Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Carriages: a quick run-down



Carriages? 



I was such a horse-obsessed child that, for the whole year when I studied A level Art, my teacher had to ban me from including any in the work I produced for her. At home, I drew horses doing all sorts of things, from enjoying wild freedom on the hills or grazing in a field, to riding holidays or racing or jumping. The only discipline that didn’t interest me at all was horses being driven, in harness. That wasn’t just because of the intricacy of the harness itself – though a set of “straps” as the gypsies call it, when thrown on a bench, looks like nothing so much as a heap of leather spaghetti – no, it was the fact that horses pulling carriages or agricultural machinery wore bridles with blinkers. And the fact is that blinkers (winkers or blinders) conceal the horse’s most attractive features, its beautiful, deep, liquid eyes. The child artist that I was, therefore, chose to dismiss carriage horses entirely.

However, I developed an interest in driving horses quite by chance, when the equestrian author Clive Richardson asked me to provide a few line drawings for his book “Driving:  the Development and Use of Horsedrawn Vehicles”. When I expressed curiosity about the material I was producing, and mentioned that my Fell mare had been trained to harness before I got her, he was kind enough to lend me a set of harness and an exercise cart so I could try the discipline for myself. And the rest, as they say, is history. (See what I did there?)

Carriages for the historical novelist

For our purposes as historical writers, carriage driving needs to be understood because it’s an important form of transport. In the eras before steam and internal combustion we had an almost symbiotic relationship with the horse – though also with the donkey, mule, ox and even the dog, who were all pressed into use at our need. However, since Debbie has asked me to deal with carriages, I am going to leave the other species out of this article!

You’ll need to be clear on a few phrases and their meanings. Here’s a short list!

Traces – the long leather straps that join the horse’s collar to the carriage he is pulling. Even mainstream edited novels can get that wrong: Alexandra Ripley when writing “Scarlett” clearly thought that traces are another name for reins for controlling the horses. They aren’t.
Collar – the roughly oval, leather-stuffed-with-rye-straw thingy that goes round the horse’s neck. It pads his shoulders from the pressure of the hames, long brassplated or silverplated arms to which the traces are attached. The hames are fastened onto the collar at top and bottom by hame straps. The horse pushes into the collar and the hames take up the strain, then the traces which are slotted onto the trace hooks (on a carriage for a single horse) or looped over roller bolts  (on a pairs carriage) tighten and pull the carriage forward.
Whip – to encourage the horse/s to go forward, or sometimes sideways if he is jumping away from a scary object and you don’t want him to. A carriage whip is LONG. A holly stick (often also called the “stock”) is between 4 feet 6 inches and 5 feet long. The thong is made from 4, 5 or 6 finely plaited strips of “white leather” (ironically it’s traditionally made from horse hide). That is fastened to the stock using a tube of split goose quills “whipped” with black linen thread, to give the whip a nice curve from whipstock to thong. For the driver of a single or a pair of horses, the whip thong is also 4 or 5 feet long with a 6 inch lash of whipcord on the end, so a driver should be able to flick it forward to touch the horse some 10 feet ahead of his own shoulder. A four in hand whip has a lash up to 10 feet long. Hence the other meaning of “whip” – a driver good enough to be able to use a whip efficiently without taking off his passengers’ hats! Also, a great way for you or your servant to break the top of your whip is to put the carriage away through a low stable doorway with the whip standing upright in the whipholder beside the seat!
Tyre – the metal rim of a carriage wheel, fitted as a red-hot hoop by the local blacksmith and his boys, and immediately doused with water to cool it to a tight fit without burning the wood. Old, poorly maintained wheels could sometimes lose the tyre, which would then go bowling down the road ahead of the carriage – and sometimes the wheel, deprived of its support, could collapse. Some carriages from the mid-19th century onwards had rubber or “caoutchouc” tyres which were solid (pneumatic tyres for carriages were a very late invention and only really took off in modern times on metal competition carriages). Coachbuilders described rubber tyres as “invaluable for invalids” because they had a slight cushioning effect and were very much quieter than iron on stony surfaces. Rubber tyres were held in a U shaped channel by two lengths of wire, which on an old carriage might rust through and allow the tyre to fly off – again, forwards, which wouldn’t help the driver controlling his horse!
Carriage – this is a trick question! Strictly the “carriage” is what we’d now call the “undercarriage” or chassis – the suspension of the vehicle. “Carriage” also tended to be the overall term  for a 4-wheeled private vehicle, such as a phaeton, landau or brougham, while public 4 wheeled vehicles were “coaches”, and from the mid-19thC included omnibuses and cabs or “growlers”. There were many different styles of carriages, often with subtle differences due to customer preferences, intended usage, and (of course!) fashion. A good starter list of carriage names can be found on Wikipedia.

