Grand Hotel Cabman’s Shelter

Grand Hotel Cabman’s Shelter
Sylvia Black

Cabmen’s shelters had been a feature of London streets since 1875. These little buildings provided much needed shelter for cabmen while they waited for customers.  

But it was not until 1898 that an anonymous benefactor put up the money to erect the first of Melbourne’s shelters. 

Architect Nahum Barnet supplied drawings without charge, which were based on one of the London shelters recently completed for St James’s Square.  

It was placed in Carpentaria Place, which cut through Gordon Reserve, directly opposite the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor), between Parliament House and the Old Treasury. 

The little building was about 5.3 x 2.3 metres and provided just enough space for a few cabbies to get together for a quick snack, or maybe even a game of cards. 

Previously the only place a cabbie got to sit down was the driver’s seat of his cab, cantilevered behind and slightly above the passengers’ cabin, and exposed to all weathers. Or, sometimes, in fine weather, a party of drivers might have been seen playing draughts or dominoes on the kerbstone.

Roughly 18 months after its opening, on February 24, 1898, the shelter was fitted with a telephone – No 180. Customers could now ring for a cab. But all was not happy for the cabmen. 

By 1901, some of the cabbies, 22 to be exact, had formed a monopoly who would not allow the rest of the men using the shelter to join as subscribers or to use the phone.  

A petition signed by 60 aggrieved cabmen was sent to the Hackney Carriage Committee of the Melbourne City Council. It seems the matter was resolved as nothing further on the issue came to light in the newspapers. 

A movement to supply the shelters with books and magazines resulted in the committee of the Society for the Protection of Animals reporting in November 1900 that:

“… through the kindness of a life member of the society a number of copies of Black Beauty had been furnished to each of the cabmen’s shelters around Melbourne, and a number of the drivers had already expressed their appreciation of the gift.”

The Grand Hotel Cabmen’s Shelter, as it is now known, survived on its site until the advent of the underground loop, when Carpentaria Place disappeared to enable the building of Parliament Station. Heritage Victoria found a new site for it in Yarra Park near Brunton Avenue, just below the old railway bridge, where it now languishes, irrelevant and forlorn. 

It is reasonably intact, even down to the old hitching rail where horses were once tethered, but it has lost the lantern which once sat on top of its dovecote-like ventilation chimney. •

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