London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Suggestions for Regulating the Trade.


I SHALL now conclude with some statements of sundry evils connected with the cab business, under the old and also under the new system, and shall then offer suggestions for their rectification.

cab proprietor, after expressing his opinion that the new police arrangements for the regulation of the trade would be a decided improvement, suggested it would be an excellent plan to make policemen of the watermen; for then, he said, the cabmen thieves would be reluctant to approach the ranks. He also gave me the following statement of what he considered would be greater improvements. "I think," he said, "it would do well for those in the cab-trade if licenses were made instead of , with a regulation that should be returned to any on bringing his plates in previous to leaving the trade, and so not wanting his license any longer. This would, I believe, be a check to any illegal transfer, as men wouldn"t be so ready to hand over their plates to other parties when they disposed of their cabs, if they were sure of in a regular and legal way. I would also," he said, "reduce the duty from a-week to , and that would allow cabs to ply for a-mile. As everything is cheaper, I wonder people


don"t want cheaper cabs. "Busses don"t at all answer the purpose; for if it"s a wet day, almost every has to walk some way to his "bus, and some way to the house he"s going to. Sunday visitors particularly; and they like the wet least of all. Now, if cabs ran at , they could take a man and his wife and children, and more, miles for , or miles for , about what the "busses would charge persons for those distances: and the persons could go from door to door as cheap; or, if not quite so cheap, they"d save it in not having their clothes spoiled by the weather, and go far more comfortably than in a "bus full of wet people and dripping umbrellas. I know most cabmen don"t like to hear of this plan; and why? Because, by the present system they reckon upon getting a shilling a-mile; and they almost always do get it for an fare, and for longer distances oft enough. But it wouldn"t be so easy to overcharge when there"s a fixed coin a-mile for the fare. It would be , , , , , or as many sixpences as miles. Now it"s for miles, and that"s — for over miles, and that means —of course cabmen don"t carry change unless for an even sum; for over miles and a half, and that"s if not , and so on. The odd coppers make cabmen like the present way."

I now give a statement concerning "foul plates" and informers. It may, however, be necessary to state , that every cab proprietor must be licensed, at a cost to him of , and that he must affix a plate, with his number, &c., to his cab, to show that he is duly licensed: while every driver and waterman is licensed at a cost to each of a-year, and is bound to wear a metal ticket showing his number. The law then provides, that in case of , which must be proved to the satisfaction of the magistrate, a proprietor may be allowed to employ an unlicensed person for hours; with this exception, every unlicensed person acting as driver, and every licensed person lending his license, or permitting any other person to use or wear his ticket, is to be fined The same provision applies to any proprietor "lending his license," but with a penalty of I now give the statement:—

"You see, sir, if a man wants to dispose of his cab, why he must dispose of it as a cab. Well, if it ain"t answered for him, he"ll get somebody or other willing to try it on. And the new hand will say, "I"ll give you so much, and work your plates for you;" and so he does when a bargin"s made. Well, this thing"s gone on till there"s or "foul plates" in the trade; and then government says, "What a lot of foul plates! There must be a check to this." And a nice check they found. Mister —— (continued my informant, laying a peculiar emphasis on the mister), the informer, was set to work, and he soon ferreted out the foul plates, and there was a few summonses about them at ; but it"s managed different now. Suppose I had a foul plate in my place here, though in course I wouldn"t, but suppose I had, Mister —— would drop in some day and look about him, and say little or nothing, but it"s known what he"s up to. In a day or comes Mister —— No. , he"s Mister —— No. "s friend; and he"ll look about and say, "Oh, Mister ——, I see you"ve got so-and-so—it"s a foul plate. I"ll call on you for in a day or . He calls sure enough; and he calls for the same money, perhaps, every months. Some pays him a-year regular; and if he only gets that on plates, he makes a good living of it—only a-year, a-week, that"s all. In course Mister —— No. has nothing to do with Mister —— No. , not he: it"s always Mister —— No. what"s paid, and never Mister —— No. . But if Mister —— No. ain"t paid, then Mister —— No. looks in, and lets you know there may be a hearing about the foul plate; and so he goes on."

This same Mister —— No. , I am informed by another cab proprietor, is employed by the Excise to see after the duty, which has to be paid every month. Should the proprietor be behind with the a-week, the informer is furnished with a warrant for the month"s money; and this he requires a fee of from to (according to the circumstances of the proprietor), to hold over for a short time. It is difficult to estimate how many fees are obtained in this way every month; but I am assured that they must amount to something considerable in the course of the year.