Carriage types and construction

Your historical characters, especially the menfolk, might well be carriage experts, as men often try to be with cars today. They would know the age of carriages in part by the type of suspension they have: the oldest coaches have the body slung on leather straps from wooden or metal posts – see the Gold State Coach built in 1762. Even quite early coaches had glass in their windows – Samuel Pepys’ coach needed a window replaced in December 1668 and it cost him £2 (40 shillings).

Suspension

Spring suspension to relieve the jolts of metal tyres on stony roads was introduced from about 1700 onwards, with the “whip spring” and “cee spring”, both still using leather straps. The elliptic spring invented by Obadiah Elliott in 1804 did away with the need for a leather strap, and by increasing the number of springs to 4 for each axle and the number of metal “leaves” in each spring, even heavy coaches could provide a modicum of comfort for their passengers. 

At the other end of the scale, 2-wheeled vehicles were the cheapest to make and needed only one horse. Early gigs date from the late 18thC and might have been little more than a plank with a seat and shafts set above the wheels; in North America the “riding chair” and in England the “whisky” (nothing to do with the drink but referring to its lightness and speed). Gigs had either elliptical or semi-elliptical springs and seated two people side by side without provision for a third party – so your young unmarried ladies had better not ride in one beside a gentleman driver, because being unchaperoned, they risked acquiring the label “fast”.  On low-class country vehicles which saw a lot of use down narrow roads with scratchy hedgerows, it was quite usual not to paint the woodwork but to varnish it because damage could easily be touched up with fresh varnish without being noticeable, whereas paint needed to be colour matched by an expert.

Woodwork

English carriage-builders used oak for the spokes of the wheels, elm for the wheel hubs, and ash for shafts and poles and vehicle bodies. A gentleman’s carriage would be painted to a very high standard, with the grain of the wood filled and rubbed smooth, covered with many layers of undercoat and then several of the top coat of paint. Seating was durable and constructed like indoor furniture, with horsehair stuffing held in place by cloth, sometimes topped with felt, and then upholstered. The interior of a private carriage might be very luxurious, trimmed in morocco leather, silk, and lace. Parts of the exterior were also of hard leather, for instance dashboards to keep dirt from flying up off the horses’ hooves, and mudguards above the wheels for the same reason.

Maintenance

One of the reasons why a man who “keeps his carriage” was considered to have plenty of money was that he needed servants to look after his horses, to “put the horses to the carriage”, to drive (if he didn’t drive himself) and “take them out of the carriage” afterwards. It was a big job to maintain the equipment. Harness had to be wiped down and cleaned with saddle-soap and then oiled or greased to keep it supple, while the buckles (whether brass or silver plated) had to be polished and the buckle tongues kept greased – otherwise metal salts or rust could corrode the leather and cause it to break in use. Steel bits needed to be cleaned with sand to keep them bright. Carriages had to be washed with generous amounts of water to remove the dirt of the road, then dried and polished, and the cushions and floor mats needed to be brushed.  The coach-house in an English climate had to have a fire kept going most days, to keep woodwork and harness from deteriorating with rust, mould and damp.

And now a little something for your estate owners

A conscientious estate owner would take an interest in the horses his tenants used to manage his land. The phrases “works in chains” and “is good in all gears” mean that the horse is trained for farm work.

Pairs of horses, who work either side of a pole, and plough horses, pull by chains, in the case of ploughing, very long ones. A single horse in a cart, however, draws the load by short chains. There’s one over the big heavy saddle on his back, to hold up the shafts; two from his collar to the shafts, to draw the load; and two from the breeching round his bum, to the shafts, to prevent the cart running him over on downhill stretches and to let him back it up to an unloading dock. The reins are more likely to be long plough-cords than leather.

Wains, wagons and carts which are agricultural or used for commercial heavy transport have heavy-duty everything – big, thick shafts, heavy wheels with iron hooped tyres, iron banded hubs. The harness is also wide, heavy leather, and it doesn’t have a shiny finish. The buckles are often iron or steel rather than brass.

