1901 - a horse-drawn society
With hindsight, horse-drawn
transport a century ago may appear to us to be doomed. However,
in 1901, horses were still the main form of private and road
transport in Britain. In South Africa, their role in the war
effort was crucial.
The horse was king, and almost
everything grew around him: fodder, smithies, stables, paddocks,
distances and the rhythm of our days. His eight miles an hour
was the limit of our movements, as it had been since the days
of the Romans. That eight miles an hour was life and death,
the size of our world, our prison
Then, to the scream
of the horse, the change began. The brass-lamped motor car
came coughing up the road. Soon the village would break, dissolve
and scatter, become no more than a place for pensioners.
(Laurie Lee's description of village
life before the motor car - Cider with Rosie, 1959)
It has been estimated that there were about 3 ¼ million
horses at work in Britain in 1901. About half of these were
used on farms, but over a million were used commercially,
to pull goods traffic, buses and trams or hackney carriages
for hire. More goods were delivered by horse - an estimated
671 million tons - than by rail.
All this was not displaced overnight by the 'horseless carriage'.
Indeed, until 1950, there were still more horses than tractors
on British farms.
film of the
London streets (taken
in about 1902).
Nevertheless, 1901 was a decisive year for bus transport
in London. At the beginning of the year, all bus services
in London were still horse-drawn. Traffic jams were a major
problem and it was thought by contemporaries that motor transport
would help the situation.
In September 1901 The Times announced the introduction
of 'a service of motor-cars
to carry passengers, at omnibus
fares, between Piccadilly Circus and Putney'. These were 10
horsepower (10 H.P.) wagonettes that could carry up to eight
passengers. Motorised driven public transport burgeoned and
by 1913 London could boast 3,522 motor-buses and over 8,000
motor taxis, but only 142 horse-drawn buses and 1,900 horse-drawn
Horses in war
In the South
African War, a steady
supply of horses was essential to the British troops pursuing
the Boers' mobile columns. In the siege of Kimberley alone,
one cavalry division lost 1,500 horses. Thousands of horses
had to be brought in from as far afield as India, Burma and
Argentina for an army that 'swallowed horses as a modern army
swallows petrol'. By October 1901, The Times reported,
the War Office was supplying South Africa with nearly 10,000
remounts a month.