London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Hackney-Coaches and Cabs.


I SHALL now proceed to give an account of the rise and progress of the London hackney- cabs, as well as the decline and fall of the London hackney-coaches.

Nearly all the writers on the subject state that hackney-coaches were established in London in ; that they were not then stationed in the streets, but at the principal inns, and that their number grew to be considerable after the Restoration. There seems to be no doubt that these conveyances were kept at the inns, and sent out when required—as post-chaises were, and are still, in country towns. It may very well be doubted, however, whether the year has been correctly fixed upon as that in which hackney-carriages were


established in London. It is so asserted in Macpherson"s "Annals of Commerce," but it is thus loosely and vaguely stated: "Our historiographers of the city of London relate that it was in this year () that hackney-coaches began to ply in London streets, or rather at the inns, to be called for as they are wanted; and they were, at this time, only in number." of the City "historiographers," however, if so he may be called, makes a very different statement. John Taylor, the waterman and the water-poet, says in ( years before the era usually assigned), "I do not inveigh against any coaches that belong to persons of worth and quality, but only against the caterpillar swarm of hirelings. They have undone my poor trade, whereof I am a member; and though I look for no reformation, yet I expect the benefit of an old proverb, "Give the losers leave to speak." . . . This infernal swarm of tradespellers (hackneycoach- men) have so overrun the land that we can get no living upon the water; for I dare truly affirm that in every day in any term, especially if the Court be at , they do rob us of our livings, and carry fares daily from us."

Of the establishment of hackney-coach "stands," we have a more precise account. The Rev. Mr. Garrard, writing to Lord Stafford in , says, "Here is Captain Baily, he hath been a sea-captain but now lives on land, about this city, where he tries experiments. He hath erected, according to his ability, some hackney-coaches, put his men in livery, and appointed them to stand at the Maypole in the Strand, giving them instructions at what rate to carry men into several parts of the town, where all day they may be had. Other hackney-men, seeing this way, they flocked to the same place, and perform the journeys at the same rate. So that sometimes there is of them together, which disperse up and down, that they and others are to be had everywhere, as watermen are to be had at the water-side. Everybody is much pleased with it." The site of the Maypole that once "o"erlooked the Strand," is now occupied by St. Mary"s church.

There were after this many regulations passed for the better management of hackneycoaches. In their number was ordered to be limited to ; in , to ; in , to ; in , to . These limitations, however, seem to have been but little regarded. Garrard, writing in , says, "Here is a proclamation coming forth about the reformation of hackney-coaches, and ordering of other coaches about London. was the number of hackney-coaches of London, bare lean jades, unworthy to be seen in so brave a city, or to stand about a king"s court." As within the last years, when cabs and omnibuses were unknown, the number of hackneycarriages was strictly limited to , it seems little likely that nearly centuries earlier there should have been so many as . It is probable that "glass" and "hackneycoaches" had been confounded somehow in the enumeration.

It was not until the year of Queen Anne"s reign that an Act was passed appointing Commissioners for the licensing and superintending of hackney-coachmen. Prior to that they seem to have been regulated and licensed by the magistracy. The Act of Anne authorised the number of hackney-coaches to be increased to , but not until the expiration of the existing licenses in . In there was again an additional number of hackney-coach licenses granted—; which was made in . In the lastmen- tioned year a duty was for the time placed on hired carriages of all descriptions. It was at a-week, but that sum was not long after raised to a-week, to be paid in advance; while the license was raised from to The duties upon all hackneycarriages is still maintained at the advanced rate.

The hackney-carriages, when their number became considerable after the Restoration, were necessarily small, though drawn by horses. The narrowness of the streets before the great fire, and the wretched condition of the pavement, rendered the use of large and commodious vehicles impossible. Davenant says of hackney-carriages, "They are unusually hung, and so narrow that I took them for sedans on wheels." The hackney-coachman then rode of his horses, postilion-fashion; but when the streets were widened, he drove from his seat on the box. In the latter days of London hackney-coaches they were large enough without being commodious. They were nearly all noblemen"s and gentlemen"s disused family coaches, which had been handed over to the coachmaker when a new carriage was made. But it was not long that these coaches retained the comfort and cleanliness that might distinguish them when introduced into the stand. The horses were, as in the Rev. Mr. Garrard"s time, sorry jades, sometimes cripples, and the harness looked as frail as the carriages. The exceptions to this description were few, for the hackney-coachmen possessed a monopoly and thought it unchangeable. They were of the same class of men— nearly all gentlemen"s servants or their sons. The obtaining of a license for a hackney-coach was generally done through interest. It was way in which many peers and members of Parliament provided for any favourite servant, or for the servant of a friend. These "patrons," whether peers or commoners, were not uncommonly called "lords;" a man was said to be sure of a license if he had "a great lord for his friend."