It is proper that I should add that my informants in this and other matters refer to the systems with which they had been long familiar. The new regulations when I was engaged in this inquiry, had been so recently in force, that the cab proprietors said they could not yet judge of their effect; but it was believed that they would be beneficial. An experienced man complained to me that the clashing of the magistrates" decisions, especially when the police were mixed up with the complaints against cabmen, was an evil. My informant also pointed out a clause in the d and d Victoria, cap. , enacting that magistrates should meet once a quarter, each furnishing a report of his proceedings as respects the "Act for regulating the Police Courts in the Metropolis." Such a meeting, and a comparison of the reports, might tend to a uniformity in decisions; but the clause, I am told, is a dead letter, no such meeting taking place. Another cab proprietor said it would be a great improvement if an authorised officer of the police, or a government officer, had the fixing of plates on carriages, together with the inspection and superintendence of them afterwards. These plates, it was further suggested to me, should be metallic seals, and easily perceptible inside or out. Some of the cab proprietors complain of the stands in


(the best in all London, they say), being removed to out-of-the-way places.

Among the matters I heard complained of, that of privileged cabs was much dwelt upon. These are the cabs which are privileged to stand within a railway terminus, waiting to be hired on the arrival of the trains. For this privilege a-week is paid by the cabmen to some of the railway companies, and as much as a-week to others. The cabmen complain of this as a monopoly established to their disadvantage, and with no benefit to the public, but merely to the railway companies; for there are cab-stands adjacent to all the railway stations, at which the public would be supplied with conveyances in the ordinary way. The horses in the cabs at the railway stations are, I am informed, amongst the hardest-worked of any in London; the following case being put to me:—"Suppose a man takes a fare of persons and heavy luggage from the Great Western Terminus to Mile End, which is near upon miles, he must then hurry back again all the way, because he plies only at the railway. Now, if he didn"t, he would go to the nighest cab-stand, and his horse would be far sooner relieved. Then, perhaps, he gets another fare to Finsbury, and must hurry back again; and then another below Brompton; and he may live at Whitechapel, and have to go home after all; so that his poor horse gets "bashed" to bits."

Another cab proprietor furnished me with the following statement in writing of his personal experience and observation concerning the working of the d clause in the Hackney Carriage Act, or that concerning the signing before alluded to. "A master is in want of drivers. A, B, and C apply. The only questions asked are, "Are you a driver? Where is your license? Well! here, sign this paper; my money is so much." In very few large establishments is more caution used as to real character of the driver than this; the effect of which is, that a man with a really good character has no better claim to employment than of the worst. Then, as to the feeling of a man who has placed himself under such a contract. "I must get my money," he says, "I will do anything to obtain it; and as a gaol hangs over my head, what matters about my breaking the law?" and so every unfair trick is resorted to: and the means used are "gagging," that is to say, driving about and loitering in the thoroughfares for jobs. It is known that some men very seldom put on the ranks at all. Some masters have told their drivers not to go on the stand, as they well know that the money is not to be obtained by what is termed "ranking it." Now, the effect of this is, that the thoroughfares are troubled with empty cabs. It has also this effect: it causes great cruelty and overdriving to the horses; and drivers under such circumstances frequently agree to go for very much less than the fare, and then, as they term it, take it out by insulting and bullying their customers. It may be said that the law in force is sufficient to counteract this; but it may not be known that a great many protection-clubs exist, by contributions from cabmen, and which clubs are, in fact, premiums for breaking the law; for by them a man is borne harmless of the consequences of being fined. Now, these clubs exist sometimes at public-houses, but in many cases in the proprietors" yards, the proprietors themselves being treasurers, and so becoming agents to induce their servants to infringe the law, for the purpose of obtaining for themselves a large return. The moral consequence of all this is, that men being dealt with and made to suffer as criminals, that is to say, being sent to gaol to experience the same treatment, save indignity, as convicted felons, and all this for what they after all believe to be a debt, a simple contract between man and man; the consequence, I repeat, is, that the driver having served his time, as it is called, in prison, returns to the trade a degraded character and a far worse man. Be it observed, also, that the fact of a driver having been imprisoned is no barrier to his being employed again if he will but sign—that"s the test."

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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