Horses have been a part of Sunderland life for many centuries.
It is not so long ago that they were a regular scene in our bustling neighbourhoods.
And although they are something of a rare sight on the streets today, you don’t have to delve too far into Wearside’s past to find the days when they were a common feature.
Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, takes up the story.
Any horse appearing in the streets of Sunderland today immediately turns heads.
But it is not that long ago that working horses were a common sight on the streets of Wearside.
By far the most beautiful horses seen in the streets of Wearside were those owned by the Vaux Brewery. These were seen out on a daily basis drawing the brewer’s drays which delivered barrels of beer to the local public houses.Philip Curtis
Until 1900, all of the trams in the town were horse-drawn and, during the Edwardian era, there were hundreds of horses working in the town.
In fact until 1934 there were still horse-drawn hansom cabs hard at work.
The last of those was run by Horatio Lockie, whose stand was in the lane behind the Binns store.
It was close to the south end of the railway station in Sunderland, and it is an area which is still used today as a taxi rank.
Between the First World War and the Second World War, horses which were used in the town ranged from the elegant animals which drew the Rington’s tea carriages, to what may be termed as nags that were used by the local rag and bone men for their carts.
After the war, working horses could still be seen pulling carts that would deliver coal or fish and fruit, with many also being used by local wholesalers.
Until their demise, many of the local barrow-boys of the town also used horses to ply their trade.
By far the most beautiful of the horses which were seen on the streets of Wearside were those which were owned by the Vaux Brewery in Sunderland.
These were seen out on a daily basis when they would draw the brewer’s drays which delivered barrels of beer to the local public houses.
They were beautiful specimens and the brewery made sure they stayed that way. The brewery had its own stables and the horses were looked after very well.
Their drays, which also helped to advertise the brewery, were a familiar sight on the streets of Wearside until Vaux closed.
They were fine animals and carefully sourced. The grey dray horses were Percherons which were brought across from France and the chestnuts were Gelderlanders which came from Holland.
However, not all the town’s working horses were of the quality used by the Vaux Brewery.
Many of them had often seen better days and it was these that were more often than not used by the tatters who worked the back lanes of the town looking for rags or lumber.
To service the horses there were a number of blacksmiths in the town.
One that lasted until the early 1960s could be found in Whitburn Street, close to Thomas Street School.
This was a magnet for the pupils who would often hang around the smithy on their way to and from school. The youngsters were a regular sight, watching the blacksmith at work shoeing the horses.
But just where were all these horses of the town kept?
Of course, we know that Vaux had stables at the back of the brewery and Monkwearmouth Railway Station had a stable block in Easington Street, which still stands today and is a Grade II Listed building.
But what about all the others? There must have been stables right across the town.
Certainly in Monkwearmouth, there were stables at the rear of George Street and they were close to St Benet’s Church.
In nearby Whickham Street, there were also a number of stables.
No doubt some animals were just kept in the back yards of the owners, but just where were the other stables in the town?
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