The "takings" of the London hackneycoachmen, as I have ascertained from some who were members of the body, were a-week the year through, the months of May,


June, and July, being the best, when their earnings were from to a-week. Out of this horses had to be maintained. During the war times the quality of oats which are now a quarter were , while hay and the other articles of the horses" consumption were proportionately dear. The expense of repair to the coach or harness was but trifling, as they were generally done by the hackney-man himself, or by some hanger-on at the public-houses frequented by the fraternity.

Of the personal expenditure of hackneycoachmen when "out for the day" I had the following statement from of them:—"We spent regular a-day when we was out. It was before coffee-shops and new-fangled ways came in as the regular thing that I"m speaking of; breakfast , good tea and good breadand- butter, as much as you liked always, with a glass of rum in the last cup for the "lacing" of it—always rum, gin weren"t so much run after then. Dinner was , a cut off some good joint; beer was included at some places and not at others. Any extras to follow was extras to pay. glasses of rum-and-water after dinner , pipes found, and most of us carried our own "baccy-boxes. Tea the same as breakfast, and "laced" ditto. Supper the same as dinner, or less; and the rest to make up the went for odd glasses of ale, or stout, or "short"—but "short" (neat spirits) was far less drunk then than now—when we was waiting, or to treat a friend, or such-like. We did some good in those days, sir. Take day and night, and of us was out, and perhaps every man spent his , and that"s times " Following out this calculation we have per day (and night), a-week, and a-year for hackney-coachmen"s personal expenses, merely as regards their board.

The old hackney-coachmen seem to have been a self-indulgent, improvident, rather than a vicious class; neither do they seem to have been a drunken class. They acted as ignorant men would naturally act who found themselves in the enjoyment of a good income, with the protection of a legal monopoly. They had the sole right of conveyance within the bills of mortality, and as that important district comprised all the places of public resort, and contained the great mass of the population, they may be said to have had a monopoly of the metropolis. Even when the cabs were established these men exhibited no fear of their earnings being affected. "But," said an intelligent man, who had been a hackneycoachman in his younger days, and who managed to avoid the general ruin of his brethren, "but when the cabs got to the then they found it out. The cabs was all in gentlemen"s hands at . I know that. Some of them was government-clerks too: they had their foremen, to be sure, but they was the real proprietors, the gentlemen got the licenses. Well, it"s easy to understand how cabs was earning money fast, and people couldn"t get them fast enough, and how some hundreds of hackney-coachmen was waiting and starving till the trade was thrown open, and then the hackney-coachmen was clean beat down. They fell off by degrees. I"m sure I hardly know what became of most of them, but I do know that a many of them died in the workhouses. They hadn"t nothing aforehand. They dropped away gradual. You see they weren"t allowed to transfer their plates and licenses to a cab, or they"d have done it—plenty would. They were a far better set of men than there"s on the cabs now. There was none of your fancy-men, that"s in with women of the town, among the old hackney-coachmen. If you remember what they was, sir, you"ll say they hadn"t the cut of it."

The hackney-coachmen drove very deliberately, rarely exceeding , and still more rarely achieving miles an hour, unless incited by the hope or the promise of an extra fare. These men resided very commonly in mews, and many of them I am assured had comfortable homes, and were hospitable fellows in their way, smoking their pipes with another when "off the stones," treating their poorer neighbours to a glass, and talking over the price of oats, hay, and horses, as well as the product of the past season, or the promise of the next. The majority of them could neither read nor write, or very imperfectly, and, as is not uncommon with uninformed men who had thriven tolerably well without education, they cared little about providing education for their children. Politics they cared nothing about, but they prided themselves on being "John-Bull Englishmen." For public amusements they seem to have cared nothing. "Our business," said of them, "was with the outside of play-houses. I never saw a play in my life."

