Tag Archives: Guest post

Caroline Giacometti Prodgers – a Riposte

I have this recurring thought, a nightmare really that, due to pressure from a woman’s group or the #metoo people, Caroline Giacometti Prodgers will be canonised and probably end up on the back of the new £50 note.

I blame Heather Tweed for much of this. True her article, posted on CabbieBlog last week, was well researched and even-handed, in fact, she even described Prodgers’ character as “true awfulness”, so we can agree on something. But there is an air of ignorance in the face of facts when it comes to Prodgers, she is not only a female who took on the over-charging, abusive cabmen but neither was she intimidated by her appearances in court, whether at a magisterial level or the highest court in the country.

[C]AROLINE PRODGERS was born in 1829 in a large house in what is now Brockwell Park, Brixton. At some point in her youth, her family moved to Ayott St Peter in Hertfordshire. Having grown up in Brixton myself and now residing in Hertfordshire, I claim no other link with her.

Often described as eccentric, she was actually admitted to a mental asylum at the age of 24 – which may explain much of her future behaviour. By 1861 she embarked on a tour of Europe, no doubt funded by her £2,000 a year allowance and it was on this tour that she met, and soon after married, Giovanni Giacometti, a Swiss-born officer serving in the Austro-Hungarian navy.

Caroline Giacometti Prodgers

The marriage did not last and her private life was thrust into the public domain by her refusal to allow her husband not only access to his home but access to the marital bed. All of this made Prodgers famous before she began her war with the London cab drivers. In many ways, it was a war brought on by the drivers themselves.

Up until the arrival of the taximeter, some forty years away, drivers would pay the proprietor a pre-agreed sum for the daily rental of a cab and one horse, sometimes two (allowing for a changeover mid-shift). The rental price fluctuated throughout the year. If a particular week was expected to be busy, then the proprietor saw no reason why he should lose out and so would charge the driver an increased amount of rental. Typically, and in the case of most proprietors, a cab driver would have to be continually busy throughout the day just to earn enough to pay his master, the proprietor. The drivers became reliant on extras, (charging for extra people and luggage), tips or downright extortion to increase their money. After all, they had to make sure the master was paid, or they would have no cab the following day, they also had to earn enough on top of that to feed and house themselves and their family.

It was the extortionate demands for charging more than the legal fare that many cab drivers were infamous for – and the most susceptible victim was the ‘lone female’. The defenceless ‘lone female’ was a cri de cœur for many campaigners throughout the nineteenth century (in fact it continued up till the arrival of the taximeter). What was needed was a champion to fight the cause for the ‘lone female’ and that’s when Caroline Giacometti Prodgers stepped up to be counted.

To some in the press of the time she was described as a modern-day Joan of Arc, to others she was Britannia personified, instead of a trident she carried an umbrella, instead of a shield, she fended off attackers with her book of fares.

First of all, let’s debunk two myths concerning Prodgers, both of which were alluded to in Heather’s article. First of all, she had not memorised the book of fares as is often alleged. She knew the legal fare for particular journeys but she only knew these from the book of fares. The authorised version at the time was Sir Richard Mayne’s, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. There were mistakes in the book. If a fare was given as exceeding the actual fare, then the passenger only had to pay what they thought was right. If the published fare was under the actual fare, the public only had to pay that amount and the driver lost out. Such one-sidedness was common-place when it came to the cab trade. Mayne’s book of fares superseded Shrapnel’s book of fares which contained 14,800,000 distinct fares, so memorising the book was not really feasible.

Secondly, she allegedly knew the exact distance she could travel and would stop the cab just a yard or two before the driver could legally tot-up the fare. Such ideas are fanciful and are what Charles Dickens has Jonas Chuzzlewit calling the greatest fun that could be had in London (taking a cab for exactly a mile and no further, for the 6d minimum).

So, it’s 1871 and although the press would report that she has summoned several cab drivers to date, the case of William Southwell was the first to be reported on. The dispute with Southwell was over waiting time, not the distance travelled. She refused to pay him what he was demanding and also refused to give her name and address. She even refused to give it to a passing policeman, as well as the inspector at the station where the party went to settle the dispute. In the end, the inspector convinced her to summon Southwell for demanding more than his proper fare, this she did and Southwell finally got her into court.

Southwell informed the court that several cabmen, as well as porters at the railway station where he picked her up, warned him to keep an eye on the time. It seems she had a reputation already. He even produced a witness who would testify to the exact time Southwell picked her up, as everybody looked at the time when Prodgers was around. She lost. Southwell got his fare and costs.
Cab drivers 1 – Prodgers 0

Cab driver Richard Jones had to summon her, again the dispute was over waiting time. It was this case in which the exchange of words between her and the judge, Sir Robert Cardin, were widely reported. She lost that one as well.
Cab drivers 2 – Prodgers 0

Edwin Castro charged her 4 shillings from Victoria Station to Euston Station, she said the fare was only 3s 6d. Fortunately, the official book of fares had no entry for Victoria Station, even though the station had been there ten years by then. It was fortunate because the ground would have to be measured – and Castro was proven right, it was a 4s fare.
Cab drivers 3 – Prodgers 0

By now, and despite these failures, she is being heralded as a champion of the ‘lone female’. It did not seem to matter that she was not winning any cases, just that she was not going to be intimidated by the over-bearing cabmen – even though to date, none had been accused of doing anything wrong.

