Remembered with Honour: The Great War Fallen of Hampstead St John Burial Ground Download ebook

Traffic – horses and carts

In 1914 there were very few cars – only a few very wealthy people or businesses owned private cars and most people still used horse drawn carriages or cabs. Up until 1911 buses were also drawn by horses. Horses were therefore still a very important means of transport for individuals and tradesmen.

Source: Hampstead Parish Church Magazine

Source: Hampstead Parish Church Magazine


Possible Activities

  • Draw a picture of the horses’ New Year dinner
  • Write a story about a day in the life of a horse in Hampstead
  • Imagine horses could talk – write a conversation between work horses meeting in the street

Related Topics

  • Shops
  • Food – Eating, shopping and shortages
  • Street Traders

The sights, sounds and smells of the noisy new cars

Imagine the roads with no traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, road markings or parking meters – what a recipe for chaos! Instead there were more policmen patrolling the streets on foot; and controlling the priority of traffic at busy crossroads (on “point duty”).

These first cars made very different sounds to modern cars. Listen to some of the sounds, particularly the horns of old cars (including the Model T Ford which was one of the earliest cars).

During the early part of the 20th century new car owners didn’t have to take driving tests before they could drive on public roads. One suspects that many of them may have been dangerous drivers and people in the street may have been quite scared of them, particularly as on steep hills (and Hampstead has a lot) the metal brake shoes on the metal clad wheels sent out sparks!

In 1914 the borough council was so concerned about the “fast and heavy motor traffic” on its main roads, especially the number of new motorbuses, that it approved an innovative programme of road repairs. It rebuilt some roads by laying wooden paving over a concrete base, in the hope that this would reduce the frequency of future reapirs.

The newspapers of the time have regular reports of people being fined for speeding. For example in 1915 a Mr Petch was fined £1.00 (equivalent today of around £50) for driving his car at the dangerous speed of 37 miles per hour in Hampstead Lane. The sped limit was 20 mph and his driving was probably a bit scary for pedestrians who were more used to the gentle walk or trot of horses!

And there is a story in the Hampstead and Highgate Express of 1 Aug 1914 (the week before the War started) of two laundry vans colliding in Belsize Park. One was horse drawn and the other was a motor van. Was it an accident? Or do you think they might have been competing for business? Was one of them trying to intimidate the other?

Animals in the street

There were coaches and carriages driven by horses. There were also other horse-drawn vehicles – like brewers’ drays, coal carts, dust carts and tradesmen’s delivery vehicles.

Imagine the sight and smell of the horse droppings everywhere. Also imagine the clinking sounds of the harnesses and the clop, clop of their hooves on the cobbled streets. Listen to some of the sounds . If someone was seriously ill and their bedroom was near the street, straw was spread on the road near the house to deaden the sound of the hooves.

And then there was all the dust. Not all streets were cobbled, but many were simply dirt roads. Open water carts were used to sprinkle the road to lay the dust that was churned up by all the deliveries.

Horse drawn deliveries to your doorstep

Milk didn’t come in bottles or cartons. It would be delivered from churns on the back of a cart by Express Dairies twice a day (see the picture above). The milkman would first come around early in the morning and then a later delivery mid- morning (known as the ‘pudding round’). He would call “Milk –o –o” and someone would need to rush out with a jug. He had pint measuring jugs and carefully measured out the milk into your jug.

Coal was also delivered by horse and cart. The ‘coalie’ wore a leather ‘backing hat’ usually made from an old trilby hat with a piece of boot leather stitched to the rim. This protected his shoulders and back when carrying heavy sacks of coal. Coal would be emptied from sacks down a hole into the cellar below. You can still see some of these coal holes in the pavement today.

By contrast Mr Gow the fishmonger was very smart. He had a two wheeled gig and wore a striped apron and straw hat. He would call “I’m ‘ere” from the gate to let you know he had arrived to deliver your order.

Horses to the Rescue!

In 1914 a fire broke out in a harness room at the delivery premises of Street & Raymond, dairymen, in Heath Street. (Their farm was on the Finchley Road at Golders Green.) A horse drawn fire escape and an engine attended from the Hampstead Fire Station, together with engines from West End Lane and Adelaide Road. The fire was caused by a lamp over-turning. Fortunately there was no report of any persons or horses being hurt.

But in 1915 plans were announced to replace horse drawn fire appliances from Hampstead, and to replace them with “motorised units”.

Johnnie, the dustcart horse

Ella Lewis, who lived in Kentish Town, and whose father was a grocer, remembers Johnnie the dustcart horse.

“In those days all rubbish was collected by horse-drawn open dustcarts. One horse named Johnnie used to wait with his nose on our warehouse door….knowing he would be given some sugar lumps. Then for two years he was put on another round. One day however he was doing ‘relief’ and the driver could not hold him back. There he was…waiting for his sugar….”

After war was declared only the old horses were left

Large numbers of horses were “called up” from Hampstead in 1914 and had to join the Army. Many children will have read ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo, or seen the play or the film. In that story it was a farm horse that was taken off to war. However many of the horses in towns and cities that were used to pull carts for tradesmen were also commandeered and sent to the front.

This made a really big difference to life at home. Horses were still needed to pull carts and deliver things like milk, coal and beer. But only the old horses were left to do all this work and North London has a lot of steep hills. In winter grit was put on the roads to stop the horses slipping and this improved safety.

