Covent Garden has had its share of eccentrics, crackpots and rogues but one who will capture the imagination of anyone who has ever driven to London is Peter Hicks, a Sussex farmer who supplied vegetables to the market during the 1960s. Traffic wardens were introduced to London in 1958 and the revenue stream to councils has been a money-spinner ever since. Peter Hicks didn’t much enjoy having tickets on his fleet of delivery vehicles every morning outside his warehouse on Short’s Gardens (not least because he had 50 truckloads and was being cumulatively fined £30 a week). So he hit on a splendid ruse to discourage wardens from ticketing his lorries: he electrified them.
Using a device intended to restrain errant cattle via electric fences, he wired up his fleet by parking them bumper-to-bumper creating a circuit which would deliver a 2,000volt “nasty tickle” to anyone who touched the bodywork. Describing wardens as thieves and his electric car as an anti-burglar device, he would have great sport parking deliberately and obviously on Short’s Gardens, then going to the pub for a pint while his men delivered the produce. He would occupy a vantage point by the tavern window and watch as traffic wardens tried to issue a ticket and dance around the inevitable flashes and bangs.
The story has a happy ending for the man on the street; astonishingly, the police couldn’t find a law under which to prosecute Hicks’s shock tactics, so he was let off with a caution. London’s first electric vehicles had caused quite a buzz around town.