She summoned John Challis for refusing to take her to Balham. Challis had picked her up but she insisted on keeping the windows open despite the driving rain entering the cab and soaking the cushions. A passing policeman took Challis’s details before informing him that his cab was not in a fit state to continue to work. Prodgers had to make her way home by a different means. In court, her summons was dismissed. Challis had a reasonable excuse to terminate the fare – because his cushions were saturated.
Cab drivers 4 – Prodgers 0

She was forced to concede another case when the driver agreed to have the ground measured, and a summons against another driver for refusal was in itself refused because the cab was in a railway station, and thus on private property.
Cab drivers 6 – Prodgers 0

She summoned Stephen Boucher for charging 6d extra when he was forced to go over Southwark Bridge, instead of London Bridge which was closed for roadworks. She lost.
Cab drivers 7 – Prodgers 0

Just as it looks like its going to be a whitewash, Prodgers gets her first victory – of sorts.

She took four summons out against Robert Chalk: overcharging, abusive language, not giving a ticket (a kind of receipt with the driver’s details upon it) and not carrying his book of fares. Chalk was going to summon her for the fare she refused to pay but she got to the court first and slapped all four charges on him. He was found not guilty of overcharging and of using abusive language but guilty of not giving a ticket or producing his book of fares.
Cab drivers 9 – Prodgers 2

A driver was summoned for informing fellow drivers at the railway station not pick her up; a bus driver was summoned – by mistake – she believes the railway company gave her the wrong badge number on purpose. Both these cases were dismissed.
Cab drivers 11 – Prodgers 2

By the time she summoned Isaac Gruby, it was believed that she had been to court fifty times. When she heard that Gruby had had the ground measured, and could prove that she was not overcharged, she slipped out of court un-noticed. She may have lost her 2 shillings, the cost of the summons, but Gruby had paid for the ground to be measured and had lost a day’s work in attending court. This case alone shows the vindictiveness of Prodgers. With her wealth, she could easily afford to take a summons out against a cab driver and just walk away if she thought it was not going her way. In all probability, she used this as a weapon against cab drivers who may have thought it better to receive 6d less than spend a day in court.

Gruby was allowed to summon her for his costs and loss of earning. She was fined one guinea in her absence.
Cab drivers 13 – Prodgers 2

Knowing of her reputation, a cab driver demanded the fare up front – something he was not allowed to do. A victory for Prodgers.
Cab drivers 13 – Prodgers 3

She’s on a roll. There was a procedural error over the measuring wheel used in the Gruby case. The ground has to be measured again. Gruby pulls out, Prodgers keeps her guinea.
Cab drivers 13 – Prodgers 4

Perhaps the magistrates were getting tired of her. When Charles Redgrave summoned her for the 2s fare, the magistrate warned her that if she did not pay he would send her to jail for seven days with hard labour. She paid.
Cab drivers 14 – Prodgers 4

Two more summons for refusals at railway stations neither is allowed due to the private property ruling.
Cab drivers 16 – Prodgers 4

Magistrate Arnold, who usually never decided in favour of cab drivers, had to decide on a case where the driver Ben Coombe terminated the hiring after one hour. This he was allowed to do as the compellable distance was six miles and the compellable duration of a hiring was one hour. The parties had to come back the next day whilst Arnold thought about his decision. Coombe was in the right, he could terminate the fare after one hour had passed but he would not allow the cabman anything extra than the 2s 6d fare and the 2s cost of summons. The two days Coombe had been in court were lost. But it was still a victory for the cab trade.
Cab drivers 17 – Prodgers 4

Charles Weedon charged 1s 6d for the fare from Paddington to Queens Grove, St Johns Wood, where she now lived. The book of fares said the actual fare was 1s. Weedon paid the Union to measure the ground, it was 2 miles 90 yards – a 1s 6d fare. But the book of fares was said to be the final arbiter – even, as in this case, when it is wrong. Weedon had to pay Prodgers her 4s 6d in costs as well as losing the 5s he paid to have the ground measured.
Cab drivers 17 – Prodgers 5

Even the Pall Mall Gazette, who was quite happy to put her on a pedestal as the champion for the ‘lone female’ was now beginning to have doubts. Weedon had been in the right but through no fault of his own, found himself on the losing side of a just argument.

