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Tag Archive: documentary records

  • Blazing saddles

    Before the railway and the internal combustion engine transformed how people travelled, it was a case of four legs are better than two – if you could afford to buy a horse. From hacks to hunters, trotters to thoroughbreds, and shires to steeds, there were as many sizes, shapes and temperaments of horses as there are models and makes of cars today. But where to buy one?

    There were horse dealers, of course, but a highlight of rural life was the horse fair held in the spring and autumn across the country. These were magnets for buyers, sellers and onlookers as opportunities for trading, meeting friends and neighbours, entertainment, eating and drinking were on tap.

    It may come as no surprise to discover that there was tax to pay on horses sold, bartered or exchanged at the fair. A toll-keeper was appointed to note details of the seller, buyer, and horse in a toll book and ensure the appropriate fee was charged. In September 1757 for example, at a fair in Staffordshire, yeoman John Blakemore sold a ‘black filly with a blaze down her face, the outside foot behind white, two years old past’ to John Tomlinson for £3 12s 6d, while Henry Earp bought ‘two bay colts, one horse and one filly with a star in the face’ from John Martin for 10 guineas.

    Villages and towns hosting the horse fair would have been transformed by the arrival and departure of so many animals and people. One onlooker described ‘shouting, whooping, neighing and braying, galloping and trotting, handlers running holding their horses or dragging them along, droves of wild ponies, and rows of sober cart horses’.

    Buying a car will never seem quite as exciting.

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