The History of the London Taxi Trade

"An Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent" was approved by Parliament in 1654, to remedy what it described as the "many Inconveniences that do daily arise by reason of the late increase and great irregularity of Hackney Coaches and Hackney Coachmen in London, Westminster and the places thereabouts". The first hackney-carriage licences date from 1662, and applied literally to horse-drawn carriages, later modernised as hansom cabs (1834), that operated as vehicles for hire. There was a distinction between a general hackney carriage and a hackney coach, a hireable vehicle with specifically four wheels, two horses and six seats, and driven by a Jarvey (also spelled jarvie).

In 19th century London, private carriages were commonly sold off for use as hackney carriages, often displaying painted-over traces of the previous owner's coat of arms on the doors.

 

The growler was a type of four-wheel, enclosed carriage drawn by two horses used as a hackney carriage, that is, as a vehicle for hire with a coachman. It is distinguished from a cab, hansom cab or cabriolet, in that those had only two wheels. It is distinguished from most coaches by being of slightly smaller size, holding nominally four passengers, and being much less ostentatious.

A small, usually two-wheeled, one-horse hackney vehicle called a noddy once plied the roads in Ireland and Scotland. The French had a small hackney coach called a fiacre.

 

Motorisation

Electric hackney carriages appeared before the introduction of the internal combustion engine to vehicles for hire in 1901. In fact there was even London Electrical Cab Company: the cabs were informally called Berseys after the manager who designed them, Walter C. Bersey. Another nickname was ‘Hummingbirds’ from the sound that they made. In August 1897 25 were introduced, and by 1898 there were 50 more. During the 20th century, cars generally replaced horse-drawn models, and the last horse-drawn hackney carriage ceased service in London in 1947.

 

UK regulations define a hackney carriage as a taxicab allowed to ply the streets looking for passengers to pick up, as opposed to private hire vehicles (sometimes called minicabs), which may pick up only passengers who have previously booked or who visit the taxi operator's office.

In 1999, the first of a series of fuel cell powered taxis were trialled in London. The "Millennium Cab" built by ZeTek gained television coverage and great interest when driven in the Sheraton Hotel ballroom in New York by Judd Hirsch, the star of the television series Taxi. ZeTek built three cabs but ceased activities in 2001.

 

Continuing horse-drawn cab services

Horse-drawn hackney services continue to operate in parts of the UK, for example in Cockington, Torquay. The Australian city of Melbourne has, in recent years, introduced horse-drawn hire carriages as an adjunct to its promotion of tourism. The Town of Windsor, Berkshire, is believed to be the last remaining Town with a continuous lineage of Horse Drawn Hackey carriages, currently run by Orchard Poyle Carriages. The license having been past down from driver to driver since 1830. The Royal Borough now licenses the carriage for rides around Windsor Castle and The Great Park, however the original hackney license is in place allowing for passenger travel under the same 1662 law originally passed.

 

'Black Cabs'

Motorised hackney cabs in the UK, traditionally all black in London, are known as black cabs, although they are now produced in a variety of colours, sometimes in advertising brand liveries . The 50 golden cabs produced for the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 were notable.

 

Vehicle design

London's black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 ft (8 m). One reason for this is the configuration of the famed Savoy Hotel: The hotel entrance's small roundabout meant that vehicles needed the small turning circle in order to navigate it. That requirement became the legally required turning circles for all London cabs, while the custom of a passenger's sitting on the right, behind the driver, provided a reason for the right-hand traffic in Savoy Court, allowing hotel patrons to board and alight from the driver's side.

 

Driver qualification

In London, hackney-carriage drivers have to pass a test called The Knowledge to demonstrate that they have an intimate knowledge of the geography of London streets, important buildings etc. There are two types of badge, a yellow one for the suburban areas and a green one for all of London. The latter is considered far more difficult. Drivers who own their cabs as opposed to renting from a garage are known as "Mushers" and those who have just passed the "Knowledge" are known as "Butter Boys". There are currently around 25,000 black cabs in London, licensed by Transport for London.

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