Watermen 1

Watermen (not to be confused with the Thames watermen) were London cab stand officials who ensured that cab horses had enough water to drink.

Originally, the watermen seem to have been hangers-on who fetched buckets of water from the nearest parish pump, or did other services for hackney coachmen and their passengers in exchange for tips. Charles Dickens describes a waterman in Pickwick Papers:

"'Cab!' said Mr. Pickwick.

"'Here you are, sir,' shouted a strange specimen of the human race, in a sackcloth coat, and apron of the same, who, with a brass label and number round his neck, looked as if he were catalogued in some collection of rarities. This was the waterman. 'Here you are sir. Now, then, fust cab!' And the first cab having been fetched from the public- house, where he had been smoking his first pipe, Mr. Pickwick and his portmanteau were thrown into the vehicle.

"'Golden Cross,' said Mr. Pickwick.

"'Only a bob's vorth, Tommy,' cried the driver, sulkily, for the information of his friend the waterman, as the cab drove off."

Dickens' description of the waterman tallies with a portrait of one published in W.H. Pyne's Costume of Great Britain (1808). The numbered "brass label" was a license tag.

By 1850 the waterman had become a quasi-police official charged not only with supplying water, but with keeping order on the cab stands and punishing infractions. Ironically, the watermen were paid by the cab drivers themselves, from a compulsory fee of a penny each time they came onto the stand, and a further half pence each time they were hired off it. Henry Mayhew described the watermen as "generally strong, big-boned, red-faced men, civil and honest, married (with very few exceptions), and bringing up families. They are great readers of newspapers, and in these they devote themselves first of all to the police reports."

Relations between the watermen and the cab drivers had deteriorated since Dickens' day. "Sometimes cabmen assaults us," a waterman told Mayhew. "My mates have been twice whipped lately. I haven't, because I know how to humour their liquor."

By 1860, the watermen had been absorbed into the police force and were not only paid a regular wage of fifteen shillings a week, but were issued with uniforms.


Weather 1

A taxi is a vehicle that disappears when it rains.

Weather 2

All things come to him who waits for a taxi on rainy days, except a taxi.

Weather 3

To a taxi driver a rainy day is always fare weather.

Weather 4

The other day Punch had a picture of an old gentleman about to climb into a taxi to escape a terrific snowstorm.

"Cabby," he says, "it's a miserable winter day, isn't it?"

"Guvnor," answers the frost-bitten taxi driver, "I pass you my word that I've been out since early mornin' and I ain't seen a single butterfly."

See also:

Benchley, Robert 2
Romance 3
Romance 6
Joe Miller's Jests 2

West, Nathaniel (1903-1940)

West, Nathaniel 1

[West was the author of the novel Miss Lonelyhearts. His reckless driving eventually caught up with him and he died in a car accident.]

Once, when driving with Schrank into New York to consult with Mayer about some changes, he went through eleven consecutive stop lights after leaving the Lincoln Tunnel, once swerving around a trolley, and finally hit a taxi that was just starting across the intersection. He settled on the spot for the slight damages, but Schrank, convinced that West was trying to kill both of them, walked the rest of the way....

Windsor, Wallis Warfield, Duchess of (1896-1986)

Windsor, Duchess of 1

[Wallis Warfield was the woman for whom Edward VIII gave up his throne. This is a joke current at the time of the abdication in 1937:]

Wallis, taking a taxi on her now famous journey to Scotland, is reported to have said "King's Cross". "I'm sorry, lady," answered the driver.


Wisdom 1

Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.

Wisdom 2

In all my years of New York cab riding I have yet to find the colorful, philosophical cabdriver that keeps popping up on the late movies.

Women Cab Drivers

Women Cab Drivers 1

[Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) deplored the activities of women's rights advocates who wanted to open up new career opportunities for women:]

But of those whose efforts are made to spread work more widely among women -- to call upon them to make for us our watches, to print our books, to sit at our desks as clerks and to add up our accounts -- much as I may respect the individual operators in such a movement, I can express no admiration for their judgment.... A woman now could not well be a cab-driver in London; but are these advocates sure that no woman will be a cab-driver when success has attended their efforts? And would they like to see a woman driving a cab?

Women Cab Drivers 2

[The first women cab drivers appeared in Paris in 1907:]


So Popular in Paris That the Cabmen
Masquerade as Women

PARIS, March 27 -- The women cab drivers who now adorn the streets of Paris have made a distinct hit, and their male rivals are exceedingly disgruntled over the partiality shown to the women by the public.

the Board of Examiners of the Police Prefecture, which passes upon the qualifications of "cabbies," was not favorably disposed, and applied the most severe tests, but at last half a dozen women ran the gantlet by demonstrating not only their knowledge of the highways and byways of Paris, but their ability to handle a horse in the press of traffic and to get a fallen beast on his feet. When they appeared on the streets everybody wanted to ride in their cabs.