A charity had been formed raise money to protect the welfare of animals called called ‘The Dumb Friends League’. The League set up “The Haverstock Hill Trace Horse Fund” which funded an extra horse, the trace horse, who was hitched up to help horses pull heavy loads up Haverstock Hill. The trace horse (who was also old) could be ‘summoned’ by phone and the telephone number was posted up outside the Rosslyn Hill Police Station.

To make sure that poor people could afford to use the trace horse and save the strength of their own horse they could use the trace horse for free, as could members of the Dumb Friends League. But large firms like coal or timber merchants had to pay a fee based on the distance the trace horse had to go. The trace horse provided relief to other horses and it was hoped avoided cruelty to animals, but this was not always the case.

Source ## House##

Source Burgh House

The Whitestone Pond at the top of Heath Street was originally a “horse pond” which was built so that horses could cool off or have a drink after pulling a load up the long hill from London.

Cruel Owners

Some people were cruel to their horses and tried to make them carry loads that were too heavy for them, especially if they had to pull wagons up the steep hill into Hampstead village. The Hampstead Society for the Protection of Animals had a full time inspector on duty on Rosslyn Hill and another on Finchley Road Hill. Together with the police, they kept a lookout for cruelty to horses. If they spotted an offence they hauled the offender up before the magistrate. Unfortunately there were regular cases in the courts: overloaded carts, underfed horses, badly fitted harnesses, and beatings.

There were regular reports in the newspapers of animal cruelty, both before and during the War. Below is the report from the Hampstead and Highgate Express for 6th January 1917 of one very cruel case.

‘Henry John Cooke, aged 17, was summoned for cruelty to a horse by beating it with a whip on Downshire Hill on 22nd November 1916.

Mr Butcher (the HSPCA Inspector) said the defendant was beating the horse unmercifully with a whip which had two knots in the thong. When he remonstrated with the defendant, the latter said “You’re not driving it. I am. I shall hit it if I like.” Witnesses stopped and examined the horse and found 9 places where small pieces of flesh had been cut out of particularly tenders parts of the under belly of the horse.

The magistrate considered this to be a very cruel case, and said if the prisoner had been older he would have sent him to prison. He fined him twenty shillings’ (the equivalent today of £80).

The Horses’ New Year treat

But lots of other people were very kind to animals. About 95 old horses and ponies were lucky enough to retire to the ‘Home of Rest for Horses’ in Cricklewood, which opened at the beginning of 1914. On 8th January 1916 the Hampstead and Highgate Express published the following report –

‘Horses New Year Banquet

There was a novel banquet at Westcroft Farm Cricklewood, on New Year’s Day. The host was a horse, the guests were horses, and the banqueting tables were feeding boxes.

Westcroft Farm is a Home of Rest for Horses and amongst its inmates is Marlborough, the old charger of the late Field Marshall Viscount Wolseley. It was Marlborough, his halter decorated with red, white and blue rosettes, who occupied the position of “mine host” at the New Year dinner – the second time he had entertained his fellow inmates of the Home. His guests included a number of horses and donkeys belonging to cab drivers, costermongers and laundry men, and a number of old favourites who, like himself, are ending their days as pensioners in the peaceful seclusion of the Home. Many in the former category are taking a “rest cure” while they wait the return of their owners from the Front.

Brandy, who passed through the South African War; Max, who has been present at every dinner since 1906 and is the oldest inmate, and Huntingdon, the “oldest inhabitant” came in for a large amount of attention.

The animals’ special dinner consisted of a liberal supply of carrots, apples, bread, biscuits and sugar, and without exception the feeding boxes were emptied to the last crumb.

The dinner was the 24th of an unbroken series inaugurated by the late Mrs Gore, and a large number of persons were present….’

But by 1917, because of food shortages, this annual treat for the old horses had to be reduced. On 6th January 1917 the Hampstead and Highgate Express published the following report:

‘Horses New Year Dinner

Even the menu for horses has been curtailed owing to the War. For twenty five years it has been the custom to provide a special New Year’s dinner for the animals at the Home of Rest for Horses in Cricklewood but on Monday it was necessary to expunge a few of the items usually included in the bill of fare. The difficulty of obtaining sugar for human consumption rendered it impossible to regale the “inmates” of this institution with the customary supply of lump sugar. Biscuits and bread were likewise luxuries that could not be continued, and so the horses and donkeys had to be content with plain fare of carrots and apples. Another change was the absence of ‘Max’, a favourite horse that always amused the children with his bell-ringing performance. ‘Max’ was between 30 and 40 years of age. He died last year after 13 years residence at the home. The chief attraction amongst the 80 animals now cared for is the late Viscount Wolseley’s charger ‘Marlborough’, a brown gelding 40 years old, which was admitted as a life pensioner in August 1912…’

Suggested Questions

  • What were the different ways in which horses were used in 1914?
  • What different jobs, buildings and businesses were there in Hampstead because horses were important? You may want to look at the ‘Shops’ topic.
  • How did the War affect the lives of horses?


  • Emerson, Ellen et al editors (2000). Hampstead Memories. London: Pumpkin Publications
  • Lewis, Ella M. A Kentish Town Grocer’s in the Great War, ‘Camden History Review’, volume 8
  • Hampstead Parish Church magazines for the years 1914 to 1918
  • Hampstead and Highgate Express for the years 1914 to 1918

This page was last updated on November 14th, 2014.

Top of page