Tag Archives: London’s cabs

A potted history of the Public Carriage Office

For about 200 years London’s cabs were virtually unregulated apart from limits upon their numbers and from where they could pick up.

It might not come as a surprise to a lot of people that regulation of London’s cabs and its drivers originally was the responsibility of the Stamp Office. Maintaining the city’s pipes, gullies and sewers, as well as the paving of the streets, it was originally funded from the license fees of public vehicles, carts, drays and cabs.

Complaints from owners of the vehicles that drivers couldn’t be traced and the proprietors ended up paying the fines, in 1838 led to all cabbies being registered.

In 1843 control of the cab trade passed from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police, who soon set up the Public Carriage Office, without, of course, taking on the responsibility of the sewers. They had enough crap to deal with.

The regulations were then passed to the Metropolitan Police in 1850 and were undertaken by the Public Carriage Office, which was originally located in an annexe to New Scotland Yard in Whitehall called ‘The Bungalow’.

In 1869 an Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate how the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.

The Carriage Office moved to 109 Lambeth Road in 1919, an old Edwardian building where you walked down an ancient cast-iron spiral staircase for your appearance in the examiner’s office known, unsurprisingly as the ‘snake pit’ or ‘dungeon’.

In 1966 the Public Carriage Office moved to a post-war white-clad Brutalist building at 15 Penton Street, Islington.

On the 1st January, 2000 administration of the Public Carriage Office passed from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.

Then in 2010 the Public Carriage Office was renamed and given the catchy title ‘The London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Authority’ and re-located to the Palestra House at 197 Blackfriars Road.

Featured image: Public Carriage Office, Great Scotland Yard by Leonard Bentley (CC BY-SA 2.0) The building with the Hansom Cabs and Growlers parked outside is the Public Carriage Office built in the early 1870s and standing in Great Scotland Yard. You can see why Scotland Yard was called a yard because of the large amount of space. The building was demolished to make way for GSY Stables and the Central London Recruiting office in 1910/1911, which made GSY into just another street.

If you look to the right of the Public Carriage Office in the distance you can see the pub sign of The Rising Sun. The pub was extensively damaged in May 1884 by a Fenian bomb which was placed in a public Urinal situated on the corner of the Public Carriage office building adjacent to the pub; several other bombs were placed around Central London at the same time including one which was placed at the foot of Nelson’s Column which was defused. In 1973 an IRA car bomb was placed in GSY which subsequently exploded, if nothing else the IRA have a great sense of History. Behind the pub is a Fire Station built in 1883 and subsequently closed in the early 1920s, it is now the Civil Service Club.


A potted history of cabs

By granting an extension to Uber’s licence to operate in London Sadiq Khan appears to have given up supporting the London Taxi Trade unlike Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Alaska, Iceland, China, Taiwan. As the world’s oldest cab trade starts its slow slide into oblivion here is a short post on its long history.

In the early 1600 Hackney carriages, or ‘Hackney Hell-Carts, appeared on London’s streets.

The first recognised cab rank established by Captain Bailey at the Maypole in the Strand (where St Mary-le-Strand church is today).

King Charles I issued a proclamation restricting the number of Hackney coaches to just 50, and they were only allowed to pick up passengers who were travelling more than 3 miles.

Oliver Cromwell orders the Court of Aldermen of the City of London to grant licences to 200 hackney coachmen. A 6-mile limit was imposed as London’s chain of defences, that had been erected during the Civil War in 1642, only extended to that perimeter and beyond it was considered unsafe.

These licences are revoked, some say for drunkenness, others that the aldermen favoured Cavaliers to Roundheads.

Restoration of the Monarchy leads to restoration of licences.

The Hackney Coach Office is set up to regulate the trade.

Introduction of ‘Conditions of Fitness’ for hackney carriages.

The number of hackney licences increases to one thousand.

An Act of Parliament gave the Hackney carriage trade the sole right to use their coaches as ‘hearses and mourning coaches at funerals’.

Duties of the Hackney Coach Office transferred to the Stamp Office.

Joseph Hansom patents his two-wheel cabriolet (the Hansom cab).

A four-wheel version follows – the ‘Clarence’, aka the ‘Growler’.

