by Sébastien Canévet and Danny Chabaud
2020 review by Malcolm Bobbitt
It’s an intrinsic part of London and its fame extends world-wide. Such is the familiar London Taxicab, examples of which have found their way to all corners of the world. Together with the Red London Bus, the same colour telephone boxes, the traditional Black Cab is very much a symbol of London itself.
Taxis Anglais is a new and imposing work, in the French language, by SAHB member in France Sébastien Canévet who, with co-author and fellow London Cab enthusiast Danny Chaubaud, has compiled an exclusive biography of the Black Cab which encompasses much more than a mere history of this unique and much loved vehicle. It is very much an individual examination of this equally idiosyncratic means of transport, and the authors start with an overview of the horse-drawn Hansoms and Growlers that plied London’s streets before the motoring age and have sourced some emotive images of an era when hailing a cab cost a shilling a mile to travel along the City’s thoroughfares.
In an age when the motoring population is still unconvinced about the thrusting upon them of electric vehicles in place of the internal combustion engine, mainly because of range anxiety and the EV charging infrastructure, there is some irony that the earliest motorised taxicabs in London were so propelled. The authors explain how the Bersey cabs operated by the London Electric Cab Co in the late 1800s were soon replaced by petrol-engined vehicles the like of Vauxhalls, Rationals, Prunels, Unics, Renaults and Panhard et Levassors, the majority of these being of French origin.
It is relating to the inter-war years where the authors explain in detail the development of the London taxicab and the strict Conditions of Fitness these vehicles had to meet in order to gain a licence to operate in the English Capital. Here the story of the Beardmores, Paramounts, Austins and Morris Commercials, along with Citroëns and other makes some of which were often produced in small numbers, is told before progressing to the post-war era and the development of the Austin FX2 and FX3. Parallel to this is the history of Mann & Overton, the company largely responsible for influencing cab designs as well as the expansion of the taxicab industry. The authors also explore the marginal makes of cab, typically the Birch and the Winchester before detailing the FX3’s successor the FX4 and the Metrocab. In bringing the history up to date it is discussed how the TX1 replaced the FX4 and Metrocab, the latter at one time owned by the Reliant company better known for three-wheelers and performance sports cars, which were not only looking dated but needed to comply with wheelchair access and other regulations. The new era of the London Cab with its green credentials is explained as are the many uses for which cabs have been employed around the world. The diversity of photographs and history of the prototypes plus the production of the cabs are all particularly interesting.
A remarkably stimulating aspect of the book is the section which chronicles the desire by the French to develop their own purpose-built cab, the influence being the London Black cab. Several proposals are explained, such as prototypes built by Schwab, Guilloré and Escoffier, but the idea failed to materialise. The ideas might not have been entirely on British lines but the post-war cab was definitely the motivating factor. Another important facet is the narrative of the cabbie whose knowledge of London is exemplary and who is just as much of the taxi scene as the cabs themselves.
The work is well executed with a huge number of images, some being new to even the most dedicated taxicab enthusiasts. The history is fully encompassing and the production of the book is excellent with an adventurous layout. The work is nicely accessible and there are sections devoted to the many exterior and interior styling changes to the cabs over the years, technical modifications and there are vehicle production tables. If there is a criticism it is that a few of the photographs, especially at the beginning of the work, are too small. Nevertheless, this is a book that is highly recommended and one to be enjoyed.
Publisher: E-T-A-I, 92160 Antony, France (www.editions-etai.fr)
Available from: the publishers, or from Palmier at Nimes, www.editions-palmier.com (Available to order).
Price: 49€ plus postage from France to the UK.
Description: Hardback in dustjacket (310 x 235 mm), 192 pages; 436 photos.
ISBN: 979 10 283 0405 8