There’s no brasswork on cart shafts like there is on a gentleman’s carriage. Brass is a relatively soft metal that will not take stress. Those work-chains are dealing with weight, so the staples on each shaft that carry a hook for the chains, are blacksmith-forged iron, 8 to 10 inches long with sharpened, bent-back points hammered into the wood. No screws or nails could be stronger. I have a cart shaft-staple that I found on our farm; I don’t have a farm cart, but it’s still being used, because I hammered it into the wall outside my stable. That’s where I tie up my pony while I put her harness on before we go out for a sunny drive along our Cumbrian roads.

References

Richardson, C, 1985: Driving: the Development and Use of Horse Drawn Vehicles. (Batsford.)
Walrond, S, 1974: The Encyclopedia of Driving. (Country Life.)


Sue Millard looks after the web site of the North West Driving Club, http://www.northwestdrivingclub.co.uk/, She is one of its honorary vice-presidents, having also been its secretary, treasurer, press officer and chairman at various times over the past 30 years. Her historical novel, Coachman, is available alongside several other genres from her Jackdaw E Books site, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/



Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Gallop Through History



First published on English Historical Fiction Authors in January this year.


I was going to start this blog post with a snappy run-down of the history of the horse since the Bronze Age—skipping through Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval history with a click of the tongue and a crack of the whip. But, as I’ve done a good deal of that already and it’s called The Fell Pony and Countryside Museums, I won’t. For which you should be jolly grateful, otherwise this post would have been even longer.

However, I had better clear up a few technical terms here which I’ll be using throughout:

Horse or stallion – an entire adult male with all his breeding equipment intact, a bit touchy and difficult to handle if there is a nice mare nearby.
Mare – an adult female.
Gelding – a male horse of age over 1 year, who has been castrated to stop him breeding, and make him easier to handle.
Colt – young horse under the age of 4 years (in England, also, usually this refers to a male).
Filly – young mare under the age of 4 years.
Foal – young horse under 1 year of age.

Hand – a term of immense age, the width of a man’s hand, standardised as 4 inches. Horses are measured for height at the withers; when a horse puts its head down to graze, the wither is the highest point of their body, the bony part of the spine just above the shoulder. A horse of 12 hands high measures 48 inches / 4 feet / 122 centimetres from ground to wither;  one that is  13.2 hands high measures 54 inches / 4 foot 6 inches / 137.2 cms; 15 hands high is 60 inches / 5 feet / 152.4 cms.[i]  And so on.

Time span

The horse has been around people for an awfully long time—since circa 5,500 years ago, when they were domesticated in the steppes of central Asia. Since then the horse has developed an almost symbiotic relationship with humans and, like the dog, cat, sheep and cow, has become a highly successful domestic species.

From the time of the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, up to the advent of steam locomotion in Britain in the 1830s, the horse’s job has been to supply power and/or speed.

Quality over quantity

Just as with cars in modern times, the more power and speed you want, the more you have to pay for it. This means that the most powerful people have the fastest and most powerful horses while the poor old foot soldier and farmer has to make do with what he can get—or else, do without. Historically, though, this doesn’t mean that the rich own very tall horses. 

“... in the Iron Age, horses (or more accurately ponies) averaged 12.1 hh in height and resembled the modern Exmoor breed in terms of overall build. Roman horses show two distinct types; the first similar to the Iron Age ponies but taller (13.3 hh), the second taller still (14-15 hh) and more heavily built (much like a modern cob). During the Saxon period there appears to be a change back to predominantly smaller (13.2 hh) but quite robust ponies. In the Medieval period the average horse appears very similar to Saxon ones, although a few relatively large individuals begin to appear.” [ii]

The horse found accompanying the Anglo-Saxon Lakenheath burial (~570 AD) was about 14 hands high although the man is estimated to have been six feet tall.

Most British “horses”, through many centuries, would be classed as ponies by modern standards. Imagine a world where the horse population only included the current British native pony breeds.

Kinds of horses

There were no distinct horse “breeds” until the late 18th century; no pedigree societies and no stud books except the memories of the men who handled horses as part of their employment.

Horses were classified by the work they were suitable for. They were sumpters (pack horses); rouncies or cobs or nags who trotted along carrying tradespeople (including the young squire struggling with his master’s war stallion). Small horses did the work of all the industries, bore messages, carried people on pilgrimages and transported packs of goods many hundreds of miles from farm to consumer. A few horses drew farm carts harnessed side by side in pairs or “at length” nose to tail but, given the often poor state of the roads until the toll system was introduced, probably far more were employed carrying packs and people on their backs.  Pack horses from Kendal walked to London and back within a month, taking wool, cheeses and other produce southwards and bringing back all the dainties of civilised life from the capital to the rural communities.

