants etc, etc, but each examiner would have their own little set of points that they liked to ask and some would be ridiculously obscure and some have even gained enough notoriety outside of the taxi trade that they are quite well known. So know we have well known obscure knowledge points. Still with me? Why do the examiners ask these places? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to that but I think it’s for two main reasons. One is that to go and look for these places made you go to parts of the city you wouldn’t have gone to normally and secondly, it gives you a level of knowledge way above just places & roads. You end up with stories to tell and history to impress gullible tourists with. With the help of twitter, I have tried to gather together as much about the more obscure, interesting and just downright strange places that get asked on the knowledge. And I think in doing this it’ll help show why the knowledge should never, ever be got rid of.
There are certainly POIs that have crossed over to the mainstream, Policemans Coat Hook in Gt NewPort Street and Giro the Nazi Dog in Carlton House Terrace are two that immediately spring to mind, but I’m going to try and list as many as I can and where merited pass on some of the stories that go with them. Some of these stories may be complete porkies, some may be myth. some may be a combination of truth, myth and porkies but I’ll let you all make up your own minds. What I do know is that some of the stories are great and are certainly well worth sharing. So here goes, starting with the more well known.
Policeman’s Coat Hook, Great Newport St – a POI that is literally a hook on the wall on what, when I did the KoL anyway, was the Photographers Gallery right near the junction with Long Acre, St Martins Lane, Garrick St & Cranbourne St. Because this was such a busy junction a policeman would be posted there to direct traffic and the hook was supplied for him to hang his cape up in warmer weather.
Giro the Nazi Dog, Carlton House Terrace – Before World War II the German Embassy was on Carlton House Terrace and Giro was owned by Dr Leopold von Hoesch, ambassador from 1932 to 1936. Giro died in 1934 and was given a full ceremonial burial. His grave is close to the Duke of York Steps.
2 Cherubs On the Phone – In the garden of 2 Temple Place (in itself a fascinating building with a fascinating history) are 2 statues of “cherubs” holding what may or may not be early versions of a telephone. I cannot tell you how many punters have asked to be taken here. None, that’s how many.
The London Nose, Admiralty Arch – One of thirty five noses that were attached to buildings in 1997 by artist Rick Buckley, this is one of between 7 & 10 that still survive. One smartarse examiner would include it in his questions so that he could ask KoL students “Take me from the London Eye to the London Nose”. Oh how we’d laugh at this great joke.
Methane Lampost, Carting Lane – The rear of the Savoy is a veritable warren of small streets, relatively unchanged over the years. In Carting Lane is last surviving methane lamppost, or to give it it’s full name – ‘Patent Sewer Ventilating Lantern’. Certainly until recent years it was still operational.
Three Camels Corner, junction of Eastcheap & Lovat Lane – Don’t know much about this one, just got a photo from one of my cabbie colleagues @martinwhufc1. Above the door to what is now a HSBC bank is a relief of, er, three camels.
Spies Lamppost, Audley Square – Mentioned in this BBC story the lamppost was used by Russian spies some of whom may, or may not, have lived next door to Ian Fleming.
Nelson’s Fleet, The Mall – I wish I could remember where I read it, but apparently it is a matter of debate as to exactly what is depicted on the top of the lampposts down The Mall. The story seems to have some variations but generally goes along these lines. Each lamppost along The Mall has a boat on top, they supposedly depict Nelson’s fleet and Nelson is supposedly inspecting his fleet from atop his column. But I know for a fact that Nelson does not look down The Mall and is in fact looking pretty much directly south to Trafalgar itself. There is also the fact that each boat atop the lampposts is identical and therefore we pretty quickly run into some problems trying to see it as his fleet. But it’s a nice story and as is the way with these things, it seems a little churlish to spoil it, so I won’t dig any deeper.
Burton Tailor Mosaic, Chrisp Street – If you do a search on Google Images for “Burton Tailor Mosaic” it’s pleasing to see that quite a few of these lovely mosaics from the doorways of Burton shops seem to have survived. One particular examiner who particularly specialises in obscure east London points would ask for this particular one situated so handily on the corner of Chrisp Street & Susannah St, site of a former shop.
Mice Eating Cheese, Philpot Lane – London’s smallest public statue sits on the wall between a Cafe Nero and Jamies Wine Bar, apparently commemorating the death of two workers who plunged to their deaths fighting over the lost contents of a packed lunch during the construction of the nearby Monument. Where was health & safety then, eh?
“Little St Pauls”, Vauxhall Bridge – Look over the side of Vauxhall Bridge and there are a series of statues depicting various turn of the 19th/20th Century worthy themes including Agriculture, Science, Fine Arts, Education etc, I’m sure you get the picture. One of these statues (Architecture I’m guessing) holds a small scale St Paul’s. So guess what out smartarse examiners would ask? “Big St Paul’s” to “Little St Paul’s”. The scamps.
“Little Ben”, Victoria Street – last of the hi-lar-ious “take me from big to little” type questions that got asked involves a clock tower that mimics it’s big brother just down the road. Given all of the building work that is going on in the area I don’t recall seeing it recently. I hope it is being well looked after as London shifts and changes around it.
Tower Bridge Chimney, Tower Bridge – this, for reasons I haven’t quite worked out has become my favourite. I don’t recall learning it when I did the KoL so it was a joy to hear about it’s existence recently and it tickled me immensely. On the north side of the bridge are a series of blue lampposts but if you look carefully enough one of them doesn’t have a lamp on it’s post. It’s also a different design to the other posts. This is because it’s a chimney for the fire that kept the guards warm in their room under the bridge. Those clever Victorians, eh? Why have a normal chimney when you can disguise it as lamppost?
So there you have it, a little peek into the perils of KoL examinations and the kinds of “points of interest” that could get asked. But as previously mentioned, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All that stuff goes towards what make London Licensed Taxi Drivers the best in the world. And that day when somebody asks to visit Giro the Nazi the Dog, how impressed are they going to be when I tell them I know exactly where it is?