Jarveys, Jarveys, Gerry Mac Arowner: Hackney Carriages in late nineteenth century Cork

From The South of Ireland illustrated: with descriptive letterpress and maps. Cork: Guy & Co., 1904(?). Source: www.corkpastandpresent.ie

From The South of Ireland illustrated: with descriptive letterpress and maps, Cork: Guy & Co., 1904. Source: http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie

When we think of way transport shaped the modern city, we usually think of light rail like trams, of undergrounds or else the railways. We almost never seem to think though of the hackney carriage. In addition to the role of these forms of transport, the hackney carriage similarly had a role to play in cementing the increasing ability of Cork’s middle classes to loosen the previously necessary proximity between home and work. Indeed as Angela Fahy notes:

Members of the predominantly Catholic middle classes lived in the suburbs in substantial terraced and detached houses; set in neat gardens, behind walls, safe they hoped from poverty, crime and ill-health associated with much of the city’s population.[1]

The hackney carriage was an important form of transport as it was more private than any other form of publicly available transport, and what’s more, presented an occasion when more well-to-do members of Cork city had to deal directly with working-class people. Not surprisingly then, the hackney carriage was one mode of transport whose regulation was tightly controlled by Cork Corporation.

On Monday 23 October 1854, a new bye-law was passed at a meeting of the Cork Corporation to issue licences, set fares and provide a guide for both drivers and customers of Cork’s hackney carriages, driven by what were locally termed ‘ginglemen’. Over the course of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, these bye-laws and a subcommittee of the Corporation – officially the Hackney Carriages Committee, though popularly called the gingle committee – were alone responsible for the regulation of this business.

The range of places for which specific fares were set is remarkable and worthy of some examination. Fares were set from the borough boundary in almost every direction, as well as the various suburbs into the city. As well as these specific fares for particular places on the city’s boundary, there were also varying fares for those operating between midnight and six a.m. and those operating from six a.m. to midnight. Additionally, fares varied depending on whether the passenger was travelling by a four-wheeled covered carriage or a two-wheeled uncovered carriage. These fares ranged from 6d, 9d, 1/-, 1/3, to as expensive as 2/6 depending on the distance, with prices doubling after nightfall. These carriages were, at such prices, undoubtedly the reserve of Cork’s middle and upper classes.[2]

When the bye-law for the hackney carriage was first introduced, it was to licence specifically hackney carriage drivers who were plying for trade within a five mile radius of the general post office in the city. This helps to place the business of hackney carriages within the orbit of other communication networks of which the General Post Office in the city was the centre: the telegraph and mail coach. It was in the context of such communication networks that their regulation was begun. The bye-law was extraordinarily detailed and allows us to not alone map the limits of the city but offered a plethora of behavioural controls to ensure the ginglemen conducted themselves in a manner deemed appropriate by the authorities on pain of fine or loss of licence. These behavioural norms included an insistence that the ginglemen waited either on the seat of their car, or standing by the head of their horse until they were approached to be employed by a customer; that they not approach potential customers or shout out to them in advance of being approached. In all of this we can detect what Chris Otter has described as the ‘bourgeois visual environment’, one in which sight can prevail, civil conduct be exposed to view, and those eminently Victorian qualities of reserve and distance maintained.’[3] In other words, wait to be approached at the cab stand, do not approach. Additionally, the gingleman was expected, in the words of article seven of the bye-law, to ‘be careful, able, decent in his apparel, and civil in his appearance.’ Under this subheading of the bye-law it was decreed that:

If the driver of a Hackney Carriage shall be of an age less than sixteen years, and not of decent apparel and of good and civil behaviour while on his stand; if he shall not wait on his driving seat; if he shall at any time sit, lie, or rest himself within the body of his carriage, or shall molest, disturb, annoy, or insult the owners, occupiers, inmates or inhabitants of any house opposite to, or in the vicinity of his stand, or any passenger or other person whatsoever, either by riotous, turbulent or disobedient behaviour, or by abusive, obscene, or improper language or gestures, or in any manner whatever, in violation of public decency or morals, misconduct himself towards or in respect to such owners, occupiers, inmates, inhabitants, passenger, or other person or persons, respectively for every offence, the driver and proprietor of such carriage shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding 40s.[4]

This article is the most explicit example of the bye-law as a means to social control of a particular portion of the population of Cork. Aside from these behavioural norms that the bye-law attempted to enforce on the ginglemen, the bye-laws also indicated that horses not be fed on the street; that drivers keep a copy of bye-laws and fare tables on them at all times; that they wear a badge with their licence number; that their licence number be painted on their carriage clearly at least three inches tall; drivers could not convey dead bodies or carriers of infectious diseases; they must maintain a speed limit of six miles per hour, slowing on bends and corners. All of these bye-laws were enforced by the Hackney Carriage Committee of the Cork Corporation, which was operational from at least 1855.

But, probably not too surprisingly, there was plenty of resistance, ignoring and breaching of these various bye-laws. From the records of the Hackney Carriage Committee in Cork City and County Archives, we see a whole range of drivers pulled for various offences. One of the most prominent reasons for reprimand from the committee and the inspector was the operation of a hackney carriage without a license, or not displaying your drivers badge.

