Wednesday 2 March 2011

Hansom cab rank

Yesterday's photo of the Tower of London highlighted its size and extent, but in the foreground was something rather interesting too. The row of small horse-drawn carriages are hansom cabs: behold an Edwardian cab rank.

Named for its inventor, this quintessential London vehicle was actually designed by an architect from York (one Joseph Aloysius Hansom) and tested in Leicestershire. Nonetheless, it was well-suited to city life: light enough to be pulled by a single horse, fast and manoeuvrable, with a low centre of gravity for safe cornering. Hansom must have decided that he, too, was well-suited to the metropolis for he died in Fulham Road in 1882.

The hansom cabriolet was introduced to the city in the 1830s, and stayed on its street for a century. Although most were replaced by motor vehicles after the First World War, the last horse cab licence was only surrendered in 1947.

The driver's position is a little surprising, on top and to the rear of the vehicle (but perhaps less so than the original design, which had him sat on the roof directly above his passengers). Below and before him, two passengers could be comfortably seated in an enclosed cab. A hatch in the roof let them speak to him and pass up money for the fare. As for the amount to be paid, that did not have to be determined by taximeter until 1907 although such meters began to appear in the nineteenth century. The first models were clockwork, very different to the entirely electronic versions used today. It is the use of such a meter which makes a cab a taxi.

Although this Pathe newsreel depicts a wedding in Sydney, Australia, it does have very good footage of a hansom cab:

Further reading: here's a great description of a cab stand in 1860.


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting piece of footage on the cab.

While the driver's position may seem counter-intuitive, I suppose it allows him to keep an eye on his passengers and make sure they behave themselves.

The other thing is balance: if he were in front his weight would bear down on the horse whereas when he is at the back, he helps counterbalance the weight of the cab and occupants.

CarolineLD said...

Yes, that would make sense - although an obituary of Hansom suggested it did too good a job and the horses had a tendency to slip!