London's First Taxi Driver: James Michael Howe

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By M@ Last edited 6 months ago
London's First Taxi Driver: James Michael Howe

The story of London's "Number 1 Taxi driver".

James 'Jimmy' Michael Howe was a veteran of the cab trade. He entered his profession in 1884, driving horse-drawn vehicles around London. He had the distinction of being the regular driver for Leopold Rothschild, whose home in west London is now the Gunnersbury Park Museum.

In 1903, Howe became the first Londoner to pick up passengers in a petrol-powered cab — a French-built Prunel — under the auspices of the Express Motor Company. Fares were identical to those of the established horse-drawn cabs.

Although horseless vehicles had troubled London's streets for decades, they were still something of a rarity in the early 20th century. Electric cabs had been trialled a few years earlier, but proved impractical. Howe's cab was the first to be powered by petrol, and the only one in London for several months. Two years later, the number had risen to 19.

Number 1 motor-taxi badge

The only known image of James Howe online. From the Daily Herald, 25 December 1933. Courtesy and of the British Newspaper Archive. (c) The British Library Board.

Today, all 21,000 licensed cab drivers carry a green badge with a unique number. The very first badge — number 1 — was Howe's most treasured possession, presented to him by police commissioner Lord Trenchard at the end of his illustrious career.

Howe seems to have led an eventful life. His wife left him in 1913 — taking all the furniture — after falling for a man who'd placed a 'wife wanted' advert in the local newspaper. The pair did not see each other again until 1920, when Mrs Howe appeared in court on bigamy charges. Three years later, Howe was sued for damages after his taxi cab plummeted into a hole on the Uxbridge Road.

Howe died on Christmas day 1933 at his home on Wellesby Avenue, Hammersmith, aged 64. Dozens of fellow cabbies drove to the funeral to pay their respects. "We called him 'Up-Hendon'," one of them told the press, "because if you asked him where he was off to, he'd answer 'just going up Hendon-way'".

History does not record whether he also went south of the river.

Last Updated 02 January 2020