ALL THE QUEEN’S HORSES

From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)

In the horse-world of London,  the highest circle, the most exclusive set, so to speak, is that housed at Buckingham Palace. To many loyal subjects the Queen’s (Queen Victoria) horses are as much an object of interest as the regalia; and as cards of admission are freely granted by the Master of the Horse, the Royal Mews (above) are probably the best known stables within the bills of mortality.

There are in them from ninety to a hundred horses —state horses; harness horses, coach and light; riding horses, and what not—whose forage bill runs into 30 quarters of corn, 3£ loads of hay, and 3£ loads of straw a week. Immediately to the right of the entrance gate is a stable for ten horses, mostly light and used in ordinary work; to the left is a similar stable similarly occupied. On the east side of the quadrangle are the coaches, state and semi-state, and, among others, the Jubilee landau. On the west side are more horses— sixteen or twenty of them. The state stables for the creams and blacks are on the north side, and to the left of them are housed the thirty-two splendid bays, many of them bred at the Queen’s stud farm at Hampton Court; the rest bought from the dealers at prices ranging from 180L to 200L, Stables there are in London of more aggressive architectural features, and some in which there is a far greater show of the very latest improvements; but there are none more well-to-do looking, none in which the occupants seem more at home. Comfort and order are everywhere apparent; the grooming is, of course, perfection; and there does not even appear to be a straw out of place in the litter.

The Queen has her favourites, and in matters of horseflesh is content to leave well alone as long as possible. If a pair fetches her Majesty from Paddington, it is always the same pair; if she drives in the Park with four horses, it is always the same team; so that practically out of the hundred horses the Queen uses but six. The horses ridden by the equerries and outriders are also kept at their special work as long as they are found fit, and the visitor going the round of the stables after an interval of years, will find Blackman, and Phalanx, and Sewell, and their companions still flourishing, and seemingly more conscious than ever of the distinguished success with which they do their duty in the royal equipage of everyday life.

The Gold State Coach

Of a different class altogether are the ‘ state horses,’ which appear only on procession days, and are as much a part of the pageantry of royalty as the crown and sceptre, and other working tools of that degree. These have a stable to themselves, the ‘creams’ on one side, the ‘blacks’ on the other. The creams, like the dynasty, are of Hanoverian origin, but they have for generations been of British birth, and, like a large number of the royal horses, first breathed fresh air in the paddocks of Hampton Court. In popular superstition they represent the white horse of Hanover; but that peculiar strain died out long ago, except heraldically, and the creams were always distinct from it. Another erroneous notion, fostered, perhaps, for advertisement purposes, is that the state creams are ‘cast’ and find their way into circuses; but the only specimens that are ever allowed to quit the palaces go as geldings to the band of the Life Guards. With that one exception, the creams come to London when three years old, and live and are buried in the service in which they are born. Being either entire horses or mares, they require a good deal of attention; they are never left alone by day or night; and the man in charge, who has the highest post in his department, sleeps in the stable, and claims to have the longest day’s work in the employment of the State.

Opposite to them are the blacks, which though, perhaps, not so graceful, are more serviceable-looking. They also are of Hanoverian origin, being essentially well-bred specimens of the better class of hearse horse, now rare amongst us owing to the preference given by our undertakers to the more sympathetically lugubrious —and cheaper—Flemish breed. They are big, splendidly showy horses, ‘ with a power of pride in them.

