Over 180 Years of History
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The worlds oldest Hackney Cab License
With the help of local history societies and The Windsor Guildhall Museum we have been able to trace the Windsor hackney carriages from Oliver Cromwell to the present day.
Records from previous license holders and their stories from time spent with previous drivers, helped piece together the personal stories of the hackney carriage drivers.
Image of the Windsor Hackney carriages on The Windsor cab rank. Copyright Windsor & Royal Borough Museum, RBWM.
The History of Windsor Hackney Carriages
Carriage rental enterprises begin
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 taxi rank appears
The first recognised cab rank was established by Captain Bailey at the Maypole in the Strand (where St Mary le Strand church is today) in London town. 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.
Taxis became licensed
It was Oliver Cromwell who set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages by Act of Parliament, when 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 wheelwright, the harness by the harness maker, and the horses’ feet by the blacksmith. If all were approved as fit for work, a licence was issued and a fee paid. Was Oliver Cromwell’s motive safety or another tax on a growing and lucrative industry? We will never know!
Further regulations were brought in as required to control this growing business. In 1679 ‘Conditions of Fitness’ were introduced for Hackney carriages, and in 1768 the number of Hackney licences increased to one thousand, causing considerable congestion!
Coaches remain the main road user
This illustration shows 'The Original Bath Mail Coach', conceived, financed and promoted by John Palmer, a Bath businessman and theatre owner. In the 1700s the postal service was slow and unreliable, often made by children on horseback. London to Bristol post delivery times were 38 hours.
In August 1784 John Palmer's fast efficient coach service between London and Bristol via Bath had its first run. Slough was one of the stops on this 16 hour route. According to Fraser's 'The History of Slough', in the first half of the 19th century mail coaches and post-chaises passed through Slough every half-hour daily from 4 am to 6 pm.
Image copyright The Post Office.
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 were rare as the vast majority of English citizens would travel by foot or horse and cart.
Carriages such as these, were used in the city centres by those wealthy enough to arrive 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.
Horse drawn trains and trams
In 1807 the first passenger carrying public railway is opened by the Oystermouth Railway. It uses horse drawn carriages on an existing tramline.
England was at its peak capacity for horse drawn transport.
The 1820's would be heralded as the glory days before the auto and steam carriages began their replacement and eventual elimination of horse transport.
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 wherever they wished, using The Long Walk as a thoroughfare, 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 issued 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.
Horse drawn transport begins decline
Windsor was one of many towns that continues horse drawn deliveries, mainly due to tradition. One such tradesman was Mr Leslie Jones of The Token House, Windsor.
The Token House sold fine china, lead crystal glass, silver and antiques across the world and 4held Royal Warrants for the Queen, Queen mother, Prince Charles and Princess Alice.
Shown here is The Token House delivery driver John Seear, circa 1960 The image shows a delivery round coming out of The Henry VIII gate at Windsor Castle.
Four licensed carriages remain
A tourist trade in Windsor begins to grow with only four horse-drawn Hackney carriages remaining, as licences revert to motor vehicles once the licensee passes away. The cab rank in Windsor was shared between the taxi cars and carriages, with carriages allowed at the front of the queue.
Pictured here is George Paget of Eton Wick, driving The Landau which we still have.
Local brothers Conrad and Marcus Ford of Clewer also held one of the last licenses, driving their single horse Bunty.
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 Fenwick’s, 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 licence issued by Oliver Cromwell, but diversification was needed to survive!
Town trips stopped
Around this time The Long Walk became the only viable carriage route for pleasure drives.
Prior to this trips could be taken down to the river and into Eton, Dorney and surrounding areas. A charming arrangement existed where whichever driver arrived first on the rank could choose their area for the day. Neither were more lucrative that the other, but depended on the whim of the coachman. Town planning and the closure of the Eton bridge resulted in The Long Walk becoming the main town trip.
1936 remains the year the last licence for a horse-drawn Hackney carriage was issued. New licence holders can apply under more recent horse and carriage regulations, but are limited to public roads only on set routes agreed with the council.
The 'Cab Rank' is closed
Further town planning evolved and the town rank was proposed to be closed to carriages.
Retired Hackney carriage drivers, Marcus and Conrad Ford, campaigned with the current licensee John Seear for further licences; they 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 town planning required. For several years the carriages shared the same 'spot' as the sightseeing buses.
License handed to next generation
Heading into his 'eightieth decade,' as Joh Seear liked to say, a decision was made to hand the license onto the next generation, his daughter Rebecca, with kind permission of The Crown estate.
Changes were made such as introducing advance booking where guests would meet the carriage within the park. This provided a more peaceful location for the horses, and allowed an improved work schedule of each horse.
Gone were the days sitting in the town waiting for trips. John Seear, passed away in 2016, but with his service for over 50 years, Windsor and England’s last horse-drawn taxi continues!
New horses and carriages
Our new horses and carriages arrived in 2019 with new coachman also joining The Windsor Carriage company.
We welcomed many more international guests and provided multi language tour guides on carriages. Windsor Carriages proudly provided press trips during the Royal Weddings.
Fund raising also began with the aim to restore the Landau carriage to The Long Walk. The Landau was first licensed as a hackney carriage in 1860 and ran until the early 2000's.