As my informant said, "they dropped away gradual." or years ago a few old men, with old horses and old coaches, might be seen at street stands, but each year saw their numbers reduced, and now there is not ; that is to say, not in the streets, though there are hackney-coaches at the railway-stations.

of the old fraternity of hackneycoach- men, who had, since the decline of his class, prospered by devoting his exertions to another department of business, gave me the following account:—

My father," said he, "was an hackneycoachman before me, and gave me what was then reckoned a good education. I could write middling and could read the newspaper. I"ve driven my father"s coach for him when I was fourteen. When I was old enough, seventeen I think I was, I had a hackney-coach and horses of my own, provided for me by my father, and so was started in the world. The first time I plied with my own coach was when Sir Francis Burdett was sent to the Tower from his house in Piccadilly. Sir Francis was all the go then. I heard a hackney-coachman say he would be glad to drive him for nothing. The hackney-coachmen didn"t like Pitt. I"ve heard my father and his mates say many a time "D——n Pitt!" that was for doubling of the duty on hackney-carriages. Ah, the old times was the rackety times! I"ve often laughed and said that I could say what perhaps nobody, or almost nobody in England can say now, that I"d been driven by a king. He grew to be a king afterwards, George IV. One night you see, sir, I was called off the stand, and told to take up at the British Coffee-house in Cockspur Street. I was a lad then, and when I pulled up at the door, the waiter ran out and said, "You jump down and get inside, the Prince is a-going to drive hisself." I didn"t much like the notion on it, but I didn"t exactly know what to do, and was getting off my seat to see if the waiter had put anything inside, for he let down the glass, and just as I was getting down, and had my foot on the wheel, out came the Prince of Wales, and four or five rattlebrained fellows like himself. I think Major Hanger was one, but I had hardly time to see them, for the Prince gripped me by the ankle and the waistband of my breeches, and lifted me off the wheel and flung me right into the coach, through the window, and it was opened, as it happened luckily. I was little then, but he must have been a strong man. He didn"t seem so very drunk either. The Prince wasn"t such a bad driver. Indeed, he drove very well for a prince, but he didn"t take the corners or the crossings careful enough for a regular jarvey. Well, sir, the Prince drove that night to a house in King Street, Saint James"s. There was another gentleman on the box with him. It was a gaming-house he went to that night, but I have driven him to other sorts of houses in that there neighbourhood. He hadn"t no pride to such as me, hadn"t the Prince of Wales. Then one season I used to drive Lord Barrymore in his rounds to the brothels—twice or thrice a-week sometimes. He used always to take his own wine with him. After waiting till near daylight, or till daylight, I"ve carried my lord, girls and all—fine dressed--up madams—to Billingsgate, and there I"ve left them to breakfast at some queer place, or to slang with the fishwives. What times them was, to be sure! One night I drove Lord Barrymore to Mother Cummins"s in Lisle Street, and when she saw who it was she swore out of the window that she wouldn"t let him in—he and some such rackety fellows had broken so many things the last time they were there, and had disgraced her, as she called it, to the neighbourhood. So my lord said, "Knock at the door, tiger; and knock till they open it." He knocked and knocked till every drop of water in the house was emptied over us, out of the windows, but my lord didn"t like to be beaten, so he stayed and stayed, but Mother Cummins wouldn"t give way, and at last he went home. A wet opera-night was the chance for us when Madame—I forget her name—Catalini?— yes, I think that was it, was performing. Many a time I"ve heard it sung out—"A guinea to Portman Square"—and I"ve had it myself. At the time I"m speaking of hackney-coachmen took 30s. a-day, all the year round. Why, I myself have taken 16l. and 18l. a-week through May, June, and July. But then you see, sir, we had a monopoly. It was in the old Tory times. Our number was limited to 1200. And no stage-carriage could then take up or set down on the stones, not within the bills as it was called—that"s the bills of mortality, three miles round the Royal Exchange, if I remember right. It"s a monopoly that shouldn"t have been allowed, I know that, but there was grand earnings under it; no glass-coaches could take people to the play then. Glass coaches is what"s now called flies. They couldn"t set down in the mortality, it was fine and imprisonment to do it. We hadn"t such good horses in our coaches then, as is now in the streets, certainly not. It was war-time, and horses was bought up for the cavalry, and it"s the want of horses for the army, and for the mails and stages arter"ards, that"s the reason of such good horses being in the "busses and cabs. We drove always noblemen or gentlemen"s old carriages, family coaches they was sometimes called. There was mostly arms and coronets on them. We got them of the coachmakers in Long Acre, who took the noblemen"s old carriages, when they made new. The Duke of —— complained once that his old carriage, with his arms painted beautiful on the panels, was plying in the streets at 1s. a mile; his arms ought not to be degraded that way, he said, so the coachmaker had the coach new painted. When the cabs first came in we didn"t think much about it; we thought, that is, most of us did, that things was to go on in the old way for ever; but it was found out in time that it was not. When the clarences, the cabs that carry four, come in, they cooked the hackney-coachmen in no time.

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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