Tag Archives: London cabbies

Secrets of a cabbie

Last week I was contacted by a journalist tasked with writing for inews about people’s occupations, and this week’s contribution was about the London cabbie.

Here I describe how Tony Blair’s head ended up in the back of my cab, how to deal with awkward customers and what I think of cyclists (you might be surprised at that one).

I urge you to check out Nick Duerden’s piece here.

Life as a cabbie

Over the years, here on CabbieBlog, I’ve often been asked about working as a cabbie.

To give you a better idea than I could, Tom Hutley has made a series of videos and gained a huge number of subscribers in the process, about life as a London cabbie.

Here’s a good example:

Number one cabbie

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

In 1903 he was the first London cabbie to pick up passengers in a petrol-powered cab, something of a rarity, as London was well served with Hansom cabs.

Howe’s cab was the first to be powered by petrol, and the only one in London for several months, two years later, the number had only risen to 19.

Today, all 18,341 licensed cab drivers carry a green badge with a unique number, mine being 56767. The very first badge — number 1 — was Howe’s most treasured possession, presented to him by police commissioner Lord Trenchard.

Howe’s wife left him in 1913, taking all the furniture, after falling for a man who’d placed a ‘wife wanted’ advert in the local newspaper.

In 1923 Howe was sued for damages after his taxi cab plummeted into a hole on Uxbridge Road.

Howe died on Christmas day 1933 at his home on Wellesby Avenue, Hammersmith, aged 64, dozens of fellow cabbies drove to the funeral to pay their respects.

History does not record whether he was prepared to go south of the River.

An Old Man’s Game

It has always been said that driving a cab was for those who already had plenty of work experience. But data from Transport for London I’ve recently found show just how few younger drivers are out there working.

In fact, there are 8 times more drivers over 41 than under that mid-life median.

Most don’t leave school to become cab drivers, those 31 under 27 years of age are very unusual. Even more unusual and, given the regular medicals, surprising is the cabbie over 92 years of age.

To make matters worse those just under 20,000 drivers are chasing only 13,461 licensed vehicles a grave disparity brought about by Transport for London.

Alfred Collins was London’s longest-serving taxi driver in 2007. He retired and died on 11 May 2007. Following 70 years of service, in 2007 Collins, aged 92, was honoured and presented an award by Transport for London at the Public Carriage Office.

London Opinion

As a London cabbie, I just had to include on CabbieBlog a magazine which most Londoners didn’t realise existed, but most cabbies could have edited. London Opinion ran for 50 years, first as a weekly from 26 December 1903 to 27 June 1931, then monthly until April 1954.

At its height of popularity, it was one of the most influential publications in the world. On 5th September 1914 at the start of the First World War, it published a cover, the image of which encouraged more than two million men to sign up in the first years of the war before conscription was introduced in 1916.

The ‘Kitchener Poster’ has proved to be incredibly powerful, prime ministers, film stars and presidents have emulated that pose.

But if you want London opinion today you can get it from any driver of a London cab, the magazine was subsumed into Men Only.