Control of the cab trade passes from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police and the Public Carriage Office is formed soon after.

Introduction of ‘The Knowledge’ by Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne.

An Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate the manner in which the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.

The most famous cab the Hansom by Henry Forder of Wolverhampton was introduced as an improvement on the previous model.

London’s first cab shelter is built, thanks to Captain Armstrong.

The Public Carriage Office moves to premises in Scotland Yard.

Wilhelm Bruhn invents the taximeter.

Walter Bersey launches a fleet of battery-operated cabs.

The first internal-combustion engine cabs are introduced by Prunel, a Frenchman.

Regulations were introduced requiring all cabs to be fitted with a taximeter.

Publication of the first ‘Blue Book’.

The great cab drivers’ strike when cab fleet owners increased fuel charges by 60 per cent.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 109 Lambeth Road and the first taxi school opens, run by the British Legion.

The last licence for a horse-drawn cab is issued (and rescinded the following year).

At the outbreak of the war 2,500 taxis were converted into auxiliary fire fighting engines, ambulances and Army personnel carriers.

The Public Carriage Office moves to 15 Penton Street.

CabbieBlog gets his green badge.

Administration of the Public Carriage Office passes from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.

The Public Carriage Office is re-named ‘London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing’ and re-locates to 197 Blackfriars Road.

Taxis through time

We might take them for granted nowadays, but taxis have a long and illustrious history. However, if you’re looking for a quick way to get home on a Friday night, you might struggle a bit with some of the vehicles, fares, and drivers common in previous years.

Here is a potted history of the taxi from ancient Rome to modern times, this is a Guest Post courtesy of The Taxi Centre who have also produced an infographic.

[T]he first stop on our taxi journey back in time is ancient Rome, and a funny little vehicle called the Lectica. When we say vehicle, we mean this in the loosest possible sense; the Lectica is essentially a glorified chair, and roughly translates to ‘portable couch’. How am I going to get home on a couch? we hear you ask. By slave power, that’s how! Yes, whilst the Lectica does seem like a slow way to get around, the kind of people who used them most definitely had the time and money to take the leisurely route. For a select few of the elite- or patrician-class, the Lectica was a stylish and ostentatious way to travel. For most though, especially the downtrodden subjects who were unfortunate enough to be tasked with carrying the thing, travelling like this was simply not an option.

For our next stop, we’ll fast forward a few hundred years, and head over to Norman Britain. The taxi industry was still a long way away, and if you wanted to get from A to B in a hurry you’d have to find a willing squire from which to hire a Hacquenée. A Hacquenée was essentially an unremarkable horse, specifically used for hiring out to budding travellers – for a fee, of course. Whilst this is surely faster (and more humane) than a couch with handles, the price of hiring a horse was still far too expensive for anyone but the elite.

So we travel forward to the time of Queen Elizabeth, where we see the first real signs of the foundation of the taxi industry. Here we see the introduction of the cart or Hackney Carriage and with it, the first taxi drivers. These carriages were usually the property of the ludicrously wealthy aristocracy, hired out to the less ludicrously wealthy aristocracy to maintain the costs of upkeep (horses don’t run for free, you know). However, taxi travel was still out of reach for most people. If not for the cost, this will have been due to the negative connotations associated with carriages, which were viewed as effeminate in comparison to actually riding a horse.

Over the next few hundred years, the horse and carriage was king of the emerging taxi trade. Hackney carriages went from being an effeminate luxury to a day to day way to get around. Soon, budding entrepreneurs started to purchase carriages second hand from the wealthy, and hire them out at taverns and shops; the first taxi ranks. However, as the carriages were second hand, a ride from one of these ranks wasn’t the cushy experience it is today. Instead, you might have to contend with splinters, maggot infested wood, or even the prospect of the floor dropping out beneath you.

However, that didn’t stop the popularity of the hackney. By the 1700s, there were over 1,000 carriages plying their trade across the streets of London. This would have been all very well, if it wasn’t for the lax and often unenforced regulations of the time. Whilst this period saw the introduction of standard fares, this didn’t stop crafty drivers from massively overcharging the unaware (or too drunk) punters. Coupled with the overcrowded roads, and a lack of speed limit, this earned the carriages of the time the name ‘Hackney hell carts’.

