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Would Carlton Cole Magee turn in his grave? Probably not.

PUBLISHED: 11:23 12 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:08 07 September 2010

IT S HARDLY a cause for celebration, but in case you didn t know, this week sees the 50th anniversary of the introduction of parking meters in London. Since the first recognisable roads are believed to have been built some 6,000 years earlier, it could

IT'S HARDLY a cause for celebration, but in case you didn't know, this week sees the 50th anniversary of the introduction of parking meters in London. Since the first recognisable roads are believed to have been built some 6,000 years earlier, it could be argued that they were a long time in coming, but it's safe to assume now that they are here to stay.

Still, when you look at old black and white images of half a century ago when most of London's roads were virtually traffic free by today's standards, it's hard to imagine that meters were invented to deal with traffic congestion - though even then they were controversial.

When Carlton Cole Magee's invention was first put to work in oh-so-pretty Oklahoma City in 1935, vigilantes tried to destroy them en masse. One of Paul Newman's greatest film scenes is at the start of Cool Hand Luke when his inebriated character walks along a Southern boardwalk and, in the spirit of the age, is seen systematically decapitating parking meters with a pipe cutter.

For this crime he ends up in jail and is of course eventually shot dead, a punishment which would surely be approved of by councils like Camden and Westminster who have been using parking meters to shamelessly fleece their citizens of more millions than Roman Abramovich will ever own.

The introduction of the parking meter ended a short-lived age of innocence for motorists. Most people who use cars in London now are resigned to the ritual of depositing half their available income into one of the increasingly imposing machines, merely for the privilege of parking near their high streets for an hour or so.

Once upon a time meters gave you a timely and quite friendly reminder that your time was running out. The voracious wardens of today will have your number before you can blink. And the penalties for over-staying your welcome have increased at an inflationary rate only previously experienced by South American dictatorships during military takeovers.

Then there's clamping, and towing, impounding and crushing - all to reinforce the omnipotent power of the parking meter. Would Carlton Cole Magee turn in his grave? He might, but only from agonising over the royalties that would have come his way if he had been able to angle a percentage of the takings for himself.

But what's this? On this auspicious anniversary, the usually voracious Westminster Council cunningly pioneers cut-price parking, on the kind of economical lines made famous by EasyJet. The idea is that if you arrive when the parks are at their emptiest, you pay an unfeasibly low rate, as little as 20p an hour for parking in central London. As the parks fill up, the cost can rise to £2 an hour - but at last there's a crumb of comfort for hard-pressed city motorists. Whoever came up with the scheme should be knighted. CC Magee never was.

Geoff Martin


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