The rapid growth of railway traffic created parallel growth in passenger movements and carriage of goods, thereby increasing the need for horses. Apart from conveyance of people and goods, the Victorian working horse was required for municipal services (fire engines, waste carts, postal services), machine power (shunting, hoisting, exceptional loads), and national defence (cavalry, artillery, transport). As an example of machine power duties, in 1864 it was claimed that about 90 horses were exclusively dedicated to shunting and sorting at Camden Goods Depot. This number can only have increased over the years.
Land was primarily in the hands of large landowners and money for breeding was therefore available. A stallion at stud could serve up to 100 mares. Colts were broken in as geldings for later urban duties as they reached the optimum age of about five, with one in 50 perhaps retained as a stallion for stud purposes. Mares were kept for farm work and breeding, although they too could find themselves in urban employment and were favoured by many omnibus operators.
The typical life cycle of a male urban working horse was:
Year 1 Weaned by farmer and sold to professional buyer
Year 2 Castrated, broken in, sold on
Years 3-4 Work on farms near urban/industrial centres (canals and railways blurred this pattern, as transport became
Year 5 Sold for urban duties
Years 6-9 First urban duty when at peak of powers
Year 10-? Sold on for other urban or farm duties as strength and reliability declines
The Victorians were generally unsentimental about horses. The horse's main advantages over machines were its low cost and flexibility. Favoured animals were those that best turned food into money. Fodder was a major operations cost, the fodder market representing 10% of agricultural output by the end of the 19th century, with London by far the largest market.
The quality of horses varied greatly. Brewery companies with their heavy cart horses had the highest standards, followed by parish vestries, railway companies and major carriers such as Pickfords. Omnibus, tram and cab horses were lighter and worked harder. The treatment of horses gradually became a greater issue through the 19th century. A number of breeding societies were formed in the 1870s and the London Cart Horse Parade was started at this time to encourage and reward better care of horses. Sir Walter Gilbey was a central figure in this movement, which also influenced the stabling of horses in terms of improved lighting, ventilation and drainage.
New stables were also constructed by LNWR in this phase on the south-west side of Gloucester Road on the site of a former brewery owned by Calverts. This site lies behind The Engineer public house (also built c1856), which was retained by Calverts. There was stabling for an estimated 140-150 horses. The stables were connected to the goods yard by the Western Horse Tunnel. They were rented by Pickfords following the 1857 fire in the Oval Road warehouse that they had rented from LNWR (which destroyed the basement and its stables for some 250 horses).
LNWR built stables for Samuel Allsopp and Sons, the Burton-on-Trent brewers, in 1876 on the north side of Gloucester Road, the site now of 42 Gloucester Avenue. They were connected by horse stairs to the Western Horse Tunnel. The stables are estimated to have held 72 horses. The new stables provided access to the storage area Allsopp leased in the basement of the main goods shed. They were demolished in Spring 2000, but the horse stairs and tunnel remain.
Stables complex with Long Stable (left), The Stables (centre) and Provender Stores (right)
(Howard Spencer, 2009)
An upper floor was added to the fourth of the 1854-6 range, along Chalk Farm Road, in 1900. This provided stabling for 42 horses.
Two stables for 17 horses were provided at some time beneath the NLR viaduct and four stalls in 1887 in a lean-to stable. A further 54 horses could be stabled by the 1920s beneath the former coal drops. The total stabling in Stables Yard in 1925 was for about 400 horses, based on a London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR) plan.
In 1893 part of Gilbey’s No. 5 Bond, housed under the arches of the NLR at Camden Road station, was converted into stables by the NLR. The stables, which open onto Bonny Street, could accommodate 104 horses. It is assumed these horses worked in the Goods Depot where Gilbeys had its main operation, and would previously have been housed there in stables rented from the LNWR.
At the peak, therefore, some 700-800 horses worked in the Camden Goods Depot and sidings moving goods to and from the yard and shunting railway wagons. With regard to passenger operations, the LNWR had additional stables at Euston and Broad Street. Carriage of parcels and luggage to and from the station had been placed in the hands of Pickfords and other carriage agents, and these agents would have stabled the many horses required for these services.
