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A pictorial record of horse manure




I’ve added a selection of horse droppings to the road and yard on “The Stables”. 


Obviously, prototype research was needed first! Period photos from the 1890s-1930s often show droppings in the street, especially where horse-drawn carriages were regularly parked.



"Bicycle couriers with copies of the Manchester Guardian, which are being delivered to Euston station in London for circulation, circa 1920." Getty Images, embedding permitted. 


Droppings can sometimes be seen strung out, as seen below. I assume that’s because the “action” happened while the horse was on the move. But just how many horses were involved here?!



"A view along Holland Park Mews, London." Getty Images, embedding permitted.



After a while, the droppings would get trampled or washed apart. 



"Looking down one of the streets in the village of Hatherop, Gloucestershire, c1860-c1922." Getty Images, embedding permitted.



In the busiest streets of large towns it could sometimes get quite messy, if I interpret the image below correctly. 



"Newcastle ca. 1900. The entrance to Central Station and in the background, St Mary's church and spire." Getty Images, embedding permitted.  



It’s worth pointing out, though, that many 1900s photos of street scenes show just a few droppings or none at all.  The street sweepers must have worked hard in the big cities!



"London. Holborn Viaduct, about 1900." Getty Images. Embedding permitted.



In villages with limited traffic, the manure would presumably have been rarer. And perhaps quickly snatched up for gardens?



"Stratford-Upon-Avon, circa 1900." Getty Images. Embedding permitted.



Despite busy horse traffic, urban goods yards also appear relatively clean, although sometimes the presence of a photographer may have helped!



"Paddington Goods Depot, 1923.  Horse drawn vehicles carrying Witney blankets"  Getty Images. Embedding permitted.


A study of contemporary photos and horsey websites showed that the colour and texture of droppings varies considerably. One factor is whether the dung is fresh or old. Another is the horse's diet. For example, I understand that low quality hay results in very brown droppings, while green grass will give you an olive tinge. Here's a selection, á la carte:



Photos from Flickr Creative Commons. Credits clockwise from top left: Ben Schumin; Ben Schumin; David MW; Bernd Hutschenreuther; Jes; Jes.



True dung enthusiasts will therefore need to study the fodder composition of the companies they model, which incidentally also varied across time and place. For example, Tony Atkins writes in "GWR Goods Cartage", Vol. 1, p77:



The standard feed mixture made up at Didcot for country horses consisted of 22½ % oats, 10 % beans, 20 % maize, 41 % hay and 6 % oat-straw (chaff). For London horses, a slightly different mixture containing 2½ % more oats and 2½ % less hay was issued. The daily allowance of mixed provender varied between 27 lbs to 32 Ibs, depending on the individual horse. On Saturdays and Sundays bran and long hay were additionally fed to all GW horses. 



I didn't go that extent though. Basically, I just tried out some stuff. From earlier experiments I knew that, when tapped repeatedly, the little balls that form in pigment bottles will move to the front and can be gently shaken onto the ground. This is Vallejo Natural Sienna pigment (ref. 73.105).




The balls were secured by floating a little Woodlands Scenic cement alongside, letting the balls soak it up through capillary action. This binds the pigments together and sticks the balls to the ground. Once dry, a brushing of matt varnish sealed them further.





Breaking up some of the pigment balls adds a more scattered impression:





A light dusting of Johnson's baby powder made for a drier, more discrete look.





A lick of dry-brushed paint resulted in a darker and more compact appearance. An almost black shade would be quite common,  but that turned out to be rather distracting. Little black spots tend to catch the eye! So I went for lighter brownish shades. 





Standard GWR stable blocks had channels that helped carry droppings and urine out of the stable block and into the sewer. So there I went for a glitzy Wet Dung look, using a bit of gloss varnish.





I used additional pigments around the edges to indicate a dissolving dropping.





Arguably, my droppings are on the large side (quiet at the back!). But I think a slightly stylized look can sometimes work OK, as it helps the viewer interpret what they are seeing. Also, have you ever stood next to a shire horse?





Not quite a shire horse. House-trained though. Let's see the Midland beat that!





Although I like an uncluttered look, it's probably all still a bit too clean.





I'm currently working on that. These are pigments brushed into the setts, after first adding a tiny drop of Woodlands Scenic Cement and letting it almost dry. The idea is to represent residue from past droppings. Must add some bits of straw too, as recently suggested by Matt.





Meanwhile, Stableman John Rokesmith has had enough of it all. Not what he had in mind when he joined the railways. '"Romance of the footplate", my arse!'




Edited by Mikkel

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33 minutes ago, Compound2632 said:


"meat" pies.

Ah, food on the hoof...

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Posted (edited)

10 hours ago, ChrisN said:

The other issue was how to feed that number of horses.  I thought the debate was about that too, as there were so many horses it was thought that there was not enough farming land to feed both the horses and the people.


