Over 180 Years of History
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The concept of a taxi first appeared in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, 1533 - 1603, when the wealthy, who owned coaches, sought to recoup some of the enormous expense they incurred in keeping them, by hiring them out to aspiring but less well-heeled members of the gentry. As the coaches aged and were replaced, they were bought by innkeepers and merchants and hired out. A growing trade for carriages and their hire began. Queen Elizabeth 1 had to be encouraged to ride in carriages in her later years, preferring to ride or be carried as above.
First Cab Rank
The first recognised cab rank was established by Captain Bailey at the Maypole in the Strand (where St Mary-le-Strand church is today). Four coaches were run from here. A year later, King Charles I issued a proclamation restricting the number of Hackney coaches to just 50, and they were only allowed to pick up passengers who were travelling more than 3 miles.
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
Oliver Cromwells Act Of Parliament
It was Oliver Cromwell who set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages by Act of Parliament, and taxi driving became a profession.
According to my father, Oliver Cromwell wished to ensure carriages were regulated by yearly checks. The Coachman was required to drive to the town hall for the carriage to be checked by the wheel wright, the harness by the harness maker and the horses feet by the blacksmith. If all were approved as fit for work, a license was issued and a fee paid. Was his motive safety or another tax on a growing and lucrative industry? We will never know!
Further regulations were bought in as required to control this growing business. In 1679 ‘Conditions of Fitness’ was introduced for hackney carriages and in 1768 the number of hackney licences increases to one thousand causing considerable congestion!
Purpose Built Carriages
Joseph Hansom patents his two-wheel cabriolet (the Hansom cab) and two years later a four-wheel version follows – the ‘Clarence’, aka the ‘Growler’.
In Windsor, sights of these carriages would have been rare as the vast majority of England would travel by foot or horse and cart. Carriages such as these would have been used in the city centres by those wealthy enough to have arrived in London by Coach and Horses or their own livery.
Windsor Hackney carriage drivers would have used 'whatever they could lay their hands on at a reasonable price'. The Landau carriage is a good example of this, built in 1860 and licensed in 1890.
Windsors Cab Rank
Licensed Hackney Carriages line up outside the Curfew tower at Windsor Castle. The metal bars can still be found on the hill which were installed for the carriages to rest on and take the weight from the horses. Carriages would take passengers where-ever they wished, using The Long Walk as a thorough fare like all tradesmen.
In 1849, with the redesign of Windsor town all public traffic was prohibited from the Long Walk - however, hackney carriages were granted access and our licence was one of only twelve permitted this privilege.
In 1869 an Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate the manner in which the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.
Taxis become motorised
With the arrival of the motor vehicle, taxi licences began to be transferred from carriage to car. In fact the first motorcar in England was bought by Evelyn Ellis (pictured) in 1895 who lived just 2 miles from Windsor, so we can imagine Windsorians may have been the first to see one!
Permissions to move through private estates, across England, were gradually removed for motor vehicles and in Windsor were not permitted on the Long Walk or Great Park. Only the remaining horse drawn Hackney carriage licensees retained access.
Four carriages remaining
A tourist trade in Windsor begins to grow with only four horse drawn hackney carriages remain as licences revert to motor vehicles once the licensee passed away. The cab rank in Windsor was shared between the taxi cars and carriages, with carriages allowed at the front of the que.
Pictured here is George Paget of Eton Wick (Great Uncle to me) driving The Landau which we still have. This carriage was first licensed in 1910 and you can read more here.
The licensees were:
1. Conrad and Marcus Ford of Eton Wick who drove with their single horse Bunty. Known as The Ford Brothers.
2 and 3. George (pictured) and my dad John Seear.
3. A driver we only knew as Doctor Death, which is another story!
The last hackney carriage
As regular taxi work dried up with the car and train taking most passengers in and out of Windsor, the tourist trade soon grew to be the main carriage business. We were often called upon for town activities such as Father Christmas processions or opening of a new store, such as Fenwicks, where Prince Charles paid a visit to the Hackney carriage as pictured.
We slowly became the last carriage in the town to operate under the original 1654 licensing issued by Oliver Cromwell. But diversification was needed to survive!
The 'Cab Rank' is closed
In 2002, retired Hackney Carriage Drivers, Marcus and Conrad Ford, campaigned with my father for further licenses. They had recognised the growing tourism trade this would serve. However their campaign with the council was not successful. The horse drawn taxi rank outside the Curfew Tower was closed and the last remaining carriage (John Seear, left) was moved to Castle Hill. This followed quite a few years of being moved around the town as it got busier. For a few years dad shared the same 'spot' as the sightseeing buses. A particularly difficult time seeing our horses standing amongst the heavy and growing levels of traffic.
1936 remains the year the last licence for a horse-drawn hackney carriage was issued. New licenses holders can apply under more recent horse and carriage regulations but are limited to public roads only.
In 2013 due to my fathers poor health I quit my job as Head of EU Operations for Amazon Prime and rejoined dad on the carriages. Dad added me to the license allowing me to drive on The Long Walk with him and I created the website, branding and business you can book today and most importantly persuaded dad to trial pre booked trips from outside The Castle. This provided a more peaceful location for the horses and allowed us to better manage our time and the work schedule of each horse. Gone were the days sitting in the town waiting for trips. Sadly, I lost my dad, John Seear, in 2015, and as you will learn on our tours, he certainly left quite a legacy.
Windsor and Englands last Horse drawn taxi continues!