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Brief history of hackney carriage

One day few a months ago while driving through The Surrey hills to Gatwick I decided I should write a blog which I should publish on the website.

I couldn’t really think where to start then few days ago while stuck in endless traffic on the M3, wondering if we will ever make our way to Heathrow,  gentleman set beside me on the passenger seat uttered the words that became the title my first topic.

It was a very interesting question but I had absolutely no information that would resemble an answer of any satisfaction.

So I decided to do some research and found some interesting information.


Apparently the term ‘hackney’, as used in hackney coaches and cabs comes from the Norman French word ‘hacquenée’ meaning a type of horse suitable for hire and is unrelated to the identically named London district.

The word ‘taxi’ itself comes from France, as it was from here that New York’s first fleet of petrol-powered vehicles for hire came. The word was originally a shortened version of ‘taximeter cabriolet’ – the former being a French word referring to charge and measurement, and the latter originally referring to a type of horse-drawn carriage. The words ‘cab’ and ‘taxicab’ are also derived from this source.

The beginning.

Hackney coaches first appeared back in 17th century London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when the wealthy, who owned coaches, sought to recoup some of the huge expense they incurred in keeping them by hiring them out to aspiring but not so well-off members of the gentry. As the coaches aged and were replaced, they were bought by innkeepers and merchants and hired out for money.

The trade acquired a very poor reputation because of the excessive prices and badly kept coaches, probably would’ve got only 1* on Google.

In 1634, the first London taxi rank appeared on the Strand, with a complement of four hackney carriages organised by the deep pockets of Captain John Baily. This is perhaps the earliest example of a taxi firm, and was a model that was soon adopted by others and by 1662, the first hackney carriage licenses were issued in the city.

This resulted in huge growth in the business and by the 1760s there were over a thousand ‘hackney hell carts’ maybe something similar to UBER thronging the streets, causing considerable congestion.

From four to two wheels.

By the 19th century the streets were becoming congested with horse-drawn vehicles and a new solution was sought. In the 1830s Joseph Hansom designed a slick new two-wheeled carriage which was much easier to manoeuvre around the increasingly busy city streets, and could be pulled by a single horse. The Hansom cab was born, and quickly spread throughout Europe, the British Empire and the USA. Soon after, a mechanical taximeter to calculate fares was added and became standard in many cities.

The original electric.

Government has announced that by 2040 no new diesel or petrol cars will be sold in the UK and we all will be going electric.

This could’ve been achieved by the London Electrical Cab Company over 100 years ago.

Unfortunately their creation the ‘Bersey’ built in 1897 was highly expensive and very unreliable, leading to several road crashes and at least 1 fatality.

The ‘Hummingbird’ as it was known due to the noise it made while running, quickly fell out of favour with cab drivers and the public before being ditched entirely in 1900.

Hopefully the new electric revolution will last a lot longer.


With the development of the first cars, it was inevitable that these would soon come into service as taxicabs. These competed with and soon replaced the horse-drawn taxi-carriages in many cities. The first proper petrol-powered and meter-equipped taxi cab was the Daimler Victoria, which came into service in 1897. Soon after this, petrol-powered taxis were a common fixture on city streets around the world. The rest, as they say, is history.


The development of computer assisted dispatching, voice activated mobile phone technology and variety of app-driven innovations stirring up the market means that taxis have to move with the times.

Combustion engine replaced the horse and without any doubt it will be replaced by electric or something which we haven’t even thought of yet.

Self-driving vehicles are also on the horizon and the technology is evolving rapidly so it maybe the end of driving as we know it.

Who knows what the future holds.

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