It certainly seems likely that there would have been a concern about the feed. We have always worried about fuel.


I have been doing a bit more digging around. For the princely sum of 60p I downloaded an 1848 (sic) document from the GER Society’s website.  It is a 22-page article from the Civil Engineer’s and Architect’s journal which provides data on known British goods traffic at the time. On p17 there is a short section on Manure Traffic.  Significantly, manure is understood here in a broad sense and includes guano. Lime, sand and bones are also mentioned. Tonnage, rates and income are provided for some of the fledgling lines. Summing up the limited data, the authors says:


“It is much to be regretted that no adequate measures are taken for applying the manure of towns. In the metropolis alone, the waste cannot be less than would be equivalent of raising food for a million of people […]. The whole quantity [of known manure carried] is perhaps about three hundred thousand tons, and it may be safely taken that there is production of food for a hundred thousand individuals effected by means of railway transit.”


So here, urban manure is seen as a resource to society (rather than a problem), and a potential source of income for the railways - but one that is underexploited.


Also dealing with the early days is an Oxford University Discussion Paper entitled “Where there’s muck, there’s brass: The market for manure in the industrial revolution”. Here we encounter “Yard Dung”, Pigeon Dung, Rabbit Dung, “Hooves”, “Rags” and other exotic forms of manure. There is little on railways, except this interesting comment in relation to the 1770-1840 period:


“Railway carriage was particularly expensive for fertilizer because fertilizer travelled toll-free on roads and canals.”  


So despite the assumed potential, it seems manure traffic got off to a bad start on the railways. Returning to horse dung, another document on the GER Society’s website has a small snippet saying:


“Street sweepings - horse manure. Mr. Betts of Beccles complaining that charge for the rail journey from London to Beccles (over 100 miles) of 5/-(25p) a ton was too high.” Great Eastern Railway Locomotive, Way and Works Committee 1 September 1869.


But again this is ex-London. If I want out-going manure traffic from the stables at Farthing it would have to be some special arrangement, e.g. with a large farm near a rural station outside Farthing that has struck a deal with the GWR for its local manure. Not inconceivable perhaps, but probably more plausible that the arrangement would be with a local trader who would pick up the manure directly from the pit in his horse-drawn cart.


Edited by Mikkel
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There is, as you allude, also the question of dead horses.  We’ve touched on this before, though I’d have to search for the discussion.  London exported significant wagon load quantities of dead motive power, though Farthing might be a little more genteel.




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Highbridge Wharf tolls include manure at 1/6d per ton or part of a ton. This is a recreation of the board displayed on the wharf.

Tolls notice board model 2.jpg

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3 hours ago, Mikkel said:


“Street sweepings - horse manure. Mr. Betts of Beccles complaining that charge for the rail journey from London to Beccles (over 100 miles) of 5/-(25p) a ton was too high.” Great Eastern Railway Locomotive, Way and Works Committee 1 September 1869.


Coincidently this works out to be a FARTHING per ton per mile. 

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Stunning modelling and writing as usual Mikkel.


A few "pointers" and responses to queries:


Horses usually repeat their location for dropping manure:  whether it be the same place in a stable, field or even a regular route.  Seeing/smelling another horse droppings can sometimes cause a horse to produce, but of course only when it's ready - but that explains the postcard of the mews with the long line.  Having the horse "produce" in the mews would be preferable to doing it en-route.


You are correct on colour caused by input, and it does darken off quite quickly.


Horse manure should not be used on gardens when it's fresh - it needs to age for 6 months or go into compost heaps.   


Manure has no discernible smell for at least a few days, unless it is mixed with urine.  It is also quite a dry product, unlike cows'.........


Straw is not popular with gardeners in compost because it doesn't break down very quickly:

On 16/05/2021 at 12:21, Compound2632 said:


I believe it is or was usual to combine straw with dung to produce manure - the straw being another waste product that could be recycled once it had decomposed. The manure has to be well composted to kill off bacteria in the dung.



If straw is used as bedding, "skipping out" will only produce manure - the waxy nature of straw means that it doesn't really absorb anything, and a good yard hand will only remove the muck not the bedding.  Some horses eat their bedding (which doesn't do them any good) so they would have a bed of wood shavings (in those days) or nowadays chopped flax stems or linseed stems.  These beds are very absorbent and skipping out produces some very wet caustic product, that smells and rots everything. 


As Mikkel has beautifully modelled, a good stables has a drain system for removal of liquids.  If left (or absorbed into absorbant bedding), that is what makes stables smell, attracts flies and can be the start point for equine diseases.

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Found it, December 2019, in Mikkel’s “Horse drawn float” blog.

