Aug 25, 2010

The most famous taxi time line: London Taxi part 2

The most famous taxi time line: London Taxi part 2

An early Unic cab, made in Paris

London’s first motor cabs were electrically powered. They were called Berseys after the manager of the London Electrical Cab Company, who ran them, but were nicknamed ‘Hummingbirds’ from the sound that they made. 25 were introduced in August 1897 and by 1898 a further fifty of them were at work. Unfortunately, they proved unreliable and there were a number of accidents, including one fatality. Public confidence in them evaporated and they were withdrawn by 1900.

The first petrol powered cab in London was a French-built Prunel, introduced in 1903. Other early British makes included Rational, Simplex and Herald but these appeared in small numbers. An attempt to introduce 200 American Ford Model Bs failed through lack of finance, as did efforts by Rover and others. Some of the oddities that appeared, and disappeared almost as quickly included the Vauxhall hansom cab with its driver perched behind the body and the front wheel drive ‘Pullcar’. At the end of in 1906 there were less than 100 motor cabs in London, but the appearance of the General Cab Company’s five hundred Renault cabs revolutionised the trade. The introduction of rules for motor cab design, the Conditions of Fitness, were introduced by the licensing authority, the Public Carriage Office in 1906. One regulation, demanding a 25ft turning circle deterred many would-be manufacturers and resulted in some earlier makes being withdrawn. The most numerous makes of cab post-1906 were the Unic, introduced by dealers Mann and Overton and the Napier and Panhard, both operated by W & G du Cros. Also to be found were Fiat, Sorex, Belsize, Austin, Humber, Wolseley-Siddeley, Argyll and Darracq. The fitting of taximeters was made compulsory in 1907 and cabs thus fitted became known as ‘taxicabs’, abbreviated to ‘taxis’. Industrial action by cab drivers in 1911 over fares and in 1913 over fuel almost crippled the trade and severely reduced the number of big fleets and the manufacturers associated with them. At the outbreak of the First World War there was just one make available to buy, the Unic.

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