Hackney Coaches

Hackney Coaches 1

The taxicab is the modern-day representative of a long tradition stretching back over many centuries. According to Plutarch it was a cab (or "hired carriage" in John Dryden's translation) which brought Julius Caesar to the banks of the Rubicon in 49 B.C., and it may well be that proto-cabbies were plying their trade at the dawn of urban history.

The earliest London "cab" drivers were the Thames watermen who rowed people up and down the river. The watermen had things pretty much their own way until the late 1500's, when hackney coaches and sedan chairs began to compete with them.

The word "hackney" is derived from the Latin "equus" (meaning horse) via the Old French "haquenee". In the 1200's, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "hackney" referred to "a horse of middle size and quality, used for ordinary riding, as distinguished from a war-horse, a hunter, or a draught-horse". The general-purpose hackney was the kind of horse most commonly hired out from livery stables, and before too long the word was extended to cover any horse kept for hire.

Eventually "hackney" became a synonym for "hired", as in hackney coach, hackney (sedan) chair, hackney fiddler, hackney woman (female prostitute) or hackney (hack) writer. Since anything offered for hire becomes worn out very quickly, "hackneyed" also came to mean just that -- "used so frequently and indiscriminately as to have lost its freshness and interest; made trite and commonplace; stale." In North America "hackney" survives in the slang term "hack", while in the United Kingdom cabs are still occasionally referred to, officially, as "hackney carriages".

In the early years the narrow London streets could only accommodate small coaches, and a driver rode "postillion" on the back of one of the horses rather than on the coach itself. When central London was rebuilt after the great fire of 1666, more spacious streets allowed for larger vehicles and the typical hackney coach of this period was large enough to carry six passengers.

Some of the earliest hackney coach proprietors were impecunious nobles who hired out the family coach with a servant as the driver. As Philip Warren notes, it was a road tax of fifty pounds per coach that drove them to this expediency. As well, cast-off coaches were bought second- or third-hand by less illustrious entrepreneurs who exploited snob appeal by leaving the original coats-of-arms painted on the coach doors.

Originally, hackney coaches operated out of inn yards, but in 1638 a far-sighted entrepreneur named Captain Baily hit on the idea of putting them on stands in the street. Baily parked his four hackney coaches at the Maypole in the Strand, established a fare schedule for trips to different parts of London, and dressed his drivers in livery so that customers could readily recognize them. Baily's idea caught on so well that hackney coaches were soon clogging London's major thoroughfares, and not long afterward the government made the first of many futile attempts to limit their numbers through legislation.

Hackney coaches enjoyed a monopoly over public transportation in central London for over two centuries, until the introduction of lighter, faster cabs heralded their gradual decline and disappearance. By 1850, according to Mayhew, there were only four surviving hackney coaches plying for trade at London railway stations.


See also:

Alvanley, William Arden 1
Colour 3
Comic Almanack 1
Eyes 2
Horses 3
Joe Miller's Jests 1
Joe Miller's Jests 2
Joe Miller's Jests 3
Joe Miller's Jests 4

Hansen, Harry (1884-1977)

Hansen, Harry 1

[Hansen started out as a correspondent during World War I and became a prominent journalist, editor and book publisher.]

Harry Hansen climbed into a taxicab, told the driver where he wanted to go, and added, "Please don't go down Third Avenue. I don't like those El [Elevated Railway] pillars."

"Yessir," said the driver -- and went right down Third Avenue.

"Didn't you hear me?" screamed Hansen. "I said not to go weaving in and out around those El pillars. It drives me crazy."

The driver stopped his cab and looked at Hansen reproachfully. "Listen, Buddy," he remarked. "What do you suppose it does to me?"

Hansom Cab

Hansom Cab 1

The Hansom cab bears the name of Aloysius Hansom who patented a two-wheeled "safety cab" in 1834. However, Hansom's original design showed little resemblance to the vehicle that came to be a symbol of Victorian London. The cab had a pair of wheels seven feet in diameter with a boxy, low-slung body riding on a "cranked" axle. The driver sat on the roof, and passengers entered at the front through doors on either side of his legs.

