Victorian London - Transport - Road - Cabs - Character of Cabs and Cabmen

    He was a man of most simple and prepossessing appearance. He was a brown-whiskered, white-hatted, no-coated cabman; his nose was generally red, and his bright blue eye not unfrequently stood out in bold relief against a black border of artificial workmanship; his boots were of the Wellington form, pulled up to meet his corduroy knee-smalls, or at least to approach as near them as their dimensions would admit of; and his neck was usually garnished with a bright yellow handkerchief. In summer he carried in his mouth a flower; in winter, a straw - slight, but, to a contemplative mind, certain indications of a love of nature, and a taste for botany.
    His cabriolet was gorgeously painted - a bright red; and wherever we went, City or West End, Paddington or Holloway, North, East, West, or South, there was the red cab, bumping up against the posts at the street corners, and turning in and out, among hackney-coaches, and drays, and carts, and waggons, and omnibuses, and contriving by some strange means or other, to get out of places which no other vehicle but the red cab could ever by any possibility have contrived to get into at all. Our fondness for that red cab was unbounded. How we should have liked to have seen it in the circle at Astley's! Our life upon it, that it should have performed such evolutions as would have put the whole company to shame - Indian chiefs, knights, Swiss peasants, and all.
    Some people object to the exertion of getting into cabs, and others object to the difficulty of getting out of them; we think both these are objections which take their rise in perverse and ill-conditioned minds. The getting into a cab is a very pretty and graceful process, which, when well performed, is essentially melodramatic. First, there is the expressive pantomime of every one of the eighteen cabmen on the stand, the moment you raise your eyes from the ground. Then there is your own pantomime in reply - quite a little ballet. Four cabs immediately leave the stand, for your especial accommodation; and the evolutions of the animals who draw them, are beautiful in the extreme, as they grate the wheels of the cabs against the curb-stones, and sport playfully in the kennel. You single out a particular cab, and dart swiftly towards it. One bound, and you are on the first step; turn your body lightly round to the right, and you are on the second; bend gracefully beneath the reins, working round to the left at the same time, and you are in the cab. There is no difficulty in finding a seat: the apron knocks you comfortably into it at once, and off you go.
    The getting out of a cab is, perhaps, rather more complicated in its theory, and a shade more difficult in its execution. We have studied the subject a great deal, and we think the best way is, to throw yourself out, and trust to chance for alighting on your feet. If you make the driver alight first, and then throw yourself upon him, you will find that he breaks your fall materially. In the event of your contemplating an offer of eightpence, on no account make the tender, or show the money, until you are safely on the pavement. It is very bad policy attempting to save the fourpence. You are very much in the power of a cabman, and he considers it a kind of fee not to do you any wilful damage. Any instruction, however, in the art of getting out of a cab, is wholly unnecessary if you are going any distance, because the probability is, that you will be shot lightly out before you have completed the third mile.
    We are not aware of any instance on record in which a cab-horse has performed three consecutive miles without going down once. What of that? It is all excitement. And in these days of derangement of the nervous system and universal lassitude, people are content to pay handsomely for excitement; where can it be procured at a cheaper rate?

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836

Well do I recollect the introduction, simultaneously, I imagine, of the hansom cab - then called "patent-safety" - and the four-wheeler. Before them we had the lumbering musty pair-horse hackney-coach, which was the decayed and disused "chariot" of former greatness, or the two-wheeled cabriolet - a dangerous vehicle, with a hood for the fare, and a tiny perch by his side for the driver, and which is to be seen in the illustrations to Pickwick, where Mr. Jingle first appears on the scene. People nowadays will smile to hear that for years after their introduction it was considered "fast" to ride in a hansom, and its use was tabooed to ladies.

Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences, 1885
[chapter on 1836-1847]

a Waterman [see below -ed.]
taken from George Cruikshank's London Characters (1829)

a Hackney Coachman
taken from George Cruikshank's London Characters (1829)


If John Bull were not, with all his grumbling, one of the most patient animals in existence, he could never have endured so long the cabs which he has to employ for the conveyance of his person through the streets of the metropolis. They are very poorly furnished and nasty, far below similar conveyances in any continental city with which we are acquainted. Greater fault still is to be found with the drivers, a large proportion of whom are so prone to overreach, that it is hardly possible to settle for their fares without a squabble. Our experience leads us to say, that at an average a stranger pays 30 per cent. above the proper sum, besides having his temper in almost every instance ruffled to some extent by the sense of having no adequate protection from the rudeness of this class of men. For a lady, there seems to be no chance of escape but by the alternative of some enormous over-charge. Altogether this department of public economy in London is in a most unsatisfactory state. Most people avoid using these street vehicles whenever they can, and this is especially true of strangers. We can state as a fact that a provincial gentleman of our acquaintance is accustomed to take the inconvenience of the cab-system into account in deliberating whether he shall have a month of London life or not. It is one of the repelling considerations, to a degree that the Londoners themselves are not aware of. In an age of such exquisite contrivance and precision in mechanical and commercial matters, it might have been anticipated that the bad system of London cabs could not long survive. All dishonest businesses write their own doom. Those only thrive which sincerely seek the good of the public. Accordingly, it is not surprising, at a time when one-and-a-half per cent. is a fact in banking, to find two large and powerful companies getting up to supersede the bad, old, dear, cheating cabs with a new and civilised set. It is proposed by one of these bodies to 'provide for the public a superior class of carriages, horses, and drivers, at reduced and definite fares; to afford the utmost possible security for property; ans especially prompt and easy redress of complaints.' With better vehicles at three-fourths of the present charges - namely 6d. a mile - and these to be settled for in a manner which will preclude disputes, this company deserves, and will be sure to obtain, the public patronage. One good feature of the proposed arrangements will, we think, be highly satisfactory: the company will form a sufficient magistracy in itself to give quick and easy redress in the case of any wrong. But, indeed, from the precautions taken as to the employment of drivers, and the hold which the company will have over them, through the medium of guarantee and their own deposits in a benefit-fund, it seems to us that the good conduct of the men towards their 'fares' must be effectually secured. The other company proposes to have two classes of vehicles - one at 8d. and the other at 4d. a mile; and it contemplates the use of a mechanism for indicating the distance passed over. We most earnestly hope that both companies will succeed in establishing themselves and carrying an improvement so important to the public into effect.

Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 1852

A CIRCUMSTANCE which has given a very evil name to cabmen in general, on the part of the public, is a class of men, who, though dismissed from their body, are yet much mixed up with it. These are cabmen who have been deprived of their licenses for drunkenness or bad conduct. The law, in kindness to the licensed cabdriver, allows him, in case of need, to employ an unlicensed substitute for a period not longer than 24 hours, and by this means these discharged men get to drive licensed cabs. This is especially the case with the cabs of what are called long-day men,' - for the cab-drivers are divided into several distinct classes, according to the number and character of the hours during which they ply for hire, and there are, consequently, the long-day men; the morning men, who are out from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the long-night men, who are out from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.; and the short-night men, who are out from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The long-day men (and it is they chiefly who are employed by the contractors) leave the stables at 9 or 10 in the morning, and do not return home till 12 or 1, or, in some cases, till 4 or 5, or even later, the next morning. These hours are more than one man can well endure, and he is therefore glad to avail himself of the help of the unlicensed driver towards the end of the day, or while he is at his meals. There is also employment for these discarded men on the stands, and the licensed driver is ordinarily glad to give them the sixpence they expect from each driver for cleaning up the cab and harness, which otherwise he would have to do himself. Their mode of life is correctly sketched in the following extract: - They usually loiter about the watering- houses (as the public-houses are called) of the cab-stands, and pass most of their time in the tap-rooms. They are mostly of intemperate habits, being usually "confirmed sots." Very few of them are married men. They have been what is termed fancy men in their prime, but, to use the words of one of the craft, "got turned up." They seldom sleep in a bed. Some few have a bed-room in some obscure part of the town, but the most of them loll about and doze in the tap-rooms by day, and sleep in cabs by night. When the watering-house closes they resort to the night coffee-shops, and pass the time there till they are wanted as "bucks." (*Name given to cab-drivers deprived of their licenses. ) When they take a job for a man they have no regular agreement with the drivers, but the rule is that they shall do the best they can. If they take 2s., they give the driver 1s., and keep 1s. If  1s. 6d., they usually keep only 6d. . . . The regular driver has no check upon these men, but unless they do well they never employ them again.
    In the season some of them will make 2s. or 2s. 6d. a-day by rubbing up, and it is difficult to say what they make by driving. They are the most extortionate of all cab-drivers. For 1s. fare they will usually demand 2s., and for a 3s. fare they will get 5s. or 6s. If the number of the cab is taken, and the legitimate driver summoned, the party overcharged is unable to swear that the legitimate driver was the individual who defrauded him, and so the case is dismissed. It is supposed that the "bucks make quite as much money as the drivers, for they are not at all particular how they make their money. The great majority - 99 out of 100 - have been in prison, and many more than once, and they consequently do not mind about re-visiting gaol. It is calculated that there are about 800 or 1,000 bucks hanging about the London cab-stands, and these are mostly regular thieves. If they catch any person asleep or drunk in a cab, they are sure to have a dive into his pockets; nor are they particular if the party belong to their own class, for I am assured that they steal from one another while dozing in the cabs or taprooms. The number of these unlicensed men has since materially increased, about 700 cab-drivers having been deprived of their licenses last June (1852), on the ground of character. These are now added to the bucks.' And it illustrates how many even of the licensed cab-drivers were little or nothing better than the others. A class has always existed of a very profligate character, chiefly those employed in night work, although some respectable contractors employ a portion of their cabs at night, simply because they have not room in their stables for all their stock during the same hours. The bad class are willing to 'sign' for a higher amount than others, and they resort to every discreditable purpose to make it answer, especially seeking for fares from swell-mobsmen, drunken, and profligate persons. They also ordinarily live with bad women, who by their sin assist in their support. 

[click here for full text of this book]

