Tag Archives: horse

Mr Poppleton’s Horse

One of the most popular items in our collection is this sick note issued for a horse in 1898. “Mr T C Poppleton’s horse of The Post Office is suffering from sore shoulders and unable to perform his official duties” the note reads.

Horse's sick note, 1898 (POST 10/334)

Horse’s sick note, 1898 (POST 10/334)

By the late 19th Century the volume of mail delivered every day by horse was huge – and growing. And in this pre-motor vehicle era it’s no wonder horses had to be signed-off due to over work.

Our Senior Curator Julian Stray will give a talk at the Royal Mail Archive on Thursday 19th September about the role played by horses in the Post Office. He’ll tell the full story of the sick note for Mr Poppleton’s horse alongside tales (and tails) stretching from Roman Britain to the post-war era. This promises to be a fascinating evening of history, with a little bit of horsing around!

Horse-drawn mail van, 1887.

Horse-drawn mail van, 1887.

Book now for Julian Stray’s talk Mr Poppleton’s Horse: The History of Horse-Drawn Mails. See a selection of images depicting Horse-Drawn Mail on Flickr.

Horse-drawn mail

Horses have been used to carry messages from the very early days, when post boys would deliver messages by horse. In the 18th Century horse-drawn mail coaches were introduced, which cut mail delivery times by more than half.

But while efficient, mail coaches suffered many tragic accidents. In a previous blog we recounted the sad tale of a mail coach caught in a snow drift in Southern Scotland. We also found a lantern slide showing a coach in difficulty on a broken bridge. This and other images of horse-drawn mail from the Royal Mail Archive can now be seen on Flickr.

Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)

Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)

The advent of the railways in the 19th Century further sped-up mail delivery, and mail coaches were withdrawn from use. However there was still work at the Post Office for a good horse, and horses were used to pull carts, carriages and vans until at least the mid-20th Century.

Interestingly, horses were also entitled to sick leave. A note held in the Archives from 1898 states that:

Mr T C Poppleton’s horse of The Post Office is suffering from sore shoulders and unable to perform his official duties.

Horse's sick note, 27 October 1898.

Horse’s sick note, 27 October 1898.

Horses were not employed directly by the Post Office but were provided by contractors. A number of the images we have put on Flickr show scenes from the stables of McNamara and Co, who provided horses for postal duties in London.

Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)

Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)

By the late 1930s horses had largely been replaced by motorised vehicles, although they were used in remote areas on a limited basis. The last London post horse, Peter, left Post Office headquarters in the City of London on 23 September 1949.

The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)

The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)

View our images of Horse-drawn Mail on Flickr.

Lantern Slides: Post Horses

I have recently been working on a project to scan and catalogue BPMA’s collection of lantern slides. Lantern slides were used in magic lanterns and were the predecessors of modern slides for projectors. They were first invented in the mid 16th Century, originally using candles or oil lamps to throw the images. As time progressed brighter light sources such as limelight were discovered making the devices much more efficient at projecting.

The lantern slides were made out of two pieces of glass coated with a photographic emulsion resulting in the image appearing in-between the plates. The slides could then be hand tinted if required or left black and white.

Lantern slides came into popular use in the 19th and 20th Centuries and the BPMA’s collection of over 500 also date to this period. The Post Office used them extensively, with a variety of purposes from staff training to documenting what the organisation was doing.

A large part of the collection focuses on postal transport, and unsurprisingly horses feature in many of the earlier slides – in the form of drawings and photographic images, of either the animals or artwork of them. I have selected some of these to share with you today.

Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)

Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)

The image above shows a photograph of tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. As the title states, surviving examples are rare so the record in the form of a lantern slide to document this process is highly valuable.

Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)

Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)

This next slide, shows a late 19th Century drawing of an Australian telegraph worker, distinguished by his different uniform, riding on a horse. This could possibly have been used to educate British staff of postal practices around the world.

Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)

Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)

A much more human touch in this next image shows an older postal worker with his horse or pony. The familiarity in the shot is endearing and shows a more informal side to the use of the slides.

More catalogue records complete with images will shortly be available on our online catalogue so do look out for them soon.