It was a rival cab builder, John Chapman, who completely redesigned the hansom, placing the driver's seat at the rear of the vehicle and giving it its elegant and distinctive profile. Hansom bought out Chapman's company, but he made little or no money out of it -- so many carriage makers infringed on the design that all hansoms acquired the nickname "shoful" (a slang term for "counterfeit"). Hansom left the cab business and later became a successful architect.

There were several qualities of hansoms. Some were little more than open shells, with the passengers protected from the elements by a leather apron. Others had glass windows and luxuriant upholstery, and doors that were controlled by levers from the driver's seat. A small hatch in the roof allowed passengers to communicate with the driver.

The hansom migrated to North America and Australia, where it became a familiar feature of many large cities up until the turn of the century. The success of the motor cab heralded the decline of the hansom and other horse cabs. By 1910 thousands of London hansoms were being broken up and sold for firewood, while charities were set up to train out-of-work drivers for other employment.

After the extinction of the true hansom the name came to be applied to four-wheeled carriages, such as the "hansoms" that take tourists through Central Park in New York. This practice may have originated from confusing "hansom" with the adjective "handsome".


Hansom Cab 2

A country youth was making his first visit to the metropolis. When he came out of the union station, he beheld a long line of uniformed men perched at the top of carriages raise their whips and cry, "Hansom! Hansom!"

"Spotted for my good looks wherever I go," he thought.

See also:


Heaven 1

A taxi driver, weaving in and out of Atlanta traffic at a practiced clip, burst out laughing. "What's so amusing?" asked his fare.

"Aw," he said, "I was thinking of the two preachers and the cabdriver who went up to heaven at the same time. St. Peter asked the first minister, 'Who are you and what have you done?'

"'I'm a Baptist minister and I've preached for twenty-five years.'

"'Well, stand over to one side there,' ordered St. Peter. He then put the question to the second clergyman.

"'I've been a Methodist pastor for twenty-five years.'

"'Stand to one side,' said St. Peter. 'What about you?' he asked the last man.

"'I'm a taxi driver,' the cabby answered. 'Been one for about fifteen years.'

"'Pass through the gates,' intoned St. Peter.

"'Why have you allowed that man to go before us?' the preachers protested.

"'Because,' said St. Peter, 'in fifteen years he has scared more hell out of people than both of you have in half a century.'"

Heyerdahl, Thor (1914-)

Heyerdahl, Thor 1

[Heyerdahl gained world recognition in 1947 when he and five companions sailed from Peru to Polynesia in a balsa wood raft called the Kon Tiki. The voyage added credibility to Heyerdahl's theory that Polynesian culture exhibited pre-Inca influences.]

On a visit to London, Heyerdahl had a busy schedule of appointments. Shortly after recording a program for the Independent Television Network, he was due at the BBC studios for an interview. Having been assured by the BBC that a taxi would be sent to pick him up from the ITN studios, Heyerdahl waited expectantly in the lobby. As the minutes ticked by, however, he began to grow anxious. He approached a little man in a flat cap, who looked as if he might be a taxi driver and was obviously searching for someone. "I'm Thor Heyerdahl," said the anthropologist. "Are you looking for me?"

"No, mate," replied the taxi driver. "I've been sent to pick up four Airedales for the BBC."

Holmes, Fanny Dixwell (1841-1929)

Holmes, Fanny Dixwell 1

[Fanny Holmes was married to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:]

Mr. Larcum, who ran the livery stable at Beverly Farms where the Holmeses spent their summers, used to drive Mrs. Holmes about on various errands. One afternoon when he was driving her to meet Justice Holmes, the horse bolted and could not be stopped until they reached their destination. Mrs. Holmes did not panic, nor even appear to be scared; she just leaned out, waving her parasol, and called, "Larcum! If you kill me, tell him I loved him."


Horses 1

"Would you mind walking the other w'y and not passing the 'orse?" said a London cabman with exaggerated politeness to a fat lady who had just paid a minimum fare.

"Why?" she inquired.

"Because if 'e sees wot 'e's been carryin' for a shilling 'e'll 'ave a fit."