Whilst the industry was doing better than ever, stark reforms and stricter regulations needed to be introduced if a real move forward into respectability was to be made. So what did the Georgians do? Go back a good 2,000 years, of course. Yes, the mid 1750s saw the huge rise in popularity of the sedan chair, reminiscent of the Lectica used in Roman times. Georgian fashionistas and socialites shunned the horse and carriage, and moved back to the apparent ‘luxury’ of human power. However, unlike Roman times, a real viable industry was built around the Sedan Chair, with chair carriers being paid a fairly decent wage. Chair carriers had their own uniform, operated from ranks, and due to the overcrowding of the roads, were even faster than a trip in a Hackney carriage.

After the extravagant step back the Georgians took to tackle to problems of congestion, it took the industrious Victorians to put forward a real solution. In 1834, the Hackney Carriage received an overhaul, and the Hansom Cab took to the streets of London. Although quaint seeming now, the Hansom Cab was revolutionary at the time, with the vastly smaller carriage allowing drivers to manoeuvre the vehicle with a much higher degree of control. The Victorian era also saw the introduction of the meter, vastly reducing fares and restoring public faith in the taxi industry.

As we go forward in time to the turn of the 20th century, we start the long process of saying goodbye to horses as a regular mode of travel. With the introduction of the Hummingbird in 1898, the new and exciting power of electricity was harnessed as a way to provide efficient and cheap travel round London. Well, we say efficient and cheap. The novelty factor meant that the cabs were run at a premium, and the relatively new and untested electric motors were prone to malfunctioning. In fact, the Hummingbirds were so unreliable – and at times, dangerous – that they were totally withdrawn from the streets after just two years of service.

However, with the introduction of the Prunel in 1903, the Hummingbird wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway. The Prunel was just one of a whole new range of petrol powered models active on the streets of London in the early 1900s, providing travellers with a faster way to travel than ever before. The rise of petrol power would prove to be the final nail in the coffin for equine travel, although this took longer than you might have expected. In many places, you might have been still been able to hitch a ride on a horse and carriage well into the 1930s. This was especially true during the Second World War, where entire fleets of taxis were commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service as a valuable source of transportation for fire crews and equipment alike.

From here on out, the motor car ruled the taxi industry, with a range of new models, manufacturers, and vehicles hitting the streets of not just London, but the world. However, one manufacturer and model sped out in front – within the speed limit, of course – and became not just the most popular taxi vehicle in London, but also a cultural icon. With its unique shape and all black body, the Austin FX4 is instantly recognisable as the black cab. Since its introduction in 1958, the FX4 has been imitated and reproduced around the world, with countries as far flung as China, Lithuania and Singapore having vehicles reminiscent of Austin’s finest.

Whilst the look of taxis today is still largely rooted in the models of a good half century ago, innovation in the industry hasn’t halted. With the introduction of ‘green’ models like the HyTEC Black Cab, trialled for a limited period during the 2012 Olympics, we’re perhaps seeing the first signs of another big change for taxicabs. And whatever you think of them, apps like Uber and Hailo are altering not just the vehicles we use, but the entire structure of a centuries old industry.

It’s difficult to predict what the future might hold for taxis, but whatever happens, you can be assured that The Taxi Centre will be there right at the heart of it.

Cab detritus

As the London cab trade continues to implode with no sign from Transport for London stopping the freefall into oblivion, today we have a photo montage going down memory lane when the Black Cab was recognised by the powers that be as the premier taxi service. The picture on the left is a rogue taxi rank in Mansfield. With a lack of provision for cabbies waiting for a fare someone has created their own rank. The council threatened to strip the Hackney licenses of those responsible.


The Ghost Phone of the Langham Place Taxi Rank ©London.Cabbie
For years this phone has been at the front of the taxi rank in Langham Place. Totally forgotten about, it sits there waiting to ring . . . Is how the photographer describes this picture. No single image evokes the times past for cabbies. Situated between the Langham Hotel and the BBC in my nearly 20 years I‘ve never heard it ring. No anxious punters on the hot-line urgently requiring a cab. A relic of better times.