A driver named Walker is summoned by her for overcharging, again from Paddington to Queen’s Grove. This time she is made aware that the book of fares will be deemed to be wrong. The ground will be measured and she will lose the case. She leaves the fare of 1s 6d with the clerk to give to Walker and leaves the court.
Cab drivers 18 – Prodgers 5

As this is the exact route taken by Weedon, he appeals. His 4s 6d is returned to him but is paid from the court funds, not Prodgers. Even though he still lost out on the 5s he paid to have the ground measured, it was at least another victory for the trade.
Cab drivers 19 – Prodgers 5

With that, the era of Mrs Prodgers the cabmen’s nemesis was over. It had lasted just four years. It was a week after the Weedon case that her effigy was burnt on Guy Fawkes night, but it is unlikely Prodgers had anything to do with the unsuccessful prosecution of the driver in that case.

From 1875 she began many tours of Europe and the far east. She resurfaced like a dormant volcano in 1886, summoning one driver for overcharging – she was surprised that he asked for her name and address, she felt even after eleven years, every driver should know who she was. Nothing seems to have come of that case. She also summoned John Burgess for abusive language for shouting out “Old Mother Prodgers” as their carriages passed each other. The case was dismissed over questions of identity – Burgess was asleep at home at the time of the alleged abuse. As far as the cab trade was concerned, that was her swan-song. A typical defeat.

Final score. Taking each of the summonses as an individual action and including appeals and failed attempts to obtain a summons we have a final result of:
Cab drivers 20 – Prodgers 5

A resounding victory for the cab trade but despite the drubbing, Prodgers will continue to be seen as a champion of the ‘lone female’ against the overcharging cabmen.

CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. The author has written this Guest Post exclusively for CabbieBlog. Other guest posts are tagged accordingly. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

A London Life with falconer Matt Hoskins

Tessa Paine, author of Blatantly London meets Matt who runs falconry services at Project Multi Pest Ltd.

It’s not every day you turn the corner of a city street to find a gobby falcon perched on someone’s arm.

When I first met Trevor, I had initially mistaken his high-pitched cries for a squeaky trolley wheel in desperate need of oiling.

[M]OST CITY WORKERS, myself included, perform the trudge to work in a personal bubble, blinkered to most of what’s happening around us, only becoming peripherally aware of other pedestrians in order to dodge them.

The falcon burst that bubble – I struck up a conversation with Matt (the falconer), was introduced to Trevor (the falcon) and a week later I’ve gone from awestruck on the pavement to city rooftop falcon flying.

A week later I’ve gone from awestruck on the pavement to city rooftop falcon flying.

Above, Trevor – a handsome boy with a lot to say for himself (he’s the one on the right).

Matt runs his own business as a falconer hired by private companies in the city to keep the gull and pigeon population under control – he’s invited me to ride along and see how he works. “We don’t actually hunt the gulls – hunting them is illegal, so the aim is to keep them on the back foot, discourage them from settling in any one place and if they don’t settle they’re less likely to breed.” It’s a bit like crowd control but with a really cool entourage of hawks and falcons. The gulls, at the moment, are the big problem – mugging and dive-bombing pedestrians on Cheapside, something which I’ve personally experienced.

It’s a bit like crowd control but with a really cool entourage of hawks and falcons.

Below- Matt launches Gary, a Harris’s hawk on his first flight of the morning.

“With a new falcon or hawk, they must get accustomed to flying among a lot of gulls without being intimidated.” I’m climbing a service ladder which leads to the roof, Matt has gone ahead of me, on his arm Gary, a Harris hawk [aka Harris’s hawk], before I even get to the top of the ladder I can hear the gulls going crazy – it’s because Gary’s arrived.

“Part of the training entails bringing them [the working birds] into the gull-mobbed environment and feeding them over a period of weeks before you even fly them – it creates a positive association – it teaches them to be calm, not to get agitated when the gulls build in numbers, it also strengthens the bond and trust between handler and bird.” Glad Gary’s calm, gulls are big buggers and they’re bold too.

Matt explains that gull tactics are to mob a hawk so initially the cry goes up and every available gull in the area will congregate to join the intimidation party. Still perched on Matt’s arm Gary’s stretching his wings. “He knows he’s about to fly and he loves it – he’s excited.” So how do you stop a hawk or falcon from taking a snack on-the-go? “Of course, the odd accident happens but it’s part of the training that they’re rewarded with food after flying.” Also, in the wild Harris hawks hunt cooperatively in packs so today, Gary’s not in hunting mode, it’s more about the exercise. While Matt’s telling me this Gary’s limbering up and the gulls are building up. They’ve now doubled in number since we’ve arrived – less than a minute – Gary hasn’t even flown yet, but the gulls know the hawk’s here.

I thought the idea was to scare them off not bring them in? Matt smiles at my question and I feel like a muggle. “So how it works is the gulls will build up in numbers and try to bully the predator, try to scare him off, drive him away. When the gulls realise that Gary isn’t intimidated they start to fall back, fly higher”. OK, but higher isn’t actually driven off is it? “Once Gary’s been up a couple of times, maybe four or five flights, I’ll take a break for around an hour then come up again with Trevor.” Trevor is the gobby falcon I first met a few weeks ago and unlike Harris hawks, falcons hunt solo.

