London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Origin of Omnibuses.


This vast extent of omnibus transit has been the growth of years, as it was not until the , that Mr. Shillibeer, now the proprietor of the patent mourning coaches, started the omnibus. Some works of authority as books of reference, have represented that Mr. Shillibeer"s omnibus ran from Charing-cross to Greenwich, and that the charge for outside and inside places was the same. Such was not the case; the omnibus, or rather, the pair of those vehicles (for Mr. Shillibeer started ), ran from the Bank to the Yorkshire Stingo. Neither could the charge out and in be the same, as there were no outside passengers. Mr. Shillibeer was a naval officer, and in his youth stepped from a midshipman"s duties into the business of a coach-builder, he learning that business from the late Mr. Hatchett, of . Mr. Shillibeer then established himself in Paris as a builder of English carriages, a demand for which had sprung up after the peace, when the current of English travel was directed strongly to France. In this speculation Mr. Shillibeer was eminently successful. He built carriages for Prince Polignac, and others of the most influential men under the dynasty of the elder branch of the Bourbons, and had a bazaar for the sale of his vehicles. He was thus occupied in Paris in , when M. Lafitte started the omnibuses which are now so common and so well managed in the French capital. Lafitte was the banker (afterwards the minister) of Louis Philippe, and the most active man in establishing the Messageries Royales. or years after the omnibuses had been successfully introduced into Paris, Mr. Shillibeer was employed by M. Lafitte to build in a superior style. In executing this order, Mr. Shillibeer thought that so comfortable and economical a mode of conveyance might be advantageously introduced in London. He accordingly disposed of his Parisian establishment, and came to London, and started his omnibus as I have narrated. In order that the introduction might have every chance of success, and have the full prestige of respectability, Mr. Shillibeer brought over with him from Paris youths, both the sons of British naval officers; and these young gentlemen were for a few weeks his "conductors." They were smartly dressed in "blue cloth and togs," to use the words of my informant, after the fashion of Lafitte"s conductors, each dress costing Their addressing any foreign passenger in French, and the French style of the affair, gave rise to an opinion that Mr. Shillibeer was a Frenchman, and that the English were indebted to a foreigner for the improvement of their vehicular transit, whereas Mr. Shillibeer had served in the British navy, and was born in Tottenham- court-road. His speculation was particularly and at once successful. His vehicles carried each , and were filled every journey. The form was that of the present omnibus, but larger and roomier, as the were all accommodated inside, nobody being outside but the driver. horses yoked abreast were used to draw these carriages.

There were for many days, until the novelty wore off, crowds assembled to see the omnibuses start, and many ladies and gentlemen took their places in them to the Yorkshire Stingo, in order that they might have the pleasure of riding back again. The fare was for the whole and sixpence for half the distance, and each omnibus made journeys to and fro every day. Thus Mr. Shillibeer established a diversity of fares, regulated by distance; a regulation which was afterwards in a great measure abandoned by omnibus proprietors, and then re-established on our present threepenny and sixpenny payments, the "long uns" and the "short uns." Mr. Shillibeer"s receipts were a-week. At he provided a few books, chiefly magazines, for the perusal of his customers; but this peripatetic library was discontinued, for the customers (I give the words of my informant) "boned the books." When the young-gentlemen conductors retired from their posts, they were succeeded by persons hired by Mr. Shillibeer, and liberally paid, who were attired in a sort of velvet livery. Many weeks had not elapsed before Mr. Shillibeer found a falling off in his receipts, although he ascertained that there was no falling off in the public support of his omnibuses. He obtained information, however, that the persons in his employ robbed him of at least a-week, retaining that sum out of the receipts of the omnibuses, and that they had boasted of their cleverness and their lucrative situations at a champagne supper at the Yorkshire Stingo. This necessitated a change, which Mr. Shillibeer effected, in his men, but without prosecuting the offenders, and still it seemed that defalcations continued. That they continued was soon shown, and in "a striking manner," as I was told. As an experiment, Mr. Shillibeer expended in the construction of a machine fitted to the steps of an omnibus which should record the number of passengers as they trod on a plate in entering and leaving the vehicle, arranged on a similar principle to the tell-tales in use on our tollbridges. The inventor, Mr. ——, now of Woolwich, himself worked the omnibus containing it for a fortnight, and it supplied a correct index of the number of passengers: but at the fortnight"s end, evening after dark, the inventor was hustled aside while waiting at the Yorkshire Stingo, and in a minute or the machine was smashed by some unknown men with sledge-hammers. Mr. Shillibeer then had recourse to the use


