Tag Archives: London cabs

Graffiti cab

Another in the occasional series ‘old cabs never die’, here I found this forlorn old drotsky in Essex close to a cab garage. My guess is that the apprentices were given free rein to their ‘artistic’ streak.

I’ve tried to capture the essence of the cab, carefully avoiding some of the more lewd contributions. So forgive me if the detailed picture below causes offense.


Killed by a cab

Accidents by Uber drivers today seem to be de rigueur, although it is not a new trend. It was not until 1838 that a cabbie needed a licence to make a living on London’s streets, and not until the end of that century that a test of driving skill was implemented.

No surprise that just giving a licence to anyone who: ‘shall produce such a Certificate of his Ability to drive’, was a recipe for disaster.

[W]ith this rather ambiguous definition, those allowed to ply the capital’s streets killed 54 between 1830 and 1913 according to the records of the Old Bailey. In 1909 alone police officers took 8,715 to hospital as a result of street accidents from Hansom cabs, as well as cars, trams and bicycles. Eighteen deaths were caused by ‘horse traffic’.

In addition between 1850 and 1910, a further 11 passengers committed suicide while sitting in a horse-drawn cab. One of which, on 14th April 1886, was The Earl of Shaftesbury, so the reason for their demise cannot have been solely upon hearing the cost of their fare.

Enough of these statistics, the victims of two of these accidents by Hansom cab make for interesting reading.

Colonel Pierpoint
In 1864 London’s first traffic island was built in St James’s Street. It was designed and funded by one Colonel Pierpoint who was afraid of being knocked down on his way to (and more likely inebriated from) the Carlton, his Pall Mall club. When it was finished, the good colonel dashed across the road to admire his creation, tripped and was bowled over by a cab.

Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates
Son of a wealthy sugar-plantation owner, Romeo Coates would proclaim himself to be the finest actor of his generation. His wealth allowed him to fund his own performances, fortuitously as he couldn’t remember his lines or, indeed whole scenes. He would repeat his favourite parts of the play at random places during the performance, these would often feature multiple melodramatic deaths.

Reprising the role of Shakespeare’s Romeo he added touches the Bard had somehow missed when penning his masterpieces: prising Capulet’s tomb open with a crowbar; taking snuff during the balcony scene and proceeding to offer it round to the audience; and upon Romeo’s death laying down his hat to rest his head, but after ensuring the stage was clean by dusting it with a handkerchief. Eventually, no actress would appear opposite him as Juliet.

Alas by 1816 his popularity had waned and his theatrical career ended. The thespian died in February 1848 whilst exiting a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when he was knocked down by a Hansom cab.

Bill of fare

Following the destruction caused by World War II (including many Green Shelters), the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 put a listings system in place to identify buildings considered special enough to be protected during post-war rebuilding. The list today includes buildings and landscapes of historical or architectural interest with around 400,000 entries spanning everything from windmills and palaces to piers and plague crosses.

[W]hile 514 of the entries are pigsties and 13 dung pits, these and many others of listings where preservation is deemed necessary in order for current and future generations to enjoy. It has included some bizarre inclusions in London including a concrete diving board at the former Purley Way lido in Croydon, a skatepark in Hornchurch and that zebra crossing on Abbey Road, itself having been moved since the famous album cover.

On the 70th anniversary of this listing initiative, from the advice of Historic England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has added to the National Heritage List for England a Cabbies’ Green Shelter.

Built in 1906, this one can be found in Grosvenor Gardens and is one of the last of only 13 still standing in London.

Still used by Black Cab drivers today as a place to rest and grab refreshments between jobs, but was originally built to combat cabbies taking shelter in pubs to escape the elements during shifts and drinking while waiting for customers.

Picture: Bill of fare © Urban 75

Orange Cab

Another in the occasional series ‘old cabs never die’ Here I found this dazzler in Essex (where else?). Bizarrely it’s advertising a skip company and is to be found on the A127 near Upminster. It still looks in pristine condition, soon it will be covered with dirt being so close to a 4-lane dual carriageway. The company is called Skip It Essex is that what one should do? Skip Essex

A light bulb moment

You have to give Leon Daniels credit for succeeding where others have been found wanting.

Since Cromwell licensed the London cab trade in 1654 – and in so doing making it the oldest regulated public transport system in the world – and the advent of The Knowledge after the Great Exhibition of 1851 many have tried to destroy London’s cab trade and been proved singularly unsuccessful.

[T]he watermen plying the Thames were the first to try their luck when the first bridges were built claiming that cabs couldn’t ‘go South of the River’; in 1961 exploiting a loophole in the 1869 Carriage Act, Michael Gotla spent £560,000 buying 800 red Renault Dauphines expecting that the drivers could ‘ply for hire’. Unfortunately for Gotla within a year, the courts begged to disagree with his interpretation of the law.

His rather costly enterprise did have one consequence, and that was encouraging anyone with a rusty Datsun to attach an aerial to its roof, sign on at a dodgy ‘mini-cab’ office and chance his luck on London’s streets at the weekend. It would be many years before their act was cleaned up.

Others have called for a truncated Knowledge, fast-tracking students to increase the numbers on the road or of allowing those final year students to be let loose on the capital’s streets in the hope they know where they were going. All of these cunning plans have come to zilch.

Enter Leon Daniels, Transport for London’s Managing Director: Surface Transport. Like his namesake, he entered the lions’ den unafraid.

He had a lightbulb moment when realising the way to destroy London’s cab trade was to work with a third party – as Daniel said after encountering the feline predators: “because I was found blameless before him” – and indeed the ploy seems to have exonerated him of any blame.

After clandestinely contacting an American ‘digital disruptor’ more than 20 times a battle plan was formulated.

Using a company who uses their ‘offshore’ status to avoid paying most UK taxes; a company with close association with the then prime minister; dispensing with the cumbersome criteria of having experienced driving in England at some point; abandoning comprehensive criminal record checks; using drivers with a lack of understanding the geography of London’s labyrinthine roads; and who have limited ability in understanding the capital’s native tongue, you could flood London’s streets with thousands of rented vehicles purporting to be ‘cabs’.

The result?

After so many failures in the past, a comprehensive destruction of an independent cab service, once the envy of the world, is within grasp.

All you need is a continual supply of compliant poorly paid drivers waiting to get what scraps they can from a diminishing market as more and more enter the fray.

And for the architect of this? A knighthood has been awarded for less, though I doubt he will be going to receive his gong in a black cab.

As a footnote: Icelandic tourists recently told me that a similar scam was tried in Reykjavik with a population of less than a quarter of a million. The local cabbies objected and the American company was given the cold shoulder and shown the door.