An interesting seven minute Pathe News clip showing life in the Camden stables of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1949 can be viewed at: www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=56505
The title of the clip is FLU EPIDEMIC AMONG RAILWAY HORSES, but it shows more than treatment by a vet, including feeding, shoeing, leading to work, stalls in stables, and harnesses.
The western seven bays of The Stables are the only surviving part of the four 1856 ranges to retain the original single storey and loft arrangement. This section has two stabling units of three bays with flat-headed central projecting entrance and loophole or loft opening bays.
At the west end, a two storey bay under a hip in the roof with a chimney stack has every appearance of a gatehouse. Its stair is to the south-east. The south-west corner of the building has its corner cut at 45º, evidently to provide better turning space for horses and wagons.
Further east the ground floor is in seven three-bay units, with the addition of piers to support a cantilevered steel and brick jack-arch gallery with concrete floor, by which the upper stables were reached. Access to the gallery was via a ramp attached to the north side of Long Stable. The floor to the upper storey is of steel and brick jack-arch construction contiguous with that of the gallery. A wooden bridge that formerly connected The Stables and Provender Stores was removed. The upper stables repeat the three-bay pattern but with segmental-headed doors and windows and dentilled eaves. The gallery retains its precast concrete drinking troughs.
Along Chalk Farm Road, the ground floor façade has high-level semi-round windows sitting on a continuous stone band. Some retain timber small-pane casements. On the raised section, where the windows are segmental-headed, a change in the brickwork is evident.
Internally, the stable units were each about 19 ft (5.8 m) by 28 ft (8.5 m) with three stalls on each side of a central passage. The original west section retains timber internal construction with the 1856 hay loft roof. The former gatehouse has been much altered internally.
The ground floor stabling is typical, the bays being grouped in threes with central entrances, upper loophole openings, and round-arch arcading with high-silled windows for small pane pivoting casements. The first floor has round-headed windows (see photo), the second floor segmental heads. Many of the loophole openings, which were extended to both upper storeys, have been enlarged. All but one of the timber hoist jibs at eaves level have either been removed or replaced by steel beams.
The east gable end wall has been rebuilt in blue brick. The west gable end had a bridge to the Tack Room at first floor level.
Internally the range comprised six stable units, some with six stalls, others with loose boxes. The floors inserted in 1881 were of iron construction with trussed beams. Timber roof trusses were used. The upper floor and roof appear to have been replaced in concrete and steel.
The 1881 “horse road” to the south had steps with 4½ in. risers made of cast iron. Its position is evident on the south wall. The ramp to the north is brick built with concrete-paved road surfaces and an intermediate landing.
Although the shortest of the four 1856 stable blocks, the 28 stalls in a single undivided space explain the name of this block. The upper floor rests on cast-iron stanchions that support wrought-iron I-section girders carrying rolled joists to brick jack-arches and supports timber king-post roof trusses.
This range is generally assumed to have been built in 1856, although there is strong physical and documentary evidence that it may have been built earlier, not long after the 1847 reconstruction. It differs from other ranges at the eastern end with flat-headed windows and 12-paned sashes. It was raised in 1881 as part of the expansion of the Provender Stores, when the ranges were linked by a bridge, now removed. The west side is abutted by the railway vaults and the c1880 bonded warehouse.
The slate roof is in two parts: gabled to the south and hipped to the north. The three bays of the ground floor originally stabled 27 horses. The first floor provender store was later used as a tack room, hence the name.
The east elevation has the same arrangement to the ground floor as the other 1856 stabling. Each of the three stables has three arched bays with a central projecting entrance bay and the flanking bays closed up to the round-headed windows, many of which still retain their original wooden frames. The northern loading bay retains a simple hoist over the head of the door.
Next to the northern stable is a door opening for access to the first floor horse-keeper’s dwelling (see picture), formed from the three northernmost bays. These were probably part of the original construction, and retain three 12-pane sash windows and chimney stacks to both the east and north sides. Three brick chimney stacks remain to the north and east sides.
The bridge to the Provender Stores extended from the southernmost loading bay to link the provender stores. Its position is indicated by a wooden rail and the holes for the former beams below the raised sill of the loading door. The bridge was demolished sometime after 1975.
