Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Horse World of London, by W. J. Gordon, 1893 - Chapter 9 - The Jobmaster's Horse

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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 [-114-]

[-115-] 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 [-117-] 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. 
    [-118-] 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 [-119-] 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 [-121-] 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 [-122-] 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 [-123-] 

[-124-] 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.
    [-125-] 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 [-126-] 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.