Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What are all those horses in the fields?

Horse Meat

One of the features of living in South Essex is the proliferation of grassy fields and wasteground, much of which along the river Thames is marshland. Near where I lived years ago (Tilbury),we were surrounded by these fields and these fields were always full of horses and ponies. Not nice horses and ponies, but grotty looking, chunky horse and cart types, piebalds, I think my sister used to call them, a bit like fresian cattle but horses. They were sometimes put on road verges and chained up and a bloke would come along every now and then and move them along once the grass was eaten. They always baffled me, as to who owned them and why were they there and what purpose they served.

In Tilbury these horses used to somehow get across the cattle grids and get into the town and over-night would graze on the playing fields and raid peoples gardens and there seemed to be little anyone could do, because ownership of the horses couldn't be established seemingly? The pub we used to frequent... The Worlds End, was out on the marshes and we'd have to go across the marshes along Fort Road where these horses ran free. A mate of mine Danny Peach hit two horses in just one year on his way to the pub. If you walked around the marshes you'd find them dead in creeks on the salt marshes. They weren't nuetered or anything so each year a fresh batch of foals were born. On rare ocassions, a bloke would come along in really bad weather and put hay out for them, but other than that they'd just be there, not used, not ridden, biding their time munching grass. But there were clues every now and then to the ownership of the horses other than the blokes in the vans bailing out the hay. I think one of the things that made it unclear as to the owners of the horses was the fact that it wasn't clear as to who owned the land and as far as I was aware much of it was owned by the PLA, but nothing ever seemed to be done with the land and it was pretty much unchanged for the 28 years that I lived in Tilbury. Someone though, did rudimentary fence maintenance... enough to ensure the horses remained in some of the fields, a lot though were free to roam on common land over quite a large area.

The horses in the image above are typical of the type I'm on about and again they're in the typical environment, in this case Cliffe Marshes.

Just before I left Tilbury I remember photographing the Worlds End Pub on a 5x4 view camera and I noticed a sign on the door. It was hand-written and read...

No gambling.
No guns.
No horse trading

There were a couple of other things on this list, but I can't remember what there were, but they may have been related to certain ethnic group of people that live in Tilbury and have done since the docks were built in the 1880's. As well as the community in Tilbury that were static, the common along the Fort Road had a transient group of these people that had pitched up and were there for several months. I'd always associated the horses around Tilbury with these people, but could never verify it and say that was for certain.

The same types of horses and arrangements seem to be in place in PItsea on the marshes there, and I go past them every day. Over the years I've pondered their economic existence and thought that maybe they were for glue, but as far as I'm aware the horses for glue market disappeared years ago, so why were they there?

I think the clues were on the sign at the Worlds End in 1989, the fact that they were being traded and it was causing a problem at the Worlds end in the late 1980's kind of suggests that significant amounts of money was being transacted in an environment and in a way that the publican thought wasn't on. Furthermore there's the no guns clause! The inference from the sign was that there were groups of men of a certain type who had taken to using the Pub to deal in these horses and that the trading was done in a more than heated environment. Whilst that sounds alarming, it wasn't that alarming as when I used to be out on the marshes I would frequently bump into blokes with guns shooting partridges, rabbits and stuff.

The question is why were these horses being traded and for what? It may have been totally legitimate, it may be the case that these horses were used in the animal pet food trade and that farmers in this part of Essex have this as part of thier business. But even if that's the answer, I'm still surprised that the Fluffy Bunny Brigade are not out there protesting about it!