Simond  7,657

Posted December 22, 2019

I think life for a working horse was quite hard, and littl3 to compare with today’s horses, which are, for 5he most part, hobby animals, in a far more caring society.


apart from the wagon loads of horse manure that was shipped out of big cities daily, (which has been a previous discussion in these hallowed halls) I rather suspect a fair number of beasts turned their toes (or hooves) skyward each day.  


Of course, the railways could afford convalescent horses.  Steptoe & son could not, and if the horse didn’t work, likely they didn’t eat.  And within living memory too.  I was born in 1958, so this is marginally before my time.  


“The horse was king, and almost everything grew around him: fodder, smithies, stables, paddocks, distances and the rhythm of our days. His eight miles an hour was the limit of our movements, as it had been since the days of the Romans. That eight miles an hour was life and death, the size of our world, our prison…Then, to the scream of the horse, the change began. The brass-lamped motor car came coughing up the road. Soon the village would break, dissolve and scatter, become no more than a place for pensioners.”
(Laurie Lee's description of village life before the motor car - Cider with Rosie, 1959)


There were about 3.5 million horses in the uk at the turn of the 1900’s. Assuming a twenty year life, that would suggest nigh on 500 dying each day.  That’s around 200 tons of dead horse to dispose of, daily!



I don’t know why I couldn’t just link the post.  Subsequent posts noted the effects of WW1, and that 20 years may be a rather generous lifespan for a working horse.  Still, it’s a lot of pies...

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If I remember correctly, (Ha ha), in Mikkel's blog about stables someone said the average life of a GWR horse was six years.  Even more pies!


It was said when I went to a Shire Horse place near Cromer many years ago that the reason we have so few heavy horses and the French still have quite a number is that we do not eat them, well, not knowingly.

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For a more poetic look at the demise of horse traffic, try Ivor Cutler’s Life in a Scotch Sitting Room. Can’t find out which episode just now, but it starts “Our street was a hippodrome”

edit: episode 13. Really hard to find online, either via youtube or sellers of LP or CD, so you’d have to find someone who has digitised it and would be willing to share it. 

Edited by eastwestdivide
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Posted (edited)

20 hours ago, M.I.B said:

Horses usually repeat their location for dropping manure:  whether it be the same place in a stable, field or even a regular route. 


Thanks for all the insights MIB. Going by the quote above, one-horse stations would have just the one pile in the same place daily then! Not much scope for BLT modellers, although of course there would be the visiting horses of coalmen and traders.


And thanks Simon for finding the old post. I remember the quote by Laurie Lee, very nice. 3.5 millions horses is a lot, I see that the British Equestrian Trade Association counted 847.000 horses in 2019, with an average age of 13. They have it good nowadays!


This morning - and somewhat belatedly - I found the following at the end of an instruction sheet by the GWR Horse Department to "Station Agents and others having the charge of horses", reproduced in Atkins' GWR Goods Cartage Vol. 1, p76 (no date given, but it must be between1883 and 1922 due to names mentioned): 


"Manure: Stable manure must be regularly removed. When there is an accumulation at places for which there are no options for disposal, the Station Agent must advise the Horse Superintendent of the best offer per ton which he can obtain; and authority for sale will be given. A return (Form 360) of the manure sold each month, accompanied by the machine tickets of the weight, price per ton, and the name an address of the purchaser must be sent to the Horse Superintendent of the first day of each month; who will deal with the matter through the Accountant's office at Paddington."   


So this suggests that manure was, as Stephen has suggested, mainly sold locally. The administrative requirements are quite detailed, I wonder if there was a history of informal local deals!


On dead horses, the instructions simply say:


"Dead Horses: Each Station Agent will be instructed from time to time of the names and addresses of the contractors appointed for removing dead horses, or for other arrangements which may be made for that purpose"   


The Horse Superintendent was at Paddington from 1883 onwards. Quite a lot of micro-management going on then!


Now off to sample Ivor Cutler (lots of other episodes it seems).


Edited by Mikkel
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In another topic, covering the supply and carriage of horses, I noted

I'm not sure the figures add up, but with a suggestion of around 150,000 working horses in London, and one dealer handling 25,000 dead horses a year, that suggests a working life of only around three years.

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On a more humanitarian (equinarian?) note, Midland Railway Study Centre Item 21060.


The Midland had 3,384 horses at the end of 1889, well up from 2,698 in 1877. I assume there was a single number series for horses, not separate series for brown, grey, etc. No doubt there was some local naming.

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Dealing with a dead dobbin, especially one in a stable or stable block complex is not a pleasant task.  


Due to the sheer size and rigor-mortis, removal in many cases would only be possible if the animal was made into manageable sized pieces.


There would be a larger "market" for raw horse flesh in those days than now.  Many more hunts about each with dog packs, zoos would take such meat, as well as police dog kennels,       and dubious meat pie makers........

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