Taxi! Regulation of Hackney Coaches in the early 19th century

The rapid growth of Birmingham as an industrial urban centre brought a great deal of traffic to the town from the late eighteenth century onwards. In addition to what appears an almost perpetual opening up of new carriageways, the local administration also introduced a mass of bye laws to ensure the town could maintain its momentum. The Street Commissioner’s minute books from the early part of the nineteenth century reveal this momentum in their continual iteration of bye laws and the establishment of committees to deal with various transportation issues. In this post, I shall give a small sample of some of the early bye laws for the regulation of hackney coaches (only later were they referred to as ‘hackney carriages’) and sedan chairs. This latter gradually disappears from the bye laws as the second decade of the century draws to an end. The notes presented here come from the series MS 2818 [Archives, Heritage and Photography at The Library of Birmingham]


It was the Street Commissioners who had regulatory control of public transport in the first half of the nineteenth century. Through various and successive legislative acts they were given power to ‘constitute, ordain and provide’ bye laws for the regulation of hackney coaches and sedan chairs. These powers covered the behaviour of drivers and carriers as well as the appearance of the vehicles, the times in which they could operate, fares and distance of journey. In 1803 this authority was delegated to the Bye Law Committee of the Street Commissioners who were responsible for issuing licenses and also had the power to levy fines for any infringement of the regulations.

On February 21st, 1803, the Bye Law Committee ordained that coach men were not exceed journeys of more than four miles through the town and chair carriers only one mile (though this may have been quite far enough to carry a sedan chair and passenger!) with a fine of £3 for infringement. All licensed carriages and chairs were to clearly display their license number on the vehicle, the number would be issued by the Bye Law Committee and plying for hire without a license would merit a fine of ‘not less than five shillings nor in excess of twenty shillings’. [MS 2818/1/3]

The 1812 Birmingham Improvement Act introduced more specific regulations relating to the appearance and condition of hackney coaches. Previous regulations still applied and in addition all coaches must be ‘clean, properly sprung, dry, strong and warm with glass windows at both sides and big enough to carry four persons’. The carriages were to be stationed at stands designated by the Commissioners from 9am until midnight every day and drivers were not to absent themselves from their coaches, nor refuse any fare without reasonable explanation. [MS 281/1/4]

The fares set by the Bye Law Committee can be seen to have remained static for many years, the following sample was set at a meeting held on January 4th,  1813:

For distances up to 1 mile         1s
–     1 to 1 1/2 miles          2s
–     1 1/2 to 2 miles          3s
–     2 to 2 1/2 miles          4s
–     2 1/2 to 3 miles          5s
–     3 to 3 1/2 miles          6s
–     3 1/2 to 4 miles          7s

drivers could also charge for waiting time, sixpence for up to 15 minutes, rising in increments of sixpence for every subsequent 20 minutes of waiting. [MS 2818/1/4] In 1840, ‘night fares’ were introduced. Drivers were permitted to charge double the fare between the hours of midnight and 6am between October 1st and April 1st or between the hours of midnight and 7am between October 1st and April 1st. In addition, anyone calling for a coach or carriage and then not using it, would have to pay a sum covering the fare from the stand to the pick up point. Non-payment of fare would incur a fine of 20 shillings, on top of the fare due. [MS 2818/1/7]

The distribution of stands can be seen to spread out out further as time progressed and there were an increasing number of places where people could get a ‘cab’. The Bye Law Committee presented lists of appointed stands to meetings of the Street Commissioners along with memorials from members of the public who had requested a new stand to be appointed near their residence, or otherwise, the removal of one. These requests were always considered and often granted. The following appointed stands were presented at a meeting on February 1st, 1836 the committee appointed 63 stands: 13 on New Street, 6 on Paradise Street, 7 on Ann Street, 4 on Temple Row, 4 on Colmore Row, 6 on Broad Street, 3 on Islington Row, 2 on Sand Pits, 2 on Great Hampton Street “near Hills, at the trees”, 4 on Bristol Street, 2 on Bromsgrove Street, 4 on Digbeth, 2 at Five Ways, 1 on Camp Hill,  1 near the Highgate Turnpike and 3 at Dale End. [MS 2818/1/6]

Incorporation in 1838 also meant an extension of the town’s boundary, although the Street Commissioner’s had no legal jurisdiction or responsibility for those areas requests for stands were generally granted and, among the minutes from a meeting in May of 1840, in excess of 100 stands are listed. The distribution of these is interesting, giving an insight into the parts of Birmingham people frequented in the course of their daily activities. So while the list is extensive, I think it’s worthy of inclusion to demonstrate how the ‘mundane’ can be used as evidence of just how rapidly change took hold of Birmingham during the 1830s and 1840s. There was also clearly more demand for transportation outside public houses!

This list is from MS 2818/1/7  

New Street, 3 between the Hen and Chickens Hotel and the principal entrance to the Free School, a space of 6 yards to be left opposite that entrance on which no coach or car is to stand.

A further 3 on New Street, between the above entrance and Peck Lane

4 between Peck Lane and King Street

4 between the Post Office and Christ Church, but no coach or car is to stand within ten yards of the bottom of Bennett’s Hill, nor opposite the New Royal Hotel or the Society of Arts

4 in the middle of Ann Street opposite Christ Church – 3 of these at the bottom of the street

2 on Colmore Row, at the gate near the Blue Coat School, one on either side of the gate at the end of Church Street

4 on Temple Row, opposite the office of the Mining Company close to the church-yard wall

3 on Newhall Street, in the middle of the upper part of the street opposite the Mechanic’s Institute

Broad Street – 3 between King Edward’s Place and the Canal Bridge; 3 at the north side of the road, near the Five Ways turnpike

3 on Islington Row between Williams Street and the Five Ways Gate

Five Ways – 2 on the north side of the road on the Edgbaston side of the Five Ways Gate

4 at Sand Pits, between The Parade and Camden St

6 on Great Hampton Street – 3 near Tookey’s, at the trees and 3 near the end of Livery Street

2 on the eastern side of Bristol Street, near the top of Bromsgrove street and 2 on the opposite side of the road

2 opposite the Sun Public House

2 on the Bristol Road, beyond the corner of Wellington Road

2 near to the corner of Sir Harry’s Lane

2 on Bromsgrove Street, opposite the Dolphin Inn

At Smithfield – 2 on the eastern side of Jamaica Row at the northern end of the market

At Digbeth – 3 by the side of the churchyard, near the end of St. Martin’s Lane and 4 near the end of Rea Street

Bordesley – 3 opposite the Sheep Public House, Camp Hill and 2 opposite the Coach and Horses

Highgate – 1 near the turnpike

Dale End – 1 opposite the engine and 3 on the left hand side from High Street near the pump

4 opposite St. Peter’s church

4 on Whittall Street, 2 on each side of the chapel yard gate and close to the footpath against the chapel wall

6 on Cardigan Street

6 on Howe Street

2 on Belmont Row, opposite the Queen’s Arms

2 on Holt Street, at the corner near the end of Great Brooke Street and Ashted Row

Bloomsbury – 2 opposite the Grand Junction Public House

Soho Hill, Handsworth – 2 at the end of Hampstead Row

Hockley – 2 opposite the Grand Turk near the corner of Hunter’s Lane

3 on Aston Street, opposite The Swan with Two Necks


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