The tables are turned on a gentleman whose pockets are empty


A refusal to pay a cab fare was a common enough reason to find a person in court in the nineteenth century. Cab drivers were quite vulnerable to being short-changed or simply to customers that claimed not to have any money. Given that many of their clients were wealthy this was sometimes just a temporary inconvenience as the driver could take an address and visit the following day to be paid. Not everyone that looked wealthy was of course and appearances could be deceptive.

Captain E. W. Pearce was a gentleman and would have been admitted into society as such. Yet he was also a gentleman who was in considerable debt, a situation that seemed not to bother him over much as he continued to live on credit, presumably hoping that his creditors would never catch up with him.

In February 1838 the captain was in court at Bow Street to prosecute a cab driver who he said had ‘created a disturbance in the street’. In reality however, it was Pearce’s refusal (or inability) to pay the driver that had resulted in the altercation and the arrival of a crowd of people.

As the report noted:

The Captain ‘had hired the cab for the purpose of making a few visits, and when done with it he found on searching the pockets of his inexpressibles to the furthest corner that he had nothing to pay the fare’.

The driver wasn’t at all happy with this and an argument ensured. This drew a crowd and, feeling threatened, Captain Pearce flagged a nearby policeman and had the cabbie arrested. At Bow Street Sir Frederick Roe sided with the cab driver, telling the captain that he should have paid the man. He released the cab driver after dismissing the charge but this wasn’t enough for the driver who was still out of pocket for an afternoon’s work.

Well, Sir Frederick said, you should summon him for the non-payment of the fare.

‘I can’t summon him, your worship. No one knows where he lives. He owes everyone’.

Captain Pearce then refused to give his address but said if the driver gave him his he would make sure he received his money within a week. The cabbie grumbled that he’d rather have the captain’s address, so he could summon him. At this, and ‘finding the tables turned’ the military man beat a hasty retreat and the reporter noted that ‘when he again tries to hire a cab to pay his visits he will carry his purse about with him probably’.

Probably indeed.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 19, 1838]

‘I believe this to be an act of extortion’: a cab driver and his passenger clash at the Guildhall.


So, Cabbies, how long would you wait for a fare to come back and pay you?

John White drove a hansom cab in 1856 (cab no. 3,264) and he had a fairly regular customer in Mr Kelly, a Holborn surgeon. It was often the case that the medical man asked White to wait for him, usually for a few minutes but on one occasion for up to an hour.

So when he’d ferried the doctor to his destination from his Fetter Lane residence and been left waiting again, White did so. He’d dropped his passenger off at 2.45 in Blackfriars but after the man had ran off he saw nothing of him. The cabbie waited; an hour passed, then another and it was only when the clock sounded nine in the evening that White gave up and moved off.

He’d waited over six hours to get his payment and decided to summon the surgeon to court to extract the fare plus the waiting time, which he put at 12and sixpence.

The case came up before Alderman Carter at the Guildhall Police court in the City. White made his case and the magistrate questioned him. Why had he waited so long, he wanted to know, did he know the gentleman well?

Yes, I know him well. I have taken him twenty times before. I waited, thinking he would come back, but, finding he did not come, I sent  a man to his house to see if it were right to wait any longer’.

Next he turned to Kelly to see whether he could offer any explanation for the accusation that he’d run off without paying what he owed. He could:

I certainly did run away when I got out of the cab’, he admitted, presumably because he was racing to a medical emergency. ‘but before doing so, I put my hand through the door at the top of the cab, and placed a shilling on the roof for the complainant’s fare’.

So he had paid, he insisted, but had White seen him do so, or collected the money? Seemingly not. The alderman wondered if the coin had rolled off. The doctor was adamant that the cab driver would have noticed however: ‘he could see my hand’, he declared and suggested White was try to get more money out of him than was reasonable.

I believe this to be an act of extortion’, he said, ‘and therefore it is I defend it at great inconvenience to myself’.

However, he admitted that he’d not seen the cabbie take the shilling so could not be sure that he had, in reality, paid him.

Alderman Carter decided on a compromise. He told White that while waiting for so long was ‘ridiculous’, he might have been justified in waiting two hours and so he was entitled to claim the fare for that, which was 4s. In addition he could have his fare (sixpence) and costs of 2for the summons.