Like the creams, they never appear on duty with unplaited manes, the blacks being decked with crimson ribbons, the creams with purple. A trifling matter this of plaiting the manes, but on trifles oft a crown doth hang. Once only did the state creams go forth unplaited. It was in 1831, when Earl Grey and Lord Brougham waited upon William IV. to recommend the immediate dissolution of the Parliament, which was playing havoc with the first Reform Bill. The scruples of the King at dissolving so young a Parliament had all been overcome, and he announced his intention of starting for the Houses forthwith, when it was pointed out that there would be no time to plait the horses’ manes. ‘Plait the manes!’ said his Sailor Majesty, then ‘—with the loudest and, of course, most dignified of expletives—’ I’ll go in a hackney coach!’ Horror of horrors! the King on such a mission in a hackney coach! And so the manes were left unplaited, and the State was saved.

c British Postal Museum

But the unplaitedness disturbed many courtly minds, and Mr. Roberts, the King’s coachman, above all men, was most indignant. And so it happened that a still more terrible thing took place. The horses had not been out for some time, and being harnessed in a hurry, they were, like their coachman, not in the placidest of tempers. As they passed the colour party of the Guards, the ensign, in the usual way, saluted. The creams took fright at the flash of colour, and broke into a trot. The great Mr. Roberts began to curse the soldiers loudly, and tried to check the horses in vain. On went the coach briskly. ‘It was noticed,’ say the contemporary historians,’ that his Majesty proceeded at a faster rate than usual, in his eagerness to carry out the wishes of his people,’ and, in short, he reached the Houses considerably before his time. All went smoothly enough inside, but outside there was anything but smoothness. The indignant colour-bearers appealed to their superior officers, and Mr. Roberts had to descend in double quick time from his exalted perch and humbly beg pardon for his insult to the outraged Guards. ‘Swear at the King’s colour, sir! Apologise instantly!’ And he did. And if he had not done so, it is more than probable that the King would have had to have called that historical hackney coach for the return journey, while the unplaited team went home, certainly Robertsless, if not coachmanless.

Neither the creams nor the blacks have had much to do of late years. Though they are the leaders of the London horse-world, their appearances are few; but they can be occasionally found taking their exercise in pairs. The work of all the royal horses is necessarily irregular, as, though a few may be sent to Windsor, the bulk are kept continuously in London, and when the Court is away their occupation is mostly mere exercise. But when the Court is in town they have quite enough to do, work in the stables beginning at five o’clock in the morning, and sometimes, as when the German Emperor was at the palace, there is no rest until half-past two next morning. The routine is conducted with much more precision than in a private stable. Great care is taken that every turn-out is as it should be, and at every public function the carriages are paraded and inspected in the quadrangle before they are allowed to leave the stable gates.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BATH

Our Georgian Tour this year was a bit of a departure, as it was the first tour on which I opted for a period property as our lodging, rather than a hotel. Though I knew that the townhouse in Great Pulteney Street was well appointed, I was anxious to see how it would be received by my guests. As it happened, it turned out to be the perfect blend of period detail and modern luxury.

Bath is extremely walk-able and this was the route we strolled each day – past Laura Place and over the historic Pulteney Bridge with its period shops and into the centre of the City.

Our first stop was at the Roman Baths Museum –

Afterwards, we visited the Abbey and Abbey Square.

Walking up Milsom Street, we headed for the Fashion Museum, where I was captivated by Princess Margaret’s truly tiny dresses.

Another short stroll brought us to the Royal Crescent and the No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum for some hands-on research regarding 19th century life.

Afterwards, we walked the back lanes . . . .

And arrived at the Jane Austen Centre for a tour.

By this time, we’d worked up an appetite, so we back tracked to the Pump Room for a proper Afternoon Tea.

Later that evening, we relaxed in our drawing room –

and indulged in some wine and cheese –

while I modeled the mask I’d purchased earlier in the day.

 

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THE CAVALRY HORSE

From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)

There is no more eloquent testimony to the orderliness of London than the mere sprinkling of cavalry within its limits. It may seem ridiculous to the foreigner that with 375 mounted police, and two small regiments of Household troops numbering 275 horses each, five millions of people are content to behave themselves; but it is a state of affairs of which Englishmen have no cause to be ashamed. Even adding in the six battalions of Foot Guards and the line battalion at the Tower, and considering that there is Woolwich, and that there are Hounslow and Windsor not far off, and that there are facilities of communication—not, however, greater than exist in other capitals—we shall find that the police, and military ready to be used as police, in and about London, are a mere handful compared to what are necessary for peace-keeping and ceremonial purposes in the cities across the Channel.