An excellent example of a figure who repeatedly offended in this regard was a man named Edward Hannan. One of the early entries of the committee’s minute books noted that the inspector, in his weekly report, noted that Hannan was doing just that. However, an attempt to prosecute him was adjourned at the magistrate’s court in order to allow Hannan’s solicitor to petition the committee directly, however they declined to hear any such plea from the solicitor.[5] Hannan would prove something of a bête noir for the committee that year. In the middle of February, the inspector noted that

Edward Hannan, Hackney Car Owner, had been convicted a sixth time of plying an unlicensed car; that he was a troublesome man of violent temper, but had now taken the Temperance pledge and that Ald. Hooper had written suggesting he should get another chance – Letter from Hannan apologising for anything he may have said or done to the members of the committee and promising not to offend again.[6]

The committee decided to defer any decision until the next meeting. Hannan was not dealt with until a fortnight later, when summoned once more plying an unlicensed car, his case was again adjourned with the committee deciding instead that ‘the consideration of the case was adjourned to next meeting, pending the result of the new prosecution, and to see how Hannan would conduct himself in the meantime.’ Between this meeting at the end of February and one at the end of March, Hannan’s name was twice more in the inspector’s weekly report to the committee. On 13 March 1890 the inspector noted that now up for a seventh breach of the bye-laws, still plying an unlicensed vehicle, he also ‘attempted to run down the Assistant Inspector; that he threatened to run down any member of the Corporation that came in his way’!

Not only that but on 27 March 1890, the inspector once more noted that Hannan had been fined 20/- for plying an unlicensed car, the alternative to which was fourteen days imprisonment while also being prosecuted for being drunk while in charge of a horse and car. Additionally he was sentenced to a month’s hard labour for assaulting the inspector in his own home, for which he had to also give bail or face a further term of three months imprisonment.[7] Given the strained nature of the relationship between the committee and Hannan, it is unsurprising that they decided, when Hannan and his unlicensed car appeared once more in June 1890, that it was better a solicitor deal with the matter, than they doing so themselves directly.[8] Evidently, Hannan represents a rather extreme example of the conduct of a gingleman, and his relationship with the committee was especially sour.

Extreme and all as Hannan’s case was, it was sufficiently common for hackney drivers to come up against this committee for there to be a ballad in Cork about the antagonism between the hackney driver and the committee that regulated his trade. The ballad, “Ben the Coachman” details the exploits of a hackney car driver a man who ‘ Loudly he’d curse and loudly swear’ and his encounter with the devil, a man by contrast who ‘held a book in his left claw, / Jarveys, Jarveys Gerry Mac Arowner, / Just for to show that he’d studied the law.’ [9]

Over the course of the song in which  ‘Although he appeared to be mighty civil, / Ben knew damn well that he was the divil,’ Ben drives the devil to the gates of hell, but the devil, who thought he’d claimed Ben’s soul, was outfoxed by the hackney driver, the hero of the ballad:

Says the divil to Ben now what is your fare?

Jarveys, Javeys, Gerry Mac Arowner, Why twenty guineas for driving you here,

Tommy roo, tommy roo, The devil paid without a grin,

For he thought he’d got aule Ben safely in,

With me ran tan tivey, tidddley fal dey

Says the divil ta ben your coach I’ll burn,

Jarveys, Jarveys, Gerry Mac Arowner, When Ben jumped up fast to return,

Tommy roo, Tommy roo, Me horse and car can go to pot,

for they’re insured and I am not

with me ran tan tivey, tiddley fal dey

For all that, Ben’s behaviour has been changed by his encounter with this devil, though his is the ultimate victory. As the final verse of the song indicates while humorously  playing on and subverting the audiences expectations of the rhyming scheme the song has followed:

So Ben jumped up and he drove home fast,

Jarveys, Jarveys, Gerry Mac Arowner

Until he arrived safe home at last,

tommy roo, tommy roo, Now Ben doesnt curse and he has good luck

and for the divil does he give a ……damn.

with me ran tan tivey, tiddley fal dey

Given the evidence to be found in the records of Cork Corporation’s Hackney Carriage Committee in terms of the attempts by that committee to police hackney car drivers’ behaviour, it is obvious why such a song should appeal to a Cork audience and find a home in the city. This ballad was a means of subverting the relationship between drivers and customers, drivers and the city’s law makers (often one and the same people). Here, the hackney driver was able to outsmart and rid himself of the man in black clutching in his hands a book of laws, the same laws that exerted such an influence over these mens lives.


[1] Fahy, Angela, ‘Place and Class in Cork’, in O’Flanagan and Buttimer (eds.), Cork History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County, (Dublin 1993), 793.

[2] Guy’s City and County Almanac for 1883, (Cork, 1883), 32.

[3] Otter, Chris, “Making liberalism durable: Vision and civility in the late Victorian city”, Social History, XXVII, 1, (2002), 3.

[4] Bye-Law of Cork Corporation, quoted in Cork Examiner, 29 December 1854.

[5] CCCA: CP/CO/HC/M/1, Hackney Carriage Committee Minute Books, 30 January 1890, 4.

[6] CCCA: CP/CO/HC/M/1, Hackney Carriage Committee Minute Books, 13 February 1890, 5.

[7] For all of these see CCCA: CP/CO/HC/M/1, Hackney Carriage Committee Minute Books, 13 February 1890, 5; 20 February 1890, 6; 27 February 1890, 7; 13 March 1890, 9; 27 March 1890, 10.

[8] CCCA: CP/CO/HC/M/1, Hackney Carriage Committee Minute Books, 5 June 1890, 22.

[9] The version I quote throughout is one sung by well-known Cork folk singer, Jimmy Crowley, but I have my friend Ian Creaner to thank for furnishing me with the lyrics after going to a lot of trouble on my behalf. The origins of the song, may well be English, however. On the Wiltshire Council Getfolk website, the song is attributed to Alfred ‘Tibby’ Barrett (1848/49 (?)-1925). In their records it is given as Roud No. 1314. See: http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getfolk.php?id=815

1 Comment

Filed under Employment, Irish History, Labour History, Music, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century

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