Powerful and warlike men of course required war-horses. These stallions were led by mounted squires to keep them fresh for a knight’s use, hence the term destrier, from dextrarius, the “horse at the right hand”. A war horse, even for an armoured man, was nowhere near as tall as the modern Shire or Clydesdale draught horse; most likely he stood around 15 to 15 and a half hands at the shoulder and was a square-trotting powerful cob like the “Powys Horse” of South Wales, or the modern Welsh Section D cob (before it began to shoot skyward in modern times).[iii]

Hobelars (mounted local militia, used for skirmishing in times of war) rode hobbies of 13 to 14 hands high. Hobbies were quick and sturdy, like Fell ponies, Connemaras, and the taller types of the New Forest ponies. There is some discussion about whether they trotted, as all British breeds now do, or paced or ambled; these “lateral” gaits where the legs on each side move together were easier for a lady to “sit” safely.

Gentlefolk, both men and women, rode palfreys or pads that paced or ambled; the old term was paraveredus from which palfrey comes, as does the Regency word prad. My Lady might be seated on a palfrey on a pillion pad behind her older brother or husband, perched completely sideways; if she rode alone, she would have both her feet on a planchette (footboard), and her palfrey perhaps led by a servant—both positions that didn’t encourage independence. The side-saddle, enabling ladies to control their mounts without a servant, developed from the mid-16th century onward.[iv]

Under Henry VIII the owners of certain sizes of property had to keep a given number of mares over 13 hands, for breeding—which strongly suggests that English horses in a majority of cases were under that height. Henry’s much cited edict required autumn drives to round up the stock, within 15 days of Michaelmas, and any "unlikely tits" or "unprofitable beastes" were then to be killed off. These laws seem to have been widely disregarded, as in 1580 Queen Elizabeth had to proclaim that to ensure the "breed and encrease of horses", in future the penalties for non-compliance would actually be applied, and not winked at as in previous times.  A tit is a small or young horse, a term dating from the 1500s or earlier, that developed, as many words do: 1726, “Tit, a little Horse, and some call a Horse of a middling Size a double Tit.”[v] The word persisted till at least the 1890s, with various meanings including a girl, a young man, or a junior or weaker party of any kind, as well as its remaining modern meanings of a bird or a female breast. 

Around 1597 the term Galloway appeared[vi] and quickly changed its meaning from a small Scottish horse to any short, stout, quick general purpose animal—replacing the old “hobby horse” who is only remembered now as a child’s wooden toy or a phrase dismissing obsessive enthusiasm. Even as late as this they were still known as horses; the word pony or “poney” for a smaller animal than the Galloway didn’t appear until the mid 17th century, probably from French “poulenet”.[vii] In any case, you didn’t really need the word pony when you had the word tit!

It isn’t until the 17th century that pedigrees begin to be found, primarily for what developed into the Thoroughbred racehorse. Horsey children are taught about the three foundation stallions—the Darley Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Godolphin Arabian—but the original Thoroughbred coursers or “running horses” were bred out of native British mares, using these Oriental stallions as sires[viii]. Many of the racehorses competing under the patronage of Charles II would have been only 13.2 hands high—a very long way short of modern racehorses who are generally closer to 16 hands than 15. Every racehorse still carries the mitochondrial DNA of those proud little British and Irish mares.[ix]

There were also local types of ponies and horses, such as the north-country Chapman horses which were stout, short-legged pack horses which travelling pedlars or “chapmen” used; these were said to be the foundation of the tall Cleveland Bay and in turn the Thoroughbred-cross Yorkshire coach horses, which were in demand for fast coach travel because of their strength and the ease of matching them for colour.[x]

Horses vs. Oxen in farming

Until the mid 18th century, heavy ploughing was more often the job of oxen (bullocks) than of horses. Rob Johnson, who has worked bullocks in Australia, tells me:

Bullocks are stoic, and willing to please. A bullock team works on what it can graze, while a horse team needs supplements like oats. Ploughing deeply in heavy clay would be easier with bullocks’ slow, steady, cloven hooves, and bullocks tend to work together more than horses. The early wooden ploughs would have been fairly rudimentary as well. As the variables improved, like the ploughs requiring less draught power, feed for horses being more freely available and harnesses becoming better, then the quality of the farm horses was improved, and they became better all round animals. They probably still wouldn't match bullocks for the heavy going, but they were more versatile.

