How did Victorians care for their urban horses?
April 22, 2006 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find info on urban horse care during the late 1800s and early 1900s?

I'm buying a Victorian era house with a carriage barn in a little area where almost all the houses have carriage barns. My wife mused that at one time, the barn housed a carriage. But where did the horses stay? In our neighborhood with ~100 houses and carriage barns, were there 100 horses, each individually housed? Was there a collective area where they were boarded when not pulling around Victorians? What happened to 100 horses worth of horse poop?

Believe it or not, this is hard to find any detailed info about on the web. All leads greatly appreciated.
posted by FauxScot to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The carriage barn that we have has stables for horses in the back part of it, there's a front part where the carriage stayed and then the back part for horses. I think many carriage barns have torn down this middle wall to make one big garage out of them. Here is a historical register of one house that had such an arrangment (search down to "horse stall"). Also, I think I live a few miles from you, and this house in the link is in Springfield VT. Here is another link that says a smilar thing.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 AM on April 22, 2006

Best answer: You're looking for information on "hostlers" or "ostlers", who ran business renting, boarding, and caring for horses. No city was without large numbers of people employed in transportation-related trades. This link will give you some idea of the variation.

The Horse and the Urban Environment

From the Journal of Transport History, The decline of the urban horse in American Cities

I'm finding lots of stuff by combining search terms like "urban" "transport", "history" "nineteenth century" "stables" "stabling" "horse" "ostler" "hostler", etc. I'll leave you to it.

The short answer, though, is yes; larger households with greater wealth kept their own carriage horses and often employed a staff member to look after them. This was right on their own property. Other folks rented horses or hired carriages (hacks, cabs) as needed. But what you basically get to discover is how pungently smelly and filthy urban environments were until at least the turn of the twentieth century. I love to talk about this to people -- I'm in the museum field, and every time we get some old biddies in who want to wax romantic/nostalgic about the taffeta gowns and magnificent tea things of the Victorian era, I take the opportunity to remind them that the Victorian world was one of walking ankle deep in horse-trampled shit, garbage and mud 3/4s the year.
posted by Miko at 9:09 AM on April 22, 2006

Also, if you're looking for print material to read or someone to talk to, Beth Dawley runs the Trotting Library in Stockbridge and the Vermont Horse Country Store and looks like she's the go-to gal for horse questions locally.
posted by jessamyn at 10:48 AM on April 22, 2006

Most urban houses had "mews" that were common stabling areas for the whole block. You had so many slots and you kept your horses there and your grooms stayed there too. The carraigeman stayed above the carraige house and could therefore marry as he had his own apartment. Mews have been razed or converted for the most part.
posted by fshgrl at 1:24 PM on April 22, 2006

Response by poster: Great anwers that made for an interesting hour of reading. Also, my first post to MeFi to find something I though was obscure and very pleased with the results.

posted by FauxScot at 5:27 PM on April 22, 2006

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