[In an 1864 Punch cartoon, a cab driver puts a cloth over his horse's head so the horse won't see "how little you pay for such a hard day's work."]

Horses 2

A new cabby had taken up his stand at Union Square.

"Gettin' in a new horse?" asked one of the old-timers, eyeing the bony nag critically.

"Aw, wotcher givin' us!"

"See yer got the framework up already."

[This joke appeared in 1861 as the caption to a Punch cartoon.]

Horses 3

[In 1823, two-wheeled cabs were introduced in London and began to compete with the cumbersome hackney coaches that had owned the streets for more than 200 years. Charles Dickens reported on the rivalry:]

Cabs, with trunks and bandboxes between the driver's legs and outside the apron, rattle briskly up and down the streets on their way to the coach-offices or steam-packet wharfs; and the cab drivers and hackney-coachmen who are on the stand polish up the ornamental part of their dingy vehicles -- the former wondering how people can prefer 'them wild beast cariwans of homnibuses to a riglar cab with a fast trotter," and the latter admiring how people can trust their necks into one of "them crazy cabs, when they can have a 'spectable 'ackney-cotche with a pair of 'orses as von't run away with no vun;" a consolation unquestionably founded on fact, seeing that a hackney-coach horse never was known to run at all, "Except," as the smart cabman in front of the rank observes, "except one, and he run back'ards." ["Scenes: The Streets -- Morning".]

Horses 4

I remember a friend of mine buying a couple of cheeses at Liverpool. Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards. I was in Liverpool at the time, and my friend said that if I didn't mind he would get me to take them back with me to London, as he should not be coming up for a day or two himself, and he did not think the cheeses ought to be kept much longer.

"Oh, with pleasure, dear boy," I replied, "with pleasure."

I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab. It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the cheeses on the top, and we started off a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned the corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses full on to our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply nowhere.

It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at the station; and I do not think they would have done it, even then, had not one of the men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown paper.

Horses 5

An absent-minded professor of drawing came down the steps of his home to take a cab for the train and seeing an old, knock-kneed and spavinned nag hitched to an ancient vehicle, cried: "Dear, dear! Rub it out and do it all over again!"

Huddleston, Sisley (1883-1952)

Huddleston, Sisley 1

[Huddleston was the Paris correspondent of the Times and later the European correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor.]

The English artist C.R.W. Nevinson tells, "Sisley Huddleston and I were great friends. He was a man of enormous stature. We have dined and wined together in all parts of Paris, roared with laughter, and teased 'the girls.' On one occasion Sisley, Clive Bell, and I had eaten chicken and rice and had drunk wine with it. Being a large man, Sisley had a large appetite. We took one of those tiny Parisian taxis to the Boulevard St. Germain and when we arrived outside we discovered that the rice had swelled so much inside Sisley that it was impossible for him to get out of the door. We pushed and we pulled, but he seemed to be growing larger before our eyes; and at length the driver opened the roof, and Sisley came out through that and over the back. By that time he and I and the driver were so hysterical with merriment that they refused us admission to the Brasserie Lipp's in the belief that we were drunk; and Clive Bell, who stood by, shocked and exquisite, was furious because he had a rendezvous there with Derain."

[Nevinson (1889-1946) had ten paintings in the Imperial War Museum. Clive Bell (1881-1964) was an art and literary critic and a nephew of Virginia Woolf. Andre Derain (1880-1954) was a leading post-impressionist painter.]

Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825-1895)

Huxley, Thomas Henry 1

[Huxley was the foremost defender of Darwin's theory of evolution. In a celebrated debate with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, he declared that he would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.]

Thomas Henry Huxley once arrived late in a town in which he was to deliver an important lecture. Jumping into a cab, he cried to the driver, "Top speed!" In a hurry the cabby whipped his horse into action and the vehicle went bumping along the streets at a wild clip. The lack of dignity and organization in the proceedings then dawned upon Huxley, and above the clatter of the wheels he shouted to the driver, "Here, here, do you know where I want to go?"

"No, your Honor," called the cabby, cracking his whip the while, "but I'm driving as fast as I can."

See also:

Schodl, Max 1

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Revised November 11, 1998