Sunderland-based historian Keith Gregson recalls a York-born inventor.

DO you ever wonder what it must be like to leave your name to posterity - how nice it would be to be a Lennon or McCartney, a Bach or a Michelangelo? Better still to have a name attached permanently to something in daily use such as Ford, Morris, Hoover or even Dyson.

One such lucky man was York-born Joseph Hansom who became a household name as the inventor of the Hansom cab - the taxi of the 19th century.

My interest in Joseph grew when I discovered an ancestor who had been a Hansom cab owner. Later a young pupil turned up in my history class who could claim direct descendancy from the great man.

This led me to delve into his story and the discovery that he first saw the light of day in York 200 years ago on Sunday.

Joseph was born on October 26, 1803, in Micklegate and christened the following day. Often a quick christening took place because the child was weak and not expected to survive.

In Joseph's case, the family's staunch Catholic beliefs are a more likely explanation for his swift admission to the faith.

Because Catholic baptisms were still carried out in Latin, he was grandiosely christened as Josephus Aloysius Handsom(e) at Micklegate Bar Roman Catholic chapel.

This was the same place his father, the even grander Henricus Josephus Franciscus Handsome, had been christened 25 years earlier and where his brothers were also to be baptised.

Overall, the records reveal a family link with the church going back well into the 18th century.

Joseph had little basic education when small and had to make up for it in later life.

While in his early teens, he was apprenticed as a joiner to his father. Henry soon realised that his son was as skilled in design as he was in construction and moved his son from joinery to architecture.

Joseph eventually became an architect's clerk in the city.

He married Hannah Glover in 1825 at St Michael-le-Belfrey in York.

Joseph had spent his formative years in York but now settled in Halifax. After a few years he formed a partnership with Edward Welch and began to specialise in building churches.

He was also given the job of creating a new town hall in Birmingham. This he did successfully although, apparently through no fault of his own, he ended the project in financial difficulties.

So he next went to manage an estate at Caldecote Hall in the Midlands. It was here, at the suggestion of his employer, Dempster Hemming, that he registered the idea of a patent safety cab, on December 23, 1834.

Although York has the birthright of the inventor, Hinckley can rightfully claim to be the home of the cab.

It was down Hinckley's Coventry Road that the Hansom cab first travelled in 1835.

Joseph was the inventor of the Hansom cab. Of that there is no doubt. Nevertheless, the Hansom cabs so readily associated with Victorian London were actually later developments of his original.

Joseph provided bigger wheels than usual and a body lower to the ground, which made the cabs safer, and sturdier. The back seat, for example, was a later addition.

Although Joseph's name stuck with the vehicle and took him into posterity, the invention did not make him much money. At first, a massive sum was offered to him for the rights to produce the vehicle but the firm ran into difficulties. Joseph was paid £300 to help them out. According to the original Dictionary Of National Biography this was "the only money he received in connection with his vehicle".

Equally fascinating, perhaps, is the way Joseph perceived himself. Towards the end of his life, in 1881, he told the census officer that he was "a retired architect" and it is likely that it is for this profession that he may have wanted to be remembered.

In the 1840s, keen to be involved in spreading the good news of architecture, he became involved with a publication called The Builder. Here, too, he enjoyed little financial success but the publication went on to greater things.

For 25 years, from the mid 1850s to mid 1870s, he devoted himself to designing and arranging the building of many churches and public buildings. In so doing he involved members of his immediate family, both brothers and sons - many of them York born also.

Prominent among his buildings were Plymouth cathedral and St Waldburge's church in Preston - famous for the height of its spire. Signs of his influence are also found in France, Australia and South America.

Although most accounts of Joseph's life seem to present little more than the bare bones, this son of York generally comes across well. He remained a committed Catholic all his life and in his devotion to church building, really carried his faith forward.

He was also a good family man and never happier than at his Golden Wedding in 1875 when surrounded by children and grandchildren.

Both Joseph and his wife led full lives. She died in 1880 and Joseph two years later. He was buried at Fulham's St Thomas RC church on July 3, 1882.

Today it could be argued that Joseph Hansom is not quite the household name he used to be.

Changes in the nature of public transport have seen to that. Still, there are few in the country, whether through watching costume dramas or serious history programmes, who will not have encountered his invention.

On this special anniversary, the modern citizens of York can proudly lift a glass to honour the success of one of its famous sons.

Updated: 12:49 Monday, October 20, 2003