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Friday, 7 June 2019

Tales of Horses & Carts - Sepia Saturday

A  postman, driving a horse and car,  features on this week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph and here I link family and local history.  Anyone tracing their family history may well have  a "carter or carrier " in their ancestry - an essential occupation in transporting goods around.

My great grandfather Robert Rawcliffe of Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire was described as a carter, but otherwise the only other "horse"! connection in my direct line is a recollection of my father who left school at the aged of 14. In his own words:

  "I went to work at the grocer's.  I had been an errand boy there and also worked on Saturdays with time off for soccer.  I went out in a horse and trap  delivering orders (we sold bags of corn 80 plus pounds).  The pony, a Welsh cob named Tommy, was inclined to be lazy.   At night time I rode him bareback to a field!    
This was  a surprising memory as Dad never gave any indication later in life of having the slightest interest or affinity with horses!

A quote from the chapter on Earlston, Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders,   "The First Statistical Account of Scotland" written 1791-1799, reads:  
"Horses are absolutely necessary in this part of the country, for it is by them the farmers labour their farms and drive their corn to market."
Sixty years on,  the 1851 census for Earlston (population 1,819)  lists 9 men working as  blacksmiths, 7 carters/carriers, 3 saddlers, 2  stable boys, an ostler, a farrier, a groom and a coachman - plus of course all those who would be working  with horses on the many farms in the parish.  

This meant the horse made a vital contribution to the local rural economy - as illustratd in these vintage photograph,  dating from around 1910  from my local heritage group,  Auld Earlston  - plus a coourful account from a 19th century post runner.  


A horse and cart beside the old Pump Well in Earlston's Market Square.  The Well was demolished  in 1920 to make way for the  building of the War Memorial. 

A 19th century Post Runner
In Rutherford's "Directory of the Southern Counties", published in 1866, there is an entry for David Swanston, post runner.  Somehow that term conjures up a picture of a man running around the village with his post bag, delivering the mail.  But in fact David drove a horse and cart, taking the post to the nearest town of Melrose for uplift onto the railway.

We get an account of his days  in an item published in "The Berwickshire News & General Advertiser", 21st June 1902.   It looked back at "Melrose Postmen of Olden Days", reprinting an earlier article in  "The Kelso Chronicle". 

Berwickshire News & General Advertiser: 17th June 1902
"David Swanston was the runner for Earlston, driving  a pony (called Ben) and a cart David's turnout was a regular institution for foot passengers on the route, and on certain days they  were packed  in the vehicle like herring in a barrel. 
On overtaking a passenger on the road, David would announce "If there's no' room the now, we will soon mak' room" and accordingly the passengers had to obey orders and creep closer together.   If on certain occasions, if he was a little jimp [?] for that time in the morning, he would  meet the scowl of the postmistress by saying that "Ben had a bad nail in his foot this mornin'".
He had to be in Melrose in time to dispatch the letters from Earlston for the first train  in the morning. 
David stabled his horse at The Ship Inn [in Melrose] and some days would say to his colleagues, "If anyone asks for me, just say I maun board ship for a minute or two, for mercy it was cauld coming over this morning".  In the summer, the excuse for boarding the ship was   "the heat is fair meltin' the day" ."
Clearly Davy was quite a characte!   He  was still working in 1871,  but died three years later aged 58.
 And finally - back to family history and my cousin's carter ancestors.

The  Oldham family in Blackpool  were carters and coal merchants for three generations - Joseph Prince Oldham (1855-1921), his son John William Oldham (1880-1939) and his granddaughter Elsie Smith, nee Oldham (1906-1989)

Joseph Prince Oldham with his granddaughter Elsie 
who later took over the business. 

The business was founded around 1890, steadily became prosperous and in 1905 moved to near North Station, Blackpool in a house with a large yard, hay loft, tack room. and stabling for around 7 horses.

In the 1901 census Joseph  was described as a self-employed carter and coal merchant with his son John a coal wagon driver. An accident at the coal sidings in the railway station resulted in Joseph being blinded and he died in 1921, with his will, signed with his "mark.  

The coal merchant business was eventfully sold around 1948 to another local firm,
thus ending over 60 years of the family concern.  

  Elsie's daughter Gloria atop one of the last cart horses.


Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity
to share their family history through photographs
Journey over to the Sepia Saturday page  to see posts from other bloggers.



  1. I have farmers/horse-owners/letter carriers/merchants in my family history too...

  2. Great post and excellent horse-and-human photos! Particularly love the news clip about post runner David Swanston. I'm sure the railways were nowhere near as hospitable :-)

  3. Some fine pictures of 'back in the day' carts and horses here, along with interesting background re: family and others. I could just picture those poor David S.'s passengers looking like herring in a barrel. Oof. :)

  4. I love seeing Gloria on the horse. Great, informative post.

  5. Great pictures of a time long gone. I too love the stories of hitching up the horses to --- do all sorts of things, or riding bare back through the fields to bring in the cows. And a fancy horse, in those days, was like a new fancy car for us in the auto age.

  6. The surprising things we sometimes learn about our parents! You found some great old photos and I enjoyed reading about your family connections to horses and carts.

  7. A most enjoyable post about those horses (and postmen) in your family in years gone by. I would imagine the folks back then never would have thought of all the vehicles we now take for granted, and certainly not of internet and computers! But I'm glad you found some good photos to share...and bless all those horses!

  8. Great stories! It's important for us to remember how our ancestors once used a horse and cart to move things around. Time, labor, and horsepower had a different meaning then,

  9. Susan, this was a fun read! Well done in gathering photos and stories. I have not found any ancestors with jobs like these.

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  11. I hadn’t really thought about the structures that were removed to make way for war memorials. That it was a well makes sense as it would have been in the middle of town and would have often been redundant in that era.

    Some lovely pictures of horses and great stories.

  12. Interesting photos and a good variety of stories. And I guess your dad had enough of horses when he was young :-)

  13. Thank you all for your interest in my post. I think often we forget how limiting life was for our ancestors, in terms of traveling outside their own village.


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