of such clocks as were used in the French omnibuses as a check. It was publicly notified that it was the business of the conductor to move the hand of the clock a given distance when a passenger entered the vehicle, but this plan did not succeed. It is common in France for a passenger to inform the proprietor of any neglect on the part of his servant, but Mr. Shillibeer never received any such intimation in London.

In the meantime Mr. Shillibeer"s success continued, for he insured punctuality and civility; and the cheapness, cleanliness, and smartness of his omnibuses, were in most advantageous contrast with the high charges, dirt, dinginess, and rudeness of the drivers of many of the "short stages." The short-stage proprietors were loud in their railings against what they were pleased to describe as a French innovation. In the course of from to months Mr. Shillibeer had omnibuses at work. The new omnibuses ran from the Bank to Paddington, both by the route of and , as well as by Finsbury and the New-road. Mr. Shillibeer feels convinced, that had he started omnibuses instead of in the instance, a fortune might have been realised. In -, his omnibuses became general in the great street thoroughfares; and as the short stages were run off the road, the proprietors started omnibuses in opposition to Mr. Shillibeer. The omnibuses, however, started after Mr. Shillibeer"s were not in opposition. They were the Caledonians, and were the property of Mr. Shillibeer"s brother-in-law. The started, which were -horse vehicles, were foolishly enough called "Les Dames Blanches;" but as the name gave rise to much low wit in it was abandoned. The original omnibuses were called "Shillibeers" on the panels, from the name of their originator; and the name is still prevalent on those conveyances in New York, which affords us another proof that not in his own country is a benefactor honoured, until perhaps his death makes honour as little worth as an epitaph.

The opposition omnibuses, however, continued to increase as more and more short stages were abandoned; and oppositionist called his omnibuses "Shillibeers," so that the real and the sham Shillibeers were known in the streets. The opposition became fiercer. The "busses," as they came to be called in a year or , crossed each other and raced or drove their poles recklessly into the back of another; and accidents and squabbles and loitering grew so frequent, and the time of the police magistrates was so much occupied with "omnibus business," that in the matter was mentioned in Parliament as a nuisance requiring a remedy, and in a Bill was brought in by the Government and passed for the "Regulation of Omnibuses (as well as other conveyances) in and near the metropo- lis." sessions after, Mr. Alderman Wood brought in a bill for the better regulation of omnibuses, which was also passed, and of the provisions of the bill was that the drivers and conductors of omnibuses should be licensed. The office of Registrar of Licenses was promised by a noble lord in office to Mr. Shillibeer (as I am informed on good authority), but the appointment was given to the present Commissioner of the City Police, and the office next to the principal was offered to Mr. Shillibeer, which that gentleman declined to accept. The reason assigned for not appointing him to the registrarship was that he was connected with omnibuses. At the beginning of , Mr. Shillibeer abandoned his metropolitan trade, and began running omnibuses from London to Greenwich and Woolwich, employing carriages and horses; but the increase of steamers and the opening of the in affected his trade so materially, that Mr. Shillibeer fell into arrear with his payments to the Stamp Office, and seizures of his property and reseizures after money was paid, entailed such heavy expenses, and such a hindrance to Mr. Shillibeer"s business, that his failure ensued.

I have been thus somewhat full in my detail of Mr. Shillibeer"s career, as his procedures are, in truth, the history of the transit of the metropolis as regards omnibuses. I conclude this portion of the subject with the following extracts from a parliamentary paper, "Supplement to the Votes and Proceedings, Veneris, ° die Julii, ," containing the petition of George Shillibeer.

