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RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 30: NON LOCOMOTIVE OPERATIONS  Horses For Courses
Horse shunters... ultimate locomotives by-passing steam or diesel motive power
Until well into the 20th Century horses had an important role to play in running Britain's railways. How? Read on...
In the very early days of railway operation horses were usually employed to pull light rail traffic - single carriages, individual or short trains of chaldron wagons - until largely superseded by the steam locomotive. Thousands of horses up and down mainland Britain and Ireland were employed by the railway companies to shunt goods yards and road haulage delivery until nationalisation in 1948.
Shunting horses were found to be more efficient and effective than many steam locomotives, although they were prone to injury in catching their hooves on or between rails, or tripping on the many bars and wires when they came close to busy junctions..
Mechanical horses and small tractors began to take over road and yard duties, although horses - usually the 'Shire' type, Clydesdales and Suffolks - still shunted individual wagons in the largely flat Eastern Counties, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. The last horse to be retired outlasted steam in East Anglia. 'Charlie', a large Clydesdale stallion was one of a last pair retired from horse-racing town Newmarket in 1967. The colour picture (top) shows him being handled past horse boxes in the yard by 'Lol' (Lawrence) Kelly.
Besides small tractors, hydraulic or electric capstans in larger depots saw horses phased out from shunting duties.
Whilst it would probably be impossible to have a working model - short of shrinking a Clydesdale down to size - a diorama would not be out of the question, although you could have a trackside cameo if you've planned an East Anglian station layout. A harnessed horse could be moved about, with handler and wagon or van behind, or just the horse and handler on their way to the next job. You'd probably have one of the few such layouts in existence, and a likely draw at an exhibition (especially in East Anglia or Essex).
The railway horse on the highway or in stables
In 1904 ownership of horses by the foremost railway companies numbered in their thousands.
The London & North Western (LNWR) and Midland (MR) Railway companies each had 5,000, the Great Northern (GNR) 2,782, the Great Western (GWR) 2,668, the Lancashire & Yorkshire (L&YR) 1,867 and the Great Eastern (GER) 1,745.
Stabling hundreds of horses in big cities such as London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool or Birmingham was expensive, as most horses were needed close to central goods hubs. Companies sometimes rebuilt viaducts into stabling, and underground facilities were also established under railway buildings. More modern stables built early in the 20th Century were added to upper floors of premises. In 1904 GWR stables near Paddington housed 626 horses in a four storey building. The GNR housed 189 horses in three storeys over the goods warehouse in Clerkenwell at Farringdon Station (still in situ until rebuilding in the 1990s)
Other buildings were needed at or near sites with associated jobs, to provide stores, smithies (shoeing and bridle or trace brasswork). There were harness makers and horse 'hospitals'. A store was constructed by the GER at Romford near London to make the feed mixture for its 1,745 horses.
After WWI, due to a shortage of horses, they were gradually replaced in the delivery roster by motor vehicles. Yet at the time of Nationalisation in 1948 the newly-established British Transport Commission had more than 9,000 horses on its books. I can remember back in the early 1950s when our coal deliveries were made by horse-drawn cart, and that wasn't the sole horse-drawn delivery business. Milk and groceries also came behind an ''oss' (horse) where I lived near Middlesbrough on Teesside - although it was widespread, if you've ever seen early 'Carry On' films made in the late 1950s, or Norman Wisdom films, where he 'drove' a horse-drawn milk float. It was only on the cusp of the 1960s that deliveries were made by motorised vehicles only. Although as you can see above, 'Charlie' was still hard at work shunting wagons at Newmarket until 1967.
Delivered to your door...
Hobby UK Horse-drawn vehicle kits & plans
- Hobby's Hobbys
Early railway era horse-drawn vehicles and plans for model railways or dioramas
Railway-owned horse-buses, horse-drawn carriages, chaldron and other goods wagons, and Dandy wagons
Two horse-drawn passenger services still ran in the early 20th Century.
One was at Port Carlisle in the north-west of England, that ran until 14th April, 1914, connecting the town with the city of Carlisle inland, when horse power was superseded by steam a fortnight later. The Port Carlisle railway was owned by the North British Railway. In Perthshire, in the far north of Scotland the longer Inchture horse-drawn railway bus still ran until 1917.
These were by no means the first horse-drawn passenger services that operated in mainland Britain. In the North East the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) may have opened with Stephenson's Locomotion No. 1 hauling a mixed train in September, 1825, but for a long time after that passenger services were horse-drawn. Carriages that closely resembled the road-borne mail coaches were introduced for First and Second Class passengers. Third Class was a lot more rudimentary, more like boxes on wheels. By the time passenger services were steam hauled on the S&DR - a decade or so on from opening - the situation hadn't changed a great deal.
Further south, on the Whitby & Pickering Railway (W&PR) horse-drawn carriages ran between the two towns by way of Grosmont, Goathland and Levisham, with short, low platforms for passengers to flag the carriages down. A drawing of one of the carriages can be seen at the northern mouth of the tunnel, the first such in the world.
Long before passengers were considered, horse-drawn chaldron wagons took coal and other minerals to towns or ports in the North East and elsewhere, where minerals were mined and needed to be transported for processing. One such was at Neilston Bank in Renfrewshire, close to the Clyde.
Railway Operation For The Modeller
There are several images of draught horses employed in goods and coal yards in Bob Essery's book. Close together on pp.47 and 49 are some first rate views of horses in a goods yard situation. Page 47 (lower) shows a line of horse-drawn delivery vehicles on a queue at a weigh bridge - no computers or calculators then! - with an open wagon in front of the weigh office. Behind is a container drawn by a pair of horses with three shorter vehicles after.that. On page 49 (upper) are several laden horse-drawn vehicles at a Midland Railway goods warehouse, the nearest with its 'locomotive' power a cart laden with crates and a single horse. On page 71 the majority of delivery vehicles in the yard at Stewarts Lane, South East London are horse-drawn, the vehicle on the right being a steam lorry - the beginning of the end for draught horses? The top image of a Midland Railway coal yard shows lines of wagons, with a horse-drawn coal dray on the far left. The horse is only just visible in this monochrome image, where the front end is skewed. The back end is open to the wagon door for bagging direct from the wagon floor.
What were the horses replaced with? The Mechanical Horse was no comical sci-fi solution...
Production of the three-wheeled mechanical horse began in 1934.
Conceived in response to a commission from the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER), the company of Napier & Son had hitherto undertaken designs for quality car and aero engines. The problem posed by the LNER was to replace horses for local deliveries whilst maintaining the flexibility of changing wagons, and manoeuvrability of horse and wagon.
Scammell Lorries Ltd. bought the three-wheeled tractor design from Napier in 1933. The design was refined in 1933 by Oliver Danson North, who modified the original prototype, which featured automatic trailer-coupling and a single front wheel that could be steered through a 360 degree turn. Many factories or warehouse premises were cramped, and loading bays seemed to be an afterthought when roadside loading or unloading presented problems of security in the case of valuable loads (cigarettes and spirits or electrical goods).