Were London Taxis Actually Pricier 200 Years Ago?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 13 months ago
Were London Taxis Actually Pricier 200 Years Ago?
How expensive were cabs for Londoners to take 200 years ago? Image: Shutterstock

Taxis: bloody expensive aren't they. Even ride sharing apps like Uber have crept up in price, and are often now a lavish way to get to that job interview on time, or draw a line under your night out on the tiles.

So have London's taxis always been steep? James Quaife's Hackney Coach Directory records in detail the official fares that Londoners would have forked out back in 1821 — almost 200 years ago. The London Library (where you'll find a copy) kindly photocopied us some pages from it:

Meet the Uber of 19th century London

Which means, with the aid of this book and a time travelling currency convertor, plus Citymapper and a black cab fare calculator, we can roughly deduce who had the sweeter deal — us or the Georgians.

Knightsbridge to Herne Hill

Georgian hackney coach: 8 shillings (£22.97)

2019 black cab: £22.20

Uber: £15.50

Conclusion: Chuffing Nora! Any Georgian making this trip would be shelling out the equivalent of what we would in 2019 for a black cab. (Then again, Harrods didn't exist in 1821, so maybe there wasn't quite the call for cabs that there is today?). Uber walks this one; £15.50 seems fairly reasonable for the 5.3 mile trip.

Oxford Street (Portman Street) to British Museum

Georgian hackney coach: 1 shilling, 6d (£4.30)

2019 black cab: £10

2019 Uber: £10.50

Conclusion: Cor blimey guv'nor! The 200-year-old hackney cab works out over half the price of a black cab or Uber. The British Museum that Georgians would have visited was in a different building, but on the same site as today's Greek revival confection. Perhaps the most interesting finding for today's Londoners is that if you're making this relatively short trip in central London (let's assume it's because you're loaded up with Chrimbo shopping), you might as well opt for the flashier black cab.

Charing Cross to Mile End

Georgian hackney coach: 4 shillings (£11.50)

2019 black cab: £18.30

2019 Uber: £17.50

Conclusion: This is more expected! Our Georgian cab is a decent slice cheaper than its 2019 counterparts, which makes us wonder if that Knightsbridge to Herne Hill jobbie was a bit of an anomaly. With the saving you'd have made then, compared to today's relative prices, you'd have money left over for a plum duff and a new stovepipe hat (maybe). Again, we're struck by how little difference there is between the black cab fee and the Uber... in theory the latter could wind up costing more.

With thanks to Julian Lloyd from the London Library for his research.

Pedants' notes
All estimations are approximate. Shillings to modern pound sterling conversion is from 1820-2017. Uber fares are halfway between min and max fee, no surge fee. Black cab fares are daytime rates. For the sake of this article, Ubers are taxis too.

Last Updated 19 November 2019