“At one time the black horses of the Household cavalry came almost entirely from Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, most of them being expressly bred for the service. But of late we have changed all that. In those days the cavalry colonels had so much money allowed them for remounts, and they had to pick up their horses where they could, with the jobmaster at their elbow—for a consideration—to help them at a pinch; and some of the London jobmasters had a standing order to be on the look-out for likely horses for certain regiments. Nowadays the Dublin dealer has taken the place of the London man, and, instead of the colonel buying horses, the buying is done by the Remount Department, whose happy hunting ground is Ireland.

“When a military horse is ‘cast,’ and all military horses are ‘cast’ at fourteen years old, whether they be good, bad, or indifferent, a requisition for a substitute goes to the Remount Department at Woolwich, and the substitute arrives a day or two afterwards from the Emerald Isle, generally shipped direct by Daly or some other Dublin dealer. That the new horse is as good to look at as the old Yorkshire one, we have not heard any soldier declare, but he is at least thirty per cent. cheaper, and he seems to be strong enough for his work.

“A British army corps, when discoverable, will be found to have 12,000 horses, of which 3,134 will be in the cavalry and 2,987 in the artillery; these 6,121 horses ought to be thoroughly broken and trained, even if the remainder are not. There are said to be only 70,000 horses in the British Isles fit for army work, but this is one of those pleasant fictions of which it is When Napoleon attempted to invade us—an attempt that was defeated at Trafalgar, which to the uninitiated may seem to be a long way off for the defeat of such a scheme, although any future attempt will probably have to be reckoned with still farther at sea—the Government took stock of every horse in the kingdom, with the intention of a general impressment for military service; and nowadays the Government has power in times of national peril to lay hands on every horse within these islands, in preparation for which there are thousands of horses under subsidy with a view to immediate use. And when this seizure does take place, it will certainly not be to the joy of the jobmaster; he above all men shudders at the mere mention of foreign invasion, for invasion to him means the entire loss of his means of livelihood, and this at a sacrifice, for no Government would pay the price at which the jobmaster’s stud has been collected.

“The Life Guardsman’s horse used to cost 601., being the most expensive horse in the army; we shall not put him offensively cheap in these times at 201. less; nor shall we be divulging any secrets of state in estimating that the cost of mounting the two regiments of cavalry in London—barring the officers’ chargers—does not exceed 22,000L. And yet the horses are carefully chosen and seem fit for their work, when either in or out of harness. They, of course, look their best at Knightsbridge, for at Knightsbridge the stabling is distinctly good, better even than is promised in the new barracks in Albany Street; but then a soldier’s horse in stable generally looks better than a civilian’s, owing to his head being where his tail should be. The civilian’s horse always has his head over the manger; the soldier’s horse is turned round as soon as he has finished his feed, and so gets more fresh air; the consequence of which admirable arrangement for preventing a horse ‘ breathing his own breath,’ is that the visitor on entering the stable sees a double line of intelligent heads, .instead of an avenue of hocks and tails.

“Time was when every soldier’s horse had a name, the initial of which was that of the troop to which he belonged. ‘A’ troop had all A’s, ‘ B’ had all B’s, and so on; but in these days the squadron is the unit, not the troop, and the name has given place to the number. Every horse, then, has his number placed on a card over his manger, and the horses are separated from each other by a pole doing duty as a bale, and on each upright is the horse’s kit, including the two spare shoes which every trooper carries, but not including the arms, which, of course, are kept elsewhere. This kit, and the arms and the rider, make up a nice little load, which averages out at twenty-three stone per man; not quite so heavy as that of our fat old knights, but still heavy enough for the class of horse which has nothing of the ‘dray’ type about it.

