delivers your pub pint
Horses are still earning
their keep on the
capitals busy streets.
Theyre low on
emissions and nice
little runners, as
Tim Relf discovers
when he joins the
NOT what youd expect to come across, shire horses. Not here – among the cars, the buses, the skyscrapers. In the middle of London.
These two, though, are well known. Theyre part of the local scenery. People cross the street to pat them. Motorists occasionally curse them. Traffic wardens wonder where, if it ever came to it, they would stick a ticket.
Theyre Tom and Harry, two of the 14 owned by Youngs, the only brewery in the capital still making daily deliveries by dray. Its something thats been happening at the Ram brewery at Wandsworth since the 1580s.
Its a traditional business, too, for the people involved. Head horseman Kevin Flynn came here straight from school and, after a spell working away, returned nine years ago. His father was a coachman.
The animals more than earn their keep, he says. "Theyre all here to do a job. Theyre much more manoeuvrable than lorries. They have a smaller turning circle."
Joyce Bellamy of the British Horse Society says horses were the mainstay of urban life until the 1960s, pulling cargoes – not just of beer, but of milk, bread and coal.
"Any idea that the horse is peculiarly a product of the countryside is wrong," she says. Indeed, until urban transport travel mechanised, there were more horses in the towns than in the country.
Today, Tom and Harrys destination is the appropriately-named Ye Olde Spotted Horse on Putney High Street. Theyre calm and completely unfazed as they go about their business. But as Mr Flynn explains, the horses – bought from around the country – are only sent out to work after careful schooling has got them used to noise and vehicles. "Theres also a bond of mutual trust between the horses and the drayman."
He reckons the animals will always have a role here. And this echoes the comments of Henry Young, chairman of the brewery from 1923 to 1957, who resisted a move to an entirely motorised fleet. "We have no prejudice against the motor – but we have a prejudice in favour of the horse," he once said.
As well as on Londons roads, the animals are well known on the show circuit, picking up more than 3000 prizes since they first entered the ring in the 1920s. Between 1947 and 1954 the brewerys four-horse team was unbeaten. More recent successes include the supreme harness championship at last Julys New Forest Show at Brockenhurst, Hants.
Another 1998 highlight was pulling the Lord Mayor of Londons coach through the city on its annual procession – something they will again do this year. Among the mayors mares, you could say.
• The stables are open to the public. For opening hours (0181-875 7005).
Horse whisperers… draymen Henry Coward
(top right) and Joe Azzopardi prepare the horses for the delivery which takes them to this pub in Putney.