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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Glimpse of the past

The street itself was empty. In old times one would have heard the desolate nocturnal sound of a lame hoof-beat as a market-gardener's cart went by: they always brought out in the small hours the horses that were too bad to be seen by day. But all that was changed. The last lame horse had probably long since gone to the knacker's yard, and no link of sound was left between the Niagara-roar of the day and the hush before dawn.

Edith Wharton - The Mother's Recompense (1925)


Every now and then we come across another glimpse of the past, a hint that life was different in far too many ways for us to grasp and fit into our easy generalisations. 

Is it likely to be true in a general sense? Did market-gardeners avoid showing their more decrepit horses in public? Perhaps they did – to do otherwise may have been bad for business. Personal reputation would have been crucial. The horses didn't end up at Tesco, but some probably didn't end up at the knacker's yard either. 

6 comments:

wiggiatlarge said...

It really isn't that long ago that horses were still in use, we had the milkman delivering with a horse and cart in East London during the fifties and the breweries still used them for deliveries not show then as well.

You could do a whole piece on what we can remember from those times and most people would not beleive that all that was still in use, as an example my primary school had gas lighting and so did my in-laws house when I first started going out with my wife to be.
There must be many more examples .............

Michael said...

There weren't that many horses around after 1918, so maybe, such an aid to a livelihood was exceptional?

I really don't know, as a Ford Cortina was roughly the same sort of membership to the mobile race back when I was a teenager...

(I still have a photograph of one of my grandfather's cars, and he had quite a large business back then)!

Sam Vega said...

My dad's family were milkmen, and used a horse and cart right up to and through the 1939-45 war. They dispensed milk direct from the churn into the housewife's jug, using a dipper. My Grandfather told me how he always used to give poor widows a little bit of extra milk. It was the war that did for the business; the government introduced paperwork (presumably as part of the rationing process) and it was too much for barely literate people like my Grandfather to cope with.

I can't recall them ever talking about their feelings for their horses and their welfare. I can't imagine them ill-treating them, but I guess they were just a means of economic survival.

Demetrius said...

Lame horses were cheap to buy, if your transport needs were pretty basic and not heavy if you could keep a lame horse going it cut costs. As for the knackers yard, it was the bone that was important.

Roger said...

I just wonder if she is having a sly dig at the sort of upper middle class woman of the time who always thinks the worst of tradesmen. So she paints a picture of the wicked market gardener flogging some poor animal to its last as just typical of 'trade'. Not read the book, so just a thought.

A K Haart said...

Wiggia - I remember horse drawn drays for a local brewer and of course the rag and bone man had a horse and cart. You are right - once we add up these things they tell a story.

Scrobs - I remember a few - see above response to Wiggia. We still see horses used for funerals and weddings but that's something else.

Sam - I imagine a milkman's horse couldn't look too scruffy. My father used to tell a tale about an old lady who peeped through the curtains when the milkman arrived with his horse. If the horse lifted its tail she would be out there with her shovel and bucket almost before the shit hit the road. It went straight on her garden.

Demetrius - I know a chap who had to make regular visits to a bone boiler's premises in the seventies. The vilest place he ever came across.

Roger - could be. She was upper class herself and noted for disparaging their limitations and socially obtuse ways. There will certainly be a social dig in there.