The Horse in Victorian England

CHAPTER IX

 

THE JOBMASTER'S HORSE

 

IT takes over 300,000 living horse-power to move the wheels along the roads of London; and if we were to stand the horses in single file they would reach along the bridle-ways from St. Paul's to John-o'-Groat's.

 

   In 1891 the City took its day census, and found that 92,372 vehicles entered that favoured square mile during twenty- four hours; of these a third, chiefly omnibuses and cabs, were probably counted more than once; but allowing for these we should still have over a hundred thousand horses crossing the City boundary inwards during a day.

 

   Fired by the example of the City Fathers, the writer also took a census in a small way in pe rhaps not a particularly praiseworthy endeavour to discover how many horses came home from the Derby. Here was the horse-world of London boldly displayed - more, it must be confessed, to the advantage of the horses than to that of their drivers or freights. From the heavy dray horse to the coster's pony every variety of breed and quality was represented, including a solitary specimen of that favoured class which we are frequently assured is, in a fine spirit of philanthropy, only kept alive for the benefit of the race, and performs its useful function of leavening the mass much as does primogeniture. But London has no racehorses now, except they be merely passing through it. Even in the outer circle the old gate-money gatherings are dead, killed by a leisurely Jockey Club, which insisted on all such meetings being advertised in the Racing Calendar, and accepting no advertisements unless of meetings at which more than 300l. a day is given in 'added money'; and so the racehorse of the town, that used to go forth as a betting machine from an obscure London stable, passed out of existence, and his nearest representative is the Whitechapel trotter, which may occasionally be seen careering along the road on Sundays, to the no small danger of every one who is not top-heavy with intoxicants. And one of the noteworthy features of the return from the Derby is this peculiar safety of the drunken man, who, either on foot or on wheels, never seems to come to grief among the crowd. This crowd is a sight to see; but it fills the heart of the serious on-looker with sadness. Whatever else horse- racing may do, it certainly attracts an endless number of the vicious and the drunken, and it is a fair inference that it helps to make those who frequent it vicious and drunken. It is notorious that honesty and horse-racing seldom dwell together, and the spectacle of the Derby crowd on its return is an object lesson in the debasing power of what is miscalled sport.

 

   And a miscellaneous collection of horses it exhibits. Here are horses from every county in Britain; horses from almost every country of Europe, and certainly a [-116-] few from Argentina; some from Canada; and at least one from distant Australia, the horsiest continent in the world, where every inhabitant has half a horse, whilst in London county it takes fourteen to share a horse amongst them. How many they seem as they go past, and yet how few they are compared with those that stay at home! The London streets are apparently as full of horses on the Derby Day as on any day in the year, and show no sign of the very slight weeding that has gone to Epsom. And a mere weeding it is, and certainly has been for the last twenty years, although the number of horses on the Epsom road on that day is as great as it was twenty years ago. We hear of thousands, tens of thousands, even a hundred thousand horses on the Downs, whereas as a matter of fact there never was a tenth of the London horses gathered together at Epsom on the great Wednesday of the year. Coming home the crowd is thickest up through Balham and along Clapham Common; and on that road, notwithstanding all the fuss, there passed last year, between five o'clock and nine o'clock, just 4,002 horses, drawing or carrying about 50 short of 20,000 people; so that there were five persons per horse, and a thousand horses per hour.

 

   Of these horses we shall be safe in saying that at least nine-tenths of the good ones came from the job- master. The 'master' is everywhere in the London horse-world; even the butcher's cart and pony are getting to be hired, and it says so on some of the shafts. A large number of costers have hired from what we suppose they would call 'time immemorial.' The hire system pervades everything; we have even in our foragings discovered a happy man with a stock of 5,000 hand-harrows, which he lets out at three-halfpence an hour.

 

   Some of the 'masters' do an enormous business, the one in the largest way being apparently Tilling of Peckham, who has a stud of 2,500 horses; and an interesting business it is, owing to its wide extent and many developments. There are Tilling's horses on the job as far north as Sunderland on the Tees; westwards you will find them in Cornwall; southwards you will get them at Brighton. Horses he has of all varieties, from the heavy cart horse to the handy cob; but not of all qualities, for it does not pay a jobmaster to have a bad-looking horse, advertisement, if not noblesse, obliging. Tilling jobs for the duke, the doctor, and the drayman; for all sorts and conditions, from the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs to the washerwoman limited. Besides those in his own omnibuses and cabs, he has one batch of horses in the carts of a London district Board of Works; another, of 100, he has in Peek Frean's biscuit vans; another he has in the bottled-beer vans of one of the 'princely' brewers. He horses a tram line in the east; he horses another tram line in the south. He horses the Fire Brigade, the Salvage Corps, and, quite recently, he has begun to horse the Police. To do all this requires a large establishment, with yards open night and day, an establishment in which a rise in corn meant an increase of 9,000l. in the forage bill of one year only.