That in 1840, and after several years of incessant application, the Lords of the Treasury caused Mr. Gordon, their then financial secretary, to enquire into your petitioner"s case; and so fully satisfied was that gentleman with the hardships and cruel wrongs which the department of Stamps and Taxes had inflicted upon your petitioner, that he (Mr. Gordon) promised, on behalf of the Lords of the Treasury, early redress should be granted to your petitioner, either by a Government appointment adequate to the loss he had sustained, or pecuniary compensation for the injustice which, upon a thorough investigation of the facts, Mr. Gordon assured your petitioner he had fully established, to the satisfaction of the Lords of the Treasury.

That in proof of the sincerity of Mr. Gordon, he, in his then official capacity of secretary to the said Lords of her Majesty"s Treasury, applied, in April 1841, to the then heads of two Government departments, viz. the Marquess of Normanby and the Right Hon. Henry Labouchere, to appoint your petitioner "Inspector General of Public Carriages," or some appointment in the Railway department at the Board of Trade; but these applications being unsuccessful, Mr. Gordon applied and obtained for your petitioner the promise of one of the twenty-five appointments of Receiver-General of County Courts (testimonials of your petitioner"s fitness being at the Treasury), the bill for establishing which was then in progress through Parliament.

That shortly after your petitioner"s claims had been admitted, and redress promised by the Lords of the Treasury, Mr. Gordon resigned his situation of secretary, and on the 6th May, 1841, your petitioner again saw Mr. Gordon, who assured your petitioner that but for the fact of the miscellaneous estimates being made up and passed for that year, your petitioner"s name should have been placed in them for a grant of 5000l., further observing that your petitioner"s was a case of very great hardship and injustice, and assuring your petitioner that he (Mr. Gordon) would not quit the Treasury without stating to his successor that your petitioner"s case was one of peculiar severity, and deserved immediate attention and redress.

And so the matter remains virtually at an end.

I will now give the regulations and statistics of the French omnibuses, which I am enabled to do through the kindness of a gentleman to whom I am indebted for much valuable information.

As the regulations of the French public conveyances () are generally considered to have worked admirably well, I present a digest of them. The earlier enactments provide for the numbering of the conveyances and for the licensing of all connected with them.

The laws which provide the regulations are of the following dates: I enumerate them to show how closely the French Government has attended to the management of hired vehicles. ; ; Vendemiaire, An VI. (); Frimaire, An VII. (); Messidor, An VIII. (; Brumaire, An IX. (); ; ; ; ; , and . The st, th, th, and th Articles of the Penal Code also relate to this subject.

The principal regulations now in force are the following:—

The proprietors of all public conveyances (for hire) shall be numbered, licensed, and find such security as shall be satisfactory to the authorities. Every proprietor, before he can change the locality of his establishment, is bound to give hours" notice of his intention to remove. The sale of such establishments can only be effected by undertakers (), duly authorised for the purpose; and the privilege of the undertaker is not transferable, either wholly or partially, without the sanction of the authorities. The proprietors cannot employ any conductors, drivers, or porters, but such as have a license or permit (, &c). Neither can a master retain or transfer any such permit if the holder of it have left his service; it must be given up within hours at the prefecture (chief office) of police, and the date of the man"s entering and leaving his employ must be inscribed by his late master on the back of the document. Proprietors must keep a register of the names and abodes of their drivers and conductors, and of their numbers as entered in the books of the prefecture; also a daily entry of the numbers of the vehicles in use, as engraved on the plates affixed to them, and a record of the conduct of the men to whom they have been entrusted. No proprietor to be allowed to employ a driver or conductor whose permit through ill-conduct or any cause has been withdrawn. In case of the contravention of this regulation by any , the plying () of his carriage is to be stopped, either temporarily or definitely. No carriage shall be entrusted to either driver or conductor, if either be in a state of evident uncleanliness (). No horse known to be vicious, diseased, or incapable of work, is to be employed.