The Parisians love nothing so much as an amusing innovation, and the newspaper reporters who described their journeys through the boulevards, spiced with the comments of the crowds and the gibes of the male "cocheres," rendered the women's success complete. The jokes in the newspapers and on the stage and the jeers and ridicule of the women's rivals immediately attracted the sympathy of the public, and the "cocheres" were never without a fare and their tips were both numerous and generous.

Finally some of the male "cabbies" decided that it was more profitable, instead of scoffing, to try to share in the golden harvest by masquerading as women. Accordingly, they shaved off their mustaches, discarded their high glazed "plugs" for the flat variety affected by their comrades of the fair sex, and donned capes instead of overcoats. At a distance the disguise was complete. If the prospective fare discovered the fraud when the cab drove up to the curb the fear of the laugh of the Parisian crowd prevented a protest.

Among the women who have qualified and are now regularly plying the vocation of "cabbie" is the Countess de la Guriviere. She was an expert whip in the days of her prosperity, and now, in the days of adversity, is using her knowledge to gain her livelihood. The Duchess d'Uzes, whose drawing room is one of the most celebrated in Paris, has given the Countess's efforts to earn an honest living a public indorsement.

Women Cab Drivers 3

[The vogue for women drivers peaked and then ebbed:]


Petticoated Drivers Disappearing from
the Streets of Paris

Special Correspondence The New York Times

PARIS, Dec. 31 -- One by one women cab drivers are disappearing from Paris streets. The papers announce to-day that still another fair driver has decided to give up this somewhat turbulent calling owing to her approaching marriage. Her future husband, it appears, asked her to choose between him and her profession. He won.

A few days ago another woman cab driver resigned her whip when she learned that she had inherited a small fortune from an uncle in the south of France. A third cab woman, Mme. Lutgen, who is a real Countess in private life and one of the pioneers in this new calling for women, abandoned the profession some time ago at the solicitation of her family, who considered the business ill-suited to one of her aristocratic origin. Others have dropped out owing to ill-health, discouragement arising through accidents, and disputes with police and customers. While six months ago there were forty women driving cabs and almost as many more applicants eager for examination, there are now a bare score of women drivers and only two candidates.

Women Cab Drivers 4

[The automobile brought a resurgence of women cab drivers in Paris and by World War I they were quite numerous. Nevertheless, the first one created a stir:]


Lends Enlivenment to the Present
Languid Life of the Boulevards.

Special Cable to The New York Times.

PARIS, Sept. 18 -- Fresh enlivenment, which was much needed in the present languid life of the boulevards, was furnished on Thursday by the advent of a very pretty chauffeuse in charge of a taxicab. Although a small number of coachwomen are already driving horse cabs in Paris, this is the first known instance of on of the sex rising to the dignity of a chauffeuse.

Her vehicle was new and elegant: she was clothed in a blue tailored gown, with a blue toque saucily placed upon a knotted wealth of golden hair, and her form was graceful. She appeared, however, too indifferent to patronage, driving with her nose in the air, with a "touch-me-not" mien hardly in harmony with her assumed desire to gather a harvest of francs.

Boulevardiers of proved mettle confessed themselves intimidated. They gazed with longing, but dared not accost in an ordinary tone of command a petticoated chauffeuse, and equally feared ridicule if they showed they were influenced by her fair looks. In consequence she got only a few fares.

To-day, I am told, "La Petite Chauffeuse" abated somewhat her arrogant indifference, and flaneurs, who easily coin excuses, exhibited marked encouragement.

Women Cab Drivers 5

[Meanwhile, in London:] The question of women drivers had been raised in 1908, and the Public Carriage Office at Scotland Yard had stated firmly: 'Licenses to act as hackney carriage drivers are not granted to females'. A certain Sheila O'Neill got round this by driving a cab in a semi-private capacity for some businessmen, and celebrated her triumph by mounting on the bonnet of her cab a small metal figure of a policeman with his hand perpetually upraised ordering her to stop. Behind this disregarded warning she drove happily for several years.

Women Cab Drivers 6

[Here's how the New York Times reported Sheila O'Neill's debut:]


Former Army Nurse Also Carries Medical

Outfit in Her Taxicab.

LONDON, Dec. 26. -- London now has a professional "lady chauffeur" -- that is, a woman who believes that she can make a living by driving a taxicab. She rejoices in the pleasant name of Miss Sheila O'Neill, and has seen service as a war nurse, having received medals for nursing work in the South African campaign.

Miss O'Neill wears a uniform which is a study in brown relieved by a cluster of violets nestling in the furs that adorn her hat. She has been through a practical course in training as a motorist and is competent to remedy any ordinary breakdown. She will also carry an emergency medical chest, with splints, bandages, etc.

In case she should -- perish the thought -- run over anybody she can apply first aid to the injured immediately.

See also:

Alexander Woollcott 1

Woollcott, Alexander (1887-1943)

Woollcott, Alexander 1

Once in pre-war days, when curiously-bonneted women drivers were familiar sights at the taxi-wheels, I cried out to one in my dismay:

"Is there no speed limit in this mad city?"

"Oh, yes, monsieur," she answered sweetly over her shoulder, "but no one has ever succeeded in reaching it."

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Revised November 11, 1998