I was born on the cusp of the tractor replacing horses on the farm particularly because we had a lot of overlap on Camps Farm. Dad was really a horseman and would happily have continued using them but they just didn’t pay in the mechanised age.
As well as farming Dad had a very successful carting business hauling everything around the Island using real horses to provide the horse power. He knew every inch of every road in this Island plus every obscure track or impossibly narrow access lanes. He would often point out a steep slope and say how the horse couldn’t get up there and even the coal in hundredweight bags was carried up bag by bag hoisted up on a shoulder.
Dad was very strong and had been working for his dad from the age of 11. It was generally accepted that to earn a man’s wage wasn’t just determined by age but by the ability to carry a two hundredweight bag up a ladder. Dad qualified for a man’s wage when he was 13, but of course Grandad never paid it to him.
Coal came into the harbour loose and was bagged up in the hold. Lines of carriers with horses and carts would queue up when the boat came in and the first in the line would run backwards and forwards across a plank laid between the boat and shore until they had a full load. Then it was the turn of the next in the queue.
Another test of skill and strength was to have 12 pennies laid along the gangplank and see who could pick up the most while carrying a two hundredweight bag on their shoulder. It was a high risk game because losing balance meant losing the coal into the harbour or possibly taking a dip as well.
A quick turnaround meant a carrier could deliver more coal in the day and therefore earn more so queue jumping wasn’t encouraged but did happen. Grandad decided Dad was ready to have his own horse and cart when he was 13 and gave him his list of customers. For the first load Grandad and Dad were at the harbour at the same time but as the day went on their different routes threw then out of sync.
Grandad was heading back to the White Rock to join the line when the driver of a cart going the other way shouted to him. “Alf, they’re going to kill your boy back there because he won’t give up his place”.
Grandad realising that more aggressive carriers had obviously decided they could easily push a young boy out of the queue abandoned his waggon and ran down the line of carts. Always ready for a fight and a very accomplished boxer Grandad was seeing through the red mist that plagues the Camps and someone would pay for bullying Dad.
When he got there it was all over. Dad had been challenged by one of the men and stupidly had decided to fight it out.
Grandad had no need to mete out punishment because the bully was lying flat on his back in a pile of coal dust. No one tried to take Dad’s place again.
When Dad’s business was in full flow he was running about twenty horses. At the end of each evening in the Summer they would all come home and be stripped of their harness.
At the bottom of the Track Lane, behind the football pitch, was a very large area of swampy land called The Marais. Unusable for most of the year it was a plentiful supply of grass in dry Summers and a great place for a herd of horses to spend their evenings after a hard day’s work.
How to get them from the top of the lane to the Marais? The easiest way possible of course just let them run free. They knew where they were going and off they would go with the minimum of supervision.
It was before my time unfortunately but I’m told it was a sight to behold to see twenty fine horses galloping down the lane for an evening of relaxation and fun.