The surgeon seemed satisfied with this and paid immediately, donating a further 10sto the Poor Box. What White thought of it is not recorded but I doubt he’d be driving the good doctor around again anytime soon.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, September 17, 1856]

Plenty of sympathy but no justice for a Hackney cab driver


This case shows how statute law sometimes clashed with popular perceptions of how justice should work, even when the supposed ‘keeper’ of the law (the magistrate) felt that the law was wrong, or at least not fit for purpose.

William Loakes was a cab driver from Rotherhithe and this was his third appearance before the Southwark Police Court magistrate. Cabbies didn’t have a very good reputation in the 1800s, being described as surly and disrespectful, especially towards wealthier clients. They were not infrequently accused of overcharging or refusing to take fares where they requested to go.

But Loakes had done nothing wrong and had been coming to court to seek redress. He claimed he was owed 10s by a man named Thomas who had given his address asBor the Nag’s Head pub in Borough. He had come twice before to get a summons against the man but so far he had failed to trace him. No one  at the pub had any knowledge of him so William was back in court to ask for a warrant to arrest him.

The Warrant officer of the court told the magistrate that two summons had been served at the address but since ‘Mr Thomas’ (if that was his name) was not there they’d had to return with them. Mr Bridge was apologetic but explained that he didn’t have the power to issue a general warrant to arrest the fare dodger since that wasn’t a crime under the terms of the Hackney Carriage Act. The act, passed in 1853, set out plenty of regulations for the operators of cabs but failed (in Mr Bridge’s view) to protect the drivers from non-payment by their customers.

‘Cabmen were liable to severe penalties if they broke their contracts, and the parties that hired them should be treated the same way’, said Mr Bridge. He added – using the fact that his words would be reported – that he thought it high time Parliament looked at the law and changed it according to give magistrates more powers to deal with this.

There was little he could do for Mr Loakes however, who had already lost three days work sitting around in Police Courts trying to get his 10s. He suggested the matter be communicated to the Commissioner of Police in the hopes he might use his influence to get the law changed. Finally, he granted the cabbie a third summons for free and Mr Loakes left court after thanking the magistrates ‘for his kindness’ (but probably grumbling under his breath about the unfairness of it all – he was a London cabbie after all).

[from The Standard, Friday, February 02, 1883]

An unfortunate cabbie picks a fight he can’t win

hansom cab

On Saturday 7 October 1854 Henry Young, a currier from Westminster, hired a hansom cab to take him to a number of appointments across London. He was picked up in Victoria Street and finally set down at the Royal Military College in Chelsea.

The cab driver, John Blake, then asked him for 7s and 6d for the fare. Young now attempted to bargain with him, offering just 5s instead, which Blake refused. Either not wishing to pay more, or not having the money, the currier offered to leave the driver his name and address and made to walk away.

However, as he moved away from the Royal College Blake followed after him and started to attract a crowd around him. In the end there were upwards of 50 or 60 people harassing the currier, and presumably plenty of verbal abuse was directed at him. When Young hailed another cab Blake told the driver that he wouldn’t get paid, recounting what had heaped to him. Not surprisingly the cabbie refused to take the fare and poor Young was obliged to continue on foot.

When he reached the King’s Arms on Sloane Square the currier ducked inside, followed by the cabbie. Now Blake demanded his address, which Young wrote down on a  piece of paper for him, and then smacked him in the face with his fist and called him ‘an _______ thief’, who ‘wanted to cheat him’.

This was both a physical assault and a public insult and so Young was determined to prosecute his assailant. The case was brought beforeMr Arnold at Westminster Police Court. Despite there being some reasonable grounds for provocation (Young hadn’t paid the cabbie the full fare – or any fare it seems) the magistrate suspended his license for three months and sent him to prison for four weeks.

This is an example of the courts displaying a clear class bias; had Young not been a ‘respectable’ merchant with probably links to the City guilds I suspect he would have been prosecuted for not payment of his fare and Blake merely admonished for resorting to violence. As it was it the cabbie had overstepped the bounds of deference, and had assaulted one of his ‘betters’. We should remember that cab drivers then had a very poor reputation in certain quarters – especially amongst the magistracy and police who saw them as surly at best and disrespectful of ‘polite society’.

