There's something about London taxicabs that touches everyone's emotions, even including folks who've never visited that great city. It's because the vehicles are so distinctive in appearance; because they've come to symbolise London's street transport; and because they're so utterly practical for both passengers and drivers. But though they may seem all alike, those ubiquitous taxicabs have changed a great deal over the years. Few people know this better than my good friend Nigel Matthews, an Englishman now resident in Canada. In particular he remembers the Beardmore cabs that were so common in his childhood, so when one appeared at Vancouver's All-British show in May he photographed it for our benefit.
Among other things the Beardmore featured an open platform next to the driver, where passenger's baggage could be stored. Keep in mind that the amazing spaciousness of a London cab exists because there's no trunk. You store your stuff inside; not normally a problem provided the jump seats aren't in use. When the Beardmore was built the designers felt the space next to the driver should serve as storage (nobody sits beside the cabbie in London taxis). With his safety in mind, that meant passenger's belongings had to be physically separated, resulting in an enclosed driving compartment that was only one seat wide, though the cab's roof extended over the baggage compartment. It also meant that the baggage was at least partly exposed to the elements. That may seem odd, but it harks back to a time when buses, and horse-drawn carriages before them, stowed bags, cases, and trunks in the open, usually up top. (The better known Austin FX3 cabs also featured a baggage platform.)
Taxicabs were merely an offshoot of William Beardmore's company. The firm also made railway steam engines, ships and aircraft, arms and armaments. Its original naval shipyard was the largest in the United Kingdom at the time. It produced the first aircraft carrier to have a full length flat top flight deck. Beardmore produced two unusual flying boats for the RAF, an experimental, all-metal trimotor transport aircraft, and a line of aircraft engines, including the Cyclone, Meteor, Simoon, Tornado (used in the R101 airship), Typhoon and Whirlwind. Beardmore taxicabs were produced from 1919 through to 1967; some 6000 taxis were made along with 500 cars for private use. Today there's a healthy market for vintage London cabs.
[Photo: Nigel Matthews]