The conductors are to maintain order in their vehicles, and to observe that the passengers place themselves so as not to incommode another. They are not to take more persons than they are authorised to convey, which number must be notified in the interior and on the exterior of the omnibus. They are also forbidden to admit individuals who may be drunk, or clad in a manner to disgust or annoy the other passengers; neither must they admit dogs, or suffer persons who may drink, sing, or smoke to remain in the carriages; neither must they carry parcels which, from their size, or the nature of their contents, may incommode the passengers. Conductors must not give the coachman the word to go on until each passenger leaving the omnibus shall have quitted the footstep, or until each passenger entering the omnibus shall have been seated. Every person so entering is to be asked where he wishes to be set down. All property left in the omnibus to be conveyed to the prefecture of police. It is, moreover, the conductor"s business to light the carriage lamps after night-fall.

The drivers, before they can be allowed to exercise their profession, must produce testimonials as to their possessing the necessary skill. They are not to gallop their horses under any circumstances whatever. They are required, moreover, to drive slowly, or at a walk (), in the markets and in the narrow streets where only carriages can pass abreast, at the descent of the bridges, and in all parts of the public ways where there may be a stoppage or a rapid slope. Wherever the width of the streets permits it, the omnibus must be driven at least feet from the houses, where there is no footpath (); and where there is a footpath, feet from it. They must, as much as possible, keep the wheels of their vehicle out of the gutters.



No driver or conductor can exercise his profession under the age of eighteen; and before being authorised to do so, he must show that his morals and trustworthiness are such as to justify his appointment. (The then provides for the licensing, at the cost of c., of these officers, by the police, in the way I have already described.) They are not permitted to smoke while at their work, nor to take off their coats, even during the sultriest weather. The omnibuses are to pull up on the right-hand side of the street; but if there be any hindrance, then on the left.

The foregoing regulations (the infractions of which are punishable through the ordinary tribunals) do not materially differ from those of our own country, though they may be more stringently enforced. The other provisions, however, are materially different. The French Government fixes the amount of fare, prescribes the precise route to be observed and the time to be kept, and limits the number of omnibuses. On the , they were in number, running along lines, which are classed under the head of routes (), in the following order:—

 Routes. No. of Lines. No. of Carriages. Nos. according to the Licenses. 
 1 Omnibus Orléanaises and Diligentes.... 13 151 1 to 151 
 2 Dames réunies .... 3 29 152 to 180 
 3 Tricyles .......... 1 11 181 to 191 
 4 Favorites.......... 4 47 192 to 238 
 5 Béarnaises ........ 2 19 239 to 257 
 6 Citadines.......... 2 13 258 to 270 
 7 Batignolles—gazelles 2 19 271 to 289 
 8 Hirondelles........ 2 30 290 to 319 
 9 Parisiennes........ 3 33 320 to 352 
 10 Constantines ...... 1 12 353 to 364 
 11 Excellentes........ 2 15 365 to 379 
 12 Gauloises.......... 1 8 380 to 387 
     36 387       

In order to prevent the inconvenience of too rigidly defined routes, a system of intercommunication has been established. At a given point (), a passenger may always be transferred to another omnibus, the conductor giving him a free ticket; and so may reach his destination, or the nearest point to it, from any of the starting-places. This system now exists, but very partially, on some of the London lines.

The number conveyed by a Parisian omnibus is fixed at ; each vehicle is to be drawn by horses, and is to unite "all the conditions of solidity, commodiousness, and elegance that may be desirable." In order to ensure these conditions, the French Government directs in what manner every omnibus shall be built. Those built prior to the promulgation of the ordonnance (), regulating the construction of these vehicles, are still allowed to be "in circulation;" but after the , no omnibus not constructed in exact accordance with the details laid down will be allowed "to circulate." The height of the omnibus is fixed, as well as the length and the width; the circumference of the wheels, the adjustment of the springs, the hanging of the body, the formation of the ventilators, the lining and cushioning of the interior, the dimensions of the footsteps, and the disposition of the lamps, which are in number.

The arrangements, where a footpath is not known in the streets of Paris, and a gutter is in existence, are tolerably significant of distinctions between the streets of the French and English capitals.

I shall now pass to the consideration of the English vehicles as they are at present conducted.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men