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The London Cab Trade – A History

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History of the London Cab Trade

When we talk about cab or taxi services around the world and someone asks “what is the oldest?” the answer is London Taxis. London Taxis (London Cabs) aren’t just the oldest licensed cab service in the world, they are the oldest licensed transport system in the world.
London Taxis (London Cabs) were first known as Hackney Coaches, the word ‘Hackney’ deriving from ‘Haqunue’, a dappled grey breed of horse with a particular rhythmical trotting style, which made it perfect for the job. It is believed that this Arabic breed of horse was introduced to these shores during the Norman conquest in the 11th century, and the name was corrupted in the 13th century. The coach wasn’t introduced to England until during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (16th century) .

As ideal a form of transport as it was, the coaches were very expensive to purchase, even for those with considerable financial fortunes. As a result of the high purchase costs, when proprietors purchased a new carriage, they would rent their old carriage to supplement the cost, more often than not, to their stablemen and footmen, who would then ‘ply for hire’ by waiting outside the numerous City inns and taverns.

Trade regulation.

By 1636 it was felt that regulation of the trade was needed, and it was king Charles I who made a proclamation to enable 50 hackney carriages to ‘ply for hire’ in London. It was left to the aldermen of the City of London to make sure this number was not exceeded. 1636 was also the year when dramatic changes occurred in how the coachmen would ply for hire.

Initially, a retired sea captain by the name of Bailey decided to ply for hire adjacent to the Maypole that once stood on the Strand at the western end of the city. Over time, he was joined by a few other coaches and this became London’s first unofficial Taxi Rank. It wasn’t long before other ‘coachmen’ realised the benefit in this, and attempted to join the ‘rank’. However, there was limited space here and if the ‘rank’ was full, these ‘coachmen’ would have to trot up and down the Strand until a space became available. These journeys up and down the Strand were essentially the beginnings of plying for hire on the streets of London.

Over the next half a century or so licensing rights were constantly being revoked and reinstated by the regulatory authorities. Since 1654, a permanent regulation of London Taxis has been in operation, and has remained to this day. From 1654 the regulated numbers of licensed London Cabs was increased to 300 throughout the City of London and Westminster. (today the number of Licensed London Taxis (Hackney Carriages) number in excess of twenty thousand).

Types of vehicles 

When the drivers began using lighter cabriolets, two-wheeled vehicles from France, at the beginning of the 19th Century, they became known as ‘cabs’. The name is French and means ‘jump like a goat’, as they were very light, and tended to bounce through the streets. One particular type of cabriolet was designed and patented in 1834 by Joseph Hansom, which combined speed with much improved safety. This was achieved by cleverly designing the vehicle to have a low centre of gravity, making it safer whilst cornering. There is a public house (Tavern) sited on Earls Court Road in west London named after Joseph’s invention. During the rise of the popular Hansom cab, many ‘four wheel’ carriages were still being used, and these four wheelers became known as “growlers” because of the fact that they were much noisier travelling around the cobbled streets of the City of London.

A Hansom Cab

Hansom Cab

Hansom Cab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some proprietors preferred the idea of transporting larger numbers of passengers by using larger vehicles. One man by the name of George Shillibeer came up with the idea of using a 12 seat omnibus, which would pick up passengers at pre-set points along a designated route. This style of operating eventually developed into the famous Red London Bus services that operate today. Shillibeer’s first route was from Paddington Station to Bank Junction in the City of London, but as he was not a Licensed London Cabbie, he wasn’t licensed to pick up passengers on his return journey towards Paddington until outside of the city’s jurisdiction.

George Shillibeer’s Ominibus

Shillibeer's first omnibus

George Shillibeer’s Ominibus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1833, the Cab trade (even though still licensed) became unregulated, and there was no longer a restriction on the amount of taxis. The only limit was that the driver and vehicle be ‘fit and proper’, a condition that still applies today. The authority for the licensing of the London Taxi trade was later handed over to the Metropolitan Police, more specifically the ‘Commissioner of Police’. It was he who declared that ‘all drivers had to be licensed’ (previous to this it was the proprietor that held the license). All drivers were then required to wear a badge showing their designated number and they had to wear it whenever at work or whilst in a court of law, either as a witness or as the accused. This is a practice which still continues today.

The famous ‘Knowledge of London’ examination process was introduced by Sir Richard Mayne. It was the result of many complaints received from the thousand’s of visitors to the Great Exhibition at London’s Hyde Park, in 1851. Having read the numerous complaints, the Commissioner of Police stated that “it was an unacceptable fact that many of London’s Cabbies did not hold a good enough topographical knowledge of this great city, and that a solution was needed”. Go to Knowledge of London for more details of this extensive topographical test that all drivers must pass if they wish to pursue a career as a Licensed London Taxi Driver.

The end of the nineteenth century saw two major changes to the cab trade. One change was the way in which fares were charged, and this was because Mr Wilhelm Bruhn invented his patented taximeter, the word comes from the French word taxe (‘cost’) and the Greek word metron (‘measure’). Ever since then, licensed cabs have been known as Licensed Taxis.