 

   The best horses are, of course, those used for fashionable carriage work. The high-class harness horse comes to London when he is about four years old.

 

   He is untrained, undrilled, with all his troubles to be faced. The young cart-horse is gradually introduced to work on the farm; not so the carriage horse, who is too much of the possibility of a valuable animal to run any risks with. He may fetch 80l. ; but if he is a handsome, well-built, upstanding state-coach horse, of the kind now so much sought after, lie will be cheap at 120l. He has to be educated to behave himself like a gentleman; he must learn to stand well-not an easy thing to do - he must know how to back and turn gracefully, how to draw up stylishly at a front door, how to look nice when under window criticism, how to carry his head and lift his feet, and how to work with a companion and be as like him in action as one pea is like another; in short, he has to go through a complete course of deportment, though not of dancing, and he will be a promising pupil if he gets through it in eight months. If he does well and shows a willing mind, it is well with him and he has an easy time of it for years; but if he is tricky or perverse in any way lie may have to go to hard labour and spend a twelvemonth in a 'bus. Sometimes that breaks him thoroughly of his bad habits and he returns to carriage work; sometimes, like an habitual criminal, he refuses to amend, and he remains a bus horse for life. And herein is the advantage of a miscellaneous business, for if a horse will not do in one branch he may in another.

 

   The new horse is not branded or numbered, but a note is made of his marks, and he is named from a book of names, taking, perhaps, an old name which has been vacant for at least a year; the names being chosen as fitting the particular horse, and not as aiding the memory with regard to the date or circumstance of his purchase, naming from pedigree, as in the case of a racer, being, of course, out of the question. There are many systems of naming; some firms, like Truman & Han bury, and Spiers & Pond, give the horses names which begin with the same initial all through the year, so that the A's may show the horses bought in 1890, the B's those bought in 1891, the C's those bought in 1892, &c. ; others have other plans, but nothing of this systematic sort seems to exist in the livery trade, owing, perhaps, to the possibility of awkward developments in the event of the customer learning the key.

 

   When the horse has passed his drills and been pronounced efficient, he takes his place with eight or nine others in a stable which has its roof thatched inside, so as to keep the temperature equable in summer and winter; and in every one of these stables the horses are as much as possible of the same colour and size, so as to look their best amid their comfortable surroundings. There are fixed travises and no bales for this class of horse, and no peat, but the usual straw, both for the sake of appearance and to save his coat from roughening. He is as well cared for as the plate at a silversmith's, and, like it, is not often so well treated when out on hire. But horses of all grades are nowadays better treated than they used to be, even though there may be deterioration in their quality, which, to say the least of it, is doubtful.

 

   The past is always better than the present with both horse and man, for memory and imagination play strange tricks with judgment. Like the artist, they make their picture by selection, rejection, and com-[-120-]position. Even with the living horse, how much his beauties increase as his distance from us increases! The ease with which a man wil1 lose his eye for a horse is notorious. Let even a good judge live for awhile among second-class horses, and he will insensibly modify his ideal; and he will only get back to his true taste by another stay in first-class company. Hearsay and recollection are simply misleading; and if this is the case with the living horse, what are we to say of his grandfathers? The only true test of a horse is to bring him into daylight and place him between two samples of the class to which he claims to belong. Look at him there; pick out the differences in every limb and feature; if he stands that test he need fear no other. And as the horse of the past cannot be brought to the scratch in this way, there is safety in enlarging on his merits, though some of us will be content to listen in the same attitude of philosophic doubt with which we would listen to the description of a living horse at third or fourth hand. The horse of the past had his particular work, the horse of the present has his, and is probably better suited for it than his ancestor would be, just as the horse of the future will probably be better adapted for whatever may be the particular work he is specially bred for.

 

   The state-carriage horse is bred for show, and there is a good deal of truth in the statement that he is as fondly watched as a mother's darling. He must not travel more than fourteen miles a day, for if he did he would spoil his action; he must not be out all the week round, for that would spoil his coat; he must be kept to town work, for in the country his graces would be lost; and he must keep as much as possible to the level, or he would not stand nicely on his legs. If you want to climb hills you must have a shorter-legged horse - in fact, if you want use you must have a useful animal; and the sum of the matter is that you must take your dealer or jobmaster into your confidence and tell him exactly what you want, and be will fit you with a horse much as a tailor will find you a ready-made coat.