Hawk or no hawk, flying among a melee of 30 angry, beaked-up gulls takes nerve.

Matt launches Gary for his first flight. The bell on the jess sounds out and the gull cacophony increases. Immediate action, the gulls start mobbing Gary, swooping, diving and targeting him, not making contact but getting as close as they dare. Hawk or no hawk, flying among a melee of 30 angry, beaked-up gulls takes nerve, but Gary is spectacular, he just cruises around effortlessly, ignoring the mob. As we watch Gary, Matt tells me that today is perfect flying weather – blue sky and not much wind. On the roof, there’s a mild breeze but as any crane operator will tell you, the higher you get the stronger the wind becomes. “A strong wind makes it difficult for a bird to manoeuvre and at that height, the wind is much stronger than we’re feeling it down here. The worst sort of weather is rain.” Oh right, so rain makes for difficult flying then? “Not really, it’s just Gary, he hates the rain. It’s hard to get him up and out in wet weather, he’d rather be in his dry box asleep.” Sounds reasonable. It had never occurred to me that birds have preferential flying weather.

Gary lands on a building opposite, some distance away. Do birds just never come back to their handler? Make a bid for freedom? “I once had a bird that disappeared for a week. I was working a building site with him and he just decided not to come back, sat out of reach – there’s nothing you can do. I was there hours and in the end, had to leave him. It took me a week of returning to the site to retrieve him.” So what made him come back eventually? “At the time, I’d only been working with birds for about a year or so, I was really upset about losing this bird, but a more experienced handler told me ‘leave him, after a week he’ll realise he’s not having food or water brought to him and he’s got to do it all himself. Give him a week out in the open, then he’ll come back.’ And that’s exactly what happened. He realised what a charmed life he had – after five days of roughing it on his own he’d had enough.” I know a few parents who’ve told me a similar story.

As I continue to talk with Matt it’s obvious that this is no easy profession. Aside from the care and upkeep, when a bird decides to ‘have a moment’ and not re-call then there’s time and expense involved in getting it back – not to mention the cost of parking in the City which is more than the national minimum wage per hour. Also, Matt explains, businesses don’t understand that for effective pest control he needs to fly the raptors regularly but not to a set timetable. “Gulls are clever. If you turn up at the same time every week they’d soon recognise that pattern. They’d disappear for two hours then return when you leave, so you need to fly raptors regularly, say, twice a week, but ideally, different days. It’s not just about understanding your own animals, it’s understanding the behaviour of the pests you’re contracted to deal with.”

In order to be effective and get results Matt must also educate the companies he’s working with. “Flying the birds [of prey] is really the only solution for managing the gulls and pigeons and it’s a traditional method.” Educating individuals and companies as to the benefits of traditional pest control methods is Matt’s overall aim and ethos for his company.

“There’s a kestrel nesting nearby if the bird catches a mouse that’s eaten poison the result is a slow painful death from coagulants for both the bird and chicks. That’s why I started using the dogs for pest control.” Gracie, the Jack Russell, is waiting for us curled up on the front seat of Matt’s van.

Matt’s ethos focuses on the traditional methods of pest control.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were finding natural solutions to deal with pests instead of using coagulants to kill rats and mice. Initially, it seems abhorrent to our modern, shrink-wrapped sensibilities to even consider putting a dog to work in such a manner, even though cats are already doing the same job in many homes. A dog as working ratter is a more humane solution than poison – it’s a quick clean ending for ratty without risk to other pets and no dead body to try and find under the floorboards.

We head down to the van to collect Trevor. As Matt is still training Trevor, going through that process of making him familiar with the working environment, he won’t be flying Trev but Matt explains why we’re still taking him up to the roof: “Eventually I’ll fly him, but today it’ll be enough that the gulls see him – they recognise a falcon’s wing shape” and in prey parlance that translates as ‘mob a hawk, run like feck from a falcon’.

Trevor is a characterful bird, he is a tri-bred falcon, half Peregrine, quarter Gyrfalcon and quarter Saker falcon and as soon as Matt takes him from his hold he starts to scan the sky, searching, and also to ‘chat’. Trevor is very chatty, which is endearing, much smaller than Gary but with noticeably larger eyes – all the better to see you with.

It’s now 8 am, more people are arriving for work at the surrounding offices and Trevor gets their attention. People love him and are drawn to him – they start to take photos and ask Matt questions.

Matt is as good with people as he is with his animals, patiently answering questions and I’m convinced that Trevor is loving the attention. I mention this to Matt “Trevor was an imprint, I’ve raised him from a chick so he’s really comfortable around people.”

A woman passing by asks if she can stroke Trevor, Matt laughs and says that she can try if she wants to. The woman takes a tentative step forward and Trevor turns his head and fixes his big eyes on her, an intense stare – the woman changes her mind about petting him. I say nothing but think she made the right decision. Trevor is a sweet looking bird but when he’s staring at you that intently you start feeling less like a person and more like a pigeon – it’s an innate respect for the raptor.

