London:Hackeney Coach

From Marteau

Hackney coaches (in the sense of this article just the horse-drawn type of the pre-electric times) were introduced in London some time before 1654 when first regulations seem to be documented. These coaches used to go through the cities of London and Westminster, transporting passengers. In this function they were similar to Hackney Chairs and the Waterman.

By 1707, “Parker’s ephemeris for the year of our Lord 1707” states that “let the Weather be Wet or Dry, or the Time be Day or Night, ‘tis the same” – the hackney coaches will operate. The usual process of going by hackney is as follows: 1) get into coach; 2) tell the driver the destination; 3) be taken there; 4) pay the fare according to the established fares.

Licensing history: On June 23, 1654, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell issued an “Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney Coach-Men in London and the places adjacent” due to their “great irregularity” [1]: From 24th of June 1654, within a radius of six miles, the number of hackney coaches operating was limited to not exceed 200 at any time; the total number of different coaches used to not exceed 300 and the number of horses used to not exceed 600. The governing of the hackney coaches is given to the Council of Alderman which was given power to regulate the places of standing of the coaches, rates of carriages, penalties for disobedience etc. Changes to existing rules were to be presented to the Lord Protector regularly.

The task of choosing the first 200 coachmen was given to the first 13 explicitly named Master Coachmen who were the first thirteen of said 200: Benjamin Francis, Andrew Clark, John Saltmarsh, Arthur Willis, Thomas Stephens, Anthony Hart, William Hockley, Thomas Graham, William Deacon, William Norwell, John Bray, Richard Heyborn, and William Clark. Those thirteen were to select 200 additional men to present them to the Court of Aldermen in order for the Court to choose 187 of them to get to the number of 200. Each of these coachmen and every coachman nominated afterwards had to pay the initial sum of 40 shillings. If a coachman died or moved away, the Master Coachmen had to present to the Court of Aldermen (at regular intervals) two men for each one deceased or removed to fill the vacant position. The Court of Aldermen added to the rules and specified certain cases on 19th of December in the same year. [2] (…)

1662, Charles II proclaims that from the 5th of May only licensed drivers are allowed to operate in and around London. Their number should not exceed 400. Maximum fares were explicitly stated (see table below) by a forfeiture of 10 shillings for each offense. If the commissioners appointed for licensing the coaches licensed more than 400, they were liable for a 100 pound fine per coach exceeding 400.[3]

This Act apparently expired in "1679 or 1680" which gave way to severe problems. A certain Mr. Murray was appointed by the 400 coach men to further their causes, quintessentially to renew the previous act, but did not do much to help them. On the contrary he at some point started to negotiate with interlopers and arranged business for them. The 400 coachman finally wrote to James II to complain about it detailling the whole course of events and giving reasons for restraining the number of coachmen to 400: many of them had to sell licenses already for the upkeep cost of their horses and coaches. The about 200 interlopers (and not 1200 to 1400 as Murry said, counting all replacement horses and coaches) meant ruin for the licensed drivers because it might be true that the city grew but at the same time, the nobility mostly used private coaches. The figure of those private coaches was now 30 times bigger than when the 400 coachmen were originally licensed. [4]

On the 25th of November 1687 James II seems to have reacted to this complaint. He appoints new commissioners and forbids driving without license from the 10th of December onwards. The rules for coachmen are not changed. [5]

From 24th of June 1715, 800 hackney coaches – 100 more than before - were authorized under the Great Seal to drive “within the Parishes and Places comprised within the Weekly Bills of Mortality” for 32 years. Licenses for a hackney coach were acquired from the commissioner and cost 50l fine, payable upon buying of a license, and 5s per week in monthly payment for a license for 21 years. These licenses could now be bequeathed by will since 1716 (see below). The punishment for operating without licence was severe: the offender was charged a fine of 5 pounds. By then, it was compulsory for every coach to wear its number on tin plates, 6 ¼ inches broad and 9 ½ inches long on each side. Furthermore, no coachman was to conceal or disfigure himself by a fine of 5 pounds. One fourth of the 800 coaches had to ply every Sunday, by turns. Offenders were again charged five pounds. Horses were regulated as well and must not be below 14 hands of height.

In 1716, some hackney coach men formed a complaint basically stating that the charges were too high and could ruin the owner of a license respective his family and especially in the case of death. The complaint was quickly addressed with a Bill of Relief that granted the licence of a deceased coachman to his child or wife if it was requested. Several other points were addressed as well. Among granting power to fine certain offences to the Commissioners, the bill made swearing and not giving way to respectable persons an offence (but states no fine).