 

   This point is curiously brought out amongst the doctors. The man with a consulting practice wants a different sort of horse to the humbler general practitioner. The consulting man must have a pair that go fast and well, and cover long distances, and draw up at the door in a style that will inspire the patient and the patient's friends with faith - and move the G.P. to envy. The said G.P. must have a horse that is ready for work at all hours, and looks none the worse for standing about in the rain; in other words, one wants a coach-horse, and other wants a good hackney, which some would consider the better horse of the two.

 

   Most of the doctors are horsed by the jobmaster. Some of the Harley Street and Cavendish Square men have half-a-dozen horses on hire, which means a nice little addition to their expenses. The horses are usually foraged by the jobmaster, and every fortnight the feed is delivered in sacks at the stable; but the shoeing is done by a local farrier, though at the jobmaster's expense.

 

   There is no doubt that the typical doctor's horse, the horse of the hard-working general practitioner, has a trying life. Like the maid-of-all-work, his work is never done; and he must be exceptionally sound and robust to stand the wear and tear of day and night, particularly on what we may call the outer edge of London. He may not look so well as the animal driven by the country medico, who generally takes a pride in his horseflesh, but he costs quite as much and does not last as long. Six years' work is as much as can be expected of him, and the expectation is frequently unfulfilled, for as a rule he has little time to be comfortable either in the stable or the street, although many a one-horse doctor walks his round on Sunday, to give his weary steed a rest. Of late years influenza has been exceptionally hard on the doctor's horse; it has hit him in two ways: as an ailment from which he suffers, and as a cause of much extra work. No wonder that the doctor jobs, and avails himself of an inexhaustible supply of horse power, in which the risk is spread over thousands instead of being concentrated on his one poor pill-box bay.

 

   The daily round of the doctor's horse must be as monotonous as that of the milkman's. As a contrast we have the festive outings of that holiday animal, the wedding grey. As we have before noticed, the grey horse is not appreciated by the cabman, nor is he much loved by the omnibus owner or the carrier, but the livery stableman cannot do without him. For a wedding he is indispensable, though in a crush of weddings chestnuts have to take his place, just as in a crush of funerals the 'black masters' have to call on their brethren for the loan of darkish bays and browns.

 

   Tilling averages half-a-dozen weddings a day all the year round, Sundays excepted, for Sunday is not a favourite marriage day among the folks who patronise the jobmaster. To horse these weddings takes about forty horses, most of which do nothing else; but taking London round, the wedding horse is a superior kind of bus horse out for a holiday, which he owes not to his merits and points, but to his colour; and it has been observed that the melancholy air with which he eyes the bride and bridegroom is due not so much to his forebodings as to their future, but to his veiling his joy at having such a light day's work.

 

   Very different is it with the fire-engine horse, which comes prancing forth so vigorously from sheer delight at getting out into fresh air. Our fire brigade, efficient as it may be, is not as other brigades. If you touch the button of a fire- alarm in Toronto, every gong in every station, and every bell in every church tower, will strike the number of the particular button you have pushed. Every alarm post in the streets is numbered. Say you touch No. 24. Instantly, clang, clang go the bells for the tens, and then pause, and go again, clang, clang, clang, clang for the units, and everyone knows there is a fire in the district in which No. 24 post is situated. And as the bells begin to clang, the people passing the doors of the station instinctively spring aside, for before the clanging is over the doors fly open outwards, and the engine is already on the move. Where Europe counts minutes, America counts seconds. Our need may not be as urgent, but surely, like a penny, a second saved is a second to the good, particularly in the case of a fire.

 

   Our system of horsing fire-engines is a survival from the time when the brigade requisitioned any passing horses for the purpose of dragging the engine. The American fire-engine horse is the property of the brigade; ours is the property of the jobmaster, who not only feeds him and looks after him, but lends the harness; and this last is the answer to the question so frequently heard at a fire, 'Why does the brigade have L.C.C. on it's engines and T.T. on its blinkers?'

 

   Tilling has sixty horses in the fire-engines the other seventy are supplied by other jobmasters in different parts of London. Hence the difference in the quality of the engine-horses, and the varying rates at which they travel. Even in the harness they are not quite alike, and few of the elaborate automatic arrangements of the Americans are in use. But in the working of these arrangements the American horse has to undergo a year's training, while our horse is fit for its simple work in three mouths. Theirs costs 60l., ours does not cost as much; and theirs lasts but three and a half years, while ours lasts eight.