There were even ox-teams working in England up till the end of the 19th century. Another point in favour of working farms with oxen was that when they were no longer useful they could be eaten, whereas in England for millennia there has been a taboo on eating horses.

Feeding

Horses belonging to land-owning families seem to have been generally well looked-after. They were so useful that they couldn’t be neglected! Stabled horses, then as now, needed to be fed corn (oats or occasionally barley) to fuel them for hard work, and in the absence of their natural food, grass, or green meat as it has sometimes been called, they must have generous quantities of hay to keep their digestive systems working; plus large amounts of water, between 5 and 8 gallons a day. Not to mention straw for bedding!

Letters to Margaret Paston written in 1471[xi] tell us that her son, who had been detained away from his Norfolk home for some time, wished to make sure that his horses were well fed, healthy and available for him to use when he returned:

... I have now enough hay of my own, and as for oats, Dollys will purvey (buy/provide) for him, or I will pay whoever does so. And I beseech you that he have every week three bushels of oats, and every day a penny worth of bread (probably horse-bread, made of beans). And if Boton is not at Norwich and Syme keeps him, I shall pay him well for his labour. Also that Philip Loveday should put the other horse out to grass there as he and I agreed....

Colours

The Fenlands of East Anglia were drained by Dutch engineers in the 17th century[xii], and these engineers are said to have brought Friesian trotters with them. These in turn influenced the Norfolk trotter, and the Old English Black (later the Shire)—and the word “black” brings me to the colours we might have seen among the horses of historic times.

Many of the horses described after the battle of Flodden in 1513 were grey; out of 252 horses, 95 were grey. It was easily the most frequent colour of all, and “grey” did not include the ones the accounting clerk recorded as “white”.[xiii]  These horses belonged to the ordinary Dales farmer-soldiers who were being “demobbed” after Henry VIII's Scottish campaign.

The hair colours in another account, from the famous horse sales at Appleby in Westmorland (1623 to 1646) ranged through a drabbish rainbow from black, black bay, black brown, brown bay, red bay (with a “white main”), bay, mouse brown, lead-coloured, roaned, and piebald (black-and-white, coloured, pinto) to grey (not “white”  although a grey horse as it ages will look white).

It’s interesting that, in searching these Civil War period accounts, I haven’t yet turned up an example of the term “chestnut.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites it being used as a term for a horse colour in 1636 and Shakespeare used it as a hair colour for people in 1600 in As You Like It, so it was in use in Southern England some 50 years before these sales were being recorded. But the alternative term “sorrel” is not in those Appleby accounts either. I wonder what the red bay horse with the white mane looked like.

Over the centuries, increasing control of horse-breeding, by gelding colts, allowed less skilled people to handle horses safely. It also exerted a selection process over which animals got to pass on their qualities to subsequent generations.  Some areas even spayed filly foals: I learned from a university vet just today that speying mares had become so commonplace in France that it had to be banned by Ordinance in 1717—and being a good academic he even gave me the reference for it[xiv].

Since the improvement of farming equipment and harness, and the beginnings of selective breeding, draught horse breeds such as the Shire, Clydesdale and Suffolk had been used to plough and harvest, as well as to draw heavy waggons in the arable counties of the east of Britain. But the poorer the owner was, the rougher the horse, vanner, cob or pony he would own, down to the local milk lady who might well be serving her produce out of churns strapped either side of a donkey.

Once the railway age began in the 1830s the need for relays of well-bred horses to draw mail coaches declined somewhat, but they were still heavily used by private individuals who could afford to race, ride, hunt, or drive. With the advent of the internal combustion engine in the 1890s the horse began to escape his task of providing practical day-to-day power and speed, and to be wanted mainly for the leisure uses we see today.

Here’s a little thought for you to go away with: picture a farm horse coming home from ploughing. Of course the ploughman has jumped up and hitched a ride to save his tired legs after mile after mile after mile of single furrow ploughing. You might not realise, though, that he’s riding sideways, like a medieval lady, rather than astride. Plough horses are built for power and their backs are groin-achingly wide. I am reliably informed from the Other Side of the Bed that without a saddle (or even with) there are certain aspects of male physique that discourage men from riding astride. So spare an admiring thought for the warriors of ancient times who spent so much time on horseback and still came home from war to father a family!


