Horses have been part of the Wimbledon scene for many centuries. The site of what is now Stone Lion veterinary hospital operated as the village blacksmith’s from Tudor times right up to World War 2 and the first local vet arrived around 1840.
Every day, equestrians still hold up the traffic as members of the Village Stables riding club trek along the High Street from behind the Dog & Fox pub and owners of horses at Ridgway Stables take their own animals out to ride on the Common.
These days riding lessons are an expensive luxury. It was not always so. Until the 1930s horses themselves accounted for much traffic when they drew all milk carts and two animals, one grey and one brown, pulled the Anglo-American Laundry van around the area. Shire horses were still used by Young’s Brewery for another 60 years after that to supply the pubs at the Crooked Billet.
But the most iconic figure was certainly Jack the trace-horse, Wimbledon’s favourite animal, who helped pull carts full of coal and other materials up Wimbledon Hill Road between 1908 and 1939.
It was not the same horse, of course, as there were a succession of “Jacks” but he first appeared after Miss Ethel Crickmay of the Dumb Friends League raised funds with the support of the Wimbledon Borough News to pay for a horse that would assist those forced to drag loads up the steep hill.
Wimbledon Council refused to pay for this from the rates but the Dumb Friends League held regular events to cover the cost of Jack’s feed and re-shoeing every ten days.
He would stand with a gleaming coat and shining brasses at the end of Woodside opposite Wimbledon High School, waiting for each customer to arrive.
He won merit badges at the Borough of Wimbledon Horse Parade in 1913 and was eventually averaging 20 to 25 journeys a day - over 5000 a year - pulling loads of up to two tons. In 1923 he won first prize in the Regents Park Cart Horse Show.
Horses still frequent Wimbledon High Street
The last of the “Jacks” was a big Suffolk Punch standing 18 hands. Especially intelligent, he would take up correct position by himself for hitching whenever a cart approached.
At the top of the hill he would be patted by his keeper, Mr W H Harmer, then turn around and descend back to Woodside for the next pull.
He was occasionally sent to a paddock in Richmond Park for a holiday when a substitute horse was found.
By 1937 horse traffic had declined considerably and the Dumb Friends League planned to move him to another pitch. This caused a public outcry among those - particularly children - who enjoyed feeding tit-bits to their favourite resident animal.
Some 2,500 people signed a petition to keep him and the League agreed he should stay provided that all expenses were met locally. Sadly, however, this last Jack died two years later and was never replaced.
Today’s Village Stables have been in business for more than a century and Ridgway Stables for more than 40 years. The Common’s bridle paths are constantly used, the Village Fair has its annual gymkhana, and successive generations continue to enjoy riding horses and ponies in Wimbledon and beyond.
The Commons rangers too can be seen regularly patrolling on horseback. Equestrians may be a small minority in the 21st century but they represent a much appreciated part of Wimbledon’s heritage.
Relaxing at the stables
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