 

   The American fire horse requires almost as much training as a circus performer. In his harnessing only two things are not automatic, these being his rush from the stall to the pole, and the snapping of the collar over his head. The instant the electric circuit opens to send the alarm, the current drops a metal ball alongside the gong, which, as it strikes, presses down a brass bar and pulls a steel wire that automatically hitches the springs; and when the driver grasps the reins, the tension looses the spring, the harness drops on the horses, the watchman grasps the collar, and the weights in the ceiling carry up the hangers clear of everything as the horses rush out of the open door.

 

   But how, it may be asked, does the driver happen to be in his place? The answer is that the men sleep on the first floor, close to a trap which is surrounded by a brass railing. At the first stroke of the gong they spring from their beds, seize the railing, and let themselves drop through the trap, seizing a second bar as they do so, and steadying themselves on to their seats in time to receive the horses which have left their mangers at the fall of the ball. To train a horse to play his part in a pantomimic performance of this kind us a serious task, but that it is accomplished is a sufficient answer to the objector, and it is simple folly to deny the saving of time which is notorious to everyone who has crossed the Atlantic. In short, our drill us smart to those who have not seen smarter, although we get through our work with far fewer failures and much less fuss.

 

   Grey being a conspicuous colour, the grey horse is apparently more fortunate than others in getting a clear road, and he does well in an engine. But although the engine-horse is rarely troubled with burns, and is quite heedless of the sparks which sprinkle on to his back from the unguarded funnel, be is not free from other accidents; and the contractor has to replace him by night or day on receipt of a telephone message from the fire station, so that horses have always to be held in readiness at the yard for emergencies.

 

   All the large horse-owners have infirmaries to which the sick and injured are sent, and most of them [-127-] have a farm for the convalescent. Tilling's infirmary is a special yard about a quarter of a mile from headquarters, where there are over sixty loose boxes and stalls for the patients under treatment. We have already seen how curiously alike to man the horse is in his ailments. This is all the more noticeable at this infirmary from the fact of a slate appearing on each door, on which is written the patient's name, his complaint, and the treatment ordered; it only wants a blue paper by the side of it, to be sent to the dispenser for the medicine, to make the resemblance to a hospital complete.

 

   The horses that die in a livery stable are few, but those cleared out every year amount to about 12 per cent. This gives an average of eight and a half years' work, but it is spread over so many kinds of horses as to be hardly worth consideration.

 

   We have already spoken at length of the vestry dray horse. One thing, however, we did not mention about him, and that is that he has the biggest starting pull of any horse in London when he is in the shafts of a water-cart. The cart weighs a ton and three quarters, and there are two and a quarter tons of water in the tank, so that he has to drag up four tons from the channels to the crown of the road, often a short but not an easy gradient. It is owing to this tremendous pull that, according to Mr. Stanley, he goes wrong so quickly in his forelegs; and to save this, that well-known veterinary surgeon proposes to lift the pitching in front of the hydrants just enough to give the struggling horse a fair start with the loaded van - a [-128-] trifling change that would probably add months to the horse's life.

 

   Of the lighter cart horse, familiarly known as the 'vanner,' and costing about 55l., we may have something to say later on. The value of the coach and carriage horses we arrived at in our last chapter. Taking London through, the fire-engine horse is of the artillery' brand, much like the police horse, and is probably worth 40l. At 5l. less than that we can put the bus horses, at 5l. less than that the cab horses, and within the next 5l. we should certainly have the horses jobbed in the tradesmen's carts. These are not, perhaps, the prices that would be realised under the hammer; but the value of horses can hardly be taken at repository rates.

The Horse World of London, by W. J. Gordon, 1893 - Chapter 3 - The Carrier's Horse  

Reprinted in HFL April 2008

 

 

[-49-] 

 

CHAPTER III 

 

THE CARRIER'S HORSE 

 

THE carrying trade of these days is in the hands of the railway companies, and the carrier's horse is for all practical purposes the railway horse. Of the 8l,000,000 tons of general merchandise hauled along the railroads of this island in 1890, the bulk was collected and distributed in railway vans. 

 

A railway company is obliged to keep several varieties of horse in its stables. It must have horses that walk for the heavy traffic, and horses that trot for the light; or, to put it differently, waggon horses, goods horses, parcels horses, horses for shunting, and horses for omnibuses in the cases in which its omnibuses are not horsed by contract. And, taking all these varieties together, we find that the companies collecting and delivering goods in the metropolis have amongst them a stud of 6,000. These we shall not be over-valuing at 60l. apiece all round, which means that railway share- holders have some 360,000l. invested in horseflesh in London alone, to say nothing of the vans and drays, which would be worth quite as much. 

