Guest post by the Museum of London

Visiting the Past: London’s Working Horses

Did you know that those small brass decorations you see adorning the walls of London’s traditional pubs once decorated the harnesses of a workforce essential to the capital’s life and economy – horses?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries horses were essential for all short distance transport in the capital. Drawing, among other things, buses and cabs, delivery vans, waste carts, fire engines, and working machinery. Horses were as much part of London as cars and lorries are today. In 1893 there were an estimated 25,000 carrying horses alone.

With a little digging, each London horse brass that survives can conjure up a lost world. The first railway companies, with their familiar London termini – Paddington, King’s Cross, Euston – owned their own horses to carry goods to and from trains. In the early 1890s, the Great Western Railway Company, for example, stabled 500 horses at Paddington.

And many visitors to Camden’s Stables Market would be intrigued to know that its buildings once housed the London and Birmingham Railway Company’s horses.

Many London companies also owned their own horses and stables, including breweries like Mortlake, Trumans, Charringtons, Cannon and Meux.

After World War I, as motor vehicles replaced horses, brasses began to decline. By the 1950s they had all but disappeared from London’s streets.

Brasses are still produced, although as souvenirs rather than for working horses. In 2011, the National Horse Brass Society produced a brass to commemorate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

You can see more horse brasses in the Museum of London’s collections – and through them connect to the lost world of London’s working horses.

A guest post by Julia Hoffbrand of the Museum of London as part of our Visiting the Past series. More London history next week

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