I hope you enjoyed the first part of the blog which covered the background of the Taxi trade in London. In this second part we are going to look at other aspects of the trade and also hear about some of the women who work in it.
Where do Cabbies eat?
Camden’s Russell Square is home to one of the remaining Cabmen’s Shelters. There were originally 61 of them, the idea beginning when a Captain J Armstrong, the editor of the ‘The Globe newspaper, encountered problems trying to obtain a cab (via his manservant) during a blizzard. The cabdrivers were all taking shelter from the abysmal weather in the Grog shop, drinking cocoa laced with rum. In the days of the horse-drawn cabs only the passengers would be inside, whilst the driver would be sitting outside on ‘the box’ (driver’s seat) in all weathers.
With the help of philanthropist the 7th Earl Shaftesbury and many others, including the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Cabmen’s Shelter fund was set up. The fund provided these sweet little buildings, no bigger than a horse and cart, dotted around London giving cab drivers somewhere to shelter and later providing food and drink.
Parking facilities were also supplied for their cabs, which then, being horse-drawn, were in the form of a rail outside to which to tether their horses and marble water troughs from which to drink. Today these cute little buildings, painted traditional Buckingham Green, are Grade II-listed so they are protected to a certain extent, but still need custom to survive, and although only cabbies are allowed inside, members of the public are still able to purchase takeaways at the window, and the food at this shelter in particular is of excellent quality.
Diversity and women
The cab trades drivers come from as many countries and backgrounds as the residents and tourists that they drive around the capital and over the years many more women have joined the ranks. In fact, the first female cab driver in London we know of was a lady called Susan Dudley Ryder in 1917 — yes, over a hundred years ago! And also, apparently, her sister was Mrs. Gavin, a champion lady golfer, which is actually quite amazing considering that many of today’s taxi drivers have a very big love of the sport of golf!
The job of London Taxi Driver is an occupation that is open to anyone who wishes to study hard and pass the ‘Knowledge’. The re are no barriers and anyone is welcome to do it. In fact, in the words of an examiner, “this is one of the only jobs that is about what you know and not who you know”. Although more and more ladies are joining the trade, which is great, the actual percentage figures for males and females are still very different. According to official statistics, as of 2019 the number of female taxi drivers was 490 compared to 20,825 males, so women in the trade are still a rarity.
With that in mind I thought it would be nice to introduce you to some of them.
Tina is one of the trade’s longer-serving cabbies, having passed the Knowledge in 1988, collecting her Green Badge when she was just 23 years old, making her the youngest female London taxi driver of the day and the 42nd female London taxi driver. It was while working in Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street one day, when looking out of the window at all the passing cabs, she decided that that was what she wanted to do, but at the time she couldn’t even drive! A past resident of the Borough of Camden, Tina now lives in the countryside in Norfolk where she is a Town and District councillor serving a population of approx 10,000 people as well as being a London Cabbie. In fact she also served as local Mayor in 2018/2019. Tina is also a mum of two grown-up children and, as well as keeping a watchful eye on her own parents and walking her dog, she raises money for charity. As well as driving backwards and forwards between London and Norfolk, when she finally gets a minute to spare she likes to write poetry.
As well as being a Green Badge driver (all-London Licence) of seven years, June also holds a Yellow Badge (suburban licence for North East London) which she has held for 18 years, she is also a qualified tour guide. June works all over London but is often to be found in theatre-land and ranking up at the big stations such as Kings Cross and Euston. She also works the clubs and markets of Camden which gives her an opportunity to pop in and see her son who is also a Camden resident.
Mel was juggling family life, bringing up her young children and working full time, when a cabbie friend suggested she do the Knowledge because becoming self-employed would give her the freedom to work around her family. She was then made redundant so this made up her mind for her. Although still raising her children and this time contending with the Knowledge, she never gave up and in 2013 she became the proud owner of her shiny Green Badge and hasn’t looked back since.
Annie spent 24 years working in education before taking early retirement only to quickly find the novelty of being at home all day wearing off. Unsure what she wanted to do, her husband suggested the Knowledge. Once she stopped laughing at the idea she then couldn’t stop thinking about it and went on to have motorcycle lessons and signed on to the Knowledge. The amount of time you have to put in on the Knowledge can seem never — ending but words of encouragement from a cabbie while Annie was stopped at traffic lights at Piccadilly Circus, dressed in full motorbike gear on a boiling hot day, stayed with her throughout her Knowledge journey.
It is now 10 years since Annie passed the Knowledge and was given her Green Badge and regards it as one of her top life achievements.
Livery Company Status
The taxi trade also has its own Livery Company, The Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers, being awarded grant of Livery in 2004 and receiving its Royal Charter in 2013.
Livery Companies, also known as Guilds, are trade associations of the City of London that originally began in medieval times with a history going back to at least the 12th Century. They were originally founded to protect the trade and uphold its reputation and in fact if you didn’t belong to one then you were not allowed to trade in the City. Today many of these companies’ functions revolve around charity work and this is the case with the WCHCD. This is through endeavours like education and the famous annual Disney trip where convoys of taxis transport terminally ill children and their carers for a break at the famous Parisian theme park.
The Company’s Charter shown below was presented to the WCHCD by HRH Prince Charles in a ceremony at the City church of St. Bartholomew the Great, and is usually kept on display there.
- The London Cabbie, Alf Townsend
- The History of the London Cab Trade, Phillip Warren
Image at top of the page is of a London taxi sign, (c) Paula Pickin, 2021