 

The typical railway horse is the van horse, of which ten-thirteenths of the stud consist. He is not specially [-50-] bred for his calling; he is but a dray horse whom the association of certain merits has peculiarly fitted for railway work. There is no mistaking this horse; he is a Britisher to the backbone, but he is not so easy to get as he used to be, owing to the foreigners collecting so many specimens of him. He is as good a horse as we have, being power personified, with nothing about him in wasteful excess. Well-moulded in every muscle, standing not an inch too high on his well-shaped legs - 'give me legs and feet,' said the Midland superintendent to us, 'and I will look after the rest,' - broad and strong, with nothing of tubbiness in the barrel or scragginess about the neck and head, he is admirably adapted for the work for which he is chosen; and that work he does well. 

 

In these days, when a corn-chandler will forage your horse at threepence an inch of height a week - so many hands so many shillings - it is the inches of bulk that give a van horse his value, and some of the heavier horses in the four-horse teams will weigh nineteen hundredweight and be worth a hundred guineas, while the average horse working in a pair will weigh two hundredweight or so less, and cost proportionately less to buy, though very little less to keep. 

 


The Great Western prides itself on having as good a stud as any company in London, and the stables in which it is housed are admittedly excellent. In the new block in South Wharf Road there are four floors of horses one over the other, the top floor being almost as high as the hotel, with a look-out down onto the station roof. Sunday is the railway horse's day of rest, a day which all of them know, though they may not call it by [-51-] 

 

 

Thirteen Tons

 

[-52-] that name, and for seeing the horse at home, quiet and contented, under exceptionally favourable circumstances, there is no place better than Paddington. In the new stables there are about 500 horses; close by, nearer the goods station, there is another lot of 140, comfortably installed under lofty arches, which are sensibly ventilated and lighted electrically; and further on there is the infirmary, with three dozen stables for invalids. Altogether, the Great Western has about 1,100 horses working in London, the largest outlying detachment being in Goswell Road, just on the City boundary, where 200 answer the needs of the City traffic. 

 


The Great Western horses are under the superintendence of Captain Milne, and there is a certain army precision and smartness about the management which is not apparent in all railway stables. As much as possible the colours are kept separate, one stable being of greys, another of chestnuts, another of bays, and so on; and right well do the carefully groomed animals look, standing in their neat straw litter, with a glint of sunlight on them, clean as a picture against the white background leading up to the varnished pine roof overhead, while most of the smooth arched blue brick gangways are as clean as a man-o'-war deck, the only thing on them being the two fodder sacks, like a huge ottoman, at the far end. 

 

The railway spirit peeps out in the use of obsolete rails for building purposes, two together forming each of the roof pillars, and others laid end to end doing duty as channels, and having the great advantage over brick and stone gutters of being unbreakable. In some of the older stables travises are used, but as a rule the horses stand between swinging bales, or rather double bales-for each has its kicker hung on to the chains with a slip-hook, so as to clear a leg immediately should it get over - and this Reliance hook, which is also on the harness, has proved itself of great value in cases of accident here, in the stable, and in the street. 

 

Over each horse's head is his number, answering to the number branded on his hoof, and behind him is his harness, all in due order as if it were a trooper's; but there is not a collar to be seen. When the Great Western horse comes home at night his collar goes not to the stable but to the drying-room, whence it comes in the morning ready for wear, warm and comfortable as a clean pair of socks. 

 

At two o'clock on Monday morning the week's work begins. The Covent Garden vans then go out. At eight o'clock the stables are in full bustle, and the runs that slope from floor to floor are alive with the descending crowd, as, to the jingle of the harness, they come cautiously down. Some of them, before the day is out, will have been as far as Woolwich Dockyard and back; some of them will be out for eighteen hours, to rest on the morrow, some of them for six, to take a longer turn next day. So many vans have to be horsed, and so much work has to be done, and somehow it has to be got through, or there would be an accumulation which it would be difficult to deal with. Early on the Monday morning the silent goods-yard surlily wakes to life, and it knows no rest till Saturday night. What the trains bring the vans must take, what the vans bring the trains must take, be it much or little. Of course there is an average; and provision is made for the tide which [-54-] begins to rise at Michaelmas and breaks its last big wave at Easter. 