Rev. J. Garwood, The Million Peopled City, 1853

    The next great branch of the Metropolitan conveyance system, is that of the carriages which ply for hire, with or without a number. The latter, in all their leading features, are similar to the carriages of all the Continental capitals. They are taken by the hour, by the day, week, month, or year. Chief among time former are the London cabs.
    ?Live and learn,? ought to be the motto of the student of London cabology. No mortal could ever boast of having mastered the subject. There is no want of police regulations, and of patriots to enforce them; but still the cabmen form a class of British subjects, who, for all they are labelled, booked, and registered, move within a sphere of their own, beyond the pale of the law. The Commissioners of Police have drawn up most elaborate regulations concerning cabs; they have clearly defined what a cab ought to be, but the London cabs are exactly what they ought not to be. The faults of these four-wheeled instruments of torture can never sufficiently be complained of. Not only do they shorten the homiest old English mile; but they bear a strong family-likeness to the Berlin droshkies. If the horse is wanted, it is sure to be eating ; if the cabby is wanted, he is equally sure to be drinking. If you would put the window down, you cannot move it; if it is down, and you would put it up, you find that the glass is broken. The straw-covered bottom of the cab has many crevices, which let in wind and dust ; the seats feel as if they were stuffed with broken stones; the check-string is always broken; the door won?t shut; or if shut, it won?t open: in short (we make no mention of the horse), to discover the faults of a London cab is easy; to point out its good qualities is, what I for one, have never been able to achieve.
    Whenever a stranger is bold enough to hail a cab, not one, but half a dozen come at once, obedient to his call; and the eagerness the drivers display is truly touching. They secure their whips, descend from their high places, and surround the stranger with many a wink and many a chuckle, to learn what he wants, and to ?make game of. him.? 
    Supposing the stranger speaks the English language fluently enough to make himself understood, of course he will name the place to which he wishes to go, and ask what they will take him for. He may rely on it, that of any conclave of cab-men, each one will demand, at least, double the amount of his legal fare. He demurs to the proposal, whereupon the six cabmen mount their boxes forthwith, return to their stand in the middle of the road, and indulge in jocular remarks on ?foreigners,? and ?Frenchmen? in general. Blessed is that foreigner, if his studies of the English language have been confined to Byron, Thackeray, and Macaulay, for in that case he remains in happy ignorance of all the ?good things? that are said at his expense. The retreat, however, was merely a feint; a few skirmishers advance again, and waylay the stranger. Again, and again, do they inquire, ?what he will give ?? They turn up the whites of their eyes, shrug their shoulders, make offers confidently, and decline propositions scornfully, and go on haggling amid demonstrating until one of them comes to terms, and drives oft with the victim.
    But is there no legal scale of fares? Of course there is, but with the enormous extent of London it was impossible to es?tablish a general fare for each ?course? according to the cab regulations of the German, French, and Italian towns. A certain sum, say one shilling for each drive, would have wronged either the passenger or the driver. To get rid of the dilemma the fare was fixed at eight-pence per mile. But who can tell how many miles he has gone in a cab? A stranger of course cannot be expected to possess an intimate knowledge of places and distances. An old Londoner only may venture to engage in a topographic and geometrical disputation with a cabman, for gentle?men of this class are not generally flattering in their expressions or conciliating in their arguments; and the cheapest way of terminating the dispute is to pay and have done with the man. As a matter of principle the cabman is never satisfied with his legal fare; even those who know the town, and all its ways, must at times appeal to the intervention of a policeman or give their address to the driver, not, indeed, for the purpose of fighting a duel with him, but that he may, if he choose, apply to the magistrate for protection. But it is a remarkable fact, that the cabmen of London are by no means eager to adopt the latter expedient.
    The Hansom Cabs, which of late years have been exported to Paris and Vienna, are generally in a better condition than the four-wheeled vehicles; but their drivers are to the full as exacting and impertinent as their humbler brethren of the whip. To do them justice, if they are exorbitant in their demands, they at least are satisfactory in their performance. They go at a dashing pace whenever they have an open space before them, and they are most skilful in winding and edging their light vehicles through the most formidable knots of waggons and carriages. The ?Hansom? man is more genteel and gifted than the vulgar race of cabmen; he is altogether smarter (in more than one sense) and more dashing, daring, and reckless.

    When cabby returns to his stand, he drops the reins, chats with his comrades, recounts his adventures, and ?fights his battles o?er again,? or he lights his pipe and disappears for a while in time mysterious recesses of a pothouse. His horse and carriage are meanwhile left to the care of an unaccountable being, who on such occasions pops out from some hiding-place, wall-niche, or cellar. This creature appears generally in time shape of a dirty, ricketty, toothless, grey-haired man; he is a servus servorum, the slave of the cabmen, commonly described as a ?water-man.? For it was he who originally supplied the water for the washing of the vehicles. In the course of time, however, his functions have extended, and the waterman is now all in all to the cab-stand. He cleans the cabs, minds the horses, attends to the orders of passengers, opens and shuts the doors, and fetches and carries to the cabstand generally tobacco, pipes, beer, gin, billets doux, and other articles of common consumption and luxury; in consideration for which services, he is entitled to the gratuity of one penny on account of each ?fare?; and he manages to get another penny from the ?fare? as a reward for the alacrity and politeness with which he opens the door. But further particulars of this mysterious old man we are unable to give. No one knows where he lives; no one, not even Mr. Mayhew, has as yet been able to ascertain where and at what hours he takes his meals. At two o?clock in the morning he may be seen busy with his pails, and at five or six o?clock you may still observe him at his post, leaning against the area railings of some familiar public-house. But the early career of the man, his deeds and misdeeds, joys and sufferings, before he settled down as waterman to a cab-stand?these matters are a secret of the Guild, and one which is most rigorously preserved. Poor, toothless, old man! The penny we give thee will surely find its way to the gin-shop, but can we be obdurate enough to refuse giving it, since a couple of those coins will procure for thee an hour?s oblivion?

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

see also James Grant in Lights and Shadows of London Life- click here 

see also Charles Manby Smith in Curiosities of London Life on 'watermen' - click here

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

Sarcastic Peeler. "GOING TO 'AVE A NEW 'ORSE THEN, CABBY?"
Cabby. "NEW OSS, 'OW D'YE MEAN?"

