Sunday 12 May 2013

Horse & Motor Contractors

Barbon Close, a narrow alley off Great Ormond Street, shelters a rather nice old sign. A notice in the London Gazette shows that G Bailey & Sons were wound up in 1951, so the painted wooden board has been around for a while. 

The description of the company as "horse and motor contractors" reminds us of the period when horses were still in regular work even as motor vehicles made their presence increasingly felt.In fact, that period was more extended than we might at first think. Although most of London's buses were motor vehicles by the time of the First World War, many other businesses continued to use horses beyond the end of the Second World War. In fact, there was still a rag-and-bone man on the streets of Holloway when I first moved to London in the 1990s. 

G Bailey seem to have navigated this mixed market well: in 1929, for example, their tender for the hire of five large petrol lorries was accepted by the London County Council. If their sign is any indication, the company was not run extravagantly: hints of an earlier sign are now showing through with a large letter M at the start of the top row and what looks like the start of 'depository' beneath. Indeed, the premises were used as a depository in the first part of the century, so it seems an old sign has been frugally reused. 


HughB said...

I can remember the rag-and-bone man clopping slowly down our road - he used to sing out "Rag Aye Bone", never said "and", and occasionally clanged a large handbell. The milk cart was also drawn by a horse for years. I don't know when driving tests came in, but my Dad never took one.

Anonymous said...

Horses did indeed continue to be used long into the "motor age". Their longest use was perhaps in pulling brewers' drays, though that was probably as much for reasons of picturesque advertisement as for their practical utility.

The main use of horses in trade that I remember was in the delivery of bread. When I was a child in Brighton, we had two horse-drawn bakers' vans visiting our street - twice a week, if I remember correctly.

Horses have the advantage that stopping and starting at short intervals presents no problem and they will follow the van man along the street as he delivers from door to door with his basket on his arm without him having to climb up and drive them.

We bought our bread from Clark's and both the horse and the van man were superannuated. My mother would give the van man a cup of tea which he drank on the doorstep. To cool it he would pour the tea into the saucer, something I wasn't allowed to do! The horse, meanwhile, would be lunching from his nosebag.

Drivers of horse-drawn vehicles were (and as far as I know, still are) allowed by law to urinate against the rear offside wheel of their vehicle. I have seen this done in our street only once but quite often the horse would leave a large puddle in the road, a cause of merriment to us kids!