On one of our trips out when we were in Yorkshire we came across a Heavy Horse Show, so having gone back to get the cameras we retuned to spend some time with these lovely animals and came across a really interesting piece of equine history. But first an image of the future of heavy horses.
We have arrived just as the Driving class had started and one caught my eye mostly because of the driver’s unique seat position.
There were a few other features that also seemed to be unique to this cart, so we decided to see if we could talk to the owner about it. We found Martin Watts, chairman of the Wagoners’ Special Reserve museum at Sledmere House, who shared the story.
It turns out the cart is an equine ambulance used in WW1 to rescue injured horses from the frontlines.
Even the story of its revival and restoration is interesting; this horse-drawn horse ambulance was found, forgotten, in a farmyard in Lancashire with a tree growing through it, more than a century after it saw action in the First World War.
Halifax wheelwright Rodney Greenwood first came across the ruined remains of the ambulance in a farmyard in 2019. Believing it to be an old bullock cart, it wasn’t until a maker’s plate, with a patent number was revealed that he realised its significance.
First it was fixing the hub from elm, then oak spokes, ash felloes, and firing the old iron hoops. Much was salvageable, with care, and the original wood is now left unpainted to show its strength.
After the war, the ambulance was decommissioned from the Army and used at the racecourse for injured horses.
Ambulances such as these were cleverly designed, with hoops and slings and hoists to ease the burden on the horse casualty and to carry it swiftly to safety.
This is Martin, who looks after the collection at Sledmere House, sharing the story and the features of the cart.
The design enables the floor of the cart to be very close to the ground to make is easier for a wounded horse to walk in if it can or to pull a horse on board. If necessary the floor drops out so that is can be placed under the injured horse and then the cart wheeled back over and the floor hoisted back in place. The cart opens at both ends and the shafts can be pulled through so that there is no need to reverse the horse and cart whilst trying to complete a rescue on the front lines.
The vehicle now lives at Sledmere House in Yorkshire where it is part of a small museum – https://www.sledmerehouse.com/things-to-do/the-historic-stable-block “The ambulance is a marvellous way of showing that relationship between the horses and the men. As soon as you put a horse in it, that story comes alive”.
I hope you have enjoyed this story of restoration, as much as we enjoyed our afternoon with these gentle giants.Published in