The Sunderland stables which had first floor accommodation!

Former Ryhope Co-op stables worker Jim Ebinson.
Former Ryhope Co-op stables worker Jim Ebinson.
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The magnificent working horses of Sunderland brought back so many memories for a lot of people.

Just a matter of weeks ago, we described the majestic animals which used to work for Vaux.

Jim's diagram of the stables where he worked.

Jim's diagram of the stables where he worked.

But one man in particular asked us to remember another wonderful set-up - at the Co-op.

And it even had upstairs stables for the horses.

They had a saying in farriers circles in days gone by, said Jim Ibinson, 81.

“You had to have a strong back and a weak head,” said the former Ryhope Co-op stables blacksmith as he fondly reminisced on the old days with a smile.

I have had a broken nose, broken jaw, cuts and scrapes. People have asked me if I ever got kicked by a horse. I would tell them ‘do you think I’ve always looked like this!

Jim Ibinson

He reflected on the tough job which he loved dearly in his working life.

But it was a job which came with risks and danger of injury.

“I have had a broken nose, broken jaw, cuts and scrapes,” said Jim.

“People have asked me if I ever got kicked by a horse. I would tell them ‘do you think I’ve always looked like this!’

Former Ryhope Co-op stables worker Jim Ebinson.

Former Ryhope Co-op stables worker Jim Ebinson.

But he has never regretted those fantastic times when the Co-op had a small Army of horses. There were just short of 60 of them when he first started in work.

There were horses who worked for the Co-op milkmen and horses who worked for the butcher. There were 30 at the main Ryhope stables, 3 at the nearby farm, 5 at Silksworth, 8 at Dawdon, 3 at Easington and 6 at Roker.

Horses had the latest mod cons at the Ryhope stables, said Jim. “There were three loose boxes downstairs and in the right hand corner, there was a big tub where the horses could drink.

“There were ramps so horses could get up the stairs. On the first floor, you would have all the butcher’s ponies on one side and the milk on the other.

“There was a tack room downstairs and directly above that, there was something called the chop machine where the hay, corn and oats were fed into.”

Jim started at the Co-op in January 1951. “I left Ryhope Modern School on the Friday and started as apprentice blacksmith and farrier on the Monday.”

He nearly ran into problems straight away. A gruff old blacksmith told him to fetch a horse called Laddie and off went Jim to fetch the animal.

But when he let Laddie off the halter, the horse bolted and Jim was left to rue the occasion.

“The trick is, you should only let the halter half way off,” said Jim. He was lucky though. “Laddie didn’t get far. He just headed for the trough to get a drink.”

Still, it was a first day to remember for the young lad.

For the next seven years, he learned his trade until National Service interrupted it. Even then, though, it had an equine theme as he was based at a regimental showjumping team near Reading.

And when he was given leave, he was in high demand back on Wearside. “They were desperate to get the big horses shorn,” said Jim.

Back then, he would charge £2 and ten shillings to fit four heavy shoes.

“These days, it would cost you more than £100,” said Jim.

And while it was hard work, there were some laughs to be had. He remembered the day one blacksmith unknowingly nailed his apron to a shoe. “The next thing you saw was the horse heading off with a blacksmith on the edge of his feet!”

Sometimes, though, there were hard lessons to be learned including one day at Dawdon store.

“A horse reared up and I should have got out the way but instead I turned to find out what was happening. The horse was above me and it came down with a clout and my teeth went flying out.

“When I got home my dad said ‘you are packing that job in’ but I never did.”

Instead, Jim developed as a blacksmith and as well as his Co-op work, he had his own set-up that developed well as word got round.

He still remembers colleagues such as John Haddon, his pal from the same street who started as a Co-op apprentice on the same day he did.

He remembers the cartwright Tot Craig and two blacksmiths George Armstrong and Joe Reid.

Most of all, he remembers those days of working 6am to 3pm in every type of weather from Arctic conditions to heatwaves. “There were the days when I would loosen my belt and the sweat would run down.”

But if he could do it all again, just you try and stop him.