 

The heaviest railway van weighs two tons, and will carry seven or more. Such a van, with its load drawn by its four-horse team, will be a moving mass of thirteen tons, one of the heaviest things going through the streets of London, as the railway parcels cart is one of the fastest. The team walks; the single horse trots, and is not supposed to go more than eight miles an hour, but he does, although it is not every one who would give him credit for the rate at which he slips along. There is no vehicle in the Great Western service worked with that most extravagant arrangement, a tandem team, but some of the heavy drays have three horses abreast, an economical device, giving almost the power of four horses in two-and-two, and having only the disadvantage of heating the middle horse rather more than the outsiders. Like the fours, and threes, and unicorns, the pairs are supposed to walk, and it is these vans which do most of the work. Their average tare is a ton. Like a train, they are fitted with a powerful brake, which eases the strain of the stoppages, but the starting pull is at times tremendous, particularly with thoughtless drivers, and it is this effort, as much as the constant jarring of the feet, which makes a horse's London life so short. 

 

The railway horse is a farmer's horse to begin with, and for the first two years does practically nothing but grow; in the next two or three years he passes into the regular routine of farm work, and gets into shape; and then he changes masters and comes to London. But as it would not do to take a horse direct from a [-55-] Gloucestershire field and place him in the thick of Cheapside, a gradual process of acclimatisation is begun, averaging about two months, during which he is trained to his surroundings and his full work. Sometimes the horse is older when he is bought, but no railway company now buys a horse over seven years of age. 

 

The horses last according to the traffic, the heavier lines with the heavier traffic wearing out their horses more quickly than the southerly lines, whose traffic is mainly in parcels. The Great Western average is five years; the Midland, over a stud of 1,350, is also five; but curiously enough, the Great Northern's, with a stud of 1,300, is but four. This average is, of course, to a certain extent, a matter of policy ; it may suit one company to cast its horses earlier than another in order to sell them better, and this consideration renders any comparison of company with company of little value. There is interest in it, notwithstanding, particularly in this case, for the Great Northern endeavours to work its trotting horses only four days a week, and its walking horses five, though both kinds are in harness twelve hours a day. When the Northern horse is done with be is sold for the country or less hard work, like the Midland and others. What he then fetches we do not know, but the Midlander averages 10l., and the Brighton cart horse averages 12l. 6s. The Brighton work is light and the life rate is high. In its stud of 225 horses the average service is just over seven years, and considering the chances of accident and disease, and above all things, the price obtained at the clearance, the Brighton horse seems to be as well looked after as the Brighton engine. The South Eastern does very similar work with its stud [-56-] of 275, but the average service is a year less. The South Western, with more of heavier work and just double the stud, makes its horses last for six years and a half -a remarkably good average. 

 


The Great Western does not send its old horses to the auctioneer. As many as possible it keeps in a veteran stable near its goods yard, and it uses them as helps in dragging the vans up the steep gradients at the station, which are steeper than any the teams meet with on their travels. If a team can pull a load out of Paddington it can take it anywhere in the streets of London. 

 

Weather will age a horse more than it will a man, owing to its affecting the work so much; and it will be quite as prejudicial to its health. In dry weather almost as many horses slip down as in the rain, and quite as many are run into but the dry weather has nothing to answer for in the way of the chafings by the wet harness .and the colds and sore throats which lead on to other troubles that make short work of the London horse of all sorts and conditions. 

 

If the railway horse could choose its track, it would never have anything else than good macadam, but the London traffic is far too great to admit of a macadamised road remaining in condition for more than a fortnight, and hence the many substitutes. There is an individuality about the most mechanical 'machiner,' particularly apparent in the way he wears his shoes, which, as usual with London horses in hard work, have to be changed at the rate of one a week, or, to put it more clearly, at the rate of a set every four weeks. It is rare for two horses, even in a four-horse team, to wear out their  shoes in the same way or in the same order, and with regard to order alone, the twenty-four possible permutations of the one set of four shoes are all met with in London farriery practice. And as some horses will wear out their shoes far faster than others, so some will slip and some will fall oftener; and more human than all, some horses admirable in every other respect will meet with constant ill luck. 

 


Railway Van Horse

The majority of London railway horses work about seventy hours a week; some, as we have seen, work less. The Midland system is to have a limit of fourteen hours for any one day's work, and owing to this, a third of its horses are in the stables every week-day, including, of course, the sick and injured, which, however, form a very small proportion of the stud. The London centre is in King's Road, St. Pancras, but the head-quarters of the department are at Derby, just as the headquarters of the provender department are at Wellingborough, from which the mixture of oats, maize, beans, hay, and bran, used as food, comes up to London. The Midland does all its own horse work; it even, unlike most other lines, horses its own omnibuses; but then the railway omnibus, like third-class expresses, Pullman cars, and a score of other improvements, was of Midland introduction, and these bus horses are the best and most costly in the world. But although the Midland scorns to be contracted for, it does not object to supply horse power on contract, and, as a matter of fact, ninety-six of its stud are at work on hire delivering Bass's beer to the publicans of London. 

