The price of a stable existence

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THE TOUGH life of a Yorkshire horseman who worked on a farm and was employed for a full year before being paid has been revealed in a new book.

Ron Creasey, who began work at Carr Farm in Holderness aged 17, served as a “horselad” during years of great change in farming methods, in the 1940s and 50s.

Horses still provided much of the power to work farms and many aspects of Mr Creasey’s life, depicted in Last of the Horselads, would have been recognisable to generations before him.

Horselads were expected to live on the farm, under the charge of a foreman, and a waggoner under him. Their meals were provided but the job of caring for the horses was demanding and they only had a few hours free time at the weekends.

They were bound to their employers for 12 months at a time and were only paid when the year came to an end.

“Quarter past five, Monday morning, Foreman give you a shout,” Mr Creasey told William Castle, author of the book. “He lit his lamp, did Wag, and if you wasn’t sharp enough he’d gone down the stairs, and you’d just hear foreman telling wagg’ner what to gear the horses for. He might say, ‘Gear ‘em all for waggons,’ or to plough, or whatever.

“Wag led five horses, Third lad five horses and they mucked three each out, cleaned three and harnessed three. Now I didn’t feed any, but I had to muck four out, clean four and harness four.”

The mucking out of the stables and cleaning of the horses had to be done before the horselads were allowed inside for breakfast.

Mr Creasey recalled: “Foreman was in the armchair at’ side. Wag had an armchair at’ end of table, then the two lads on the form. You’d fat bacon and dry bread and a pint of tea, a lump of fat about’ size of both hands, just turning pink on the edge, and there’d be a piece of lean beef on a Monday morning.

“Now as soon as you’d finished that, on the front of the table was the pies, there’d be maybe a prune pie and a fig pie.

“You always knew when it was figs, ‘cause foreman’d take his teeth out and put his hat over’ em.”

Mr Creasey’s memoirs also include games involving trials of strength – a much-prized quality in a horselad. One involved tying a four-stone weight to a handkerchief and lifting it with their teeth, he recalled.

He grew up in Hull and worked at Carr Farm for nearly 15 years, from 1946, before he married and took a job in Sussex as a farm bailiff. Horselads were not allowed to marry.

Later, he drove horse-drawn buses in London and then moved to Cambridgeshire to work as a horseman for the National Trust.

He returned to live in Holderness with his wife before he died following a heart operation in 2008.