Punch, August 3, 1861


At no time were cabman a popular class in London. Since the opening of the International Exhibition, they have become more unpopular than ever. Their life is a hard one; they constantly incline to take over-liberal views of distance; and when a fare is refractory, they are anything but nice about the choice of language in enforcing extortionate demands. We know from the experience of 'strikes' that mechanics go to great lengths occasionally on a question of wages; but when once the price at which they are to be paid is fixed, and they assent to it, they never think of demanding more so long aa the particular rate of payment remains in force. It is not so with the cabman. He has his ostensible strike now and then; but, in point of fact, he indulges in one continual, though covert resistance to his employers - the public. He considers himself an ill-used man if he is paid only his fare. The person is an impostor who tenders it - 'a cove as ought to walk, and not be bilking cabman.' This system of abuse succeeds, or the public are more generous in their dealings with cabmen than with any other class of the working community, or there is a general feeling that the scale of fares is an insufficient one; for the Jehus themselves admit that in nineteen cases out of twenty they receive more than their legal due. They go further, and tell you that if such were not the case, the occupation 'would not be worth a follorin' on.'
     As the riding population know little more about the matter than what they gather from the payment of fares, the strong language of those to whom the money is paid, and the reports of cases in the police courts, it may not be out of place to state a few facts connected with the working of the cab-system. Of 'four-wheelers' and 'Hansoms,' there are nearly five thousand in London. Each cab is obliged to have a number for which the owner pays one shilling a day. Thus, if the cab is licensed to ply on Sundays as well as week-days, seven shillings a week are paid for the licence; but if only a week-day licence is required, six shillings is the amount. The licensed owner of a cab is liable for any infraction of the law committed by means of the vehicle. The licence-duty is paid at Somerset House. Any person applying for permission to drive a cab plying for hire must get a certain form filled up. On presenting this at Scotland Yard, a badge and a book of fares are given to him. For the former, he pays five shillings; for the latter, half-a-crown. In addition, he is taxed to the amount of five shillings annually, so long as he remains a driver. A driver may not lend his badge to any other person. It is clear that if he were permitted to do so, there would be an end of responsibility in case of misconduct.
    A new four-wheel cab costs about forty pounds; a second-hand one may be had for ten or twelve pounds; but any owner who can afford it, thinks it the better economy to purchase a new article. A new Hansom may be had for about thirty-five pounds; but if it be a 'spicey' one, and made to order, it will cost as much as a four--wheeler. A well-made cab will run for about twelve months without requiring any repair, except in case of accident. At the end of that time, probably it will want new tires on the wheels. The tires on the front wheels wear out sooner than those on the hind wheels. A set of four tires costs about four-and-twenty shillings. When the London season is over, an aged or 'stale' horse, that will do very well for a four-wheel cab, may be got in London for ten or twelve pounds. Those cab-owners who have a little capital generally purchase young horses in Ireland or at fairs in this country.
     For a Hansom, quite a different style of horse is required. If he have no height, 'blood,' and action, the whole concern will look worse than the shabbiest of four-wheel cabs. Hence the owners of Hansoms go to a different market. Tattersall's is their ground. They purchase racers and hunters who have done their work, and who, though still showy, are sold without a warranty. Such animals would not do for four-wheelers. The class of work done by each description of cab is different. The four-wheelers go in for long distance, and more than two passengers; the Hansoms for short fares and one or two riders. There is to some extent an impression - arising, no doubt, from the 'large' manner of the men and the mettlesome appearance of their animals - that the drivers of Hansom receive higher fares than those of their more humble-looking competitors on four wheels.  Experienced men in the trade say that this is not the case. For town work, the Hansom has the advantage. In the city and at the west end, they receive three fares for every one picked up by a four-wheeler; but at the railways and in general family hire, the latter 'beat them to bits.' The relative advantages may be summed up thus: The cabs on four wheels get fewer jobs, but larger fares; the Hansoms do shorter distances, bur are hired more frequently. A cab of either kind cannot be well worked without a couple of horses. There are men who have only a single horse, but they are obliged to work at a great disadvantage. They must be very economical of their horse-power, and the system on which they act is to pull up on the nearest  'rank' after discharging their fare, so that they may go over as little ground as possible, when no earning money. Those who have two horses, usually take out one in the morning, and work it up to three or four o'clock in the afternoon; put it up then, and take out the other for the evening; or give each horse a rest every alternate date. Owners of a single cab are, in nearly every instance, their own drivers; and they are the most steady and civil men connected with the occupation. If they are not sober and careful of their horses and cab, they cannot make a living out of the business. It is your mere driver, generally, who is reckless and a rogue; but it is right to say that there are very many exceptions.
