Cabbie’s dead end

Driving a cab in the 19th century must have been a pretty tough occupation, so it’s hardly surprising that George Smith would like to ‘fortify’ himself before starting work, but in so doing history was made in a rather elegant part of London. At 12:45 on 10th September 1897, 25-year-old taxi driver George Smith an employee of the London Electric Cab Company was spotted by a policeman travelling erratically down Bond Street driving at his vehicle’s top speed of 9 mph.

[P]olice Constable Russell 24C watched as Smith mounted the pavement and careered through the front door of 165 Bond Street coming to a half in the middle of the hallway of one of London’s most expensive addresses.

Smith was hauled off to Great Marlborough Street courtroom where he admitted drinking ‘two or three glasses of beer’ before starting work that day. He was fined 20 shillings and staggered into the record books as the first person ever to be convicted of drunk driving.

The hapless cabbie must have though it just wasn’t his day, but his brush with death – whilst driving his cab – could have been the least of his troubles if he had awoken the fictional character lurking inside. For behind the front door of number 165 lived the celebrated actor, theatre manager and owner of the Lyceum Theatre one Sir Henry Irving.

It was at the Lyceum Theatre that Bram Stoker worked as Irving’s assistant and his boss’s manner and the inspired way he would play villainous roles was the model for Stoker’s famous book Dracula. The novel was published just a few months before Smith’s uninvited intrusion.

George Smith’s detour would have hardly been welcome for his boss. In 1897 the London Electric Cab Company operated 12 electric out of Lambeth. Walter Bersey grew his cab fleet to 75 vehicles over the following two years, but their running costs were out of control.

It was an expensive project that saw the company generating its own electricity, while the tyres disintegrated under the weight of the vehicles and needed to be replaced regularly. The company lost £6,200 in its first year and was forced to suspend operations in 1899.

Last year Bersey cab went on display at the Science Museum [pictured] a fuller account can be found here.

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