The Vindictive Mrs. Prodgers, Terror Of London

By Debra Kelly on Sunday, September 7, 2014
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“Sweet is revenge—especially to women.” —Lord Byron, Don Juan

In A Nutshell

In the late 1880s, London cab drivers were always on the lookout for Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers (as she always insisted on being referred to by her full and proper name). During a 20-year period, she took more than 50 cab drivers to court over fee technicalities, suing them when they tried to collect a full fare after she requested they stop just short of her destination. She was so hated she was immortalized in song and in skit form, and burned in effigy on Bonfire Night.

The Whole Bushel

Things are annoying. We all have our little grievances and things that drive us mad, and we certainly wish we could do something about it. But few of us take it as far as Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers.

Mrs. Prodgers hated London cabs. While it’s unclear just what they did to bring down her wrath upon them, it must have been a pretty big offense.

No one ever said Mrs. Prodgers was normal, either.

The first time she found herself in the courts was in 1871, when she was in the process of divorcing her husband. The proceedings were so bizarre and so scandalous that they were a longtime favorite in all the newspapers, including her questioning of the legitimacy of her own children. (Take a second to enjoy just how ridiculous that is.) Eventually it was decided that since she was richer than he was, she would pay him support—of course, it wasn’t long before she lapsed on that and ended up back in court.

Whether she had an honest beef with London cab drivers or she just relished her day in court and seeing her name in the newspapers is up for debate. But not long after her divorce proceedings ended, she turned her attention to the hapless cab drivers of London.

She started by memorizing the fare chart, a massive sheet of all the stops and distances and prices of taking a cab around London. She would catch a cab going from Point A to Point B, and just before the distance and fare rate would increase, she’d call a halt to the cab. If the poor cab driver tried to collect the full fare, she’d take him to court.

Mrs. Prodgers spent nearly 20 years stalking the streets of London, preying on cabbies like some grandmotherly, avenging angel (at least, that’s how we like to picture her). She ended up dragging more than 50 cabbies into court, not fussed by the fact that everyone thought she was less avenging angel and more of a nuisance. Even the judges began suggesting she buy her own carriage if she was that concerned, as she could certainly afford it.

When she showed no signs of slowing down, drivers would look out for each other, calling her name down the line when one saw her coming, so all could take the opportunity to scatter.

There were other weird incidents that she found herself in the middle of. She took her former cook to court for being in her home and having the audacity to sing while she was there. She refused to pay for newspapers that might have her name in them. She obviously liked to cause trouble, and cause trouble she did.

Mrs. Prodgers was in turn appropriately honored by the good people she harassed. She was featured in cartoons and poems in satirical magazines of the day, and she also had the dubious honor of being burned in effigy on Bonfire Night, often alongside Guy Fawkes and while cabbies and their supporters performed less-than-flattering skits about her.

Bizarrely, there was one man in London who seemed to take her and her crusade seriously. She was a good friend of the explorer Sir Richard Burton, and he was known to give her legal advice from time to time. Just what relationship they had was a matter of speculation, but for some reason he tolerated her when others were dancing around her burning effigy.

When Mrs. Prodgers died in 1890, her obituary stated: “Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead.”

Show Me The Proof

The Public Domain Review: Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, the Cabman’s Nemesis
The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright
Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs, by John Thomson, Adolphe Smith