This new infographic from The Taxi Centre takes a look at over 2000 years of the taxi industry. We know what you’re thinking; getting talking about politics or the weather with a cab driver can sometimes make a cab journey feel over 2000 years long. But hear us out. Taxis can be interesting, we assure you.
To prove it, take a look at what they used back in Ancient Rome; something called a lectica. It’s basically just a chair, carried by slaves. We image that was all very well for the leisurely classes who could use it, but if you’re looking to get home after a heavy night on the wine down the coliseum, it’s hardly the fastest way of travelling. But, although grossly inhumane and wildly inefficient, it’s pretty interesting, right?
In the middle ages things start to turn a little more sensible, in the respect that hiring unpaid, forced labour to get you from A to B was kind of not really on. It wasn’t that the lower classes had any more freedom, or that slaves no longer existed. Just that people seemed to realise that riding a horse would perhaps get you where you wanted to be a little faster than getting a couple of malnourished subjects to physically carry you there. And so we see the clever Normans introduce the Hacquenée, a horse specifically bred for riding that could be hired out for individual use. A bit of info for all the petrol heads waiting for the car bit of this article; the Hacquenée came with a whopping horsepower of 1.
Over the next 700 years or so, people really started to get the gist of this taxi thing. The Tudors introduced the horse and carriage to the world, the spark eventually leading to the foundation of the taxi industry as it is today, alongside providing the inspiration for hundreds of terrible celebrity weddings. The horse and carriage, or hackney carriage, became so prevalent that during the 17th and 18th centuries, they were dubbed “hackney hell carts” due to the sheer amount on the roads. At this time, most people thought hackney carriages were dangerous, a bit of a rip off and too lacking in regulation. Kind of how today’s hackney drivers feel about Uber.
Fast forwarding past the Victorians (who finally introduced standard fare, and cleared up the roads), we see the first signs of anything you’d actually want to hail down in the street. Petrol taxis were introduced to Britain with the French built Prunel, a cosy 4 cylinder model with a 3800 cc engine. Not exactly packed full of power, but the car does look pretty cosy, sort of like Brum, from the popular 90’s kids programme, Brum. Imagine riding home in Brum. That’d be nice.
After the Second World War, where taxis were commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service to provide help in bombed out London, we see the big boys of the trade roll out. We’re talking about Austin, and the Austin FX4 in particular. The FX4’s shape became known as the archetypal taxi, providing a body style design template still used in taxis for sale today. Until 2014, this was pretty much the only Hackney shape used in London (excluding private hire and Metrocabs), and even the proposed eco-friendly taxis set to be introduced in 2016 will follow the same template. Uber have even tried to muscle in on the cultural weight the black cab holds, launching their “UberTaxi” service on the same day London’s cab drivers brought the city to a standstill protesting the organisation.
With its long and rocky history, it’s probably pretty safe to say that the Black Cab is somewhat of a national treasure. Like Bruce Forsyth, or Gazza.