Seeing London from a “Growler” Cab, 1855

June 11th, 2008 Posted in Magic Lantern

A Clarence carriage or "growler" cab, London, mid-1800s 

In July of 1855, the James family arrived in London, and William James and Henry James, just entering their teens, saw the city from the driving seat of this kind of contraption.

“When the Jameses forged out into the city, they wouldn’t have hailed a trim two-wheeled hansom cab but instead the roomier Clarence carriage.  A ‘growler,’ the Jameses found, was an unwieldy vehicle that at the best of times qualified as a rollover waiting to happen.  Top-heavy, it tended to list dangerously if trunks were lashed to the roof.  Even without such such burdens, the interior was cramped, with Henry, Mary, Kate, and the three youngest children stuffed inside a nearly windowless compartment . . .  Growlers could get them places, but these lumbering vehicles didn’t offer the famous open views that hansom cabs did.

“But thirteen year-old William and twelve-year-old Harry, perched up beside the lanterns and next to the driver, had a ‘coign of vantage,’ as Harry remembered it.  Their four-wheeler rumbled forth, and the two young teenagers saw London ‘for the first time since [their] babyhood.’  Vast, imperial vistas opened up before them–squares, mansions, banks, hotels–all of them spiced by the boys’ life-threatening seats beside a London cabby.”

(c) Paul Fisher 2008 – All Rights Reserved.

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