Relics from an Era of Horses

Relics from an Era of Horses

For some reason, I have horses on the brain. Undoubtedly, this has much to do with my Mr. Darcy being a breeder of thoroughbreds, something every reader of The Darcy Saga knows. I also tend to think about horses frequently because I live in Kentucky and am literally surrounded by horse farms. I live a stone-throw away from Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is held, and with May fast approaching people around here are already gearing up for Derby Days. I’ve written numerous blogs on the topics of horses, racing, and the Derby, both here on Austen Authors and on my own blog. I will share those links at the end of this post.

For all of these reasons, last month my Austen Authors blog covered a wee bit of information on the various breeds of horses common in England during the Regency era. This included some history of the famous thoroughbred, of course, as well as those horses used for labor.

Cold-blood, Hot-blood, Thoroughbred . . . Do you know your Regency horses? A mini-primer by Sharon Lathan

For today’s blog, I am staying with the theme of horses but rather than pure history (Which y’all know I love!) I plan to have a bit of pictorial fun. Now, I wish I could say I had wandered the streets of London or any other European city to see these amazing relics of a bygone era when horses were the only form of land transportation. Alas, I can only search the web. I do encourage any readers who have seen these relics to share their experiences and the images themselves, if possible.

 

Carriage Houses, Stables, Mews

As a city powered by horses, London residences included shelters for the animals to rest and sleep. Whether called a stable or carriage house, the openings once lined the streets either facing the front or as a row of rear-facing buildings known as mews. These old carriage houses and rows of mews dating to the 17th and 18th centuries have been converted into homes and businesses (and on occasion an automobile garage), but the arched, double-wide doorways are easily recognizable.




Drinking Troughs and Fountains

Horses drinking from a trough near Tower Bridge, London, in 1938

Horses had to drink, but huge cities like London rarely had convenient streams with clean water. Prior to 1800, horses and the humans who cared for them faced a challenge in keeping their mounts well-hydrated. The problem mounted (pun intended) when the full force of the Industrial Revolution saw the population of London double from 1800 to 1850.

The concern for animal welfare led to the formation, in 1859, of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. They spearheaded the construction of troughs and fountains with freely available water for beast and man. Today these troughs are no longer needed and as enormous concrete or stone structures, many of them remain as historical landmarks. Plus, they are perfectly shaped for a flower planter!

Water trough at West Smithfield

 

Like troughs, horse fountains offered water for city stallions, but fountains were often incredibly elaborate. The horse fountain to the right is dated to the 1880s, is located in Stratford-upon-Avon, and has a clock and Shakespeare quotes.

Trough in Downham
Trough and fountain at Wimbledon Common, Parkside Avenue

Read more about the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association at the links below:
Wikipedia article
Cattle Troughs on London Details
Horse and Cattle Troughs and Drinking Fountains on Faded London


Horse Block or Mounting Block

To give carriage passengers and horseback riders a boost, mounting blocks were installed in locations of regular use. Basically, these items were a block of stone or a tiny staircase. Very few are still preserved in the sidewalks of London. The first one below is located outside the Athenaeum Club in Waterloo Place and was erected in 1830 “by the desire of the Duke of Wellington.”

Duke of Wellington’s mounting block

 

Most mounting blocks were built of stone, brick, or wood, and though most were purely functional, others were built as memorials and bore inscriptions. Horses and carts have largely vanished into transportation history and most mounting blocks have also vanished. A surprising number do still exist, hidden in plains sight, so to speak, if one looks for them. Those time-worn stones that remain are echoes of a period when such simple things were a necessary part of life. Just imagine the stories they could tell!

Mounting block near Trinity Bridge in Crowland
Mounting block in Kings Caple

Two views of mounting block near Welsh Row in Nantwich, Cheshire

Links to blogs on horse-related topics–

Kentucky: Home of the Thoroughbred

I’m a Kentuckian, so it’s simply “Derby”

Servants Focused on the Horses

Horse Racing isn’t just for Brits!

 

I hope this was as fascinating to read as it was for me to research. I look forward to any comments, especially if anyone has seen these or other relics from bygone eras when horses ruled supreme.

For more information about me and The Darcy Saga novels, click the image below. 

11 Responses to Relics from an Era of Horses

  1. In Portland, OR, we still have horse rings on several of our curbs that are remnants from the 1800’s. Some people have attached little toy horses to them. There was a push in the 1970’s to remove them, but people complained, and you can still find them in older neighborhoods all over town.

    • Hitching posts and horse tie rings are seen here in the US, so I wanted to include them on the list. But I could find no references to them, or images of them, for England. Not saying they don’t exist, I just didn’t search hard enough perhaps.

  2. I have really enjoyed these posts regarding horses. I’ve never thought about the necessity of mounting blocks. I can see their use and how important they would be for propriety… especially for women… how else would they get on their horse? Plus, not every man was an Errol Flynn and could easily jump on his horse. Thanks for your research and sharing this post.

    • LOL! The Errol Flynn image is too funny! But it is a good point. I was quite surprised that the mounting blocks were a new thing to me. I’m wondering if I’ve seen them in period movies but just didn’t pay close attention. Guess I’ll have to go on a movie watching binge to see if I can spot any!

  3. It was interesting to see how we still have these reminders of how things used to be. I grew up in an area that had a lot of Amish families so seeing horses as a main source of transportation is still very common there.

    • Very good point about the Amish. Naturally I was focusing this blog on England due to the tie in with Jane Austen. But here in the US we have our history with horses as primary transportation, so a few of these horse-related remnants are seen. Hitching posts, for instance, are seen in many US towns. I did not add them to the list since I could find no photos for England.

  4. Cool post! I didn’t know other than the trough that there was so much other stuff for horses.

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