The million-peopled city
The Enterprise of Mr. Shillibeer, in starting Omnibuses in the English Metropolis, the Difficulties he encountered, and his subsequent Ruin.
It is somewhat interesting to trace from its first small commencement what has now become so very important a
|social feature in our metropolitan habits. The early history of these vehicles, and of the gentleman who first introduced them in this country, is thus given in a letter of the Special Correspondent, inserted in the " Morning Chronicle" of , :-|
" It was not until July 4, , that , now the proprietor of the patent mourning-coaches, started the first omnibus. . . . The first omnibus, or rather the first pair of these vehicles, for Mr. started 2, ran from the Bank to the Yorkshire Stingo. Mr. was a naval officer, and in his youth stepped from a midshipman's duties into the business of a coach-builder, learning that business from the late Mr. Hatchet, of Long Acre. Mr. then established himself in business in , 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 . In this speculation Mr. 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 , in , when Mr. Lafitte first started the omnibuses which are now in common use, 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. Five or six years after the omnibus had been successfully introduced into , was employed by to build 2 in a superior style. In executing this order, thought that so comfortable and con- venient a mode of conveyance might be advantageously introduced into London. He accordingly disposed of his Parisian establishment, and came to London, and started his omnibuses, as I have narrated. In order that the
|introduction might have every chance of success, and have the full prestige of respectability, brought over with him from 2 youths, both the sons of British naval officers, and the young gents 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 Mr. Lafitte's conductors, each dress costing 51. Their addressing any foreigner in French, and the French style of the affair, gave rise to the opinion that Mr. was a Frenchman, and that the English were indebted to a foreigner for the improvement of their vehicular transit; whereas had served in the British navy, and was born in Tottenham Court-road. His speculation was particularly and at once successful. His 2 vehicles carried each 22, and were filled every journey. The form was that of the present omnibus, but larger and roomier, as the 22 were all accommodated inside, no one being on the outside but the driver. Three 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 1s. for the whole, and 6d. for half the distance, and each omnibus made 12 journeys to and fro every day. Thus established a diversity of fares, regulated by distance; a regu- lation which was afterwards in a great measure abandoned by omnibus proprietors, and then re-established on our present 3d. and 6d. payments, the 'long-uns' and the 'short-uns.' receipts were 1001. a-week. At first, 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-gent conductors retired|
|from their posts they were succeeded by persons hired by , and liberally paid, who were attired in a sort of velvet livery..... 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 six to nine months, Mr. had twelve omnibuses at work. He feels convinced that had he started fifty omni- buses instead of two in the first instance, a fortune might have been realized. In -2, his omnibuses became gene- ral in the great street thoroughfares; and as the short stages were run off the road, the proprietors started omnibuses in opposition to Mr. S. The first omnibuses, however, started after Mr. 's were not in opposition. They were the Caledonians, and were the property of Mr. 's brother-in-law. The third started, which were two-horse vehicles, were foolishly enough called, ' Les Dames Blanches;' but as the name gave rise to much low wit, it was abandoned. The original omnibuses were called s, from the name of their originator, on the panels; 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 one oppositionist called his omnibuses s, so that the real and the sham were not known in the streets. The opposition became fiercer. The 'busses,' as they came to be called in a year or two, crossed each other, or raced, or drove their poles reck- lessly into the back of one 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 Parlia- ment as a nuisance requiring a remedy; and in a Bill|
|was brought in by the Government, and passed, for the ' regulations of omnibuses,' (as well as other conveyances,) 'in and near the metropolis.' Two sessions after, Mr. Alderman Wood brought in a Bill for ' the better regulation of omni- buses,' which was also passed; and one 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. (as I am informed on good authority), but the appointment was given to the present Commissioner of City Police, and the office next to the principal was offered to Mr. , which that gentleman declined to accept. The reason as- signed for not appointing him to the Registrarship was, that he was connected with omnibuses. At the beginning of , Mr. abandoned his metropolis trade, and commenced running omnibuses from London to and Woolwich, employing 20 carriages and 120 horses; but the increase of steamers, and the opening of the Railway in , affected this trade so materially that Mr. fell into arrears with his payments to the Stamp Office, and seizure of his property, and re-seizures after money was paid, entailed such heavy expenses, and such hinderance to Mr. 's business, that his failure ensued. I have been somewhat full in my details of Mr. 's career, as his procedures are, in truth, the history of the transit of the metropolis, as regards omnibuses."|