Being born in a small village where our cottage – and nearly every house in the street – was owned by the farmer, Dick Woollacott, was always going to bring me into contact with horses. Of every description. And I loved ’em!
From an early age, something like 5 years old, I ‘engaged’ with horses. My first encounter was actually riding on Dick’s cart, which was something like this;
We would ride on it to deliver the spuds and other veg, but, most importantly, during haymaking. What an absolutely glorious time that was. Most of the men of the village would turn out to help Dick with the haymaking, and these would notably include Jack Evans, Percy Wood, Percy Coombes, my old man, Reg Woollacott, etc.
The day very quickly came when Richard – Dick’s barrel-chested son – allowed me to ride bare-backed on the huge cart-horses, with only a flimsy halter to hang on to! They were magnificent animals, though it sure looked a mighty long way down to the ground from astride one of the beasts;
The next progression was to Alf Owen’s riding school on Picket’s Mead.
Alf was a cantankerous old sod – but immensely likable, despite! He was one of the ‘drinking pals’ at the Rock and Fountain pub, together with Dick, the old man, Cyril Thrush, Tom Brace, Jack Evans, etc. He was a grizzled old sod who always wore grey trousers which were ‘turned-up’ two or three times, as he always wore boots which would not fit under his trousers! His black boots were invariably tied-up with brown leather laces which looked daft! A hacking-jacket and somewhat-matching cap completed his garb!
His stables were at the bottom of his garden and he would ‘appear’ at the stables, look around to see who was there, before sitting down in his rocking-chair in the middle stable! From there, he would
run his empire tell all us kids what jobs we had to do! He couldn’t do any work himself because he was “All strapped up” as he would say. Referring to his allegedly bandaged stomach from some long-ago operation!!! Didn’t seem to affect his drinking though!
Anyway! He would let us ride the ponies back and fore to the fields; to the forge down Murton Lanes; and sometimes accompanying youngsters who had actually paid for a ride!!
The next ‘graduation’ was, methinks, inevitable! Tom Brace!
Now Tom was, as you now know, one of the drinking pals, so was clearly a ne’er-do-well! He was a short, weather-beaten man, who always, but always wore a white shirt which required, but NEVER had, a collar! The mandatory flat-cap, with baggy trousers and a hacking-jacket. I swear he was always drunk! His stables were, again, at the bottom of his garden, and he lived in Whitestone Lane – at the rear of my Gran’s! His wife didn’t like kids. In fact, she didn’t like Tom either! Never mind!
Anyway, Tom had the middle cafe of three which were on the beach at Caswell Bay, and he had the licence to give pony rides on Caswell and Langland beaches. His wife ran the cafe, and we did the pony rides. Tom would appear every so often to collect the money from us, and would then resume his position at the bar of the Langland Bay Hotel! (The Rock and Fountain being reserved for bad weather!)
Our perk was that we could ride the ponies at the end of the day. Poor things!
I should also mention Twomey’s riding school. Martin was a mate of mine and his mother, Mrs Twomey, had a riding school at Langland Court. Her customers were rather well-off people and hers was a well-run establishment. She deserves a mention for one major reason; she always had an Annual Gymkhana, which was held in Reg Woollacot’s field at the botton of Slade Road. They were great events and very popular. I loved to go and watch the ‘upper set’ competing on their horses. They were a nice crowd, too.
My final love-affair with horses was probably the best. Charlie Henwood’s.
He had a racing stables at Murton Lanes and I spent my hols working there. Mrs Henwood would serve me up dinners that I had never seen before. Big roasts! Well, I suppose that we did have some ‘roasts’ at home but, not like these! They were a man’s meal! Great.
Mr Henwood had about half a dozen thoroughbreds and one stallion. Only the boss could handle the stallion. He was a bloody monster! There was one full-time stable-girl, Mary O’Nion, who was great. Mary would exercise the horses in their field opposite the stables, daily. Sometimes the boss would enter one of the horses in a race at Swansea, which was a great day out. He did have one horse which came third in The Lincoln – I think it was called Newton Heath (or Newton Gold.)
Tragically, when the boss died, in his will he stipulated that the beautiful house and stables should be demolished! How very sad. This is what the site looks like now;
My dream of Heaven? A big ranch, full of palominos! That’s where you will find me, folks!