Rates: The rates for Hackney-Coaches in London were first settled by Parliament by Stat. 5 and 6 and read as follows:

For one Day of 12 Hours100
For One Hour16
For every Hour after the first10
From any of the Inns of Court to any part of St. James’s or City of Westminst. Except beyond Tuttlestreet10
From the Inns of Court, or thereabouts to the Royal-Exchange10
From any of the Inns of Court to the Tower, Aldgate, Bishopgate-Street, or thereabouts16

Those established fares seem to have been often overcharged. Customers are explicitly told not to argue with the hackney driver. Instead, they should take his name and the number of the coach in order to report at the Office for Licensing of Hackney Coaches, which was located in Surrey Street in the Strand. Should a driver charge more than the given fees, he was liable to a forfeit of 40 Shillings for each offence, half of which were given to the customer.

In 1712 an addition to these fares was made: no driver should take more then 1s for any distance not exceeding 1 ½ miles and not more than 18d for a distance not exceeding 2 miles. At this time, the commissioners have the distances in London officially been measured. In the 1712 edition of the ephemeris and further editions, there are some rough guidelines for the most frequent distances.

Primary Sources

  • [1] A catalogue and collection of all those ordinances, proclamations, declarations, &c. which have been printed and published since the government was established in his highness the Lord Protector: from Decemb. 16. 1653 unto Septemb. 3. 1654. MOME
  • [2] Rules, directions and by-laws, devised, and made by the Court of aldermen of the city of London, by vertue of the late ordinance of His Highnesse the Lord Protector, with consent of his Councell; for regulation of hackney coachmen, within the said city, and places adjacent. [London], [1654]. MOME
  • [3] De Laune, Thomas. The present state of London: Or, memorials comprehending a full and succinct account of the ancient and modern state thereof. London, 1681. MOME
  • [4] The Case of the four hundred coach-men now licenced to drive for hire in London, and the suburbs thereof. [London], [1688?]. // Note: To me it seems more probable that this non-dated paper dates back to 1687. It must have been printed after August 4 since events of that date are mentioned; the act of James II later this year remedies the drivers' situation though, making it improbable that this was printed the next year, cf. above. MOME
  • [5] By the king, A proclamation for restraining the number and abuses of hackney coaches in and about the cities of London and Westminster, and the suburbs thereof, and parishes comprised within the bills of mortality. London, 1687. MOME
  • England and Wales. Sovereign (1660-1685: Charles II), By the King. A proclamation to restrain the abuses of hackney coaches in the cities of London, and Westminster, and the suburbs thereof (London, 1660). MOME [To solve the traffic problem problem: Hackney coaches must not wait for customers in streets, but in stables]
  • England and Wales. Sovereign (1685-1688 : James II), By the king, A proclamation for restraining the number and abuses of hackney coaches in and about the cities of London and Westminster, and the ...' (London, 1687). MOMO [The problem as it existed in 1660 has not been solved, the regulation finds a new edition, yearly licenses to be applied for implemented. See 1688.]
  • The Case of the four hundred coach-men now licenced to drive for hire in London, and the suburbs thereof ([London], [1688?]). MOMO [Reaction on the 1687 regulation: 400 coach drivers applied for licenses, ready to pay 5 l. per year.]
  • The Case of the proprietors and drivers of stage coaches, to and from the several villages, within ten miles round the cities of London and ... [n.p.], [169-?]. MOMO [Refers to the 1687-regulation, offers information on price-range]
  • Crosfeild, Robert. Justice perverted, and innocence & loyalty oppressed. Or, a detection of the corruptions of some persons in places of great trust in the ... (London, 1695), MOMO [p.24: The licecensing of Hackney Coaches has turned into a corrupt business]
  • A View of the penal laws concerning trade and trafick, alphabetically disposed under proper heads. Wherein, for that purpose are collected all ... (London, 1697). MOMO [Trade regulations of diverse branches of business]
  • Souligné, de, A comparison between old Rome in its glory, as to the extent and populousness, and London as it is at present. By a person of quality ... London, 1706. MOMO [Among other things astonished that we read nothing of roman post services or hackney coaches]
  • Miege, Guy, The present state of Great Britain. In two parts. The I. Of South Britain. II. Of North Britain. Containing an accurate and impartial account of ... (London, 1707). 730pp. MOMO [offers general information with special chapters on London]
  • The Hackney coachmens case. Humbly presented to the honourable House of commons; with a proposal to raise for her Majesty 200000 l. per annum ([n.p.], [1711?]). 1pp. MOMO [Corruption after the 1693 decision to license 700 Hackney coaches]
  • The Case of John Nicholson, Walter Storey, William Hudson, Richard Hatt, and Samuel Walters, in behalf of themselves, and the first 400 ancient ... ([n.p.], [1711]). 1pp. MOMO on the first 400 licensed Hackney Coaches]
  • Commissioners Authorized and Appointed for Licensing and Regulating Hackney-Coaches and Chairs. The rates for hackney-coaches and chairs. London, 1711. 1pp. MOMO
  • Trusler, John. The London adviser and guide: containing every instruction and information useful and necessary to persons living in London, and coming to reside (London, 1586 [1786]). 214pp. MOMO [p.98 ff.: Carmen and Coaches]