December 6th, 1897 – History of the London Cab

Today-In-History

On December 6th, 1897London, England became the world’s first city to host licensed taxicabs.

Hansom Cab

Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage services began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. The first documented public hackney coach service for hire was in London 1605. In 1625 carriages were made available for hire from innkeepers in London and the first taxi rank appeared on the Strand outside the Maypole Inn in 1636. In 1635 the Hackney Carriage Act was passed by Parliament to legalise horse-drawn carriages for hire. Coaches were hired out by innkeepers to merchants and visitors. A further “Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent” was approved by Parliament in 1654 and the first hackney-carriage licences were issued in 1662.

A similar service was started by Nicolas Sauvage in Paris in 1637. His vehicles were known as fiacres, as the main vehicle depot apparently was opposite a shrine to Saint Fiacre. (The term fiacre is still used in French to describe a horse-drawn vehicle for hire, while the German term Fiaker is used, especially in Austria, to refer to the same thing).

The hansom cab was designed and patented in 1834 by Joseph Hansom, an architect from York as a substantial improvement on the old hackney carriages. They were fast, light enough to be pulled by a single horse (making the journey cheaper than travelling in a larger four-wheel coach) were agile enough to steer around horse-drawn vehicles in the notorious traffic jams of nineteenth-century London and had a low centre of gravity for safe cornering. Hansom’s original design was modified by John Chapman and several others to improve its practicability, but retained Hansom’s name.

These soon replaced the hackney carriage as a vehicle for hire and with the introduction of a clockwork mechanical taximeter to measure the fare, the name became “taxicab”. They quickly spread to other cities in the United Kingdom, as well as continental European cities, particularly Paris, Berlin, and St Petersburg. The cab was introduced to other British Empire cities and to the United States during the late 19th century, being most commonly used in New York.

A-Hansom-cab-010

The first taxi service in Toronto, “The City”, was established in 1837 by Thornton Blackburn, an ex-slave whose escape when captured in Detroit was the impetus for the Blackburn Riot.

Electric battery-powered taxis became available at the end of the 19th century. In London, Walter C. Bersey designed a fleet of such cabs and introduced them to the streets of London in 1897. They were soon nicknamed ‘Hummingbirds’ due to the idiosyncratic humming noise they made. In the same year in New York City, the Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company began running 12 electric hansom cabs. The company ran until 1898 with up to 62 cabs operating until it was reformed by its financiers to form the Electric Vehicle Company.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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