Laura Snowling – Volunteer

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Taking the bare elements of this incident, it sounds somewhat like a farce, or bad joke. The scene: a coaching inn, on a quiet Wiltshire road. The characters: a mail coach complete with guard and passengers, an escaped lioness and its owner, a former race horse, and a dog. But truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction – this blog post relates to a real historic event: the attack of a Lioness on the Mail Coach in 1816.

'Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterston Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816' - colour engraved print by A Sauerweid, 1817 (2009-0024)

'Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterston Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816' - colour engraved print by A Sauerweid, 1817 (2009-0024)

Our regular readers may recall this blog from several years ago; given the airing of The Peoples Post episode on Mail Coaches this is the perfect occasion to revisit the event and examine each part in more detail.

The scene: Winterslow Hut (now the Pheasant Inn) was a famous coaching inn, situated on the post road from Salisbury to Andover. “Hut” was apparently the local name for a road suitable for coach travel.

The mail coach: On the night of 20th October 1816, the London to Exeter mailcoach was on its ‘up’ route, destined for London. Nicknamed ‘Quicksilver’ due to its speed, it was carrying mail, a mail coach guard, paying passengers, and a coach driver.

The lioness: had escaped from a travelling menagerie, stationed in nearby Salisbury Plain. She trotted alongside the mail coach, which whilst alarming the horses, did not perturb the driver, who mistook her for a calf. When the mail coach pulled into its scheduled stop at Winterslow Hut, the lioness pounced and attacked one of the horses.

The horse: ‘Pomegranate’ had been a race-horse, but as his temperament was difficult he was sold to become a coach horse, which was felt would break his fiery spirit. Pomegranate now found himself with the jaws of the raging lioness around his neck.

The passengers: fearing for their lives, stormed the inn and barricaded themselves inside, shutting out not only the mail coach guard, but also, according to one account, another passenger who subsequently became so traumatised by that night’s events he was committed to an asylum for life.

The Mail Coach Guard: One Joseph Pike, reached for his regulation blunderbuss. The role of the mail coach guard was to ensure the safety and security of the mail, and to this end were heavily armed. The guard carried a ‘brace’ of pistols, and a blunderbuss – and Pike was ready to use it.

Blunderbuss, c. 1788-1816 (OB1995.338)

Blunderbuss, c. 1788-1816 (OB1995.338)

The menagerie owner, his assistants and dog: Before Pike could fire, the owner of Ballard’s Menagerie appeared and begged the guard not to fire, stating how much the lioness had cost, and how his investment would be lost. Either his financial argument worked, or as some have stated the owner threatened Pike with a pistol – either way Pike did not shoot. The owner set his Newfoundland dog onto the lioness – who promptly turned her attentions from the horse to the dog, and then hid under a granary.

The lioness’ capture was reported in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal the following week:

Her owner and his assistants…followed her upon their hands and knees, with lighted candles, and having placed a sack on the ground near her, they made her lie down upon it; they then tied her four legs and passed a cord round her mouth, which they secured; in this state they drew her out from under the granary, upon the sack, and then she was lifted and carried by six men into her den in the caravan… the lioness lay as quietly as a lamb during her removal to the caravan.

The event captured the public’s imagination, being recounted in newspapers nationwide. Two artists were inspired to create a visual interpretation of the event, and their resulting prints have been described in this blog. The Pollard print (below) is often considered the more realistic account, the artist it is believed having spoken to the mail coach guard and the inn owner. However, if you take a closer look at the men in the top windows of the inn, it is believed Pollard depicted Charles James Fox, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt – none of whom were at the event, and one of whom had died 10 years previously!

'The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach' – print by James Pollard, 1817 (2009-0010)

'The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach' – print by James Pollard, 1817 (2009-0010)

The animal’s story did not finish with the capture of the lioness. The menagerie owner showed further financial prowess, purchasing the now injured coaching horse, Pomegranate, and displaying him with his wounds the very next day. Pomegranate, the lioness, and the dog all became part of the menagerie’s displays, receiving top billing in this fair.

Poster advertising Ballard’s Grand Collection of Wild Beasts (P8167)

Poster advertising Ballard’s Grand Collection of Wild Beasts (P8167)

Whether this is the actual dog is in question, as according to most accounts the dog died due to injuries received from the lioness. Pomegranate was eventually returned to his owner who received compensation for the injuries suffered. We know the lioness was exhibited at the 1825 Bartholomew Fair.

– Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Mail Coach. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.