Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Lost History

by Marie-Louise Jensen

I've been trying to research early Georgian stables in Britain over the last few months. It's been an unexpected challenge. Whatever topic or era I've tried to research up to now, I've always found books, museums or information online. Not so stables.
One small booklet spanning the medieval to the Victorian era has been my total haul up to now. It hadn't occured to be until now that this would be such an obscure topic, but when I started to think about it, it made sense.
Stables were gradually superseeded by cars as a means of transport. Cars required storage space and so no-longer-needed stables were converted or flattened. The way of life for those that lived and worked in and around the stables was eroded and finally lost. As stable work was the province of the working man, possibly illiterate, and not of any relevance to the wealthy and influential, little of that way of life was recorded or preserved.

Dyrham Park
I took a trip up to Dyrham Park, outside Bath, in July. This is our local National Trust property, and I hoped the guides might be able to tell me more about life in the stables. I was sadly diappointed. The ony information on offer (compared to a great wealth of detail on the life of the great house itself) was the date of the stables' conversion to garages.
The stables are still there, of course. Like stables in nearly all other great houses they have been converted to garages, and then tea rooms, gift shops, conference rooms or wedding venues. Nothing of their original use remains.
Stable Archway
So I could admire the archway that led through from the front facade of the house through to the main stable yard, wide and tall enough for both horses, carriages and carts. I could recreate the stalls and loose boxes in my mind while drinking tea and enjoying a scone where once horses would have munched hay and rested. But as to the life of the horses and their grooms, I left the property none the wiser.

Stables converted to gift shop
Many unanswered questions remain. For example, did the stable staff eat their meals with the house servants or seperately? I'm tempted to think the upper servants might have objected to the aroma of horse at meal times. Where did they sleep? What hours did they work? Long ones, no doubt, but it would be nice to know.
The most useful piece of information I picked up at Dyrham is that there is a NT Carriage Museum at Arlington Court in Devon, so that is the next trip I'm planning. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile if anyone has found information on this topic that I've missed, please do share!
Stable block attached to main house


Anonymous said...

If you can get to the north of England you might find the stables at Raby Castle, near Durham, are well worth a look. The more modest Pocklington Manor at Beamish Museum has a working stable from 1825 - slightly later but the squared-up midden is a work of art!

JO said...

Do you need big-house-stables or are those at the back of ordinary merchants' houses any good? I live in Marlborough - and there were once stables behind my house, the side passage of the house 2 doors up was the entrance (and slightly wider than most) and we have plenty of coaching inns. There used to be a mounting block in the garden next door, but they removed it. But you can still see where the ladies would alight to come into the house with the stables at the bottom of the garden (they're long gone.)

There is a local history society - if you like I can put you in touch with them, there maybe someone there who knows much more than I do.

Momma Bear said...

may be going about it backwards might help? somewhere the stables survived and the great house did not. there must be dozens of racing stables dotting the countryside.
If you need to see the workings of a stable in general.
I know it's not the, attached-to the-big-house, sort of thing that you are looking for but the workings of a racing stable and the workings of a house stable won't be that much different. especially if the stable in question has a variety of racing horses(i.e. steeple chase dray, long course, etc..)
there are , I believe, racing stables that go back quite a way in darby, avon-upon-downs, anywhere racing is still a big deal.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Thank you so much for your excellent suggestions! I've also had a book recommended - brilliant!
I've been to Beamish, fabulous place, but a long time ago, and I think sadly it would be too expensive a trip now. Jo, I'm writing a bit about inns too, and have included Marlborough as it was on the Great West Road and an obvious stopping-place for the pack-horse trains and the stagecoaches. Looks like I should take a trip up to have a look. There is a lot more on inns than on great houses.
I'm definitely visiting some modern stables, Momma Bear, thank you for the suggestion.

JO said...

Do get in touch if you head this way. The local history society are fab - and I can show you where to buy the best cake and coffee.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I will, thank you so much, Jo!

Jean Bull said...

It sounds rather grand, but we visited the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace recently. The certainly still have some horses in the stables, and may be able to give you some information to fit in with your research.

bnachison said...

It's very far from representative, and French to boot, but the Grandes Ecuries at Chantilly, built ca. 1720 to house 240 horses (+ carriages, hounds & staff) have remained a functional stable throughout that time - most recently the Musée Vivant du Cheval. Their website is mostly promotional info, but the folks at Chantilly are generally very welcoming to researchers

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

A trip to that would be lovely. If only.... :-)

Andrew Franke said...

I found this site by looking for coaching inns as I am trying to build a miniature of one.