Sue Millard looks after the web site of the Fell Pony and Countryside Museums at Dalemain, http://www.fellponymuseum.org.uk/ Her historical novel, Coachman, is available from her Jackdaw E Books site, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/


[iii] Hyland, A., The Horse in the Middle Ages
[xiii] DENT, A & MACHIN-GOODALL, D, 1962: Foals of Epona (Galley Press) reprinted 1988 as A History of British Native Ponies (London: J A Allen)
[xiv] Fleming, 1881 - Veterinary Journal 12:145ff.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trouble comes in Threes


I took my Fell mare Ruby out for a drive this afternoon. The weather was just too good to waste!

She's had her hooves trimmed by the blacksmith in the past few days, so I fit her road boots - Easyboot Epics on the front and Easyboot Gloves on the back - to prevent her getting sore. I was planning to do 6 miles, going round Orton and back. Said boots all go on very easily (which should really have been a warning to me). Harness up, yoke up, and away we go.

The outward leg of the journey is lovely. Just enough wind to keep us cool, lots of sunshine, and spectacular huge spikes of bright purple Northern Marsh Orchids coming into bloom in damp spots along the roadsides. Ruby settles into the work and goes past the event horses at Selsmire without any spookiness. Her bugbear, the extremely-white grey one, hasn't got his green rug on, so this time she recognises him as a horse and not a collection of fag packets or garden chairs, or whatever she imagined he was last time they met.

She isn't bothered by going down the middle of Orton village between all the parked cars. She isn't very bothered either by the Water Board men cleaning out drains at the junction opposite Hall Farm, until one of them retrieves a ten foot length of drainage rod, wipes it and throws it down beside its mates with a noise like a whipcrack. She jumps sideways about six feet. And the bloke shouts, "Hey - you've lost a shoe!" which is much more polite than what I am thinking!

Ruby isn't keen on standing still, but I tell her - fairly mildly - not to be such a fool. She takes her cue as much from the tone of my voice as anything else. The bloke retrieves her boot and trots obligingly after us, off the main road. He tosses it (he obviously has a habit of throwing stuff) and it misses the carriage and lands between Ruby's feet. I move her on a few yards so he can pick it up, and this time he manages to deposit it on the floor. "I'm not used to horses," he says. I say, "Not to worry," and thank him, and we walk along the lane past the school, then I stop in the Methodist chapel car park where I tie Ruby to the fence, and while she reaches over for grass, I reinstate the boot.

It goes all right after that, for a while. I meet a friend and have a chat, and Ruby is perfectly happy to wait for us. Then we set off to trot home.

Back past the eventers and the stands of marsh orchids. Suddenly there's a rhythmic clanking and I see that the yachting quick-release shackle on the end of one of the traces has quick released itself and the trace is swinging free. This doesn't seem to worry Ruby, but it worries me. I suspect the wind blew Ruby's long tail onto the webbing pull-tab and that was enough to flip the shackle open. Fortunately the trace-carrier loop does its job so the trace isn't tangling round her feet. We pull up and turn onto the grass verge, where with moderate swearing I re-fasten the shackle, and off we go again.

Ruby's got into her stride by now and as we trot down into Greenholme I can feel her bunching herself to canter up the brow to the farm.

And the bloody boot flies off again.

This time I say, "Sod it!" and let her canter on home. Unyoke, unharness, give her a small feed and leave her munching, still with three boots on, while I whizz back in the car to pick up the boot, before anyone can run over it and wreck it.

When I'm taking off Ruby's remaining boots it occurs to me to try the much-too-keen-to-fly hind boot (the Glove) on her front hoof, for which it used to be too small. And it fits. So now I am wondering - have all her hooves got smaller over the time she's been working unshod? That seems very strange, but it's possible. Or maybe the boots ease a bit with use? Measuring and re-fitting will have to be done before I can be sure. I may have to get a smaller pair of Gloves for her hind feet and move the current ones to her front feet.

I turn Ruby out into the paddock, which is what she's really been wanting since before we went for our drive.

Last of all, I dismantle both the quick-release shackles, take out the helical retaining springs, decompress them quite a lot, and re-fit them. It will take a much stronger pull to flip them open now, and if necessary I will shorten the pull tabs, or do without them altogether.

So, although things went wrong, we coped. And that's the main thing.

I conclude, though, that I must be in a time warp, because this is the kind of day that usually happens to me when we go back into work after winter. I can only assume it's very mild for January.