       The system on which these men work is a bad one and goes far to account for the numerous police-court cases in which cabmen figure as defendants. They are like the unfortunate organ-grinders; they do not receive wages from their masters, but pay them so much a day. In order that this sum and the driver's own profit may be secured, horses and the public are made victims. A careful owner, driving his own cab and keeping a pair of horses, calculates on earning fifteen or sixteen shillings a day throughout the whole year, except during the autumn vacation and the two or three weeks after Christmas. These are his dull times. The same amount is about the sum paid by a driver for the hire of a cab and two horses. This pays the large cab-owner very well, even though the horses be overworked. The driver has no interest in easing the animals; or obtaining a good character for the owner: his object is to get as many fares as he can in the day, and bully his riders out of as much money as possible. These men drink a good deal, at their own expense and are frequently 'treated' by their customers. They go through much hardship in the way of exposure to wet and cold, and long waits on the ranks. To these causes may be ascribed the habits of dissipation into which too many of them sink. It is to be hoped that the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury and other philanthropists, who have turned their attention to the establishment of cabmen's clubs, may work a reformation.
    Cab-horses are fed well on good oats and chopped clover. If they were not , they would very soon be unfit for work. To keep one, costs about fifteen shillings a week; and a cab-owner who is his own driver and who receives five or six pounds a week, calculates his profits - allowing for wear and tear of  cab and horse, and stable expenses - at from two pounds ten shillings to ten pounds, for the six days: no an inordinate profit surely, considering how hard he works, and tthe capital which he has embarked in his horse and rolling stock. A great proportion of the small cab-owners do not work their cabs on Sunday, concurring as they do with Mr Bianconi, the extensive Irish cab-proprietor, that giving horses one day's rest in the week is a saving of money in the long-run, to those who have purchased the animals, and will have to replace them when used up. The night-cabs are worked by the worst description of horses: there is scarcely one of them that is no spavine or partially blind or both. To see one whose fore-legs are not looped and palsied from falling down and breaking his knees, is an exceptional curiosity;. No cab-horses are worked day and night. Many cabs are. Seven shillings a night is considered a sufficient payment by a driver for the hire of a horse and cab. In some cities, Dublin, for instance, the fares between twelve at night and six in the morning are double. In London, this is not the case; and it seems a hardship on a cabman that he should be obliged to take a rider at sixpence a mile, within the four-mile radius, in the middle of a cold and wet winter's night, when he has not the least chance of a return fare.
     At all the gret railway stations there are what are called 'privileged cabs.' The railway companies admit a certain number of cabs to take up their position on the rank outside the platform, and await the arrival of the trains. For this privilege each cab pays a sum, varying at the different stations, of from one-and-sixpence to three shillings a week. The company keep an inspector of cabs, a policeman to take down the number of each privileged vehicle as it leaves the station with its fare, and a book in which the numbers of all the cabs and the names of their owners and drivers are recorded. The number kept in this book is not that issued with the licence at Somerset House, but one painted on the side of the cab in proximity with the initials of the company. Passengers arriving by trains are afforded protection for their luggage and a precaution against imposition by the regulations in respect of the privileged cabs. As has just been observed, a policeman at the exit-gate takes down the number of each cab as it passes out; and in addition the driver must every evening fill up a return of the number of fares he has had during the day, and the places to which he has conveyed them. When the privileged cabs have all been hired up, the cabs on the rank nearest to the station are admitted to the railway on the a la queue principle.
    I have found no cabman to deny that the Exhibition enormously increased his profits. Owners charged drivers as much as one pound a day and more for the hire of a cab; but the latter at that time were taking their two pounds ten shillings and three pounds a day, and only for what they call the tyranny and worry of the police-constables at South Kensington, they would have made a great deal more. They state that as soon as the police observed an argument as to the amount of the fare, they would step forward, ask the distance travelled, tell the rider the proper amount, and order the cabman off. No higher testimony, can be paid to the efficiency of the officers whom the commissioners of police stationed at the Exhibition. Men who drive their own horses have no reaped quite so large a harvest, but their profits have been proportionally increased. Cabmen do not like lady-fares; they have a horror of an 'unprotected female;' because, if any dispute arises, a sympathetic crowd assembles, and imposition is stopped. The theory of cab-management in the metropolis on the part of the authorities is admirable - in the regulations regarding the deposit in the police-stations of left property, for example - but in practice it is found to be very defective. A cabman may give you all sorts of insolence, and make off before you have had time to take his number; or you may not have a pencil about you. In Paris, the driver must hand you a ticket on which his number is inscribed, when he takes you up. The introduction of that plan would be a great improvement here. On the other hand, something may be said for the cabbies. For instance, is sixpence sufficient payment for the carriage of two passengers, and as much luggage as they can stow inside, for a full mile from a railway station, at which man, horse, and cab have been standing for an hour or two awaiting the arrival of a train?

Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, 1862

    For some little time I have been confined to the house. Instead of going abroad after breakfast, I stay in the dining-room, and I generally manage to limp to the dining-room windows. Now just opposite these windows is a cabstand. I used to think that cabstand a nuisance, but the truth now dawns upon me that there is a compensation in most things. It is only some weeks ago that I was awoke from a slumber, tranquil, but perhaps too deep, through a late supper and potation, with a burning pain in the ball of my great toe, and considerable constitutional disturbance. It so happened that the worthy and rubicund vicar called on me that next morning, accompanied by his churchwarden, hardly less worthy, and a shade more rubicund, on the subject of the parish charities. When I mentioned to them my dolorous state by various gestures and lively expression, they testified their sympathy and even their gratification. The reverend and the approximately-reverend gentlemen explained to me that I was indubitably suffering from my first attack of gout. They had suffered from it themselves, and welcomed me warmly into their honorable fraternity. The spectacle of an additional sufferer seemed to afford them a deep-seated satisfaction. The family doctor confirmed their unwelcome augury. He knocked off hot suppers and hotter potations, and put me on a light beverage of lithia water and cognac. He also ordered me to take abundant rest, which I do on the arm-chair, unless I hobble to the window. I am not, I candidly confess, a man of intellectual resources. I rarely look into any books beyond my business book, and, a very little, into a betting-book. The "Daily Telegraph" kindly manufactures all my opinions for me, and a game of cards is my best enjoyment of an evening. But the D. T. exhausts itself, and I can't very well play at cards in the daylight. So I fall back upon my resources, which frequently resolve themselves into the cabstand.
    When I go and look at them after breakfast, it appears to me that the cabman's lot is life is not an unhappy one. His work is not hard; he lives out in the open air; and though he says he has hardly enough to eat, I am quite sure that he gets a little more than is quite good for him to drink. He can go to sleep comfortably on his box, and if it rains he can get inside the carriage. Sometimes the floor of the cab is extemporized into an al fresco dining-table. There is a great deal of horse-play among these fellows. I observe one old man who is in the habit of going contentedly asleep on his box. It is a favorite device for some one to lift up the body of the cab from the ground, shake it, and let it dash upon the earth. One's first notion is that the somnolent driver will have his neck dislocated, or get concussion of the brain, but somehow he seems to hold on. Now this is not all an uncommon type of cabman---a man of extreme animal nature, whose only notion of enjoyment is to drink and sleep in the sunshine. But there are some sharp fellows among them. There is one man who has often a book with him, who has a very sharp pair of spectacles and a distinctive nose of his own, and an expression of countenance which shows him as acute and cynical as any of his betters. I have no doubt but that man has formed opinions of his own on most subjects of human interest, and could maintain them well in an argument. As a rule, the cabmen are content with their newspaper---many of them, indeed, cannot, or do not care to read---and very rarely you see any of them with a book. On the shady side of the street they often seem to enjoy themselves very much, engaging in chaff or talk, reading the newspaper, and every now and then disappearing into a public, to get a penny glass of the vile stuff which they know as London beer. Still business is business, and however grateful may be the charm of leisure, the cabman has a certain sum of money to make up, and he has a quick, alert eye to detect a possible fare in the least roving glance or indecisive movement of a pedestrian.
    Standing much, as podagra permits, at my window, I know some of the cabmen very well by sight. Some of them I know personally. If I want a message sent, or a cab for any inmate of the house, I merely beckon or tap at the window, and there is a brisk competition. If you want to send a telegraphic message, you had better use a cab, as it is much quicker and no dearer than a messenger. I always take first cab, unless the horse is bad or the cab dirty. In an astonishing number of instances the horses are bad and the cabs dirty. Every now and then we have paragraphs, and even leaders, in the papers, and I have even seen some prospectuses of limited companies. But the cab mind is slow to move. Only now and then do I see a really superior carriage on the stand. I prefer the carriages that don't ply on Sunday, and I do so because I prefer the man who practically says, "I myself am something better than my trade; I don't mean to be used up as if I were an animal, but claim rest for mind and body, even though I have to make sacrifice for it." That is a sort of manliness to be encouraged. They change the cab-horse very often, but not the cabman. Without doubt there is in the world a prevalent feeling in favour of the muscles and bones of the horses which does not extend to the muscles and bones of human beings. Now, among these cabmen there are some exceedingly pleasant and civil fellows, and a few who are very much the reverse. There is never any close inquiry into the character of these men, and the result undoubtedly is that they number a greater amount of blackguards than any business in London. I remember having to convey a very pretty girl, at a time when my frame was lighter and my heart more susceptible than at present, across one of the parks, and a mile or two in the suburbs. I asked him the fare, which was a weak-minded thing, as I ought to have known it and have had the money in hand. "The fare is six shillings," he answered, with intense emphasis on the word fare, as indicating a wide margin of personal dues and expectations. I am ashamed to say that at that verdant time I gave him the six shillings and something over that for himself, whereas eighteen pence would have covered his legitimate demand. One of these fellows in the last Exhibition year, while making an overcharge, caught a Tartar. The fare announced himself as Sir Richard Mayne, and requested to be driven to Scotland Yard. There is one fellow on this stand whom I never employ. When I took him to the Great Western Station he made an overcharge, and then maintained stoutly, until he was nearly black in the face, that I had expressly stipulated with him to drive fast. Such a stipulation would have been abhorrent to all my habits, for I pride myself on always being a quarter of an hour before the time. I acquired this useful habit through a remark of the late Viscount Nelson, who said that being a quarter of an hour beforehand had given all the success which he had obtained in life. I thought this a very easy way of obtaining success in life, and have always made the rule of being a quarter of an hour beforehand, in the remote hope that somehow or other the practice would conduce towards making me a viscount. Up to the present point, however, the desired result has not accrued. With regard to this particular evilly disposed cabman, I have a theory that he is a ticket-of-leave man. If not so already, he is sure eventually to descend into that order of society.
    Cabmen bully ladies dreadfully. A large part of their undue gain is made out of timid women, especially women who have children with them. A lady I know gave a cabman his fare and an extra sixpence. "Well, mum," said the ungracious cabman, "I'll take the money, but I don't thank you for it." "You have not got it yet," said my friend, alertly withdrawing the money. Impransus Jones did a neat thing the other day. He got into a cab, when, after a bit, he recollected that he had no money, or chance of borrowing any. He suddenly checked the driver in a great hurry, and said he had dropped a sovereign in the straw. He told the cabman that he would go to a friend's a few doors off and get a light. As he was pretending to do so, the cabman, as Jones had expected, drove off rapidly. Thus the biter is sometimes bit. According to the old Latin saying, not always is the traveler killed by the robber, but sometimes the robber is killed by the traveler. When Jones arrived at Waterloo Bridge the other day, he immediately hailed a cab, albeit in a chronic state of impecuniosity. The cabman munificently paid the toll, and then Jones drove about for many hours to try and borrow a sovereign, the major part of which, when obtained, was transferred to the cabman. There is a clergyman in London who tells a story of a cabman driving him home, and to whom he was about to pay two shillings. He took the coins out of his waistcoat pocket, and then suddenly recollecting the peculiar glitter, he called out, "Stop, cabman, I've given you two sovereigns by mistake." "Then your honour's seen the last of them," said the cabman, flogging into his horse as fast as he could. Then my friend felt again, and found that he had given to the cabman two bright new farthings which he had that day received, and was keeping as a curiosity for his children. There is something very irresistible in a cabman's cajolery. "What's your fare?" I asked a cabman one day. "Anything your honour pleases," he answered. "You rascal; that means, I suppose, your legal fare, and anything over that you can get." "No, your honour, I just leave it to you." "Very well, then; there's a sixpence for you." "Ah, but your honour's a gentleman," pleaded Paddy, and carried off double his proper fare.
