No scene of London would be complete without one of those iconic ‘taxi cabs‘ in the background. Thousands of people ride in them every day. Black cabs have become as synonymous with London life as red phone boxes or double decker buses. If you’ve ever taken a cab in London, then you’ll already know how knowledgeable taxi drivers in the city are. It’s as simple as hopping in the taxi and telling your driver where you want to go. Without a GPS or even a map, off you’ll go… This is all thanks to an extensive test known as ‘the Knowledge‘, an exam almost as famous as the taxi drivers themselves that has existed since 1865!
A Quick History of the London Taxi
London taxis or ‘cabs’ are officially known as the ‘hackney carriage‘. A popular myth says that the hackney carriage is named after the London borough of Hackney. However, they are actually so called after the old French word ‘hacquenée;’ a type of horse which you could hire. Taxis have been part of London life since the very first days of motor cars in London. After all, the city has always been at the forefront of modern technology.
As early as the 17th Century, passengers could ride in horse-drawn carriages to get around London. These were then replaced by battery operated cars in the late 1800s before being replaced with petrol operated motor cars. Meters were installed in the cabs in 1907.
Vintage London Taxi: Source
‘The Knowledge’: One of The Hardest Exams in the World
In order to secure a taxi license in London, you have to pass a thorough test, proving that you know the city like the back of your hand. The ‘knowledge’ of all 320 runs are contained in a blue book, all of which must be memorized if someone wants to gain their qualification. The routes contain 25,000 streets and around 20,000 monuments. If you want to earn the privilege of driving a London cab, you have to learn all 25000 streets off by heart!
The requirement to learn all of London back to front makes the Knowledge the hardest and most comprehensive test of its kind in the world. In fact, it takes between two and four years of full-time study to complete. The test comprises of a combination of written and oral exams. And it’s a tough few years at that…
You’ll often see people on scooters driving around the city with maps attached to the handlebars. These are the people who are studying for the Knowledge, and you’ll often see them stopping beside iconic landmarks. I thought learning a language was difficult, let alone learning the ins and outs of an entire city!
In the past few years, there have been numerous calls to scrap the exams. Critics say that there is little point in learning so much information ‘in a GPS age’. However, it is a point of pride to pass the knowledge (understandably) and it looks like the examination will continue for a fair few years yet…