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Ep 150 - Black Cabs - Hop in, let's go!

Icons of London, and Ollie - our favourite cabbie.

This week Alex talks to Ollie from Discover Real London about all things Cab shaped.

19th Century Hackney Carriage

Let's start with the shape - and how it has changed over the years. Cabs were originally carriages. A side hustle if you like, as the fares earned were a good way to offset the cost of owning a carriage. Hackney Carriages, probably nothing to do with the borough of Hackney, thought to be named for a french breed of horse (haquenee).

The word cab also comes from France - the two wheeled Cabriole.

Then along came Mr Hansom, who designed a new type of two wheeler. Lighter, faster - but the the cabman is still exposed to the elements. It was a huge success. Did Mr Hansom do well out of it?

Warwick Avenue shelter Oyxman - CC BY 2.5

We still have 13 Cabman's shelters in London. Taking the space of one horse and cab, these were set up to provide a place for cabbies to shelter from the weather, to eat and drink - hot drinks (Not Alcohol!). Ordinary folk can still buy a cuppa from the window, but only cabbies can go inside to eat. Unless......

Unless you are Lionel Richie!

When a world famous musician finds a way in, they still have to make the tea!

We're moving with the times - more and more cabs are becoming electric. Just as they first did in 1897. Yes, 1897. I know! 13 of the Bersey or Hummingbird cabs plied their trade around London at the turn of the century. But the small range, and the costs meant they weren't viable and it's taken 100 years for electricity to make a comeback.

Bersey or Hummingbird cab on 1897

One thing we can rely on. The cabman him or herself. From the first rank introduced in 1634, to the elaborate licensing system of today, it's long been a well regulated trade. Cabbies are required to complete The Knowledge - learning all 26,000 of the streets of London within a six mile radius of Charing Cross.

A six mile radius of Charing Cross - looks like this

And - for good measure - any places of interest within a 12 mile zone. No wonder their brains are different to the rest of us. Scientific studies have proved it.

So next time you are in London, hop in a cab. Sit back relax, enjoy the ride knowing the cab can turn on a sixpence and the driver knows which way to go. And if you want to explore London with a guide - we might well hop in a cab to whisk you around town. Or book a tour with Ollie, and he'll show you the sights.

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