 


Its work is more decentralised than that of other companies. It has over two hundred horses in King's Road, at St. Pancras station there are four hundred, and some it has at Poplar, and some at Kentish Town, and some for the City at Whitecross Street; and in only one place are the horses on two floors, so that its stables cover a good deal of ground. Every sick horse goes to King's Road, and is there changed for a sound one, in order that the branch studs may always be in full efficiency. If an accident happens in the streets, the boy - that wonderful boy, whose lifting feats are often so painfully startling - goes off in a cab to the nearest depôt and brings the relief. And at that depot he frequently appears under other circumstances delightfully significant in these days of competition. 

 

The less a man knows of a horse the greater is his idea of its powers. If the stableman knows more than the driver on this subject, much greater is the driver's knowledge than that of the customer from whom he collects his goods. If a railway van is sent for, it is rare indeed that it is not expected to take away all the stuff that can be stacked upon it, quite irrespective of that stuffs specific gravity. There are some people who would pile on bag after bag of iron bolts as if they were pockets of hops ; there is no mercy in the London collecting trade; 'Take the lot' is the motto, and if a company's van once moves off without taking all the goods as requested, the reimainder will invariably be given to another company, who will get the chance of 'taking the lot' next time, and for as long afterwards as their driver is wise enough to stay at the warehouse door till he has loaded up all remainders. Here then it is that the judicious driver has his chance, and the boy is to the front. Off goes the boy to the depot for [-60-] help, and if the loading is over before he comes back, and the police interfere, the bystander will see the heavily laden van dragged off to linger in the nearest bye-street until the arrival of the expected relief. 

 


The average in the railway service is one man to every three horses; but this includes the driver and the boy, who do not properly belong to the horse department, and have nothing to do with the horse except when it is in harness. In the Great Western service the driver is as much as possible given the same horses day after day, but this practice is not general with the Midland men, owing to the way in which the working hours are arranged, and it is only the twenty big waggoners which are associated with particular drivers. 

 

The Midland own more horses than any railway company in London. The stud of the North Western is curiously small; but then the North Western does nearly half its work through its agents. Of its 650 horses three hundred and inure are under Broad Street Station, where they form not the least of the nightly attractions of that busy goods depot. The mention of the North Western agents - who are Messrs. Pickford & Co.-naturally leads us on to the carriers, generally so-called, who are still indispensable as railway feeders and distributors, and in what we may call the retail deliveries between the different parts of the metropolis. 

 

Pickfords do an enormous business, and have a stud of some 4,000 horses, of which about two out of ten pass through their stables in a year. The firm has a long pedigree, and dates back to the days of their old team waggons, the driver of which did not ride on the vehicle, but on a handy cob, from whose back he worked the string of horses by means of a long whip. One of the first of these drivers was the founder of the oldest firm of shipping carriers in London, John Smither & Co.; and this reminds us that just as the goods-yards have their feeders and distributors, so have the wharves and docks. Some of these shipping horses are as good as those in the railway service, but as a rule they are of poorer quality. Some are doing their twenty-five miles a day, and in one stud there is a horse that is twenty-five years old, but their average London life is six years; and they are bought at six, when they can be got at a profitable price. All of them are English, for in this, as in all other trades where hard work has to be done, it is the old story of no foreigners need apply. 

 

 

Shunters Horse

Beyond the shipping firms there are what may be called general carmen and cartage agents, who have a very miscellaneous connection; and, in addition to this internal traffic, a certain amount of long-distance carrying is still done between London and a few towns and villages in the home counties by the men who start from the Old Bailey, the One Swan, the Borough Spur, the Aldgate Saracen's Head, and Spitalfields; but these have only about 250 horses amongst them, worth say 25l. apiece, which can very well be thrown in under the same heading as those of the larger firms, although they will not improve our average. 

 

And over and above all these are the few firms whose names as carriers are household words. The largest of these is Carter Paterson's, who have a stud of 2,000 stabled at their twenty London depots, the headquarters being in the Goswell Road. The system on which these carrying companies work is practically that of the railways. The parcels are collected from the senders on information received at the numerous order stations, which the public know by the show-boards. From the houses and shops of the consignors the parcels are taken as a rule by one-horse vans to the nearest depot, where they are transhipped into vans drawn by pairs or teams, and find their way across London to the depot nearest the address of the consignee, from which depot they are sent out to their destination in the local single-horse vans. 