We’re back on the roof, Trev stretches and I’m surprised that I notice, novice that I am, the difference in wing shape from Gary, the Harris hawk – Trev’s wings, to me, look like archetypal angels’ wings. Aerodynamically the perfect shape for diving and attacking prey on the wing, known as a ‘hunting stoop’, reaching astounding speeds of up to 200mph (320km/h). The gulls above us suddenly remember they’ve more important matters to attend to. Elsewhere. Not here. This is not a raptor that requires back-up.

Meanwhile, Trev is happily munching a treat, completely chilled with his chick as the mass exodus, caused by his flap and flex, ensues above. The sky is now considerably quieter. Matt brings to my attention how Trevor faces into the wind when he exercises his wings – he’ll get to fly later at home, but for now, Trev’s work here is done.

Trev does the ‘flap’n’flex’. A bit like bump’n’grind but with feathers.

Matt obviously adores his job but make no mistake this is tough work, dispel any romantic fantasies about falconry – it’s as much a labour of love as it is earning a living. Matt is incredibly knowledgeable and I’m aware that I haven’t put a tenth of the facts he imparted in this brief article – but it’s not all about the facts – Matt knows and understands his raptor’s foibles and appreciates their individual personalities – he has shown me how awesome these birds are, to be so close to them and see them in action was a privilege (thanks, Gary for skimming my head with your wing, I’m not going to forget that in a hurry) and how important it really is that we keep falconers working in the City not only for tradition’s sake but for the pure beauty and joy of it.

© Tessa Paine


CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. Tessa Paine has given permission for this to be reproduced on CabbieBlog. Other articles can be found on Tessa Paine’s Blatantly London. Matt can be contacted at PMP. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

The Story That Came Too Late

A personal interlude.

My Wife’s grandmother was born Adeline Hosgood in October 1911. She was often asked throughout her life where her first name originated from.

Adeline did not know, she always replied that it was someone her father had once met and he had liked the name.

This is the story of how Adeline got her name.

[I]T BEGINS IN MANCHESTER at the Tivoli Theatre on 3rd April 1911. Appearing on stage was Flo Dudley, a 33-year-old widow from Ilford. In the audience was a London businessman, Edward Hopwood aged 45. The two met after the show and there was an instant attraction between the two, which may have been helped by Hopwood not only splashing money on Flo but telling her she had the leading part in a stage play he was putting together.

They became lovers and soon the talk was about marriage, but there were problems. Flo was Roman Catholic, and Edward was a Protestant – he was also married with three children, something that Flo was unaware of. Hopwood paid off any contracts of employment that were outstanding for Flo as he did not want her appearing on stage anymore.

The romance did not last, at least not from Flo’s viewpoint. She told her sister that Hopwood was always accusing her of infidelity and calling her vile names. The pair parted but Hopwood was not prepared to see the woman he had allegedly spent £1,000 on just walk out of his life.

Hopwood knew that Flo regularly commuted between Liverpool Street Station and Ilford, to the home of her sister in Balfour Road. He employed several staff members at the station, a wine waiter, a porter, a bell ringer, etc to follow her home.

In September 1912 Flo received a telegram from Jim Kelly a long time friend who was a tobacco manufacturer and also a High Sheriff of Dublin. The reply paid telegram stated that he was currently in Southampton but would come up to London on his way back to Dublin. Flo agreed to a meeting at the Holborn Viaduct Hotel. The telegram was in fact from Hopwood and he was planning a fatal showdown with his ex-lover.

On 28th September Flo found herself in the Holborn Viaduct Hotel (City Thameslink and Fleet Place House now occupy the site) and was confronted with Hopwood. According to him, she knew the telegram was his all along and called him “an old rascal”. The two remained at the hotel until a quarter to midnight, then a taxicab was hailed for them to take them to Fenchurch Street Station.

The driver of the motor cab was Charles Matthews. He would later testify that he heard no arguments in the back of the cab and as there was no light, nor a rear view mirror he could not see what was going on. As the cab drove down Fenchurch Street, just past Cullum Street, Matthews heard three distinct bangs and a woman screaming. Fearing that he had lost three tyres he immediately pulled over. Walking around the cab he could see nothing amiss but as he opened the nearside door the woman fell into his arms, she was covered in blood. He pulled her over to a shop front, number 138. The woman told him to be careful as the man had a revolver and that she needed to get to hospital.

Back then, policemen walked the beat, and within seconds of the shots ringing out, three City policemen converged on the scene. As one of them approached the cab Hopwood put the gun to his own head he fired twice but neither shot proved fatal. One of the policemen then reached in and took the gun from Hopwood’s grasp.

Hopwood and Flo were both taken to Guy’s Hospital, where Flo was pronounced dead. Matthews was told to take his cab round to a police station then situated in the Minories. There were three bullet holes in the cab, two in the canvas roof and one through the rear window. There was also a lot of blood. After 45 minutes he was allowed to take his cab away, the police were finished with it.

