The London Taxi Story

The right to ply for hire was first given to the watermen of the river Thames by Royal Charter during the twelfth century. In those day’s all the royal palaces and large mansions fronted the river Thames with the Tower of London, Palace of Westminster, Lambeth Palace, Richmond Palace, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle all on the River. Large houses like York House had their own Watergate entrance, which it is still standing today, as a reminder of those distant times.


York Watergate.

Ferryman's seat

The Ferryman's Seat, Bankside

Another reminder of the watermen, is this Ferryman's Seat, where the Ferryman would sit and take his rest in between jobs.

By the year 1625, there were four-wheeled coaches plying for hire, with the very first Hackney cab stand to appear was at the May-pole in the Strand. Where Captain Baily is said to have accompanied Raleigh in his last expedition to Guiana, employed four hackney coaches, with drivers in liveries, to ply for hire, fixing his own rates. These were the first to coin the name 'Hackney Coaches' from whence all coaches for hire became known. And by the year 1636, there were 50 Hackney carriages by proclamation of King Charles I.

In 1694, under the Cromwell government, 250 Hackney coaches were licensed to ply for hire in London. In 1679 the conditions of fitness for Hackney coaches was laid down - every coach shall be 10 foot long, the coach shall be strong and able to carry four persons at least. No horse shall be under 14 hands in size and they must be fit and strong.

As the city grew so did the number of hackney's and by 1831 there were 1,200.

In December of 1834, Joseph Aloysius Hansom registered his Patent safety cab. Hansom sold his rights in the cab for £10,000 although it is said he was never paid, but by a strange fate, Hansom's name was mistaken for the most famous cab of them all, the two-wheeler Hansom cab, with the driver at the rear, it was, in fact, the invention of John Chapman. The new owners of the Hansom cab company quickly bought Chapman's patent, and within a few months had 50 of these cabs working the London streets. So the Hansom cabs fame should have by rights been called a Chapman Cab.

Hansom's House

At number 28 Sumner Place South Kensington a blue plaque reminds us that the Hansom Cab founder Joseph Aloysius Hansom lived here.

Hansom blue plaque

The first petrol driven cabs did not enter the roads until 1903, although there were battery cabs as early as 1897 when on August the 14 the first electric cab left the depot of the London Electric Cab Co. in Juxon street Lambeth, they were called "Humming Birds" because of their quite sounding slight hum, they were considered dangerous, as people and horses could not hear them approaching. In nearby Vauxhall in 1905 the Vauxhall Motor Company brought out a similar cab to the Hansom with the driver at the rear, with out a horse, using 7-9h.p instead.

The Changing faces of the London taxi-cab

All sketches by kind permission of William Eales

In 1869, control of the cabs was given to the Home Secretary, who delegated his authority to the Commissioner of police, who in turn set up The Public Carriage Office, therefore because of these stringent arrangements, London has the finest taxi service in the world.

The 1950's saw the Austin FX3 the father of the FX4 and grand father of the TX1-TX11 and TX4

London Cabs

The name Taxicab is born

Wilhelm Bruhn invented the taximeter in 1891, and it is from the word taximeter that taxi became the new byword for the cab. The taximeter measured the distance, as well as the time, is taken for an accurate fare of the journey to be charged. The word comes from French taxe ('price') and Greek metron ('measure'). It was disliked by cab drivers, who did not want to be told the fares to charge by machines. There were reports that Wilhelm Bruhn ended up being thrown in the river Thames, by angry cab drivers, although the word taxi and taximeters were here to stay and are now in use worldwide.

London Vintage Taxi Association

London Time

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