How things have changed…

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, October 12, 1854]

p.s The Kings Arms is no longer a pub but the building still exists next to Sloane Square tube station; I think it is a restaurant today.

A returning hero of the Syrian war is robbed and left in a London gutter


HMS Powerful

In 1840 Britain was embroiled in war in the middle east, fighting at sea off the coast of Syria in the Egyptian-Ottoman War (1839-41). Britain was allied to Turkey and when the the Ottoman fleet surrendered to the Egyptians at Alexandria the Royal navy entered the fray. A naval blockade, led by the British with support from the Austrian Empire, eventually secured a truce and the return of the Turkish vessels. A peace treaty followed in which the chief British negotiator was Admiral Charles Napier who managed to get the Egyptian ruler, Muhammed Ali, to renounce his claims to Syria in return for British recognition of his legitimate right to rule Egypt.

Napier had established his reputation in June 1839 (when he was plain Captain Napier) by bringing his command, HMS Powerful, to the defence of Malta when it was threatened by Egyptian forces. HMS Powerfulan 84-gun second rate ship of the line went on to lay a significant role in the war, being part of the force that bombarded Acre ultimately allowing Allied force to occupy the city.

So the Powerful  and the men that served on her were valorised as heroes and one of those men was Henry Collier, who returned to England in 1841 after being wounded in the conflict. Collier had been treated at the navy Haslar hospital at Gosport ‘in consequence of wounds sustained in actions on the coast of Syria, but by July 1841 he was in London.

As part of his recuperation able-seaman Collier decided he would take in the sights of the capital and headed for the Surrey Theatre with ‘a messmate’. He took his naval kitbag with him which contained some new clothes he had bought in town to ‘take into the country’, and his retirement from service.

Collier found the entertainment boring however, and left the theatre hailing a cab. He got talking to the cabman and the latter invited the sailor to join him and a fellow driver for a few drinks. Soon Collier was on a pub cruise with William Collison and John Stone and quite the worse for drink. He anded over a guinea to Collison to pay for his travel but only got 56s in change, not nearly enough. However by this stage the sailor was ‘so groggy’ that he didn’t really notice.

He was soon abandoned by the pair and when he was found, dead drunk on the street by a policeman, he had no money and no bundle of clothes. He described the men and they were soon apprehend and the whole case was taken before the police magistrate at Union Hall.

When the evidence was presented to him, the magistrate (Mr Cottingham) described it as a ‘scandalous robbery’ and asked if any of Collier’s possessions had been found in the possession of the cab drivers. They hadn’t the police replied, but Collison was discovered to have considerable funds on him, 10s 6d in fact. The cabbie, never the most popular figure in the pages of the Victorian press, claimed that this was simply his daily earnings for his trade. He not only denied stealing the sailor’s money or bundle of clothes but said that when he had picked him up he had nothing but the clothes he stood up in.

Had the sailor already lost his kit bag, was he drunk before he met up with the drivers? Both were possible of course but Collier ‘persisted in the truth of his account’. It was a familiar story of an unwary visitor to the capital being parted from his wealth by the locals and sadly, there was little in the way of proof on either side. It would probably come down to reputation and the appearance of anyone that could verify either of the conflicting accounts. Mr Cottingham therefore chose to remand the cabbies while other witnesses for the prosecution (or defence) could be found.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, July 5, 1841]

A cabbie pushes his luck at Bow Street


When Julius Beale hailed  a cab at Regent’s Circus at 1 in the morning it is fair to say he was a little the worse for drink. As the cab headed off towards his home in Gower Street, Beale fell asleep and didn’t wake until he was dimply aware of being outside his front door. While his head was clouded by the alcohol he had consumed he felt sure he’d paid the driver and made it up the stairs to his front door. However, as the cab pulled off he was suddenly aware that his watch – an expensive gold time piece – was missing. Assuming he had left it in the cab or it had been lifted while he slept, he ran after the vehicle. Eventually a passing policeman helped him stop the driver. The cab was searched and his watch and chain was discovered under the seat.

The next morning Beale, the policeman and the cab driver were all in the Bow Street Police Court where a charge of theft was brought against the driver, John Leggatt.

