For centuries this iconic black hackney vehicle has been an important part of the public transport system in London and although time has seen the introduction of other forms of public transportation, for example the bus network, rail network and the Underground or “Tube” the black cab is still one of the most cherished and relied upon commuting options for residents and tourists alike in the UK’s capital today.
Their un-mistakable appearance and long service have made the hackney carriage one of the most iconic symbols of London, so much so that taking a ride in one is often considered an attraction in itself, worthy of many a tourist Facebook post.
The earliest recorded private hire vehicles in London date back to the 17th century in the shape of a horse-drawn carriage. In order to ensure passenger safety, the UK government enacted legal Conditions of Fitness in 1679, which required all such carriages to have been formally inspected before drivers could charge the fare paying public. These requirements have changed and developed in the ensuing years, but they are still enforced to this day by the Public Carriage Office of London.
After the horse, the first motorised London private hire vehicles were introduced towards the latter part of the 19th century (1897) were electrically powered vehicles such as the Bersey, which was so quiet that it was soon nicknamed the “Hummingbird”. Mainly due to range limitations, it was replaced by a petrol-powered Prunel in 1903, built in France. Then a trend started where many British and foreign car manufacturers produced vehicles that met or exceeded the Conditions of Fitness, companies such as Renault and Vauxhall to name but two. From 1930 to date all London black taxi vehicles have been built by UK manufacturers such as Winchester, Beardmore, Morris and Austin, with the most popular being the Austin FX3 and FX4 models.