On the Hazard at the Four Courts, 1856-1956

Many old photographs of the Four Courts, like this one, show a line of cabs at the old rank, or ‘hazard’ opposite the portico. Image via Mary Evans Picture Library.

From the Belfast Telegraph of Saturday 12 May 1956:

In Dublin, the word hazard is (or was) the proper technical term for a street car stand duly authorised by the police… One young Englishman was naturally ignorant of this local usage, and when handed some deeds that were urgently needed in court and bade him ‘.Take the first car you see on the hazard and tell the jarvey to drive like __ to the Four Courts’ he interpreted this to mean ‘take the first car you chance to come across.’ Accordingly, he rushed out, saw a landau waiting in front of a doctor’s residence next door, jumped in, and repeated his orders verbatim… and the rest was not silence.”

The Four Courts had its own hazard opposite the portico, backed up by a parent or ‘feeding’ hazard at Blackhall Street.  The rule in Dublin was that as a hazard became empty the parent stand supplied the deficiency, though not everyone agreed with the feeding hazard system, the Freeman’s Journal of 17 January 1856 remarking that

A car that came to Summer-hill from the Four Courts might, in common sense, be allowed to go back, but he was compelled to go the stand in Blackhall street, through North King Street, and from that to go round by Manor Street, and he takes his position at the place from which he started originally, after travelling three miles and a half for 6d.  Why not allow him to go back through Capel Street and fall in at the hazard at the Four Courts if there was a vacancy?‘”

The original vehicles on the Four Courts hazard were Ringsend cars, depicted in the above illustration from the Evening Herald (Dublin) 19 November 1892. The article accompanying it describes a Ringsend car as ‘a rude kind of vehicle, consisting of a seat suspended on a strap of leather between two shafts’ subsequently replaced by the noddy or ‘one horse shay… a common low backed car with solid wooden wheels about 20 inches in diameter fixed upon a revolving axle.’

Cabmen at the Four Courts hazard had a lot in common with their best customers,, members of the Law Library, likewise always waiting for something to turn up. One difference highlighted by the Dublin Evening Telegraph of 7 April 1894 was that, in the Law Library, desk priority was according to seniority, whereas on the hazard the cabman ‘had to wait his turn whether he be a youngster in his teens or a veteran of thirty years.’

One unnamed Lord Chief Justice was described in Lady of the House of Friday 15 December 1922 as inclined to refer to certain lawyers as ‘on the hazard’ , always ready for any journey who led to the Four Courts. He must have been thinking of this barrister, parodied in the Dublin Leader of 12 April 1913:

LADIES who have been crossed in love cannot do better than put their case in the hands of B Bluffandbland, K.C, who has in stock a supply of choice jests from all judges and damages from any jury.  Justice secured or evaded according to his client’s desire.  Always to be found in his Old Place at the Four Courts Hazard.  No reasonable offer refused!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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