Victorian cab life

In Victorian days, the cab driver’s vehicle of choice was a Hansom Cab, a horse-drawn carriage which was open to the elements for the cabbie. He was expected to ‘sit on the box’ in rain, snow, cold and wind waiting for a fare, consequently the only place of sustenance being the comfort of a public house.

[D]RINKING AND DRIVING and driving a hackney carriage was seen as part of the job. Cabbies used a tap room to keep warm and dry, the value of a pub was said to be greatly enhanced by its proximity to a cab stand.

Skinks all round

A passenger would often insist on being stopped off along the way to partake in a drink, and sometimes, the passenger would suggest he was joined by the cabbie known by cab drivers as ‘skinks’.

Ladies would sometimes remain in the cab sending the driver to the beerhouse to get himself a drink, by way of a tip.

To use a hostelry meant paying someone to watch the cab and the horse, due to it being illegal to leave them unattended. For this, most cabbies would have a lad who was employed for this purpose, as well as for the carrying of cases and general menial jobs.

Registered at the Sewers Office

From about 1800 drivers had to be registered, of all places, the Sewers Office; the Hackney Carriages Act 1838 licensed cabmen for the first time. The first offender, whose badge number 1763 was recorded, appearing in court within weeks, charged with displaying a board with ‘Not Hired`, possibly the first example of an early version of the familiar ‘For Hire’ sign. He was also charged with drunkenness.

Before the 1838 Act, an owner could rent out his cab to anyone. The Act stipulated that a licensed driver had to be: ‘well acquainted with the streets, in and around London’ and at least 16-years-old.

Cabbies could only pick up at ranks, unfortunately, there were six vehicles for every place on the stands. Cabbies would travel slowly hoping to get on a rank and were accused of causing traffic jams. To give an idea of the number of vehicles, in 1865 2,934 were deemed unfit for purpose.

There are a huge number of cases of cabbies having accidents as a result of drinking. For example, in 1854 Mark Horlock was fined 30/- or 15 days imprisonment for attempting to drive his cab down the Duke of York Steps into The Mall. He was picked up beneath his overturned vehicle.

If you want to read the definitive work about London’s cabbies Sean Farrell’s Abstracts of Black Cab Lore: A History of the London Cab Driver cannot be matched, available on Amazon.

6 thoughts on “Victorian cab life”

    1. Are cabbies to clear up the dung left by the horses, much like the mess that TfL have made of the cab trade, leaving us to pick up the fall-out?


  1. Are the details of cab drivers post 1800 still available and if so where can they be accessed? In particular i’m interested in the Hansom cab drivers in Liverpool.


    1. I have a number of books about London cab in Victorian London, but afraid I can’t help you about Liverpool. Sorry.


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