Holmes' Town Transport
history of the Hansom cab
Being much more manouverable, able to
turn round in itís own
length, speedier, and able to cope easily with the congestion that was
becoming notorious in London at the turn of the century, the Hansom
became popular. The fact that for a given journey they were quite a bit
than the Hackney did no harm for their reputation either.
Of course, as today, many journeys were
undertaken by just
one or two people, (Holmes and Watson for example), and often the
carriage was only a third full, making the Hansom cab a better bet.
However, they were not totally enclosed, the
front of the cab had just folding doors which protected the occupants
legs from mud etc. and they soon gained a reputation as being a bit
was not done for ladies to travel alone in them.
The original Hansom cab, as designed by
Joseph Hansom, was
to combine speed with safety, having a surprisingly low centre of
which made cornering safe. This design was altered by John Chapman, who
that it was not sufficiently practical. However, although the design
altered, the patent held, and the name Hansom cab was retained.
The cab, as previously mentioned, sat
comfortably, three at a squeeze. The driver sat behind and above the
cab on a
sprung seat, giving him visibility and control. The passengers were
communicate with the driver through a trapdoor just behind their heads
roof. The occupants would also pay the driver through this trapdoor. He
then operate a lever, releasing the door so they could get out.
non-payers even then!
Over the years the cab was modified,
with the addition of a
glass window above the doors to enclose the passengers, and a curved
mounted in front of the doors to stop flying stones etc. thrown up by
horseís hooves. Depending upon which illustrations,
films, and TV shows
have seen you will probably have seen Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
At the height of their popularity there were
Hansom cabs in use in London, and they had spread to many other cities
large towns in the UK. They were also popular in Europe, being
well represented in Paris, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. By the late
had been introduced to the United States, where they were in common use
The Hansom cab remained popular until the 1920ís,
internal combustion engine had found itís way into cheap, reliable
for the masses. Surprisingly however, the last Hackney cab licence was
issued until 1947. Quite a success story, I wonder if Sherlock Holmes
envisaged them lasting so long?
The Hansom cab, as favoured
by Sherlock Holmes as a method
of getting around the city, is, or rather was, a horse-drawn carriage.
and patented by one Joseph Hansom, an architect from York, in 1834.
Hansom realised that there was a need for a lighter, more
manouverable, type of transport than the Hackney carriage at the time.
The Hackney carriage was much more cumbersome,
being a four
wheeled carriage, drawn by a pair of horses, and seating six people. By
contrast, the Hansom was much lighter, only two wheels, and only needed
horse to pull itís load of two passengers and driver.
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