At his subsequent trial, it was heard from Hopwood’s secretary, John Travers Hosgood, (my wife’s great-grandfather), that the writing for the telegram from Southampton was Hopwood’s. He also confirmed that Hopwood was married with three children, one of them a daughter, named Adeline; he had even named his own daughter after her. Edward Hopwood was found guilty of murder and was executed on 29th January 1913.

Adeline Oyler, nee Hosgood, died in June 2001. She was never aware of her nominal link to the taxicab murder that shocked London, it was the story that came too late.

CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. Sean Farrell has written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. Sean collects information about the history of the London cabbie and its ancient trade. Should you have or require information, Sean can be contacted via the Contact Page

Featured image: A 1912 Unic Taxi Cab

Heaven’s Rank

One of the joys of writing CabbieBlog is that you discover people who have amassed some remarkable knowledge about London and its people. This post is no exception.

In Search of a Cab Driver or Two
Ever wondered about the hackney coachman or the hansom cab driver of yesteryear? Who was he? Where did he come from? How old was he? How long did he work as a cabman?

[A]MAZINGLY, and frustratingly for anyone looking into the history of the trade, we do not know the answers to these simple questions.

Shortly after I got my badge, just over 30 years ago, I was told that there were no records of cab drivers. I found such a claim hard to believe at first. Were not London cab drivers the most regulated in history – a history that extends back 400 years?

The earliest list of names regarding the trade is that of ‘The 400 Hackney Coaches’ published in 1662. The figure ‘400’ refers to the number of plates that were issued. Incidentally, the plate number, or Mark, as it was called then, was introduced to prevent excessive numbers of coaches given a licence and prevent corruption by the Commissioners in charge of overseeing the trade. One of the reasons the Fellowship of Master Hackney Coachmen was disbanded after just three years in 1657 was because they interpreted the law in their own way and saw a method of creating extra licences, in return for a suitable financial payment. Oh, and by the way, it didn’t stop the corruption!

The list of ‘The 400’ contains the names of the masters, or owners of the hackney coaches. They may have been what we would now call a musher, an owner-driver, and most of them probably were. But if they hired their coach out, as many of the female owners would have done (they were all widows of hackney coach masters), then there are no records of who was actually driving for them.

Incredibly, a master did not have to keep any records of who was driving a coach. If there was a complaint, of say, lost property, overcharging, or dangerous driving, it would be the master who would have to attend court. It was then the responsibility of the master to produce the driver or face the consequences as if the crime was committed by himself. Often enough, if the offence was serious, the driver would abscond, perhaps taking a hackney coach from another yard and using a different name, leaving the master to face the punishment of the judiciary.

By 1800 the names of drivers had to be registered at, of all places, the Office of Sewers. After driving on the streets of London for close to 200 years, the driver finally gets tied down by bureaucracy. Or did he? Not many masters bothered registering their drivers, despite calling for such a system. There was a cost to registering, which the Office of Sewers would allocate to road repairs, hence why that department was the receiving office. None of these records appeared to have survived.

In 1838, under the guidance of Daniel Whittle Harvey, the driver finally found himself, badged and billed. The driver had to wear the badge all the time whilst he was working; his licence, the Bill, was held by the master throughout the employment – 200 years later the reverse of the Bill has not changed much.

The names of the drivers were entered into ledgers and onto card index files – none of which survives today. When the Metropolitan Police took over the running of the cab trade they created the Public Carriage Office. Like the Stamp Office before them, The Metropolitan Police were sticklers for bureaucracy, but today, none of their MEPO files at the Public Record Office at Kew, contain any details en masse, of who was driving a cab.

The London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell has only a single paying-in book for the Hackney Carriage Proprietors Benevolent Institution. Again, this is a list of masters, though some of them would have been owner-drivers.

And that is it. There are no official records of drivers, period.

All is not lost, however. Just over ten years ago I was doing some research looking for somebody in the 1881 census. This census was online and free to use, courtesy of the Latter Day Saints, a branch of the Mormon Church. Fortunately, the census was searchable by name, which was handy as there were millions of names in London alone, and each family unit represented one page. Each page was numbered and you could look at the other residents in the same building or street by clicking on the ‘previous household’ or ‘next household’ buttons. As I have said, each of the households were numbered, and that number was usually as long as a telephone number. One day I noticed that the number was in the low one-hundreds. Curiosity got the better of me and by clicking the ‘previous household’ button, I clicked my way back to page number one.

