The original Hackney Carriage
The first black taxi cab to be seen in London was the now infamous hackney coach of the 17th Century. The English term hackney comes from “hacquenée” which is the French word for a general-purpose horse, literally meaning “ambling nag”.
Back in the early 17th century there were only a handful of hackney coaches available for hire, all operating out of the yards of inns!
The first Taxi Rank!
Around this time the owner of four of the original hackney coaches brought them up to the Strand in London, right outside the Maypole Inn, and this was where the very first taxi rank appeared in the country!
His drivers all wore special livery and tariff’s for travel from and to various parts of London were then quickly established. To this day, “Hackney Carriage” is still the official term that is widely used for London’s black cabs!
Even Oliver Cromwell was in on the rise of the black cab!
Oliver Cromwell set up the original “Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages” by Act of Parliament in 1654; at this point taxi driving then became a profession. London therefore can lay claim to having the oldest regulated public transport network anywhere in the world!
As time went by, the Hansom Cab was developed by one Joseph Hansom, which he had patented himself. This was a two-wheeled vehicle, replacing the four-wheeled original horse-drawn carriages of an earlier age.
The arrival of the first motorised Cabs in London
The first non horse-drawn cabs in London were actually electrically powered, which may surprise modern day hybrid and electric vehicle proponents! These cabs appeared around 1897 at the close of the 19th century.
They were called “Berseys” after one Walter C. Bersey, their designer and the manager of the original London Electrical Cab Company. The public affectionately nicknamed them “Hummingbirds”, naturally due to their electrical humming sound as they drove along the roads of the capital!
Petrol power takes over
London’s very first petrol powered cab was actually the French-built Prunel, which was first introduced in 1903. After this, British several car manufacturers such as Rational, Simplex and Herald joined in the act too.
The arrival of the first Austin Taxi
The countries largest taxi dealership in 1929 was Mann and Overton, they joined up with Austin to create a more dependable and efficient vehicle for cab drivers. This lead to the creation of the Austin FX3, the original design of which can still be detected in the lines of modern day black cabs!
Next up, in 1958, was the Austin FX4 which was to remain in production for an incredible 39 years, only ending its long run as the 20th century came to a close!
This vehicle was upgraded in the late 1980’s and was rebadged as the ‘Fairway’. This is perhaps the shape that most people around the world would associate with a London Black Cab! And in our opinion too, by far the prettiest, in a workman-like way!
The Fairway had bags of space, it also had a tight turning-circle and even allowed wheelchair access making it the most practical taxi ever created! With its space and practicality it was a real hit with London’s cabbies and is held with great affection by many to this day.
A more modern looking (if you like boxes) vehicle, the Metrocab, first appeared in prototype form in 1972 but only went into production in 1987. This vehicle never really gained the affections of the capitals cabbies, who still preferred the venerable but lovable FX4’s in the main!
Next up, the arrival of the TX1!
The TX1 model first arrived on the scene in 1997, it combined the shape of the venerable Fairway with modern technology. It was perhaps more refined but some thought a little soulless, with its Fibreglass body being made overseas and assembled in Britain.
2002 saw the arrival of the TX2 and 2006 the TX4, much the same in all honesty!
So there you have it, a potted history of London’s Black Cabs and why we all still love them at PhotoCAB!