I had some time to kill near Liverpool Street Station in London yesterday and remembered a quest I’d started to put together earlier this year, before it was cut short by health problems. In The Age of the Horse I’ve tried to write a sweeping, single-take overview of all the ways in which horses powered Britain in the nineteenth century. While some, like this cartoonist, thought that the advent of the railways would put the horse out of work,* in fact we used more horses than ever before once the tracks were laid (and how were they laid? Using horse power). More goods and people were in circulation thanks to the steam engine, and so more horses were needed to carry them to and fro from the stations.
The railway firms owned huge numbers of horses, and of course they had to be stabled near the stations and yards in the very centre of towns. These stables were impressive but functional buildings, and many of them are still standing in London. Yesterday I visited just one of them.
These are the former stables of the Great Eastern Railway on Quaker Street. Now known as Silwex House, it was until recently packed with artists, but now they have been cleared out, and according to Spitalfields Life, a Travel Lodge will move in. I did try the chipboard panel that had been nailed over the door by developers, but couldn’t get in. Someone else had had a good go at hacking through it. I’d read that the building still contains elevators for the horses – presumably carrying them up to the level of the raised abandoned railway just behind the building, although I couldn’t see a structure linking the stables to the viaduct.
If Travel Lodge get their way, three floors will be added, along with 250 bedrooms. English Heritage, The Victorian Society and The Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust are objecting. Over the road, I found some street art showing the artist-horses running away from the police.
And just around the corner was what looked like another stencil of a workhorse:
On my way there I walked past the Bishopsgate Institute, where, according to the invaluable Spitalfields Life, the floor of a nineteenth-century livery stables can still be found intact – plus horse pee – in the cellars. Click through for images of the buildings, past and present.
I hope to visit the other old stable buildings in the future before they vanish, and to see what ghosts are left of the horses that made the city great.
* it did indeed make the coach horse all but obsolete – you can see the coachman in his distinctive coat bemoaning his lot on the right of the picture.
Do you know about the Horse Hospital? It is just round the corner from Russell Square tube. The name is painted up on the wall, but I think it is used as artist space now.
Yes! I went in there a long time ago. Would love to have a book launch there, budget permitting.
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