 

The headquarters of Carter Paterson's network of traffic is like a railway goods-yard, with the usual 'banks,' as the platforms are called, with their topographical divisions, their truckloads of cans, and barrels, and boxes, and packages, and baths, and perambulators, meandering among other piles of similar miscellaneous character as they are scattered out from one van and gathered from all points for another; the same sorting, and checking, and sheets - only it is all sheets in this business - in short, the same surroundings, and belongings, and proceedings, except that there are no trucks, and that the goods are somewhat lighter, as we have already noted together in our Everyday Life on the Railroad*. [*See Everyday Life on the Railroad, a companion volume of The Leisure Hour Library.] 

 

The stables are on three floors, one over the other, clean and roomy, each horse by himself, the fixed travis here taking the place of the now more customary bale, so that there is not that close line of backs and tails characteristic of the modern working stable. The [-64-] horses are generally of a lighter type than the railway horse, as befits the lighter trade, and they are worked on a different system. Sunday is the rest day, and the horse does nine trips a week; one day he has two trips, the next day he has one, the next he has two, the next one, and so on-three trips every two days. The length of the trip depends very much on the season, and during the fever heat of Christmas time the carrier's horse has quite as much work to do as he can manage. 

 

Then it is that the parcels companies rejoice at the limits of the Parcel Post. The fact of the Post Office not collecting and its refusing everything over eleven pounds of course keeps these busy all the year round; but at Christmas they get the full benefit of the six-foot limits of 'length and girth combined.' To them falls the crowd of immeasurables; and looking at the queer shapes they carry, we can easily understand why it is that the senders have given up length and girth measurement in despair. The parcels trade is then enormous, but so well is it organised that out of the millions of packages of all shapes, weights, and sizes carried by Carter Paterson in a year, only one in 10,000 goes wrong. 

 

This small proportion means, however, a large accumulation, and the lost property department at Goswell Road is instructive not only as regards the peculiar sort of address and packing people think sufficient, but as regards the very varied character of a London carrying business. The staple of the trade seems to be servants' boxes - the shillings collected from the nomadic domestic must amount to thousands  [-65-] of pounds in the course of the year - but one is hardly prepared for the cases of eggs 'refused delivery,' probably on account of the too obviously advanced 'shop 'un' quality of their contents, the iron bedsteads gone astray, the baths, garden tools, bundles of bedding, washstands, dog-kennels, iron bars, bicycles, perambulators, chairs, china, fruit, and boots and shoes which here find themselves together awaiting an owner. 

 

The load of the carrier's horse is thus cumbrous rather than weighty; the vehicles range from the box furniture van to the parcels cart, and it is not often that the ton and a half which is the maximum an ordinary horse should have to draw on London streets is exceeded. 

 Page Break

 

Pickfords, who do heavier work in connection with the North Western, and the other firms who have a good deal of railway agency, have heavier horses to suit the trade. One of the noticeable things on Thanksgiving Day in 1872 was the ease with which the Speaker's coach, usually drawn by six horses, was hauled along by a pair of Pickford's Clydesdales, engaged for that occasion only, behind whom it seemed to be as light as an empty dray. The Parcels Delivery Company are at the other end of the scale, and average a much lighter build of animal; in fact, the carrier's horse is of all varieties, down to the Old Bailey screw, and we may as well say beyond, for London has worse horses in a carrier's cart than those that start from the King of Denmark and the Lamb, and occasionally a really good specimen will be seen among the waggons and tilt carts that still rendezvous at London's old Place de la Greve.  [-66-] 

 

 

 

 [-67-] Some of them are evidently of an advanced age, but then it is not every carrier's horse that has made its first appearance in London in that character. The more hours they rest the longer they last, and the more they fetch when 'cast'; but in a good many instances the casting is the final one to that dark bourne whence no horse returns except as 'meat.' These, however, are the great minority; the majority having yet another, and perhaps another, experience before they face the slaughterman. Some last a few months; of others there are very extraordinary stories, but we refrain and even including the patriarchs, we should not have an average of much more than five years of London hard labour. 

 

There are about 19,000 of them in all, and these are of all grades, from the excellent lo the indifferent - the latter, as in the case of the cab horses, being the exception and not the rule. The price paid for the lot when they first entered the carrying business must have been very close on 900,000l., and supposing each horse costs twelve shillings a week to feed - which he does at the least - it must take about 600,000l. a year to keep them going, independently of what it may cost to attend to them, to drive them, and to house them. 

 

Including the railways, we have thus in our metropolitan carrying trade some 25,000 horses worth 1,260,000l., and costing 800,000l. a year for food alone. And adding these to the omnibus horses, tram horses, and cab horses already dealt with, we have found in London an equine herd of 72,000. And we have thousands more to follow.