Some time ago, while researching a London-set story, I was astonished to discover how many hackney coach stands existed during the early 19th century. Which leads us to another lost occupation—the hackney coach waterman.
The following excerpt is from my much-loved, hard-to-find Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain), a book I cited a while back in my post about London’s Dustmen. Hackney coachmen, who drove individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, are not to be confused with stage coachmen, who traveled the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules.
~~~ Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered. The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued. A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise. Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen. The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.