Of course the horse has to be of the regimental colour. In the cavalry generally chestnuts are in and it is not easy to get these horses of uniform type and character. There are many exchanges and rejections, and it often happens that a horse sent in for cavalry work has to go to the draught, to the Artillery, or even the Transport service; so that though the remainder may not be examples of the much-talked-of survival of the fittest, they are at least representative of the not unfit. They are smart, workmanlike horses. It is absolutely necessary that a regiment should be as sound in its horseflesh as in its men. Theoretically no remounts are accepted that are not looked over on level ground, on a road, or in a large yard, for it is easy to pass a bad horse in a field, or on a hillside, or in deep pasture, or when under cover, or in a drove. It is not safe to choose an underbred animal, immediately conspicuous by his coarse head, or thick throat, or short neck, or large, bony joints, or clumsy legs, or short pasterns, or curly in the hair of his mane or tail. The typical cavalry horse must have a small lean head, a flat, broad forehead, fine, full nostrils, a good, clean throat, thin neck, well-shaped legs, long pasterns, and straight hair, with a deep, wide chest, and short, broad back and loin. No long backs will do, for long backs are not in favour, for chestnuts usually have white, and white, except in the Scots Greys, is not desirable; neither chestnuts then, nor mealy bays, are fit for cavalry work, but roans and bays and browns, and for our Guardsmen blacks.

“These are bought when rising four years old, and require about six months’ training by the rough riders before they can be passed out of the riding school as efficient by the colonel. The Knightsbridge riding school is about forty-five yards long by sixteen wide, and in it perhaps fourteen young horses at a time will be at work, though the number of course depends on what the horses have to do. Their training is not as simple as might at first appear. The soldier has only one hand to work his horse with, and what an ordinary rider would do with the other hand he has to do with his leg. How skillfully he manages to guide by leg pressure is known to those who have seen the Musical Ride at the annual Military Tournament, which is little more than the ordinary practice of the riding school. But it should not be forgotten that the horse has to be taught to understand this pressure, and that his training is almost as long a business as that of his rider.

“Very early in the morning, so as not to alarm the passers-by, the young horse is taught to stand fire by having a gun discharged close to him, and being encouraged to smell the powder and the smoking weapon; he thus becomes familiar with the sound and scent, much as a boy does, though there is nothing to show that he ever associates the idea of being shot with the report which he soon treats with indifference. When once he is trained his work becomes lighter, and he cannot be said to have a hard life in London, an occasional outing at Wimbledon being his severest trial. Being condemned at fourteen, his full service is a little over ten years; but it is rare that he reaches the limit, and his average military life is between six and seven. When it is over he goes back to the depot, and thence he often comes again by way of the sale yard into the London crowd.”

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: THE HYDE PARK SQUATTER

 

Duke of Wellington

The following letters were all addressed to Lady Salisbury –

Walmer, October 11, 1850

“I sent my instruction to my Deputy Ranger yesterday of which I will send you a copy as soon as I can get one! You will see that they settle the affair. I have another likewise at the Office of Woods about the Squatter in Hyde Park, and I hope to shake that Lady off without very much difficulty. But we must proceed with caution and Regularity. . . . . .”

Walmer, October 13, 1850

“I have had nothing very interesting to tell you in the last two days! My time has been principally occupied by the Mad Men and Mad Women by whom I am pestered constantly! It is quite curious with what a number of Insane persons I am in relation. Mad retired Officers, Mad Women, etc.! I found last session that there is a Society established for the protection of those who are insane, or charged with insanity, and the Head of which is a Madman; one of the Percevals.
“I have heard no more of the Squatter! If you remember there is on the right hand side of what is called the Rotten Row, that is the Riding Road up the Park to Kensington Gardens and Kensington, a Mound or Bank which retains the water in what is called the Serpentine River! This house is placed on this mound, or rather in a Space scooped out of its thickness! for I have never seen the house!
“I rather suspect that the Woman had been allowed to establish a sort of stall on this Spot for selling oranges, cakes, etc. It is situated near a fountain, and that she has contrived to build Houses on the spot on which she had been permitted to have a stall for the sale of her oranges and Cakes. However she became established, I entertain no doubt that it will be a troublesome job to remove her! and I have determined that I will go to work regularly.”