Having heard Beale’s evidence Leggatt’s lawyer, Mr Abrams, cross-examined the prosecutor.  Crucially of course he had been inebriated and therefore his testimony was fairly suspect at best. Could he really recall exactly what had happened? Had he in fact even paid the fare for his journey? An alternative scenario was presented in which Beale was actually running away from the cab driver who was demanding his money.

The policeman confirmed Beale’s account of the events but this didn’t include any evidence that Leggatt had stolen the watch or that Beale had paid him for the ride. It merely confirmed that the ‘cabman was driving away at a trot, pursued [it seemed] by the prosecutor’.

As far as Mr Henry, the Bow Street magistrate, was concerned there was not enough evidence either to convict Leggatt in a summary court or send him for jury trial. He concluded that:

 ‘the circumstances of the case were very suspicious, but drunken men sometimes did very strange things, and it was quite possible that the prosecutor might have put the watch and chain under the seat himself. At all events no jury would convict the prisoner on the evidence of a drunken man’.

And so he discharged him.

At this Abram decided to push his (or rather his client’s) luck. He said he hoped that Beale would now settle his fare. Mr Henry strongly advised Beale not to however. The cabbie had been driving away at a trot and this seemed suspicious if he hadn’t been paid. He should have at least have taken the man’s address and best practice would have been to drive him directly to the ‘station-house, that the [police] inspector might settle any dispute’.

The magistrate invited Mr Abrams to apply for a summons if he wished to take it further but he declined, given what he had heard from the justice. His client however, was much less easily dissuaded and did apply for one. Mr Henry told him he ‘could have the summons if he liked but it would probably not succeed, as he (Mr Henry) had very little doubt he had been paid’. Reflecting on this Leggatt chose to cut his losses and not spend his money on a summons that was doomed to fail.

Was Leggatt a thief? Possibly, or perhaps he saw the dropped watch and thought he’d take advantage of the windfall. Was Beale a fare-dodger? Again, how can we know that? In all likelihood he did pay or the cab driver would have pursued him on the night. The moral is probably don’t get into a cab when you’re drunk.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, May 17, 1862]

Last night I went to a London Historians event at the Sir Christopher Hatton pub in Leather Lane where we were entertained by an excellent musician Henry Skewes (who set old ballads about convict transportation to music) and two fascinating talks on the history of crime. The first, by Dr Lucy Williams of Liverpool University, focused on the life of one woman convicted at the Old Bailey in 1876. Lucy, and the other speaker, Professor Tim Hitchcock of Sussex, are part of the Digital Panopticon project which is tracing the lives of those sentenced to exile in Australia after 1788.

Lucy uses the records of the courts, the census, and newspaper sources like these to track her ‘criminals’ through time and the findings of these long term project are already challenging what we understand about criminality and individual lives in the past. While I’m not part of the project my own work is already revealing how important it is to look outside the jury courts if we want to study criminality in the past. I started in the summary courts of the 18th century but have now moved on to this work on the 1800s, because here we seen a much better recording of crime and those involved in it. I will be presenting my academic version of this work in Liverpool, to the Digital Panopticon team, in September of this year.


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]

Cabbies get a raw deal at Westminster


The sitting magistrate at the Westminster Police Court in 1870 was a Mr Woolrych and it would be fair to say he didn’t much like Hansom cab drivers. These vehicles were the Victorian equivalent of the modern black cab with the ‘knowledge’ of the city streets and the license to trade upon them. There were rules about routes and about charges and about the places where cabs could ‘stand’ and wait for customers. In the eighteenth century there even seems to have been a one-way system in place in the City of London.

So cabs were regulated and this supposedly protected the public and the drivers themselves. But given that complaints brought for and against cabbies were usually heard by the capital’s magistracy, who sat alone and with considerable summary powers, the drivers often found themselves at the mercy of the justice’s prejudices.

This was especially the case when the complaints about cabbies were brought by ‘the better sort’ and where the drivers were attempting to prosecute someone of a social station above them (which was of course, often).

In December 1872 Westminster Police Court was thronged with cab drivers as two separate cases unfolded that concerned them.

First up was Harris Seaton, a driver who brought a charge against the Reverend Graham of Hawkhurst Lodge in Sydenham, for not paying his fare. There were some unusual circumstances behind the clergyman’s fare dodging. It had been raining hard when Seaton picked up his fare outside Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly a month previously. As they approached Hyde Park Corner the reverend requested that the driver stop and raise his window so he might get some air.