    A certain amount of adventure and incident happens to cabmen, some glimpses of which I witness from my window, on the stand. Occasionally a cabman is exposed to a good deal of temptation, and the cabman who hesitates is lost. For instance, if a cabman is hired in the small hours of the morning by disreputable roughs, and told to be in waiting for a time, and these men subsequently make their appearance again, with a heavy sack which obviously contains something valuable, and which might be plate, I think the cabman ought to give information in the proper quarter unless he wishes to make himself an accomplice. There is a distinct branch of the thieving business which is known as lifting portmanteaus from the roofs of cabs and carriages, sometimes certainly not without a measure of suspicion against the drivers. A cabman, however, has frequently strict ideas of professional honour, and would as soon think of betraying his hirer, who in dubious cases of course hires at a very handsone rate, as a priest of betraying the security of the confessional or the doctor of the sick chamber. Even cabmen must have severe shocks to their nerves at times. For instance, that cabman who found that he had a carriage full of murdered children; or suppose two gentlemanly-looking men having taken a cab, and the driver finds that one is gone and that the other is plundered and stupified with chloroform. Very puzzled, too, is the cabman when he stops at an address and finds that his fare, perhaps the impecunious Jones, has bolted in transitu, or, if he goes into a city court, has declined to emerge by the way of the original entrance. "A queer thing happened this afternoon to me sir," said a cabman. "A gentleman told me to follow him along the High Street, Marleybone, and to stop when he stopped. Presently I heard a scream: he had seized hold of a lovely young creature, and was calling out, 'So I have found you at last, madam. Come away with me.' She went down on her knees to him, and said, 'Have mercy on me, Robert. I can't go home to you.' 'Stuff and nonsense,' he says, and lifts her up in his arms, as if she had been a baby, and bundles her into the cab. 'And what d'ye want with the young woman, I makes bold to ask?' says I. 'What's that to you?' he said. 'I'm her husband, drive sharp.' I took 'em to a big house in a square, when he gives me half a sovereign, and slams the door in my face." "I suppose, cabman," I said, "you sometimes get queer jobs, following people, and things of that kind?" "Sometimes, sir, and I know men who have seen much queerer things that I have ever seen, though I've seen a few. When a man's following some one, perhaps a young fellow following a pretty girl, and he doesn't like to be seen. I don't mind the lads being after the girls, that's natural enough, but there are worse doings than that in the way of dodgings." He told me several things that might have figured in a volume of detective experiences. There were some gentlemen, he said, turning to lighter matters, who could make themselves very comfortable for the night in a four-wheeler. There was a gent that was locked out of his own house in the race week, and found several hotels closed, who took his cab for a night, and made himself as comfortable as if he were in his own bed (which I rather doubted), from two in the morning till seven. He charged him two shillings an hour all the same. One night he took a gentleman and lady to a dinner-party in Russell Square. They forgot to pay him. He waited till they came out at twelve o'clock, and charged them ten shillings. He could carry a powerful lot of luggage on his cab. Had it full inside, and so much luggage that it might have toppled over. Asked him what was the largest number of people he ever carried. He said he had carried seventeen at a go once. He was the last cab at Cremorne once, but the fellow did it for a lark. He had five or six inside, and a lot of them on the roof, one or two on the box, and one or two on the horse. He might have lost his license, but he made nearly thirty shillings by it. The longest journey he ever took was when he drove a gentleman down to Brighton in a hansom. He had repeatedly taken them to Epsom and also to Windsor. He did the distance to Brighton in six hours, changing horses half-way. There was a little romance belonging to the stand, I found out. Did I see the handsome girl who came every now and then to the stand to the good-looking old fellow in the white hat. He was the proprietor of four cabs, and was always driving one. She stayed home and took the orders. I found afterwards that she was a very good girl, with a well-known character for her quick tongue and her pretty face. I was assured by an officer that the fair cabbess was at a Masonic ball, and a certain young duke picked her out as the nicest girl in the room, and insisted on dancing with her, to the great disgust of the people who were with him. I heard another story of the cabstand which was serio-comic enough, and indicated some curious vagaries of human nature. There was one cabman who had a handsome daughter who had gone wrong, or, at all events, got the credit of it. She used continually to come down to the stand, and give her old father a job. He used to drive her about, dressed as splendidly as he was shabbily, and he would take her money as from any other fare, and expect his tip over and above.
    If cabmen were satisfied with their legal fares many people would take cabs who do not now care to be imposed or annoyed. I generally give twopence or threepence on the shilling additional, which I think is fairly their due, but I sometimes get mutterings for not making it more. The cab trade is more and more getting into the hands of a few large proprietors, some of whom have seventy or eighty cabs. The tendency of this must be to improve the cabs. When the cabs make their average profit of ten or twelve shillings a day, this must be a lucrative business. The driver does well who makes a profit of thirty shillings a week or a little over. All the responsibility is with the cab proprietor, and he generally keeps a sharp look-out after the men, and will give them uncommonly scanty credit. As a rule, though the rule is often relaxed, they must pay down a stated sum before they are allowed to take out the cab. The sum varies with the season, as also does the number of cabs. There are some hundred cabs less in November than at the height of the season. The hansom business of course forms the aristocracy of the trade. With a good horse, a clean carriage, and a sharp, civil driver, there is nothing more pleasant than bowling along on a good road, with a pleasant breeze coursing around. The night-trade is the worst in horses, carriages, men, and remuneration to those concerned. Some of these cab horses were once famous horses in their day, which had their pictures or photographs taken, and won cups at races. There are also decayed drivers, who harmonize sadly and truly with decayed animals. They say there are one or two men of title in the ranks, and several who have run through good fortunes---men who have come to utter smash in the army or the universities, the number of whom is probably larger than is generally supposed, and come to cab-driving as their ultimate resource, and only more congenial than quill-driving. There is a good deal of interest felt in cabmen by many religious and philanthropic people. Their experience and strong mother wit, their habits of keen observation, and consequently of marvelous acuteness, make them great favorites with those who study the humours of the street. Archbishop Tait, when he was in London, used at times, we believe, to collect as many as he could in some stables at Islington and preach to them. It is easier, however, to get at cabby than to make a durable impression on him. It would help, however, to humanize him if some of us were more humane and considerate towards his "order."

