This week we compare and contrast cabs, fares, cabbies and their customers in 1862 with today with its multiplicity of private hire options, phone bookings and apps.
Life in Victorian London was conducted at a much slower pace with punters limited in their options: either a licensed hansom cab or Hackney cabriolet which incidentally gave, by legislation, only 16 inches of seat room for passengers to park their posteriors.
Rather alarmingly limits were also laid down as to the number of ‘outside’ passengers a cabriolet could have hanging on to its exterior.
For my sources I have Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its environs and the modestly priced Beeton’s Penny Book of Cab Fares containing, it claimed: ‘35,000 fares within a circle of Four Mile Radius of Charing Cross’.
Among the plethora of regulations included within these tomes are some which today the modern cabbies would find incredible:
Speed and Distance – When hired by distance the driver is bound to drive at a proper speed, not less than six miles an hour, except requested by the hirer to drive at a slower pace, or in cases of unavoidable delay. When hired by time to drive at the rate of four miles an hour, or if desired to drive at a greater speed, he driver shall be entitled to an additional fare of sixpence per mile over and above the four miles per hour; the driver must drive to any place not exceeding six miles from the place of hiring, or for any time not exceeding one hour
Difficult customers (and cabbies) could be dealt with with expediency, no shouting or walking away without paying:
Disputes – In the case of any dispute between hirer and driver, the hirer may require he driver to drive to the nearest Police Court, when the Magistrate then sitting will hear and decide he dispute without the formality of a summons.
Prices were, in real terms, very expensive. Agricultural labourers could, in 1862, expect to earn 11s 1d (56p) for a week’s labour. Masters of Universe when leaving the Bank of England would pay 2s 6d for a short journey home to St. John’s Wood.
Their wives after a hard day’s shopping in Brixton (a major retail centre at the time, the United Kingdom’s first purpose built store, Bon Marché would open 15 years later) would pay the cabbie the pricy sum of 3s 6d to get back to St. John’s Wood.
The customers of Victorian cabbies were, in the main, taken from the top echelons of society, unlike today when just about everybody now uses one of the many types of cab or private hire on offer.
And as we’ll see in the next post the new upstart Uber private hire have become so cheap they are now in competition with the bus and threaten to make some routes uncommercial for their operators.