The other major change to occur that century was mechanisation of the fleet. Firstly the ‘Bersey’ Taxi appeared on London’s street. Electrically propelled, slow and cumbersome, the Bersey was not a success and was eventually scrapped. It was completely removed from service after an unfortunate accident in Hyde Park that resulted in the death of a young boy.
By the turn of the century, petrol driven licensed London Taxis had started to appear on the streets alongside the dated and slow horse-drawn cabs. However, the horse-drawn cabs proved resilient, and continued to serve Londoner’s until after World War II.

In 2009, the long and valued history of the regulation and licensing of the London Taxi (Hackney Carriage) trade was passed to ‘Transport for London'(TfL) which is governed by the Mayor of London.

 

Austin High Lot Taxi

Austin-High-Lot-Taxi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Initially there was a varied choice of vehicles for the cabbie to choose from, but after the Great War (World War I) this changed.

Austin introduced the ‘High Lot’ cab onto the market, it became very successful and they soon monopolised the market with this vehicle.

During World War II the London Taxi was commissioned to assist the London Fire Service, and could often be seen pulling pumps and ladders throughout the devastated Central London area.

Beardsmore Taxi

Beardsmore Taxi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1950’s, vehicles licensed as London Taxis were required to be provided with an open-access luggage platform in place of the front kerbside passenger seat. The driver was as always, required to be a fit and proper person.

The Austin Motor Company also introduced the Low Loader, the Flash Lot, the FX3, and then the FX4.

FX3 Taxi

FX3 Taxi

FX4 Taxis

FX4 Taxis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The arrival of the Austin FX4, created the image of the world famous and iconic shape of the Licensed London Taxi that we know today. Alongside the infamous Austin Mini, the FX4 Taxi was one of the longest mass produced British car designs. This model was the first to have the 25 ft turning circle which was required for the ‘Certificate of Fitness’ that all Licensed London Taxis must still have to this day, as a condition of licensing.

Fairway

 

Fairway Taxi

Fairway Taxi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the FX4 came the Fairway which was essentially the same as an FX4 from an exterior point of view, but changes to the interior added an extra seat and alterations to the passenger door openings. On later models of the Fairway Taxi, vehicles were manufactured with power assisted steering and front disc brakes for added safety and driver comfort. London cabs became fully wheelchair accessible with the Fairway model.

 

TX1 taxi

TX1 taxi

 

TX1

The successor to the Fairway was the TX1 which was now being manufactured by Carbodies of Coventry. Attention to retaining the iconic shape was paramount to its success, and coupled with the additional feature of much taller door openings, this model was also very successful. This model is powered with the more than capable Nissan diesel engine, which has proved to be very reliable over the years.

 

TX2 Taxi

TX2 Taxi

 

 

 

TX2

Carbodies was rebranded as London Taxis International (LTI), and the TX1 was soon upgraded to the all new TX2 model. Fitted with a Ford diesel engine, and full width rear passenger windows, this model continued to be very successful.

 

 

TX4 taxi on Westminster Bridge

TX4 taxi

 

TX4

The current and most common taxi on the streets of London today is the all new TX4, which includes a facelift and many upgrades to the previous model. This is said to be the safest and most comfortable taxi ever produced for the Licensed London Taxi trade. It is still manufactured in Coventry by the Chinese owned London Taxi Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Geely Group of Companies, whose portfolio includes the Volvo Car Company of Sweden. The London Taxi Company are to build a new production plant near Coventry, where the new generation taxis will be made. LTC have announced that an all new Electric/ZEC (Zero Emissions Capable) taxi (possibly the TX5) is currently being designed. The new generation LTC Taxi will hit the streets 2018, before the Mayor’s ‘ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) comes into force in central London in 2020

Mercedes Vito Taxi

 

Mercedes Vito Taxi

Mercedes Vito Taxi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2009, Mercedes entered the Licensed London Taxi market with the all new Mercedes Vito Taxi, thus breaking the monopoly held by LTI. This Taxi is derived from the Mercedes Panel Van, and is capable of carrying up to six persons in safety and comfort. Being of German construction it is of course a well built, reliable and practical piece of engineering, however it is not the iconic ‘London Taxi’ shape that is renowned around the world.

 

All New Metrocab Taxi

 

 

 

 

The latest Licensed London Taxi due to hit the streets of London is the purpose built Metrocab. This will be the very first ZEC (Zero Emissions Capable) Taxi ever to hit the streets of London. Designed to carry 6 passengers (and all of the luggage) in comfort & safety, the new Metrocab is fitted with air ride suspension, full glass roof, and full climate control. The new Metrocab is powered by an electric drivetrain which emits zero emissions, and is also fitted with a low emission petrol engine which, coupled to a generator, can supply power for even the longest journeys. The prototype is currently in the final phases of design, street testing and licensing, and London’s newest cab is hoping to hit the streets of London in 2016

 

We hope you liked this brief insight into the long history of our Taxi trade and the Taxi Cabs that have served London to date. If you liked it, “Please share it with your friends”

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