Tuesday, 18 February 2020 12:13

The Potted History Tours vehicle is a retired London Taxi LTI TX1

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The Potted History Tours taxi The Potted History Tours taxi

It's part of who we are and what we're about....it's unique, iconic and even a bit eccentric.

So what's it like driving around in a London taxi? Outside of London, you get a lot of attention, especially from little kids, who absolutely love catching sight of one. So often I see a small person on the pavement jumping up and down, pointing and shouting....at least I think it's because of the taxi and not because I have two heads!

It's a different vehicle to drive....the driver's position is nice and high so you can see what's going on around and ahead of you. Super sleek low-slung sports cars may be touted as the ultimate driving experience, but not for me...nuh uh. I'd rather not feel like I'm lying on the actual road.

It's also very useful for moving stuff: furniture, bikes, plants.....I once even transported a fully unfolded 6 man tent (one of those pop-up ones) as we couldn't work out how pack it up again!

My children (and their friends) love travelling in the cab, chatting away as they all face each other. There's inevitably a scramble for the flip up 'jump seats'....who knows why, but they are definitely the most desirable seat to score. And if things get too rowdy in the back, I can pull the glass screen closed, turn off the intercom mike and drive along in blissful silence (well, apart from the noise of the diesel engine anyway). I feel very cosy in my cab, and enjoy driving it. If you're a speed freak, this is not the vehicle for you, but it's perfect if you want a slice of pure British history.

Some interesting facts about London taxis and their origins:

  • Originally, taxis were referred to as hackneys, a term which originated from the Norman French word ‘hacquenée’ referring to a horse that was available to hire. It literally means “ambling nag”, and the term continues to be used today, with traditional black taxis still referred to as ‘hackney cabs’.
  • Hackney coaches first appeared on the streets of London in the mid-1600s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. At the time, buying and maintaining a coach and team of horses was rather expensive, and so to offset the cost, many wealthy coach owners hired them out to members of the gentry for use.
  • After the English Civil War, in 1654 Oliver Cromwell set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages by Act of Parliament, and taxi driving became a profession. This makes the licensed taxi trade the oldest regulated public transport system in the world.
  • The origins of 'Cab' are in 18th century France, from the verb 'cabrioler' - ‘to leap in the air’. A 'Cabriolet' was a light two-wheeled carriage with a hood, drawn by one horse and was so named because of the carriage's motion. It quickly became known as a ‘cab' - with drivers referred to as ‘cabbies'.
Bersey Electric Cab
The Bersey Electric Cab
  • The Bersey Electric Cab was the first electric taxi to appear on London's streets way back in 1897. Invented by Walter Bersey, they had a top speed of 12 mph and could carry two passengers. They were popular at first and were nicknamed "hummingbirds" due to the sound their electric motors made and their distinctive black and yellow livery. Bersey extolled the advantages of his invention: "there is no smell, no noise, no heat, no vibration, no possible danger, and it has been found that vehicles built on this company's system do not frighten passing horses". However, Bersey Cabs proved to be uneconomical as they were much heavier than horse-drawn cabs and so the solid rubber tyres wore out fairly quickly. Their batteries were expensive to replace and recharge, and barely lasted a day of service. Frequent breakdowns also resulted in loss of earnings. The cabs were withdrawn in August 1899, barely 2 years after they first appeared, and electric cabs did not return to the streets of London until the Nissan Dynamo was introduced in October 2019.
  • The word “taxi” comes from 'taximeter', the counter used to measure miles traveled and calculate the relevant fare. They came into use at the beginning of the 1900s. Over the next few years, the taxi trade exploded in popularity, though it came close to ruin many times, first following industrial action by cab drivers in 1911, by fuel shortages in 1913 and later by the outbreak of both World Wars.
  • Young men who were fit enough to drive taxis for a living were deemed fit enough to fight for their country and so most drivers were called up to serve in the army, while production of the vehicles themselves ground to a halt as factories across the country were converted to produce munitions.
  • Black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 feet. The reason for this is supposedly to allow them to navigate the small roundabout at the entrance of London's Savoy Hotel. This turning radius later became legally required of all London taxis. The Savoy is the one place in London where vehicles drive on the right, and passengers would sit behind the driver so that they could alight or board on the side facing the hotel.
  • To become an All-London taxi driver or Green badge holder you need to master no fewer than 320 basic routes, all of the 25,000 streets that are scattered within the basic routes and approximately 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest that are located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. This is known as 'doing The Knowledge'.
  • It takes the average person between 2 and 4 years to learn The Knowledge.
  • The term "butter boy" means a newly qualified taxi driver who has recently passed The Knowledge. There are numerous theories as to where the term comes from, but most believe it's because older cabbies used to accuse new drivers of pinching their ‘bread and butter’ work.
  • The cabbie's slang term for the Houses of Parliament is 'the gas works'. How fitting.
London Cab
A London Taxi

I do hope to be driving a cab for a while yet. I have a genuine affection for these unique vehicles and I love the fact that they are so well-designed for the purpose they serve.

The dream in fact, is to own one of the brand new electric taxis with all its bells and whistles: Wi-Fi, phone charging, six passenger seats, glass roof...I go misty-eyed at the thought.

Now, if only I could find a spare £57 000 down the back of the sofa to buy one!

Read 10344 times Last modified on Monday, 27 April 2020 17:35

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