One of the ads on London Underground for the Science Museum's Grossology exhibition features a little girl's freckly and bespectacled face gawping amazed into a fish-eye lens. 'How much poo is that?' she is asking. Underneath, the small print informs any curious passengers dawdling on the platform quite how many tonnes of manure the horses that once pulled London's taxis used to produce.
London's last horse-drawn hackney carriage was retired from active service in 1947, 308 years after the Corporation of Coachmen first received a licence allowing them to compete with sedan chairs. According to Poles Apart: The Public Sedans of Bygone London, a pamphlet by Geoffrey Wilson (Connor and Butler, £5.95), 'the first public hire chairs in Britain appeared in London in 1634, after Charles I had granted a warrant to Sir Saunders Duncombe, a gentleman-pensioner of the King, giving him the sole right to build covered chairs and operate them for hire in London and Westminster for 14 years.' Fifteen years later, it was in a sedan chair that the King was transported from the courtroom to the scaffold. Did thoughts of Duncombe's warrant, however fleetingly, cross his mind?
LRB 8 August 2002 | PDF Download