The cabbie and the lady who knew too much



The case that the Morning Post’s reporter chose to relate to his readers from the Westminster Police Court on the 6 February 1875 was a rather complicated, but interesting one.

It involved a cab driver and a well-informed female legal expert.

Caroline Prodgers summoned a cab from her Barnet home to take her to Belgrave Square where she had an appointment at the Austrian Embassy. On the route the cab passed the up the Strand, stopped at the Haymarket for half an hour (on her instruction) before waiting at Belgrave Square for three-quarters of an hour.

She then asked him to take her to Victoria Station and wait again. However, the cabbie (Benjamin Coombe) now informed her that he could drive her no further. His explanation was that he: ‘had completed over an hour in time and distance, and, besides, his horse, which had been out some hours, was jaded and required rest’.

Mrs Prodgers was not at all happy with this and refused to pay him his fare (and apparently she had great difficulty finding another cab to complete her journey). In consequence Coombe summoned her to Westminster Police Court to have Mr. Arnold (the magistrate) adjudicate on the dispute).

Mr. Arnold said that as far as he understood the law of the day the cabbie was within his rights. ‘by distance he was not compelled to drive more than six miles, and by time not more than an hour’. However, Mrs Prodgers believed she knew better, being a student of the law.

She stated that he had not completed the six miles (the waiting time, she added, was irrelevant, as they cab was not moving). As to whether the horse was tired, well he had not mentioned that to her.

Mr. Coombes argued, quite reasonably I think, that waiting time was crucial. Otherwise a ‘fare’ might take a cab at 9 in the morning and keep it out all day if they didn’t travel the full mileage. Really, he should have discharged Mrs Prodgers at Belgrave Square and gone home to rest his horse but he couldn’t because by then she was in the embassy.

At witness at Victoria (a constable named Chadd) said Mrs Prodger’s antics at Victoria had caused a disturbance which was only resolved when she found a cab to take her way. This probably cemented her resolve to resist paying Coombe what he was owed.

In the end the magistrate fudged it a little. He ordered the lady to pay her fare but said that Coombe could have presented his case better. He therefore only awarded 2s costs on top of the 2s 6d fare owed. For Coombe this probably meant that his day in court cost him in lost business, because on the day he had collected Mrs Prodger he had already earned 11s (£25) and could perhaps have hoped to have made twice that in a day.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, February 06, 1875]

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