Walmer, October 15, 1850

“You will be surprised to learn that I am going to London. I am going there on the principle that the only animal who is never allowed to have any rest is the Duke of Wellington . . . I propose to avail myself of the opportunity of getting upon my horse and taking a look at the position of the Squatter in Hyde Park.
“When Sir Harry Smith was in England a year or two ago, he reminded me of my old Practice with the Army.
“When there was any difficulty and they came to me to report it, and to ask what they should do, my answer was, `I will get upon my Horse and take a look; and then tell you!’ Accordingly, as soon as I shall reach my own House to-morrow, I will get upon my horse and take a look at the position of this Squatter! and I think that I shall have no difficulty in pointing out the mode as settling that one! . . . . ”

 

London, October 17, 1850

“. . . .  I arrived in town prosperously yesterday afternoon; and in conformity with my intention mounted my horse and went to take a look at the position of the Squatter! She is not exactly at the Fountain, very little further on; and higher up the Bank! I entertain no doubt that it will not be difficult to remove her if necessary! But I hope that we shall prevail upon her to move off without the necessity of compulsion . . . . As long as the Duke of Cambridge was Ranger, and since his Death, nobody ever thought of wanting Police in the Parks; but now that I am Ranger, everybody has discovered that they cannot walk or take the air in security. . . . ”

Walmer, October 18, 1850

” . . . . . I went to take a look at the Squatter’s Premises in Hyde Park! They are quite distinct from the Fountain with which you are acquainted in which there is a spring of pure water! This last is lower down the Bank and nearer Rotten Row . . . . . ”

London, November 15, 1850

“. . . . Before I went to Bed at night, I received the usual summonses to attend Christenings, Dinners, Concerts, etc., this day and to-morrow. In short, there is no end of the demands upon my time . . . I have the pleasure of informing you we have got rid of the Squatter in the Park. She has quitted her Residence, which has been pulled down and the ground on which it stood or rather fell has been levelled.”

This was not the end of the matter. The Squatter, namely a Mrs. Ann Hicks, was subsequently arrested in August of 1851 for selling refreshments outside the Crystal Palace. She claimed that her grandfather had rescued King George II from drowning in the Serpentine and that her family had subsequently been granted life tenancy in the Park. Her case was heard and dismissed by the House of Commons and a public appeal raised enough funds to purchase Mrs. Hicks passage to join her family in Australia.

 

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: HATFIELD HOUSE

This time over to England, I was determined to visit Hatfield House, as it has many connections to the Duke of Wellington via the Cecil family, second cousins to the Duke on his mother’s side, via Emily (nee Mary Amelia), Lady Salisbury, the first Marchioness.

Emily, 1st Marchioness of Salisbury by Joshua Reynolds

The Duke and Emily were more than cousins, they were good friends. Wellington went often to Hatfield House to dine, to stay, to see the children and to take part in the annual Hatfield Hunt. In fact, it was the light blue Hatfield Hunt coat, gifted to him by Emily herself, that Wellington took to wearing on his various campaigns.

Emily was a fine horsewoman in her own right, the only female regularly welcomed to join hunts at Hatfield and beyond, due in equal part to her riding skills as to her no-nonsense attitude. She rode daily, right up until the day she died. The Duke’s great good friends, Charles and Harriet Arbuthnot, were also frequent guests at Hatfield. In January, 1827, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote, “We had a large & very pleasant party at Hatfield. Old Lady Salisbury, who is the most wonderful woman that ever was, 78 years old, but riding out on horse back & having apparently none of the infirmaries of age; she tumbled down the stairs the other day, cut herself in various places, but particularly on her leg, which swelled as big as two but to which she wd only apply a lotion used for horses, & went about as if nothing had happened.” Still later, Lady Salisbury’s eyesight began to fail and a groom would accompany her on her daily rides and, it is said, would warn her when approaching a fence by shouting, “Jump, dammit, My Lady, jump!”

