Green’s Dictionary of Slang

growler n.2

[either a pun on SE sulky (although this was a one-horse, two-wheeled vehicle), or the creaks and rattles of the cab, or the stereotypically poor temper of the driver]

a four-wheeled cab; thus its driver; also attrib.

[UK]Bucks Herald 24 Oct. 4/6: He calls a Hansom a ‘shofle,’ and his own vehicle is known as a ‘growler’.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 183: Growler a four-wheeled cab. It is generally supposed that drivers of these vehicles take a less favourable view of life than do their Hansom brethren.
[UK]G.A. Sala in Living London (1883) May 150: A great deal more might be said in disparagement of the ‘growler,’ which is only the old hackney-coach writ small.
[UK]Sporting Times 1 Feb. 3/2: I resolved to cross Africa in a GROWLER!
[US]Harper’s Mag. 87 July 307/2: In London, for example, the four-wheel cab is called a growler; — why?
[UK]Lancs. Eve. Post 17 May 2/6: The driver of a four-wheeler is a ‘growler’.
[UK]Punch 31 Jan. 81/2: I want to leave the van and go / Home comfortably in a growler.
[UK]Illus. Sporting & Dramatic News 21 Nov. 10/3: The steed which has become to slow for a ‘sho’ful,’ as the hansom is termed [...] has to come down to ‘growler’ work.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 20 Apr. 3/6: A Charing Cross busman, having bumped his horses into the back of a ‘growler,’ [...] shouted out to tbe driver [etc].
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 273: You might make nearly half as much at it [...] as you would if you went in for being a clerk or driving one o’ them there has-been growlers.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 29 Dec. 9/3: I could never drive a Growler / (Which goes on 4 wheels, you see).
[UK](con. 1920s) J. Sparks Burglar to the Nobility 28: A motor-car [...] going quite fast through the hansom cabs and growlers and bicycles.

In compounds

In phrases

work the growler (v.)

to hire a cab to accompany one on a ‘pub-crawl’.

[UK]Dundee Courier 2 Jan. 5/6: ‘What ails that man?’ [...] ‘Worked the growler,’ was the explanation.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 508: [...] late C.19–20.