PS - I happen to have Ruby's foot measurements from 2007 which was when we went barefoot/booted. While assessing the actual figures is a bit mind boggling, charting them makes it very clear that her hooves have got BIGGER over the intervening years. The lines indicating length and width for each newly trimmed hoof make a significant upward leap from 2007 to this year's measurements.

Therefore - it's imperative that I clean the boots and her hooves of the oil I use to protect feather! I must away to the shops for some cheapo toothpaste!


Sue's books can be found at her web site, Jackdaw E Books, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A beaut - the Jehovah's Witnesses called yesterday (we talked about tomato plants and washing up). On the wallchart they noticed the following:

2 A 3 Ch 1 Pet 6:30.

They said, "But 1 Peter only has 4 chapters."

Graham and I read it back to them in chorus: "2 adults, 3 children, 1 pet, arriving 6:30 this evening."
 
We see what we expect to see...

http://www.dawbank.co.uk/

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Meet my Main Character"

Thanks to Debbie Brown and MM Bennetts for tagging me to take part in this!

It's one stage in a chain of posts by historical fiction authors in which we introduce the main character of our work in progress or soon to be published novel.  Actually I fall outside the precise remit, since this book is already out, but I am going to work on a sequel to it when I've completed my current W.I.P. (which is also a sequel to another novel).

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?


George Davenport's name belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a coachman--so in that sense, yes, he was real.  I know very little about him apart from name, date and location. I use his name and his profession of coachman, but I have transplanted him to places where I know he didn't work in real life.

2) When and where is the story set?


The story moves from Carlisle, Cumberland, to the centre of London\(although my great-grandfather actually lived in Cheshire).

I have timeshifted George and Lucy (the real name of my great-grandmother) from the later part of the 19th century, when they really lived, to the earlier part. In "Coachman" I have imagined George aged 22 in 1838.

I chose that year, not because it was the year of Victoria's coronation, which it was, but because it was when one of the major shifts occurred in English culture, when travelling by coach and four horses suddenly appeared old-fashioned, uncomfortable and slow compared to the new means of transport: the steam train.

Some excellent fiction has been written about the "arrival" of the railway age - for instance by Malcolm MacDonald in his "World from Rough Stones" books - but I'm not aware of any stories about the decline of the long-distance coaching trade and the effect it had on thousands of horsemen whose livelihood vanished over just a few years.

Most of the accounts of the era were written towards the end of the Victorian era.  Charles Harper says in  "Stage Coach and Mail in Days of Yore",

"Many coachmen were killed off the box in the exercise of their profession... A considerable number, secure in the affection of the wealthy amateurs, many of whom they had taught the art of driving, entered the service of those noblemen and gentlemen. Something in the long overlordship they had exercised over four horses, and a good deal more perhaps in that hero-worship down the road, of which Washington Irving writes, had spoiled them. Their lives would not run sweetly in fresh grooves. They could not, or would not, take to new employments, and, even subsisting upon charity, were often absurdly haughty, insolent, and insufferable."

There was a cartoon by Cruikshank about the plight of coachmen in the railway boom: "Steamed Out, or the Starving Stage Coachman and Boys", in which "Steamed Out Stagecoach Drivers Starve in the Face of Competition from the Railway". Such hardship, however, can't have been the whole story for every single one of the drivers and their guards. Generalisations are just that - generalisations.


While the accounts from 50 years later are sympathetic to the cause of the out-of-work coachey, they also contain contradictory remarks like "they were never a long lived breed of men" contrasted with examples who lived into their 80s or even 90s.  So I thought I'd explore the possibilities. They made a much more striking story than Cruikshank's cartoon.

3) What should we know about him/her?


George is a horseman, born and raised. His parents are dead and he was brought up by his grandparents in the coaching trade. He has been driving four-in-hand teams since he was 14 and he enjoys working with horses very much, despite the rigours of bad weather and sometimes difficult passengers. Not only that, he's a good-looking lad and a classy driver who is admired for his skill in handling a fast coach and four horses--the Formula 1 driver of his day.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?


George is ambitious. He wants to drive horses and be based in London, which is the centre of the Mail coaching system. This brings him into the employment of William Chaplin, a very successful businessman in coaching. George likes music and the theatre and he earns plenty of money, which in turn attracts pretty girls. When we meet him he's fallen in love with Lucy, who works in her mother's inn/lodging-house in Carlisle. Lucy has had a much harder upbringing than George, as we learn towards the end of the book.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?


