Thinking allowed — 13 February 2018

Digital:works recently produced an oral history of the London Cabbie. Working with the London Transport Museum, two London primary schools and London cabbies they conduct oral history interviews with 26 London cabbies going back to the 1950s. These are the stories of London and Londoners, new and old. Some take us back to a few years after the last war when many of the drivers were Jewish.

THESE WERE the days of the closed shop, pea-souper fogs, driving heavy cold cabs on empty roads. Meeting the boat trains, or heading to Covent Garden in time for ‘the burst’ in the evening when theatres would empty out and the streets would fill with people looking for cabs home. What about going south of the river? The lexicon of the London cabbie with words often drawn from Yiddish is discussed.

Interviews also contain stories of the advent of the mini cab in the 1960s, of the London docks and Fleet Street where night workers would give big tips at the end of a shift. Workers from the docks and daily papers industries would later themselves sign up on The Knowledge, as their industries collapsed with the advent of modernisation.

There are stories of the challenges faced by the first black drivers and the first women drivers, the comradely, but also the conflict.

Interviews bring us up to date as roads become increasingly crowded with traffic, as traffic lanes then cycle lanes appear, and as new people move into the trade and the huge American company Uber appears.

There are detailed descriptions of the everyday work of the cabbie from ‘doing The Knowledge’, the dreaded ‘appearances’ and then the challenges and joys of life working as a London Cabbie.

There are many stories, funny, sad and poignant, fascinating facts about the trade, through these stories we get an insight into the history of the men and women who have driven the famous black London cab.

The film and full interviews are now available to watch online.

Please have a look and share the website address with anyone you think might be interested in this amazing part of London’s history


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