London’s Number One Cabbie

James ‘Jimmy’ Michael Howe entered his profession in 1884, driving horse-drawn vehicles, better known as Hansom Cabs, around London. He had the distinction of being the regular driver for Leopold Rothschild, whose home in west London is now the Gunnersbury Park Museum.

He was been very successful, this could have resulted from his association with Lord Rothschild. Howe had been one of the first proprietors (someone who owned a vehicle and not just rented) to engage with petrol vehicles, in addition at one time he owned a fleet of 13 Hansom cabs and 33 horses.

In 1904, the Metropolitan Police licensed the first motor cab, a French-built Prunel, this vehicle was driven by 34-year-old James Howe. In 1933, now in failing health, in recognition of becoming London’s first motor cab driver, he was given badge number 1, presented to him by police commissioner Lord Trenchard at the end of his illustrious career.

Following his death on Christmas Day at his home in Hammersmith, aged 64 his obituary in the Daily Mirror erroneously stated that he was London’s first taxicab driver, but as his Prunel had no taximeter installed, this clearly was not the case. The taximeter, installed today in all of London’s legal cabs, had been successful in Berlin. It would be a recession, caused in part by the Boer War, and the advent of the petrol-driven vehicle, that it was felt, could give customers greater confidence in using a vehicle that had the fare metered.

Although electric cabs had been trialled a few years earlier, these proved impractical. Howe’s cab was the first to be powered by petrol, and the only one in London for several months. Soon the London Cab Driver’s Trade Union were embracing the new technology and running classes for horse cabmen and teaching them the basics of motor car driving from their premises in Gerrard Street. Two years later Jimmy had been joined by 18 others.

Today, all 24,000 licensed cab drivers carry a green badge with a unique number.

Apart from his success, Jimmy Howe seems to have led an eventful life. His wife left him in 1913, taking all the furniture, after falling for a man who had placed a ‘wife wanted’ advert in the local newspaper. Jimmy did not see his wife again until 1920 when Mrs Howe appeared in court on bigamy charges.

Three years later, Howe was sued for damages after his taxi cab plummeted into a hole on the Uxbridge Road.

Dozens of fellow cabbies drove to the funeral to pay their respects. “We called him ‘Up-Hendon’,” one of them told the press, “because if you asked him where he was off to, he’d answer ‘just going up Hendon-way'”.

Taken from London’s First Taxi Driver published by the Londonist with additional information from Abstracts of Black Cab Lore by Sean Farrell.

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