Green Cab Shelter at Chelsea Embankment
Once there were 61 of these shelters scattered around the capital. Only 13 remain providing refreshments for cabbies. Here in Chelsea in their wisdom the local authority has put double yellow lines on the major roads and forbidden parking on resident bays before 10.00 pm. Only two bays are allocated for cabs with a shelter catering for up to 12 diners plus take-away it’s hardly surprising it remains unused and empty. The most picturesque shelter in London.


Cabmen skylarking notice
Spotted this sign at a garage, once London’s best auto electrician for cabs, now no longer in business: Notice to Cabdrivers. Any Cabman skylarking or otherwise misconducting himself while on the Managing Committee’s premises or Smoking whilst his Cab is standing alongside the Platform will be required to leave the Station immediately. By order.


The ghost of Dunbridge Street
Once this street was a hive of activity: garages, spares, repair shops, companies installing adverts on the sides of cabs, insurance companies you name it anything for the cab driver was to be had in this street adjacent to the railway lines. A Ben Adams picture of an abandoned cab seems to sum it all up. Abandoned London black cab by Ben K Adams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Taken for a ride

London is an expensive city and for visitors the cost of airport transfers can make a sizeable hole in the holiday budget.

For this Guest Post Ezekiel Ayonrinde who works on behalf of AAA2B Cars writes that the City’s Black Cabs and reputable private hire are modestly priced compared with many other cities.

Here he compares London with some of those cities around the world.

The Most Expensive Taxi Fares in the World
[W]e’ve all questioned the price of a taxi fare from time to time, usually to be met by a remark of “just going by what the meter says” from our amiable friend the cabbie. When it comes to airport transfers e.g. from Horsham to Heathrow airport, most of us prefer to travel by taxi – it’s easy to organise and takes a little bit of the stress out of travelling, and it also guarantees that we’ll arrive directly at our destination on time.
So how do the average UK taxi fares compare with those around the world? Whilst we’ve all had a grumble at what we perceive to be a particularly steep price for a taxi ride, it’s small change compared to some destinations around the world, so spare a thought for anyone travelling to and from these destinations:

Munich (Airport to City Centre): £44
With the airport situated nearly twenty miles away from the heart of the city, hailing a cab into Munich can be a very costly affair indeed. A one-way journey will set you back well over 50 Euros, working out at just over £2 per mile.

Brussels (Airport to City Centre): £30
Despite being in close proximity to the city, the 7.5 mile journey routinely sets travellers back to the equivalent of £30, working out at just under £4 per mile, in keeping with many other European destinations. For travellers willing to use buses and trains, the public transport network in Brussels is thankfully well-maintained.

Malpensa to Milan: £72
Planning some time in Milan? Flights booked? Be prepared to fork out to actually get there from the airport. At just under thirty miles away, it’s reasonable to expect to have to pay to get to the heart of the city. The fare works out at just over £2.50 per mile, which doesn’t seem to extortionate when compared to Brussels’ prices. The good news is that the journey is reasonably picturesque, which helps to take the sting out of the taxi fare a bit.

Gardermoen to Oslo: £73
Gardermoen Airport is a similar distance away from Oslo as Malpensa is to Milan, with similar prices to boot. Many of the nationally licensed taxis (Norgestaxi) will offer fixed prices on journeys. Although it might set you back a bit, it at least means not having to worry about what the meter says. Like most European cities, it’s worthwhile budgeting for travel costs in and around the city. Per mile, the average taxi costs just over £2.50.

Tokyo (Airport to City Centre): £195
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a taxi from Narita Airport into Tokyo city centre is a complete and utter rip-off. In actual fact, the rates (overwhelming as they are) start to make at least a little more sense given the distance travelled. At over 40 miles away, the average taxi ride works out £4.70 per mile. The good news for travellers at the moment is that a weakening Japanese economy means that the journey costs almost 10% less than it did just over a year ago. Despite this, it’s still an expensive taxi ride by any stretch of the imagination.

When these fares are put into perspective, it gives you an idea of how much you should be budgeting if you use taxis as your main means of transport; especially on holiday within these locations. Typically, you’ll be travelling by foot to most destinations and purchasing all that takes your fancy, but remember to keep enough in reserve – you never know what situation might creep up to shock you. And if you take the taxi to work in these locations – that’s another discussion in itself!

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