Hackney Cabs & Hackney Coaches

In A Duke in Shining Armor, a character’s close encounter (offstage) with a hackney cab triggers events. At other times, the characters travel, for reasons of anonymity, in hackney coaches. Though some authors use the terms interchangeably, these are two different vehicles.

The photograph of a model at the London Transport Museum offers a 3D view of the two-wheeled, one horse single-passenger cab. It was also known as a coffin cab, for two reasons: (1) the vehicle looked like a coffin and (2) it was dangerous.

The model makes it easier to see the apron that protected passengers from kicked-up dust and stormy weather. Henry Charles Moore's Omnibuses and Cabs tells us, “The fore part of the hood could be lowered as required, and there was a curtain which could be drawn across to shield the rider from wind and rain.” The curtain is hard to see—and I didn’t see it until recently, when I lightened the photo, but one can just about make it out, tucked away inside. The Cruikshank illustration below emphasizes the coffin aspect.

A new and improved version, introduced in 1823, carried two passengers. In my 1830s-set books, I use the later version.

Images, left to right: Cruikshank's illustration for Sketches by Boz; illustration from Omnibuses and Cabs; detail from James Pollard, Hatchetts, the White Horse Cellars, Piccadilly, via Wikipedia.

First, let’s distinguish hackney coaches, which took individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, from the stage coaches traveling the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules. Hackneys were like taxis. Stagecoaches were like long-distance buses. In England they’re still called coaches. Here’s Charles Dickens’s description of a hackney coach, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

This chapter of Omnibuses and Cabs: Their Origin and History tells the whole story, with excerpts from Sketches by Boz.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.
**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
London had many, many hackney coach stands during the early 19th century.  This is where you’d find the hackney coach waterman.

Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered.  The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued.  A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise.  Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen.  The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.

Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain).

If you haven't yet had enough of the topic, this section of Leigh’s New Picture of London for 1834 gives a concise overview of London transport in the time of my stories.

What Is the Heptaplasiesoptron?

Part 1 of my Guide to Dukes Prefer Blondes

Vauxhall Gardens, which existed 1661-1859, was a famous pleasure garden in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames.

While, sadly, I haven’t found any images of the Heptaplasiesoptron yet (still hoping), I have found several descriptions.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 131 (1822):

Monday, June 3.  1822
...the principal novelty is of a more expensive kind; it is called in the bills " The Heptaplasiesoptron" and is formed at one extremity of the saloon. It consists of an illuminated area, with revolving pillars, around which are entwined serpents, shaded under the foliage of palm trees. The centre is occupied by a cooling fountain; and looking-glasses, skilfully placed in the back-ground, reflect both the ornamental objects and the spectators with something approaching to magnificence of effect.

From Real Life in London, Or, The Rambles and Adventures of Bob Tallyho, Esq ...
 By Pierce Egan, William Heath, Henry Thomas Alken (1821):

But the grand subject of their admiration was what is rather affectedly called “The Heptaplasiesoptron,” or fancy reflective proscenium, which is placed in the long room fronting the orchestra of the Rotunda. It is entirely lined with looking glass, and has in all probability originated in the curious effect produced by the kaleidoscope, and the looking glass curtains lately exhibited at our theatres. This splendid exhibition is fitted up with ornamented draperies, and presents a fountain of real water illuminated, revolving pillars, palm trees, serpents, foliage, and variegated lamps; and the mirrors are so placed as to reflect each object seven times. This novelty appeared to excite universal admiration, inspiring the company with ideas of refreshing coolness. The bubbling of water, the waving of the foliage, and the seven times reflected effulgence of the lamps, gave the whole an appearance of enchantment, which sets all description at defiance.

Images: Cruikshank, "Tom, Jerry, and Logic make the most of an Evening at Vauxhall", from Life in London 1821. Advertisement for Juvenile Fetefrom Theatrical Observer and Daily Bills of the Play, 1822

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens

   The illustration of a young Charles Dickens    (about age 30 if the info is correct), is from Wikipedia—and quite a different look from the more familiar portraits of his older self.

 The illustration of a young Charles Dickens (about age 30 if the info is correct), is from Wikipedia—and quite a different look from the more familiar portraits of his older self.

Today, 7 February, is Charles Dickens's 200th birthday.  He was and continues to be my inspiration.  Every year I reread at least one of his books, for the sheer fun of it as well as the re-setting of impossibly high standards.  No matter how many times I reread his stories, I always discover something new.  This was a writer who could give a chair a personality. 

