Gail Thornton
a pictorial archive of horse


The Hansom

The first Hansom cab appeared in 1834 and named after is inventor, though the popular design now recognised was actually designed by John Chapman two years after the original design but as he sold the patent to the Hansom Cab Company the vehicle still bears the name of the initial inventor.  It was designed with two large wheels, higher than roof level, to prevent it overturning at speed.  Marie Studholme, the lady in the postcard, was an actress and singer in the Victorian and Edwardian theatres.  Her career spanned from 1892 until 1915 and she was one of George Edwardes’ famous Gaiety Girls.  The postcard was posted from Glossop possibly in 1905 or 06 to Miss Meredith, Ivydene, Glossop and reads ‘Will this do? With love. John.  If its like this next Tuesday what oh, I hope it is’.

The initial design had the driver, or cabbie, sitting on the front part of the roof but later versions saw the cabbie sitting behind the cab with the reigns coming over the roof of the cab.  He would communicate with his passenger through a small trapdoor in the roof of the cab.  The cabbie also had control over the doors, which were padded leather flap doors, by means of a lever and chains reducing the risk of the passenger alighting without paying.  This postcard is a modern reproduction from the Museum of London and gives the date for this Hansom Cab as c.1900.  You can see the trap door in front of the cabbie that was used for communication and for payment.

Improvements to the Hansom saw them becoming lighter and swifter and large numbers eventually operated in London and other major cities.  However due to being seen as fast and dashing they were thought unsuitable for unaccompanied females of good reputation.  They were not easy to drive as the cabbie could only see the top of the horse’s head and hardly anything of the wheels and therefore had to have good judgement and immense skill to steer the horse through crowded streets.  Hansom cabs were not particularly easy to get into and for ladies often resulted in them loosing their hats due to the overhanging reigns or dirtying their garments due to the nearness of the wheel.  They were however ideal for privacy as with the doors closed and the blinds lowered no one would know who was inside.  They began to decline around 1890’s due to the improvements to public transport such as the Omnibus and the arrival of motorised cabs and taxis.  This jaunty chap is posing for photographer J. Winstanley, of 45 Merehall Street, Bolton to take his picture.  J.Winstanley describes himself as Bolton’s Outdoor Photographer.