By now it was ‘raining and hailing’ and Seaton was concerned that his carriage would get wet making it serviceable for any other customers that night, so he refused. The Rev. Graham insisted but Seaton stuck to his guns, ‘as he did not wish to damage his master’s property and wet the cushions’. Angry, the clergyman alighted from the cab and walked off without paying. Seaton  had summoned him for the fare (1s) and so the pair found themselves in court.

The vicar complained that he had no air and ‘he was nearly stifled’. He had an umbrella with him and would have kept the cab dry with it. It was only a short ride (200 yards from Piccadilly), so he had hardly avoided much of a fare anyway he insisted. The magistrate sided with the reverend Graham. He thought it reasonable to allow him some air (so long as he took precautions to protect the can from damage), and if wilful damage was caused, well then the driver might prosecute him for that, but not for the fare. He dismissed the case much to the annoyance of the assembled cabmen in the public gallery.

If they were unhappy about Mr Woolrych’s decision making in the case of the fare dodging vicar then the next case did little to cheer them up.

Three cab drivers answered summonses charged with leaving their vehicles unattended at a cab rank on Stockbridge Terrace, Pimlico. Cabbies were supposed to remain with their cabs and be ready to pick up fares but it seems that on a fairly regular basis drivers vacated their cabs to go and get some refreshment.

A fellow magistrate, Mr Newton, had found cabs unattended before so he reported it to the police who set a watch on the stand. On the evening of the 28 November 1872 three drivers pulled up, left their cabs tethered and went into a nearby public house. They were observed going in and not reappearing for 25 minutes the court was told.

‘During this time’ Mr Woolrych was informed, ‘cabs were wanted and drivers could not be found, and among the gentlemen that complained was Sir Edward Cunyngham’. When the drivers came out fo the pub the PC on watch confronted them and was given a mouthful of abuse by two of them. The drivers’ solicitor defended them saying they had only been inside for a few minutes and it was reasonable that they sought some much needed sustenance. He also calimed that none had sworn at the constable.

Mr Woolrych thought it outrageous that the drivers should behave like this and fined them 4s 2d each, or threatened  them with five days in prison. They paid.

If I was the magistrate I’d have been inclined to make sure I didn’t need a hansom cab anytime soon.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, December 12, 1872]

P.S In 1876 Sir Edward Cunyngham, was accused along with two other men  (Charles de Chasterlaine and Nathan Wetherall, with conspiracy to defraud. Sir Edward was locked up in Newgate for want of bail and he died before he could be tried at the Old Bailey. The other two men were convicted and sent to gaol.

A ungentlemanly young man refuses to pay his fare or give his name

The young man who appeared in Marylebone Police Court in August 1844 refused to give the magistrate his real name. When pressed he said it was ‘John Jones’.  The knowing justice asked ‘where do you live?’ ‘I’d rather not give that information, unless you insist on me doing so’ came the reply.

Why was he so embarrassed and reluctant to be identified? His crime was assaulting a cabbie and refusing to pay his fare. However, he had also been out  with a young lady when the incident occurred. The cab driver, Edward Pheby, testified that he had picked up ‘John Jones’ (a ‘tall gentlemanly looking young man’) and the young lady in Covent Garden and had been instructed to drive to Westbourne Park.

At several points he had heard the woman cry out for him to stop the cab only for ‘Jones’ to countermand her order. When he got to the Bayswater Road the young man got out and told the driver to take the woman back to Covent Garden. When Pheby asked him for his fare he was met by a refusal (‘No, I never pay my cab fare’, he said) and was assaulted, being struck on the head with a stick.

He took the unnamed woman back but she too refused to pay him and so he had summoned Jones to court. The young man continued to refuse to give his real name or his address but did admit to being ashamed at his conduct. The magistrate fined him £3 for the assault and made him pay the fare (of £5s 4d) plus an extra 3s for the cabman’s trouble.

I wonder who the ‘lady’ was but knowing that Covent Garden and Seven Dials was synonymous with prostitution in the 19th century perhaps that explains his reluctance to say who he was.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, August 20, 1844]