Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Coffin Cab at the London Transport Museum

Thursday, August 17, 2017
Loretta reports:

Even though they belong to the privileged classes, characters in my books often make use of public transportation, mainly for anonymity. I’ve put them in hackney coaches and hackney cabs (and, in the new book, A Duke in Shining Armor, in a wherry).

For Dukes Prefer Blondes, I researched cabs and coaches obsessively—and blogged about them, too, here and here—but my interest has by no means palled. So of course I was excited and delighted to find this model of an 1820 hackney cab at the London Transport Museum.

I think the model helps give a sense, as illustrations may not, of just how small it was. This one in particular would not have fit two people, and the information page on the museum's website says it had space for only one passenger. Certainly, it corresponds to the Cruikshank illustration, the first one shown in this blog post.

But Omnibuses and Cabs: Their Origin and History tells us the hackney cabriolets introduced in 1823 “had accommodation for two passengers.” Since my current books are set in the 1830s, I go with the roomier model, the one appearing in the second illustration in last year’s blog post.
Hackney cab

Still, the London Transport Museum’s earlier model does give the 3D view, and readers familiar with Dukes Prefer Blondes will, I hope, have a clearer idea what the real thing was like. For instance, we can see the apron that protected passengers from kicked-up dust and stormy weather. What the model doesn’t show are the curtains. Omnibuses and Cabs tells us, “The fore part of the hood could be lowered as required, and there was a curtain which could be drawn across to shield the rider from wind and rain.” The curtain isn’t visible in the London Transport Museum model.  Either it was a later development, too, or it’s lost in the blackness of the interior. I couldn’t be sure, then or now: It’s not easy to see into a black box, through a glass case, let alone take photographs of it.

Image: detail from James Pollard, Hatchetts, the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Lucy said...

Looking into the part of the box that is most right-handed in the photograph, the curtain appears to be drawn closely back into that corner. There is a distinct contract between something dense, irregular and dark, and the exposed wood of the interior.

Thanks for putting up the picture; I had no idea they were so small either, or that the passenger sat so near the driver.

Loretta Chase said...

Thanks, Lucy! Now that you've pointed it out, and I've lightened the photo and zoomed in, I see what you mean. Excellent sleuthing!

Susan G. said...

I'm most shocked by the class implications of these cabs -- the customer is protected from the elements, but the cabbie is completely exposed to the weather, and physically divided from any possible contact with a member of those classes able to afford a hackney ride. They're separated and definitely not equal....

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