George moves to London with his wife Lucy, and at first he thoroughly enjoys working for Chaplin. He thinks he's got it made! However, Chaplin's daughter Sarah has a fierce crush on him and she makes his life very uncomfortable, since he's got to be polite to the boss's family! But, because the Royal Mail is about to move a huge amount of its traffic onto the railways, it's Chaplin himself who drops the real bombshell. Foreseeing a rapid decline of his business, he sells all his coaches, making his drivers redundant, along with the ostlers and all the workforce needed to manage horses. George finds himself under a new master, Edward Sherman. Sarah's continued pursuit of George causes him to lose this job too. And as you can imagine, Lucy (who's expecting their first child by now) is not too pleased about that! George ends up having to move back North in order to find driving work; it's the only way he can keep himself, Lucy and his imminent family. There's no way this young man is going to be seen begging like the "Steamed-Out" coacheys in Cruikshank's cartoon. One of the sources of his pride has to go: it's a struggle to give up any idea of regaining his "top of the trees" work in London, but he's able to get a position driving in the North, where the railways have yet to arrive. So his pride in his work can be maintained - if a little tarnished - and he will be able to keep Lucy and their child in a reasonably comfortable household.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?


The title is "Coachman". You can read the first section HERE.  http://www.amazon.com/Coachman-ebook/dp/B009DORFOI/

7) When can we expect the book to be published?


It's out already. I hope to work on a sequel to "Coachman", but I'm currently working on a sequel to "Against the Odds" which is modern (see http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk).

Thanks for visiting this post. I have tagged four authors to follow me; they will post about their main characters on 15th April or thereabouts.

1)         Deborah Swift

2)         Jonathan Hopkins

3)         Mark Patton

4)         Elizabeth Ashworth

  

Let me know what you think of George!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ruby being daft...it must be Spring!

Ruby's not done much because I've been busy, so she has probably had too much opportunity to graze spring grass. She's lost a lot of her winter coat and has come up nice and glossy despite a heavy coating of mud...

We went out for a drive just after lunch and immediately met one of the big timber-wagons that are coming past us for the felling of the wood in Bretherdale. I now know that the Bennington is shorter overall than the Quayside gigs because it went round on a sixpence in our "narrows" between the stone walls of the garden and the field opposite. Ruby stood in the yard while the monster went by, and we started the drive over again.

It all went OK, including having our photos taken at the railway bridge, until we reached Selsmire where the event horses were all out at grass in their heavy rugs. Ruby knows that the first 4 in the field on the left are not really interested in her any more, though they look up and stare; but once again, when we reached the next field she spotted "that grey horse" and ground to a halt. She considered trying the spin-and-run that she caught me with a couple of months ago, but I talked her out of that and she just stood there, assessing. This is most unlike her because she is normally such a bold mare! She has even met this grey horse a couple of times, out on the road. So why the sight of a grey in a rug is so scary, I can't really work out, unless she can only see the legs and head and not the rug in between. Talking to her, twitching the rein and outright smacking her with the whip all produced only one or two steps forward so as I'd got her to the side of the road enabling cars to get by (if necessary) I was prepared to sit it out. Eventually after about 5 minutes a van came from the opposite direction and at that point she appeared to come out of her "trance" and walked on! I think I need to get her a supplement with magnesium in it, to counteract the grass.

I took her another mile or so, then turned and came back. She behaved fine coming past the horses this time (the grey was further away and behind a couple of other horses). We met the timber wagon, again but I had spotted him coming from over a mile away as I came down the hill, and I found a gate open into a little garth, where we stood out of his way and exchanged waves with the driver before continuing on our merry way.

Ruby was hardly damp at all when we got in - combination of shedding winter woollies, and a quite cold wind.

Poor Micky Wippitt was furiously jealous that I had done things with Ruby without taking him into the game - biting the wire of his kennel run and yelping - but I can't let him run free just at the moment because it's lambing time and he is far too keen on chasing after leaping lambies! And if I were to lead him and Ruby, his extending lead would get wound round her legs AND his. Neither of them bother about this, but I'd need more hands than I currently have, to untangle them.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Covey

My backyard view
grew one, then two
grey partridge.
Pick and peck
some grainy speck,
some tasty smidge.
Three, and four,
five, six or more
plump, slate ridge-
patterned, seethed
around the floor
like woodlice when
you lift a stone.
Eight, nine or ten?
I lost count. One
saw the dog. Two
ran. All flew. Gone.