In 1834, Harriet Arbuthnot died suddenly of cholera at a farmhouse near the Arbuthnots’ seat, Woodford House, in Northamptonshire. Immediately after her death, her husband, Charles, sent an express message to the Duke at Apsley House. The messenger, however, had to divert to Hatfield House where Wellington was dining with the Dowager Emily and the 2nd Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury. The following year, Emily died tragically at the age of eighty-five in a fire at Hatfield House. It was thought that feathers in her hat caught alight when she was at her writing-desk and caused the blaze. Her loyal servants frantically attempted to open the door to her room when the fire became evident, but to no avail. The fire destroyed the west wing of the house and only a few bones were found in the rubble.

Emily’s death did nothing to deter the Duke from visiting Hatfield; he remained close to the 2nd Marquess and both of his wives, becoming godfather to several of their children. In addition, Wellington championed the 2nd Marquess’s sister, Emily, Lady Westmeath, during her contentious and much publicized divorce.

So, you see why I wanted to visit Hatfield House. Upon mentioning this to Jacqueline Reiter, she offered to accompany me and Sandra Mettler to Hatfield and to bring her family along. Joy! It turns out that Jacqueline had visited Hatfield House several years ago and informed me that there was a “Wellington Cabinet” in the House, filled with family momentos connected to the Duke. More joy!

On the day, Sandra and I took the train out to Hatfield House from London and met Jacqueline, her husband Miklos and their children, Felix and Julia, at the front gates.

Walking up the drive, we were brought up short by the sight of this contemporary sculpture by Henry Moore in front of the house. Inside, we entered into the Marble Hall.

The embroidered banners hanging from the Gallery feature bees and imperial eagles, symbols of Napoleon. They have recently been copied from originals which were made just before the Battle of Waterloo and meant for Napoleon’s various Departments. After Waterloo, they were instead given to the 2nd Marquess by the Duke of Wellington.

The ceiling’s woodwork and plasterwork are original but colour was added by the 3rd Marquess in 1878, when Jacobean reliefs of the Caesars were replaced with panels featuring classical themes painted by the Italian artist, Giulio Taldini.

The Grand Staircase

The ceiling was decorated for Queen Victoria’s visit to Hatfield in 1846 and has recently been restored so that visitors will be now able to see it in all its glory. At the top, a carving on a newel post shows the figure of a gardener holding a rake. This is said to be John Tradescant, who was sent abroad by Robert Cecil to collect rare and exotic plants for his new garden at Hatfield.

 

The ceiling of the Long Gallery, originally white, was covered with gold leaf by the 2nd Marquess who had been impressed by a gold ceiling he had seen in Venice.

Nearly at the end of our route through the house, we finally came upon the cabinet containing items related to the Duke of Wellington. I’ve been to several other houses that have Wellington items passed down through the family, including Levens Hall in the Lake District, home to Wellington’s niece, Mary Wellesley, who married Sir Charles Bagot. Impressive. In fact, Levens Hall has a dedicated Wellington Trail, directing visitors to all the items associated with the Duke throughout the house. I’ve seen large Wellington collections and I’ve seen small Wellington collections, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a collection more charming than that at Hatfield House. One can assume that the Cecil family would have some “wow factor” Wellington items, as evidenced by the Napoleonic flags in the Marble Hall, but what they chose to save and display in this cabinet are items of a far more personal nature.

At the end of our house tour, we stopped for a lunch break and my spirits soared upon seeing this –

and they were dashed when we learned that it was a dog grooming salon.

After lunch, we took Felix and Julia to the farm yard, which they seemed to enjoy. In truth, no one enjoyed it more than me. Baby animals!

Bidding a reluctant goodbye to the Reiters, Sandra and I headed to the rail station, where we discovered that we had enough time for a pint before the next train. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

 

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