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Our Heritage

 

The London Taxi or Black Cab is an integral part of British history.

The London Taxi Company has been part of this illustrious heritage from the very start and we are proud to be the only manufacturer in the world of this iconic and instantly recognisable, distinctly English motor vehicle.

The London Taxi Company's official biographer is Bill Munro - there is almost nothing that Bill doesn't know about the hackney carriage industry!

And if you're a fan of the original London Taxis, you may wish to join the London Vintage Taxi Association (LVTA) - a club of avid Black Cab collectors.

The Conditions of Fitness are the governing regulations which dictate the design, construction, safety features and accessibility requirements of all hackney carriage vehicles operating within London.

These regulations provide essential standardisation and protection for both drivers and passengers and are enforced by Transport for London through its dedicated Taxi and Private Hire department.

The regulations are steeped in history and had been in place for approximately 350 years prior to the introduction of licensing for motorised vehicles.

In 1906, following significant consultation, the Conditions of Fitness as we know them today, were introduced to regulate the licensing of all hackney carriages within London. Several other areas across the UK, also adopted these regulations including Coventry (the birthplace of the iconic Black Cab), Manchester and Edinburgh.

The main elements of the Conditions of Fitness cover everything from the age of vehicles allowed to operate within London to the infamous 25ft turning circle.

The term "Hackney cab" comes from two sources:

"Hackney" is an anglicised version of "Hacquenee", a French horse breed, known for its stamina and ability to trot at moderate pace for long periods.

Naturally, this made them the ideal horse for pulling carriages. More generally hackney became a term for a working horse (as opposed to a thoroughbred for racing) and is the origin of the riding term, to go for a hack.

"Cab" is a shortened form of "cabriolet" - as in the continental term for convertible car. Originally a cabriolet meant a light two wheeled carriage pulled by a single horse.

"Taxi" is an abbreviation of taximeter.

The taximeter was invented in Germany and comes from the German word "Taxe" meaning charge or levy.

There is an apocryphal story that the taximeter was invented by the Baron of Thurn and Taxis, one of the richest German aristocrats, but it seems unlikely he would have been interested in calculating how many pfennigs cab drivers should charge.

In the early years, the biggest taxi manufacturer was William Beardmore of Glasgow.

In 1929 Mann and Overton, the biggest taxi retail dealership group, sponsored Austin to create a new and much more cost-effective cab, which immediately dominated the market.

Jack Everitt, retired senior inspection officer for the then Public Carriage Office, is quoted as saying: "Without Mann and Overton, there would be not now be the London Taxi, nor a London cab trade as we know it."

Since that agreement, more than 70 years ago, there is a direct line of succession to today's London Taxi.

In 1896 J. J. Mann and Tom Overton set up a business importing continental motor vehicles into England. Between their operations in Paris and their retail site in Lower Grosvenor Place, they ideally placed to witness the massive increase in demand for motor cars which could be used within the hackney carriage trade in London, as well as the obvious commercial opportunities.

In 1907, Mann and Overton started to import the French Unic cab into London, which had been modified in order to comply with the newly introduced Conditions of Fitness. The Unic was superior to other vehicles operating within London at that time, having a more powerful engine as well as being more reliable and serviceable.

In 1910 Mann and Overton moved to new premises in Ebury Street in Pimlico, focusing all of their attention on the retail of London Taxis. Following the end of the Great War, the company moved to Battersea Bridge Road, with Tom's brother William Overton joining the business in 1916.

Mann and Overton continued to sell the French Unic taxi cab until the late 1920s, however, as import duties continued to increase, they looked to British vehicle manufacturers to provide a more cost-effective alternative.

William Overton formed a collaboration with Austin to modify the Austin Heavy 12/4, which went on sale in 1930. By the end of 1931, the Austin cab was the market-leading London Taxi.

In 1947, Mann and Overton in collaboration with Austin developed a new chassis - the FX2 - which had a longer, stronger wheelbase than its predecessors. Mann and Overton successfully approached Coventry coach-builders Carbodies, to design, build and paint the new London Taxi. In 1948, following additional development, the new London Taxi, now called the FX3, was launched from Mann and Overton's new premises in Wandsworth Bridge Road.

In 1984, Carbodies bought out Mann and Overton, forming London Taxis International, now called The London Taxi Company.

In 1919, experienced coach-builder Bobby Jones, set up a subsidiary company of Mann Egerton's coach-building company, which would later become his own wholly-owned firm, named Carbodies. This company was created for the sole purpose of designing and building vehicle bodies for the now vibrant British motor vehicle industry.

Carbodies went on to develop and manufacture vehicle bodies for great British automotive brands including Austin, Bentley, MG, Alvis, Rolls Royce, Daimler, Lanchester, Rover, Ford and even the British Government during the Second World War.

Vehicle bodies produced include the MG M-Type Midget, Austin A40 Somerset Coupe, Rover Steamline Coupe, Hillman Minx Sport, Daimler Conquest Roadster, Mk II Ford Zodiac and the iconic Rolls Royce Phantom.

Carbodies' expertise in the creation of classic, now iconic, motor vehicle bodies made them the ideal choice for London Taxi retailers Mann and Overton when they were looking for a partner for their FX2 hackney carriage model. The two companies formed a partnership in 1947, along with Austin - who supplied the bespoke chassis capable of achieving the 25ft turning circle required under the London Conditions of Fitness.

The company has always held production facilities in Coventry, including the area which is now the West Orchards Shopping Centre. Carbodies moved to its current Holyhead Road site in 1928, where it remains in full production today.

Following its merger with Mann and Overton in 1984, the company has had several names including London Taxis International and LTI. The company rebranded to its current name, The London Taxi Company, in September 2010.

 

Continued.... Our Taxis

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