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How Did Victorian & Edwardian Authorities Deal with Drunken Cabbies?

Cabmen's Shelter
Market Place, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Listed: 2009
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for Cabmen's Shelter

Modern-day taxi drivers can keep warm and dry behind the wheel between fares, but for their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors in horse-drawn cabs, there was no such luxury. Although passengers were protected from the elements, cabbies sat in the open and so often suffered from ill health.

Although legally they weren't supposed to leave their horses unattended, it was great temptation in poor weather to make use of public houses between fares. So what did the local authorities do to curb the problem of drunken cabbies? The answer lies in small shelters like the one still surviving in the Market Place in Ripon.

Cabmen's Shelter Fund Notice
Cabmen's Shelter Fund Notice

The Cabmen's Shelter Fund

Following an incident one snowy night in 1875 - when, it was said, he had been left waiting a long time for a driver as all the cabbies had retreated to cosy pubs - Sir George Armstrong, editor of the Globe newspaper, enlisted the support of philanthropists to established the Cabmen's Shelter Fund.

Across central London, the charity built and operated small shelters - simple timber huts placed on the verge next to cab ranks. Each had a 'footprint' limited by the Metropolitan Police to the space that might otherwise be occupied by a horse and cart. Despite their small size, they proved a success as an alternative to pubs, providing somewhere warm and dry to sit between fares, with an attendant on hand to provide modestly priced light refreshments of a non-alcoholic variety.

Cabmen's Shelter in Westminster
Cabmen's Shelter in Westminster

A highly decorative hut

The Cabmen's Shelter Fund only operated in London, where eight shelters still survive and are now Grade II listed. The idea was, however, adopted elsewhere in the country, producing the particularly ornate example in Ripon's Market Place.

This was provided for Ripon's cabbies in 1911 by Sarah Carter, the daughter of a former mayor of the town. It was constructed by the Norfolk firm of Boulton & Paul, which produced a range of prefabricated buildings from the 1880s onwards. The company may have been given the contract to supply the Ripon shelter on the back of publicity surrounding Captain Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1910-13. Boulton & Paul had provided the huts used for Scott's base camp.

For such a small hut - just two metres by three metres - it is highly distinctive. Of prefabricated timber construction, its four bays are divided externally by decorative fluted pilasters and a mini-balustrade of iron fretwork, and the hipped roof has small gablettes - decorative motifs that look like small gables - at each end. Inside, the shelter is simpler, with plain boarding and built-in beaches.

Ripon cab shelter
Ripon cab shelter

Cabmen's shelters today

The Ripon shelter was restored in 1980 by the Royal Engineers, who fitted it onto a wheeled chassis to allow it to be moved. Following further restorations and a slight relocation, it remains in the Market Place today. It is a nationally rare and well-preserved example of a cabmen's shelter.

Other listed examples of these cosy respite stops can be found in London - search for 'cabmen shelter' on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE).

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