The interior of the building has three bays to both floors. It was originally built of timber-framed construction, still surviving to the northern stable bay. In 1881 the southern bays were altered and cast-iron columns and girders were inserted and the wooden floor was renewed. Wooden roof trusses and timber benching, partition and harness hooks survive from its later use as a tack room.
The north elevation abuts the embanked roadway, its angle of incline reducing the 1883 range to a single storey on this side. The elevations of both parts have recessed panels, divided by pilaster strips, each with four high-level segmental-headed stable windows. In recent years two of the window openings have been extended to form doorways. The stable ranges are linked by another horse ramp, originally built against the east end of the first phase and retained after the extension was added, although partly remade into steps after the closure of the stables.
The upper storey of the west end has a landing for the semi-circular horse ramp with an opening to its balustrade, originally for a wooden chute to the manure pit below. The lower, straighter part was added as part of the 1897 extension. The curved ramp is uncommon, ramps usually being built against the side of a stables building for economy of space. Its shape and position were evidently dictated by the site. In the first phase it had a steep gradient of about 1 in 6 that was flattened when the ramp was extended in the second phase.
The eastern end of the 1897 range narrows to form a single-storey bay. This was a store and men’s room heated by a fireplace as indicated by the surviving chimney stack.
Ventilation to the north side of the stables was through the openings, two to each bay, at the junction of the wall and ceiling, with wooden shafts carrying up to vents on the roof. A single-storey store room to the east, set back from the stable range but part of the original phase of construction, retains the brick jack arching of the former horse ramp above. The horse ramp at the western end also has a store room below its upper part.
The interior of the 1883 building has cast-iron columns, classically finished, supporting brick jack-arching to the upper floor. The ground floor is divided by thick brick walls into five stable bays accessible only from the south side. There were six stalls to both sides of each room, making 60 stalls on the ground floor. Originally there were harness racks to the centre of each bay and corn bins against the north wall. The original brick-paved floor survives. It has a slight camber and is incised with gulleys for drainage.
Plan of upper floor of Horse Hospital, 1883, with loose boxes and stalls
(National Archives/CRHT1837 on Flickr)
The first floor of the 1983 range is divided into two unequal parts. The larger western part retains twelve loose boxes with iron doorposts, cast as a piece with the columns that are bolted to tie-beams, and timber boarding below the iron grilles and rails. These loose boxes retain the most substantial surviving stable fittings in the stables complex, including mangers and hayracks and remains of the wooden ventilation shafts that originally ran from the floor to the roof.
The eastern part of the range, designated as standings for 20 horses, was built with wooden bales suspended from joists between the roof beams. Some tethering hooks and a solitary trough are now the only surviving fittings.
The ground floor of the 1897 stable extension is in two parts and has a plainer construction, with I-section stanchions supporting the brick jack-arching. In the western part the stalls were against the north and south walls with dividers suspended from hooks in the ceiling beams, confirmed by the direction of the gulleys in the paved brick floor. Brackets beneath the tie beams on the first floor secured wooden posts to alternate stalls. The narrowest eastern part had stabling on the north side only. No stable fittings survive from the 1897 stable range.
The Eastern Horse Tunnel was connected both to the extensive system of vaults of 1856 west of the Interchange Warehouse formerly used for storing wine or beer and to the 1839 vaults, before emerging in Stables Yard. It followed a crooked course to circumnavigate the canal dock and the vaults, and passed under the new rail lines leading to the dock.
Both horse tunnels are of round-arched construction with asphalt over the top of the tunnel and damp-proofing cavities within the walls, draining to 4 in (10 cm) lateral drains and a 6 in (15 cm) longitudinal drain pipe below the centre of the tunnel – a quite sophisticated construction. The tunnels of brick construction with concrete footings are 10 ft (3.0 m) wide by 9 ft (2.7 m) to the crown, formerly with random Rowley Rag paving 6 in (15 cm) thick on 6 in (15 cm) of hardcore.
Cast-iron ventilation grilles were placed regularly (about 10 ft or 3.0 m apart) in the roof, originally the only source of light.
In 1866, following the construction of the large goods shed in 1864, a branch was made from the Eastern Horse Tunnel to the basement of the shed.
The stairs of the Western Horse Tunnel, which now emerged at the south-east corner of this goods shed, were relocated southwards when the main goods shed was enlarged in 1931.