Touring London’s past: Working horses


Looking around London these days, you will see towering skyscrapers, roads crammed full of traffic and hundreds of people hurrying about their business.

This truly is a metropolis of a city and one of the most popular on the planet. Tourists come from all points of the globe to see iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It is not just the breathtaking sights that keep coming back every year but the quirky parts of the capital.

Touring London's past: Working horses

From the markets of Camden to the famous Apollo Theatre in Hammersmith, and from the conference venues in Shoreditch to the relaxing banks of the River Thames, London has charm in abundance. However, the capital has changed so much over the years and at the start of the 20th century it was a very different place.

As the dawn of a new century broke in 1900, London relied heavily on the role of horses. The days of the bustling traffic were still decades away so horse was the main form of transport. This meant that London working horses were required for everything from bus-like services to simple transportation. Here we look a bit more at these indispensable stallions and fillies.

The role of the working horse

In the 19th and 20th century, London was still very much developing as a city but still the capital of England. In 1893, around 25,000 horses worked in the city and were known as “carrying horses”. The name describes pretty much what the horses were used for – carrying, whether it be goods or people.

By 1900, there was around 300,000 horses in London. Used by everyone from cabmen and traders to grocers and rag-and-bone, the working horse was a vital cog in the smooth running of the city. Approximately 11,000 were used to pull cabs, for example.

However, the welfare of the horse was important and owners would often take their horses to the Horse Trust Home for Treatment for 25 shillings a week to ensure it was well looked after and arrange a replacement.

Legacy of the working horse

The role of the working horse is not easily forgotten in London. Sitting down for a drink in one of the many traditional pubs in the capital, you will notice small brass decorations. These ornaments once donned the harnesses of the work horses and is a timely reminder of how much they contributed in shaping London.