On line one, page one, book one, the very first house in England and Wales, the very place where, for some obscure reason, the UK census begins is the Stafford Hotel. Unlike the St James’s hotel, this Stafford Hotel was a pub that stood opposite the Royal Oak underground station on the corner of Lord Hill’s Bridge and Harrow Road. I then wondered who was the first cab driver in Britain at least according to the census? A hundred or so clicks later, I found him: 25-year-old, Charles Nicholls, who was married with one child and lived at 2 Hampden Street [W2] (now demolished). My curiosity was not completely sated, I looked for the second cab driver, then the third, then the fourth…

It took me a few years but I eventually arrived at George Earl, age 35 of 209 Maxey Road, Woolwich – the 9486th name on my list, (and unofficially, the last cab driver in London). These 9486 names represented not only drivers but also included proprietors and ancillary workers, cab washers and cab inspectors etc.

The online census is what a historian would describe as ‘secondary source material’ errors could be made by whoever transcribed the data from the original files – and there were a few. As such, the information is pretty useless. To combat this, I purchased the 1881 London Census on CD, primary source material, and double checked all my input and corrected any errors.

So, what does the 1881 census tell us about the Victorian cabman of that period? Officially there were 12,630 drivers registered at the time but I found only [sic] 7,755 drivers, which included 42 mushers – so, despite all my efforts, I only found 61 per cent of them. There are several reasons for this; Firstly, a number of drivers may have been working at another occupation at the time of the census – there have always been more drivers registered than drivers actually working. Secondly, the enumerators who collected the original information door to door may have recorded the occupation as ‘coachman’ – I only collected cabmen, cab drivers and the various forms that included the word ‘hackney’ in the job description. Not every driver lived in London, and, of course, given the tedium of the search, I could have missed a few. There is also at least one bogus cabman included – Dick Turpin, of 4 North east Passage, a Wapping lodging house. Perhaps somebody had a grudge against cab drivers committing highway robbery on their fares. How do I know it was a bogus name? – at the same address is a barber, by the name of Sweeney Todd!

The number of owner drivers is low, whilst the number of proprietors was higher than expected – 1,419. Many owner-drivers would rather class themselves as a proprietor. ‘Cab Proprietor’ denoted a man of business whilst ‘Cab driver’ still carried tones of servitudes and untrustworthiness. The law did not require proprietors to wear a badge, just the drivers.

Around 56 per cent of the drivers were born in London, whilst from outside of the area covered by the London census, more were Suffolk-born than from any other county in England (including Essex and Middlesex). The trade was pretty cosmopolitan at the time, 22 drivers were from Europe, six from North America, three from Australia/New Zealand and five were born at sea. The average age of a driver in 1881 was 39 years and three months (the oldest driver was 87 years old) and 75 per cent of drivers were married. Sixty-six per cent of drivers shared their address with another household whilst 15 were in prison or being held in police cells, 43 drivers were patients in a hospital and 107 were in the workhouse.

Just under 80 per cent of drivers lived north of the river whilst 28.5 per cent lived in the area defined today by the Congestion Charge Zone (and down from 69 per cent in 1841).

Numerical postcodes did not exist in 1881 but as these are more identifiable today than parish boundaries, I looked up every street where the cabdrivers lived, noting whether the street still survived, had changed its name or had been completely removed following urban redevelopment. Postcode-wise, N1 was the most populated with 909 drivers, followed by NW1 with 759. The much smaller WC1 was more densely packed than any other postcode with 726 drivers; Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell probably had more cab yards per square mile than any other part of London.

The street with the most people in the trade – drivers, proprietors and ancillaries – was Harrison St, WC1 with 40. This was followed by Great Ormond Yard (now just Ormond Yard) WC1 with 36, and Elnathan Mews, W9, with 31. How times change. A House in Elnathan Mews would cost over a million pounds today, back in 1881, it was nothing more than a cab yard.

Now, the above may not be Earth-shattering historiography – but it is unique. This information has never been published and, if anything, gives us a completely new glimpse into the world of cab driving, at least on one day in 1881.

There is only one question remaining from the several I posed at the beginning – what was the average length of service by a cab driver? This question cannot be answered by just one census. So I didn’t just stop at 1881. Since then, I have trawled through the London Census for 1841-1891 inclusive and have amassed over 37,000 names. At the moment I am collating the data which, by the end of the year, I will be able to have a rough estimate of the length of service. Given that the census is once every ten years there can be a large margin of error; for instance, a driver who got his badge in 1862 and worked until 1880, will only be recorded in one census, the 1871. There is no way of telling, from the census alone, exactly how long a particular driver had a badge.

Fortunately, I have a further 13,000 names in my database. Whilst I should have been studying for a Physics degree with the OU, I began spending more time trawling through the OU’s newspaper archive. From a historian’s point of view, the Victorian court reports printed in the national press were filled with trivia that would not get a show in a free local newspaper today. Details about the driver’s life were published, also his badge number or plate number, even his earnings, were deemed of interest. Sadly, such editorial interest in the cab trade waned just after the First World War and has declined to a virtual non-existence today – unless something or someone bad happens. By combining as many original sources that have survived, it may be possible to get some idea of just who our forefathers in the trade actually were.

So, there you have it. There are no files on cab drivers as a whole. You just have to find them one by one. It’s kept me busy for the past few years, and I dare say I will be busy for a few more!

