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, 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!
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.
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.
Four carriages remaining
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 (Great Uncle to me), driving The Landau which we still have.
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 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!
The 'Cab Rank' is closed
In 2002, retired Hackney carriage drivers, Marcus and Conrad Ford, campaigned with my father 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 it got busier. For several years my 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 licence holders can apply under more recent horse and carriage regulations, but are limited to public roads only.
In 2013, due to my father’s 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 licence, allowing me to drive on The Long Walk with him, and I created the website, branding and business you can book today. More importantly, I 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 2016, and as you will learn on our tours, he certainly left quite a legacy.
Windsor and England’s last horse-drawn taxi continues!