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W.S.Gilbert, London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?  

Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Street Life in London - by J.Thomson and Adolphe Smith, 1877  

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THIS old question is assuming a new phase. There is no better abused set of men in existence than the London Cabmen; but recent events and disclosures have helped, at least in part, to remove the blame from their shoulders, and attribute it to those who in this matter are the real enemies of the public interest. Despite the traditional hoarse voice, rough appearance, and quarrelsome tone, cab-drivers are as a rule reliable and honest men, who can boast of having fought the battle of life in an earnest, persevering, and creditable manner. Let me take, for instance, the career, as related by himself, of the cab-driver who furnishes the subject of the accompanying illustration. He began life in the humble capacity of pot-boy in his uncle's public-house, but abandoned this opening in consequence of a dispute, and ultimately obtained an engagement as conductor from the Metropolitan Tramway Company. In this employment the primary education he had enjoyed while young served him to good purpose, and he was soon promoted to the post of time-keeper. After some two years' careful saving he collected sufficient money to buy a horse, hire a cab, and obtain his licence. At first he was greeted with many gibes and jeers from the older and more experienced hands; but fortune soon smiled on him in the person of a bricklayer. This labourer had inherited a sum of £1300. His wife had been a washerwoman, and to quote the cabman's own words, "Nothing was too good for her; but she looked after all only a washerwoman. No more the lady, sir, than a coster's donkey is like the winner of the Derby!"
    This couple engaged him day after day, and their drives caused quite a sensation in the neighbourhoods they favoured with their presence. They rattled pence at the windows of the cab, and threw out handfuls of money to the street urchins who followed and cheered in their wake. They hailed their old friends as they passed them in the streets, insisted on giving them a drive to the nearest public-house, where old acquaintance was recklessly drunk from foaming tankards,-knowing that they might always trust the cabman to see them safely home, if unable to guide their own steps. At last the bricklayer's mind became affected by the importance of his fortune. A mania seized him; he could not desist from making his will, and then altering it over and over again. Sometimes he even awoke in the middle of the night, sent for his cab, and insisted on being driven to his lawyer's in Chancery Lane, much to that grave gentleman's annoyance. The matter of the will was, however, soon settled by the money being all spent, and the cabman lost sight of these peculiar customers. But this momentary good fortune, coupled with much hard work, enabled my informant to purchase a cab and another horse. At this point of his career he considered himself at liberty to indulge in the luxury of a wife, of whom he spoke in terms of high respect and affection. His horses were also the subject of his praise, and he sensibly boasted that they had always been serviceable hacks, and "never above their work." "There are among the London cab-horses, he continued, some animals with the bluest blood of the turf in their veins. Horses that have won piles of money for their heartless owners, and when useless as racers they have been sold for an old song. Some of these thoroughbreds are quiet, free, and useful; others, like broken-down gentlemen, have squandered their strength on the turf. "
    Altogether there are 4142 Hansom cabs, and 4120 Clarence, or four-wheel cabs, in London. These are managed by 10,474 drivers, and the honesty of these men is best proved by the fact that whereas 1912 articles forgotten in the cabs were given up to the Lost Property Office in 1869; this number had increased in 1875 to 15,584. On the other hand, it will be said that if we may hope to recover a forgotten parcel, there is but little chance of escape from overcharge in the matter of the fare. This is undoubtedly true; but at the same time, the public are generally unaware that the cab-driver is not exclusively responsible for these extortions. In this matter the proprietors are more to blame, for they demand so high a rate of payment for the hire of their cabs, that the drivers could never make a livelihood out of the legal fare. The charge for one Hansom and two horses per day varies from l0s. to 12s. in the dull season ; but there are no less than eight "rises" in the course of the year. The first is in November, when the Law Courts open, and then an extra shilling is charged; a further rise of a shilling ensues during the Cattle Show week; then there is a lull till the opening of Parliament, when a third shilling is added to the price. Last Christmas- day the cab-drivers were compelled to pay 4s. extra for the hire of their cabs, but on Boxing-day the proprietors prudently refrain from any such demand. The effects of the season are calculated to influence the drivers, and many would doubtless be glad to profit by any dispute as an opportunity of taking a holiday on Boxing-day. Besides, the occasion is not very advantageous, as the majority of customers are drunken men, who may give much trouble, damage the cab, and from whom no redress is possible.
    From the meeting of Parliament up to the Derby-day the price of cabs steadily increases; and, on the race-day itself, proprietors generally demand ?1 15s. to £2 before they allow one of their cabs to go to Epsom. The driver, it is known, generally asks ?3 3s. for the trip, and many have been the complaints respecting this apparently exorbitant charge; but when we remember that the driver is compelled to hand over about two-thirds of the sum to the cab-owner, and has also to spend eight to ten shillings on the road, it will be admitted that his profits are not unreasonable. There is but one cabman known to have kept for several years a detailed account of every fare he has taken. He enters in his book where his customers are found, -  whether at a railway station, in the street, or while waiting at a cab-stand, - the amount actually received, and what was the legal fare he should have charged. Armed with these statistics, he is able to prove that, according to his experience, the sums given by the public are every year nearer to the legal fare. At the same time he is also able to prove that his income corresponds almost precisely with what he obtains over and above his fare; and that, therefore, the sums to which he is legally entitled only suffice to pay for the hire of horse and cab, and would leave him nothing to live upon. The increased astuteness of the public, and their determination not to give much more than the fare, have reduced this cab-driver's income from an average of ?2 per week to only thirty shillings.
    A cabman's income is subject to numerous fluctuations. The months of October and September are the worst in the whole year; and, but for the presence of innumerable visitors from the Provinces and from America, many cab-drivers would have to abandon business altogether during this season. Nor are visitors the best of customers: they seem to shrink from employing cabs except on very special occasions. The "young men about town" are infinitely preferred; and those who are just one step below what a cab-driver described as "the cream of society." If these gentlemen have no horses of their own, they console themselves by resorting on every possible occasion to the friendly expedient of the Hansom. Then again, fares of this description do not often take the driver far from profitable neighbour- hoods. The last and present year have, however, been exceptionally unfavourable, and many small proprietors were compelled to sell their horses and abandon business. Perhaps this accounts for the decrease in the number of fatal accidents; for there were only 87 persons killed in the streets during the year 1875, while the average for the previous six years amounted to 123 violent deaths. On the other hand, there was an increase of 136 more persons maimed and injured than during the previous year, the total being 2704; but it would be unfair to blame the cabmen for this long list of casualties. The light carts, used for the most part by tradesmen, are responsible for the largest proportion of these accidents. Cab-drivers, who depend for their livelihood on their skill in manipulating the ribbons, are naturally more careful, and have more to lose should they injure an unwary pedestrian.
    The best season on record was that of the Exhibition of 1851. Notwithstanding the numerous events, the many attractive "sensations" that have occurred since then, cab-drivers have never again been in such urgent request and gathered so good an harvest. Nearly all the present cab proprietors trace their fortunes to this auspicious date. Many of them were mere cab-drivers, or at best but small proprietors, when the first great exhibition was opened; and the money they made at that time enabled them to start on a larger scale. So many people had, however, visited London during the Exhibition, and so much money had been spent, that a reaction naturally ensued, and for the two following years cabmen's fares were scarce and meagre. Those only who were not too elated by the golden receipts of 1851, and were able to weather the storm by dint of economy and work, became the great proprietors of the present day. These are not, it is true, very numerous. It was estimated in 1874 that there were not more than fifty cab proprietors in London who possessed more than twenty cabs each. As a rule, three or four proprietors group together and occupy one mews: each man possessing four or five cabs. The two largest cab proprietors in London are, I believe, Mr. Thomas Gunn, of Doughty Mews, Russell Square, and Mr. Tilling, of Peckham. Westminster is often stated to be the chief haven of London cabmen, though till recently the quarter could only boast of two proprietors who possessed more than twenty cabs each. Two large owners have now, however, moved to this quarter from Islington. In any case, whatever may be the number of cab-owners in this locality, it is to the cab-drivers of Westminster and Chelsea that the honour is due of having initiated a reform movement.
    After many private discussions, the Cab-drivers' Society was formed at a meeting held in Pimlico in April, 1874. The Eleusis Club, King's Road, Chelsea, lent its hall to these pioneer organizers, and a most successful public meeting was held, which enabled the drivers to air their grievances for the first time. By the end of the year the Society comprised two branches, 158 members, and boasted of a capital amounting to ?48 9s 5?d. A year later this Society had already become a formidable association. In December, 1875, it numbered thirteen branches, had enrolled 1658 members, and possessed funds amounting to nearly ?8io is unfairly treated by his employer. In this sense some good has already been achieved by the Society, but I must reserve further details concerning the men engaged in this familiar phase of street labour for a future chapter. 


Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 14


Punch, 5th February, 1881