Yorkshire Life: Requiem for owd Jimmy

Jimmy was my grandfather's horse. I can't recall much detail but think he was chestnut brown with a black mane and a black tail. That suggests he was a Cleveland Bay, one of our oldest breeds whose ancestors trekked across the North York Moors in pannier-carrying trains. Then known as the Chapman's Horse, it was favoured by itinerant traders due to its reliability, strength and stamina.

Jimmy lived in a field opposite my grandparents' farmhouse and his favourite place was a small hummock with all-round views. Like the king of the castle, he often stood there apparently admiring his surroundings. Nearby was a brick-built relic of the village's former iron-ore mining era. With no doors but ample shelter, this was Jimmy's cosy accommodation that he shared with sheep and poultry.

When I was eight or nine, Jimmy's task was to haul an elegant trap around the village. It had two large wheels with mudguards, slender curved shafts and a body that accommodated four adults on comfortable seats. Its correct name may have been game float, luggage cart or even governess cart, but granddad used it to carry a milk churn around the village from which to ladle milk for his customers. At that time Jimmy was reputedly 48 years old which meant he had been foaled before 1900 and it was widely thought he was the oldest horse in the north of England.

I have never been able to verify that claim because my childhood memory is unreliable. There is no doubt we all loved Jimmy; he was a wonderful friendly animal and very much part of the family.

Then in the ferocious winter of 1947 when we were staying at the farm, my grandfather became worried about Jimmy due to the heavy snow and severe frost.

Normally Jimmy would have made his way into the shelter but over previous weeks the old horse had appeared to be ailing. Old age was undoubtedly affecting him and so, as the heavy snows fell and drifted upon our moors, in bitter temperatures, granddad went into the storm to see how Jimmy was coping.

He was lying on his hummock as the drifting snow gathered around him and no amount of coaxing or physical help could persuade Jimmy to rise to his feet and head for shelter.

Granddad hurried to the farm for extra help, along with a tarpaulin and some hay and straw to place around the dying horse, but it was no good.

Grandad, a Yorkshireman of few words, said: "Poor awd lad" and went upstairs to be alone. Jimmy died that night aged 48 and we all cried. He was buried in his field. The smart and elegant cart he had drawn around the village was stored in an outbuilding, perhaps in the expectation that another horse would draw it but that never happened. Granddad bought a small van to carry milk to his customers in crates and bottles.

I can remember Jimmy's trap standing in that building for many years. I often thought it would be nice to have it for myself but it vanished. I think granddad had eventually plucked up the emotional courage to either donate the trap to a museum or sell it to a collector. I never knew its fate but sometimes wondered if it was older than Jimmy.


YP MAG 29/1/11