Where Was London's First Taxi Rank?

By M@ Last edited 90 months ago

Last Updated 17 January 2017

Where Was London's First Taxi Rank?

Where was the first taxi rank in London?

If the photo above hasn't already given the game away, then the answer is: on the Strand near Somerset House.

Horse-drawn vehicles for private hire had been around in one form or another since medieval times. But no one had attempted to operate from a designated waiting place, or rank, until the 17th century. The pioneer was a Captain John Baily, a veteran of one of Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions.

From 1634, he managed a rank of four horse-drawn carriages, available for hire from the Strand. Baily's cabmen wore a distinctive livery, and charged customers a fixed tariff depending on distance.

The author, borrowing someone's cab.

The rank was positioned close to the Strand maypole, a prominent medieval landmark. This towered 30m high (100ft), making it one of the tallest structures in London at the time. It must have made the cab rank very easy to find.

As with all maypoles, the Strand pole became a popular scene of dancing and merriment each spring. Oliver Cromwell hated it. The landmark was dismantled in 1644, so ridding the city of one of the 'last remnants of vile heathenism', which was 'dangerous to the morals of youth'. A still taller replacement was erected after the Restoration, but it was shortlived. Today, you'll find the church of St Mary le Strand on its site.

St Mary le Strand, site of the Maypole, and first taxi rank.

Baily's cab rank scheme appears to have worked well, and others soon appeared. The cab profession was given official approval in 1654 when one of the first Acts of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages. This brought the trade under the control of a court of aldermen in the City of London. The number of licensed drivers was initially restricted to 200. Today, there are 21,000 (plus many more minicabs and Ubers for hire).

An excellent history of hackney carriages in London can be found on CabbieBlog.  If you're wondering where the phrase 'hackney coach' comes from, see our earlier piece.