A potted history of cabs

By granting an extension to Uber’s licence to operate in London Sadiq Khan appears to have given up supporting the London Taxi Trade unlike Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Alaska, Iceland, China, Taiwan. As the world’s oldest cab trade starts its slow slide into oblivion here is a short post on its long history.

In the early 1600 Hackney carriages, or ‘Hackney Hell-Carts, appeared on London’s streets.

The first recognised cab rank established by Captain Bailey at the Maypole in the Strand (where St Mary-le-Strand church is today).

King Charles I issued a proclamation restricting the number of Hackney coaches to just 50, and they were only allowed to pick up passengers who were travelling more than 3 miles.

Oliver Cromwell orders the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.

These licences are revoked, some say for drunkenness, others that the aldermen favoured Cavaliers to Roundheads.

Restoration of the Monarchy leads to restoration of licences.

The Hackney Coach Office is set up to regulate the trade.

Introduction of ‘Conditions of Fitness’ for hackney carriages.

The number of hackney licences increases to one thousand.

An Act of Parliament gave the Hackney carriage trade the sole right to use their coaches as ‘hearses and mourning coaches at funerals’.

Duties of the Hackney Coach Office transferred to the Stamp Office.

Joseph Hansom patents his two-wheel cabriolet (the Hansom cab).

A four-wheel version follows – the ‘Clarence’, aka the ‘Growler’.

Control of the cab trade passes from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police and the Public Carriage Office is formed soon after.

Introduction of ‘The Knowledge’ by Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne.

An Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate the manner in which the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.

The most famous cab the Hansom by Henry Forder of Wolverhampton was introduced as an improvement on the previous model.

London’s first cab shelter is built, thanks to Captain Armstrong.

The Public Carriage Office moves to premises in Scotland Yard.

Wilhelm Bruhn invents the taximeter.

Walter Bersey launches a fleet of battery-operated cabs.

The first internal-combustion engine cabs are introduced by Prunel, a Frenchman.

Regulations were introduced requiring all cabs to be fitted with a taximeter.

Publication of the first ‘Blue Book’.

The great cab drivers’ strike when cab fleet owners increased fuel charges by 60 per cent.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 109 Lambeth Road and the first taxi school opens, run by the British Legion.

The last licence for a horse-drawn cab is issued (and rescinded the following year).

At the outbreak of the war 2,500 taxis were converted into auxiliary fire fighting engines, ambulances and Army personnel carriers.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 15 Penton Street.

CabbieBlog gets his green badge.

Administration of the Public Carriage Office passes from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.

The Public Carriage Office is re-named ‘London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing’ and re-locates to 197 Blackfriars Road.

London Trivia: We shall never surrender

On 4 June 1940 Winston Churchill made his most famous speech. Not original, it was based on President Georges Clemenceau’s speech a half century earlier. But was nevertheless a defining moment . . . we shall never surrender. This was the second of three major speeches given around the period of the Battle of France, with the others designated as the Blood, toil, tears, and sweat speech of 13 May, and the This was their finest hour speech of 18 June.

Quite probably on 4 June 1456 a comet appeared in the sky, just after the anti-alien riots. It was subsequently identified as Halley’s Comet

Between 1196 and 1783 more than 50,000 people were hanged at Tyburn, the original was expanded in 1511 into the Tyburn Tree capable of hanging 24 at a time

The 2nd Duke of Westminster fell in love with Coco Chanel and allegedly put the linked Cs of Chanel on the lampposts of his Grosvenor Estates

John Thompson was Royal Foodtaster to four Monarchs: Charles II, James II, William III and Anne. He is buried at Morden College, Blackheath

The last private resident of 10 Downing Street was a Mr Chicken, nobody knows anything about him other than his name, he moved out in 1732

Between 1891-1894 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived at 12 Tennison Road, South Norwood his first work featuring Sherlock Holmes A Study in Scarlet was taken by Ward Lock & Co on 20 November 1886

In 1841 the Metropolitan Police reported there were 9,409 prostitutes and 3,325 brothels known to the police across the 17 police districts

Fulham’s first football ground, in 1879, was located on a patch of land known locally as Mud Pond, its location is not known, but the place was described as being in Lillie Road

Aldgate tube station is built on the site of a plague pit mentioned by Daniel Defoe in Journal of a Plague Year in which 1,000+ were buried

The 19th century classic writer Anthony Trollope who also worked for the Post Office helped create the red letter box

The City’s Square Mile is now an imperfect 1.16 square miles following 1990s boundary changes incorporating an area north of London Wall

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Site Unseen: WH & H LeMay

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

The old offices of W. H. & H. LeMay at 63 Borough High Street are not so much a gem of a building, but just an ornate (if deceptive) frontage of a bygone age on a very prosaic building.

[T]he market for hop trading was originally centred around Little East Cheap in the City, gradually the traders moved to the Borough as queues to cross London Bridge with their waggons of hops became prohibitively tedious.

In 1868 a hop exchange was built along the newly constructed Southwark Street, laid out by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and which was the first street in London with water and gas pipes laid down the middle of the road.

It was reasoned traders could lay out their crop for inspection alongside other dealers. The scheme was not a success. Mr LeMay, giving evidence before a Select Committee told of the objection the brewers had of buying in an open market, preferring to purchase through merchants in private.

The report of the Select Committee in 1890 concluded:

The Hop Exchange was started with the idea of having an open market for hops, that the brewers should come and buy off merchants in the open market. The reason why it failed was because the brewers objected to buying off the merchants in the open market: they preferred to buy through the ordinary channels through the merchant. All the stands were let: the small merchants took their samples and exhibited them but no customers came to buy them. The market lasted for something like 18 months . . . the thing simply collapsed.

Individual traders set up shop within the locality boycotting the exchange of which the LeMay’s is still in evidence.


An extra incentive for trading within the Southwark region was that before the STD codes arrived their telephone numbers were prefixed with HOP (0207 467). But in World War II 25 out of the 35 warehouses were destroyed by German bombing. The surviving businesses moved to Paddock Wood in Kent which is now the centre for England’s hop trade.

In conclusion, Messrs LeMay’s premises are not constructed, as one may reason, in red sandstone. The highly decorated Grade II listed frontage is just coloured stucco.

An excellent article of the exchange can be found at London Details.