He inspired my love of English history and taught me to love a city I'd never seen—London—and set off that writer's itch that keeps me going and enriches my travels and makes me endlessly curious about the past, especially the world he grew up in and lived in and wrote about.

I am not sure I would have written a single novel, if not for him.

Thank you, Mr. Dickens, for all you've given us & all you've given me.

And a very Happy Birthday to you, wherever you are.

The Last Hellion--The Interview


SUSAN: As a reader and longtime Loretta fan, I’m personally delighted to see THE LAST HELLION returning in a fresh package for new readers to discover. Would you tell us a bit about the story?

Cribb vs molin 1811

LORETTA: This was one of the cases where a secondary character intrigued me. The Duke of Ainswood makes a brief drunk and disorderly appearance in LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. That was all he was supposed to do. But he kept bugging me. What was his problem? What was he covering up or running away from? It turned out that the Duke of Ainswood is a drunken boor because he’s paid an unbearably high price for his position. But his brand of self-destruction takes him slumming--and puts him on a collision course with big, blonde, and dangerous Lydia Grenville, crusading journalist (and secret romance writer). This story is special to me because it was an opportunity to deal with some aspects of Regency life that one doesn’t encounter often in historical romances. It was a way of getting into that Dickens world I love so much while allowing both my characters to try to fight the good fight--along with fighting with each other and falling in love.

The Last Hellion

I’m terrible at summarizing my stories, so I’ll let readers look at the back cover blurb here and an excerpt here.

SUSAN: Lydia Grenville is an untraditional heroine, nearly six feet tall, nearly thirty, and full of fire and conscience. She’s also a “career woman” in a time when ladies didn’t work, let alone work as crusading journalists. What inspired you to develop her character?


LORETTA: Dickens gave me the general inspiration for the setting, and the novels he and others wrote in serial form gave me the idea for her pseudonymous ROSE OF CAIRO. But more important, Lydia is one of the many woman characters I’ve created in reaction to women in 19th C novels and to 19th C sexism and misogyny in general. Specifically, what set me off was critics’ reaction to Lady Morgan’s two-volume ITALY. You can read her response to some of the criticism here.


According to Paul Johnson’s THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN, “they hated Lady Morgan as a woman writer...and they were further incensed by the news that the publisher Colburn had paid her the immense sum of £2000 for the book. Byron hailed the book as ‘fearless and excellent.’” Everyone else went nuts. Here’s a sampling from Johnson’s book: “‘she spewed out of her filthy maw/A flood of poison, horrible and black. “She was ‘an Irish she-wolf’ a ‘blustering virago,’ a ‘wholesale blunderer and reviler’; she wrote while ‘maudlin from an extra tumbler of negus in the forenoon.’” This was typical “criticism” of the time--reviewers today are pussycats by comparison. What fascinated me me was the how much they hated her simply because she was a successful woman writer.

His Girl Friday

It was a tough world, and journalism then was definitely no place for a lady. So I got the idea of a heroine who was both a tough cookie journalist (a HIS GIRL FRIDAY kind of dame)--and a writer of highly popular romantic tales. And the two occupations reflect the two sides of her personality.

Coffee Shop at Olympia

SUSAN: While Lydia is unusual, her hero, Vere Mallory, Duke of Ainswood, outwardly seems that most stereotypical character, the rakehell peer. But it only takes a few pages for readers to see the only typical thing about him is that he’s one more in a long line of deliciously unforgettable (and irresistible) heroes. What makes him so special?

Blue Ruin-Cruikshank-g

LORETTA: Well, he’s a big, dumb jerk, for one thing. I love writing tough, smart, cool heroes like James Cordier of YOUR SCANDALOUS WAYS or Lord Rathbourne of LORD PERFECT. But the Regency had its cowboys, too, and creating those types of heroes (Rupert of MR IMPOSSIBLE is one of my cowboys) is a different kind of challenge, and a different kind of fun. Sometimes I think we have an overly refined image of what men were like then. There’s a great passage in Conan Doyle’s RODNEY STONE: “He was a type and leader of a strange breed of men which has vanished away from England--the full-blooded, virile buck, exquisite in his dress, narrow in his thoughts, coarse in his amusements, and eccentric in his habits.” The “coarse in his amusements” concept influenced heroes like Lord Dain and the Duke of Ainswood.

Peep o Day boys-Cruikshank-g

Another inspiration for this story and his character was Pierce Egan’s LIFE IN LONDON. I could easily picture Ainswood in the situations Cruikshank illustrates.