Accidents by Uber drivers today seem to be de rigueur, although it is not a new trend. It was not until 1838 that a cabbie needed a licence to make a living on London’s streets, and not until the end of that century that a test of driving skill was implemented.
No surprise that just giving a licence to anyone who: ‘shall produce such a Certificate of his Ability to drive’, was a recipe for disaster.
With this rather ambiguous definition, those allowed to ply the capital’s streets killed 54 between 1830 and 1913 according to the records of the Old Bailey. In 1909 alone police officers took 8,715 to hospital as a result of street accidents from Hansom cabs, as well as cars, trams and bicycles. Eighteen deaths were caused by ‘horse traffic’.
In addition between 1850 and 1910, a further 11 passengers committed suicide while sitting in a horse-drawn cab. One of which, on 14th April 1886, was The Earl of Shaftesbury, so the reason for their demise cannot have been solely upon hearing the cost of their fare.
Enough of these statistics, the victims of two of these accidents by Hansom cab make for interesting reading.
In 1864 London’s first traffic island was built in St James’s Street. It was designed and funded by one Colonel Pierpoint who was afraid of being knocked down on his way to (and more likely inebriated from) the Carlton, his Pall Mall club. When it was finished, the good colonel dashed across the road to admire his creation, tripped and was bowled over by a cab.
Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates
Son of a wealthy sugar-plantation owner, Romeo Coates would proclaim himself to be the finest actor of his generation. His wealth allowed him to fund his own performances, fortuitously as he couldn’t remember his lines or, indeed whole scenes. He would repeat his favourite parts of the play at random places during the performance, these would often feature multiple melodramatic deaths.
Reprising the role of Shakespeare’s Romeo he added touches the Bard had somehow missed when penning his masterpieces: prising Capulet’s tomb open with a crowbar; taking snuff during the balcony scene and proceeding to offer it round to the audience; and upon Romeo’s death laying down his hat to rest his head, but after ensuring the stage was clean by dusting it with a handkerchief. Eventually, no actress would appear opposite him as Juliet.
Alas by 1816 his popularity had waned and his theatrical career ended. The thespian died in February 1848 whilst exiting a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when he was knocked down by a Hansom cab.