Is there a cab driver, now consigned to history that you know about, perhaps a family member discovered from a birth, marriage or death certificate? Let me know what you have and I will add him or her (proprietresses and, much later, drivers) to my database and let you know what information I have if any on that individual.
© Sean Farrell 2018

CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. The author has written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. If you want information about ex-London cabbies, or have some to share, Sean may be reached via our Contact page. Links conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.

Featured image by QT Luong/terragalleria.com all rights reserved

London for free

London is a vast and vibrant city with plenty to do, but it also has a reputation for being expensive.

While London can certainly be pricey, whether you’re planning a weekend trip to the capital, or already live here, there are still plenty of things to do on a budget.

Here are 20 London attractions you can visit for free.

1. Bayswater Road Market
Strolling through this leafy Kensington street is a treat any day of the week, but every Sunday you can browse through the original collection of art for sale in the market by talented local artists.

2. Little Venice
This picturesque stretch of London canal is host to plenty of waterside cafes and pubs, where you can have a relaxing stroll, or take a boat ride up the canal towards Camden.

3. Battersea Park
Battersea Park is a calm sanctuary from the bustle of Central London and is a great day out for families thanks to its 200 acres of parkland, children’s zoo and boating lake.

4. Natural History Museum
One of the capital’s most notorious tourist locations, the Natural History Museum justifies its popularity, thanks to its incredible range of artifacts and installations which offer an insight into the many wonders of the natural world.

Interior of the Natural History Museum

5. Hunterian Museum
The Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum is situated near Holborn and is not for the faint of heart. Browsing the museum’s collection of anatomical and pathological specimens, instruments and artifacts is a gruesomely intriguing day out.

6. Hyde Park
In addition to the park itself, on Friday nights you can visit Hyde Park’s group skating sessions, and enjoy an active group jaunt around London.

7. Highgate Cemetery
This is no ordinary cemetery, as a permanent home to many famed historical figures and the site of some of the capital’s most incredible architecture and nature, Highgate Cemetery is a beautiful place to spend a sunny afternoon.

8. Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden
The traditional-style Japanese garden is a beautiful and tranquil addition to the hectic lifestyle of London, offering a small slice of zen in the nation’s capital.

Kyoto Garden, via londonist.com

9. Alfie’s Antiques Market
London’s largest indoor antiques market is a great place for a browse, even if you’re not buying. With its vast array of eclectic treasures, you can while away many hours enjoying the range of antiques on offer, and even the shop’s iconic Egyptian-style facade.

10. Abbey Road
For music fans, the zebra crossing at Abbey Road is a fun tourist destination, allowing you to interrupt local traffic to recreate the Beatles’ iconic album cover. As an added bonus, you can check out other people walking in the footsteps of John, Paul, George, and Ringo via the joys of webcam.

11. Saatchi Gallery
Charles Saatchi’s Gallery at Kings Road boasts a fine collection of contemporary paintings and sculpture, while also playing host to several different exhibitions, talks and workshops every year.

12. Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament are home to the country’s government, and the world’s most famous clock, Big Ben (yes, that’s not it’s proper name). You can pay a visit inside the buildings, although you may need to reserve ahead, or just enjoy the neo-Gothic architecture from the outside.

Houses of Parliament

13. V&A
The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, and hosts an enormous collection of historic fashion, design and ceramics items alongside visiting exhibitions.

14. Street art across East London
You can find lots of street art across East London, but Shoreditch in particular is a prime spot for some impressive graffiti. Check out the ultra hip Brick Lane for some excellent urban art, as well as Middlesex Street and Sclater Street.

15. Sky Garden
The top three floors of 20 Fenchurch Street, or ‘walkie talkie’ as it is known locally, offers one of the best free vantage points in Central London. With indoor viewing decks and restaurants occupying this space, it’s a great spot to view this sprawling city.

16. Portobello Road Market
If you want to live like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill (and really, who amongst us doesn’t?), then take a trip to the energetic Portobello Road Market to peruse a range of sellers flogging their wares.

Portobello Road Market, image via portobelloroad.co.uk

17. Temple Church
Dating back to the 12th Century, this historic church is a distinctive building amongst the contemporary steel and glass buildings of the city, and will be of particular interest to fans of the Da Vinci Code, for its famous role in the film.

18. Platform 9¾
Another one for movie fans, you can have a go at pushing Harry Potter’s trolley through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross Station.

19. Changing the Guard
If you take a trip up to Buckingham palace, it’s unlikely you’ll get to see the Queen, but you can witness the daily changing the guard ceremony, with this display of pomp and circumstance an entertaining and unique sight.

20. South Bank
Take a stroll up the regenerated and picturesque South Bank, where you can stop at a variety of bars, shops and restaurants, take part in some skateboarding, and visit the exceptional Tate Modern.


CabbieBlog-cabThis is not a sponsored post. The author has kindly written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.