23 December 1834: Joseph Hansom patents the Hansom cab

The 19th-century forerunner of the London black cab, architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom patented his Hansom cab on this day in 1834.

The iconic two-wheeled horse-drawn cab, beloved of Victorian cabbies, was once as common a sight on London's streets as the black Hackney cab is today. Considering how popular it was, you would think its inventor, York architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom, would have made a packet from patenting the design on 23 December 1834. But he didn't.

Hansom excelled as a designer of buildings, and he was quite a nifty inventor too. But he was a lousy entrepreneur, as his first foray into business proved. While in his mid-20s in 1831, Hansom, together with his business partner Edward Welch, won a tender to design and build a new town hall for the burgeoning city of Birmingham.

It was no mean feat. Some serious names had thrown their hats into the ring, including Charles Barry, the architect later behind the Palace of Westminster. Desperate to win, Hansom's proposal cost just £16,648. But as an added sweetener, he promised to pay for any cost overruns and delays out of his own pocket. Unfortunately for Hansom, there were problems getting the marble from Anglesey, and work soon ground to a halt. Costs were mounting and, unable to pay his creditors, he was declared bankrupt in 1834.

But with a family to feed, Hansom started to look around for another money-making opportunity. Like today, in the first part of the 19th century, the taxi industry was undergoing a profound change. Cumbersome four-wheeled Hackney carriages were phased out, and from 1823, replaced with sportier two-wheeled flies', which were notoriously dangerous. Hansom set out to make them safer.

His design was filed as patent number 6733 at the Patent Office. He then sold the rights for £10,000 to the Safety Cabriolet & Two-wheel Carriage Company, which was set up with the considerable sum of £100,000 to produce Hansom cabs. For reasons not entirely clear, Hansom only ever received £300 for his "time and trouble". By this time, Hansom had already gone back to what he loved best: designing churches. He died in 1882, aged 78. By the century's end, there were more than 7,000 black cabs bearing his name in the capital.

 

Recommended

The best one-year fixed savings accounts - February 2023
Savings

The best one-year fixed savings accounts - February 2023

Earn almost 5% on one-year fixed savings accounts.
3 Feb 2023
Best regular savings accounts – February 2023
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – February 2023

Looking to stash small amounts away each month? You can now earn as much as 7% on regular saving accounts. We list the ones worth looking at.
3 Feb 2023
Which supermarket is the cheapest?
Personal finance

Which supermarket is the cheapest?

With food inflation hitting almost 17%, we look at which is the cheapest supermarket, plus the Competitions and Market Authority’s plan to introduce u…
3 Feb 2023
After slumping 42% last year, what's next for Scottish Mortgage?
Investment trusts

After slumping 42% last year, what's next for Scottish Mortgage?

After a spectacular couple of decades, the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust fell by 42% last year. We take a look at the trust's performance and dis…
3 Feb 2023

Most Popular

When will interest rates go up?
UK Economy

When will interest rates go up?

Interest rates are now at 4%, and they could rise further in the months ahead.
3 Feb 2023
NS&I brings back one-year fixed bonds with highest rates since 2010
Personal finance

NS&I brings back one-year fixed bonds with highest rates since 2010

NS&I’s one-year fixed bonds are back on sale after being pulled off the market in 2019 - but is the rate any good?
1 Feb 2023
Covid-19 vaccines helped these stocks take off, but what’s next for these companies?
Investments

Covid-19 vaccines helped these stocks take off, but what’s next for these companies?

Dominic Frisby explores how the top vaccine stocks are doing as booster take-up remains at a low
2 Feb 2023