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Liverpool Carters

For more than 250 years horses were used to move goods to and from Liverpool docks and businesses. At their peak more than 20,000 horses worked on the streets of Liverpool, more than in any other city outside London. During the Second World War the Liverpool Carter's and their horses maintained the vital link between the docks and the city, keeping food and raw materials moving during the most difficult of times.

Photograph Stephen Shakeshaft
Liverpool’s carters and their horses were famous for moving heavier loads than was common elsewhere, yet the men also had a good reputation for the treatment of their animals. The city’s transport system was reliant on horses into the twentieth century, and carters could wield considerable influence in labour disputes as a result.

A number of factors made Liverpool an unusual place for short-distance transport, and particularly suited to heavy carting. There was no direct railway connection to most of the dock estate, so goods had to be carted out of the docks to warehouses or to railway goods stations, which were usually just inland of the Dock Road. In addition, Liverpool City Council and the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board both invested heavily in granite setts for road surfacing, which, combined with special horse-shoes, gave horses a powerful grip.

Carters also worked the market areas of Liverpool were fruit and vegetables were sold in quantity, areas such as Queen Square in the city centre. By 1904, Queens square” with exception of the Royal Court Theatre, and half dozen hotels was devoted to the wholesale disposal of fruit and vegetables.

Queen Square

Not only were there pyramids of strawberry and cherry filled boxes, towers of tomatoes, and castles of cabbages and cauliflowers, but the centre of the square was occupied by an ever- varying body of carters.  The carters transported the goods from the docks and to the fruit exchange in Victoria Street and to St Martins (Paddies) Market on Cazneau Street.

As well as working within the city the carters also travelled distances to places outside of the city such as Ormskirk, Rufford ,Preston and Manchester  to collect goods to be returned to the docks at Liverpool.  In addition carters moved all manner of items around the roads of Liverpool, iron, coal and even furniture were all in a day’s work for the carters and their horses.

This photograph shows a Southworth horse and cart loaded with seed potatoes ready for the market at either Preston or Liverpool.

John Mason Removals Wavertree

With the advent of motor vehicles the role of the carter gradually diminished and the cart horses were retired. It took many years for the carters of Liverpool to have the important role their trade had played in the development  of the city acknowledged.

On  1st May 2010 Liverpool’s handful of surviving carters were present for the unveiling of a monument which recognised the tremendous contribution made by the city’s working horses. The ceremony at Mann Island marked the culmination of a 10-year struggle to raise the funds for a statue dedicated to Liverpool’s hard-working dock horses. The sculpture, "Waiting" , is so called because it shows a dock horse waiting to set off on its next journey.

Created by equine sculptor Judy Boyt, the monument commemorates the city’s faithful carters and their horses. They played a vital role in carrying provisions from the docks to warehouses and shops during Liverpool’s heyday as a commercial port. May 1 was chosen for the unveiling because it was the traditional date of the May Day horse parades through the city. Four heavy horses from the British Shire Horse Society– which donated £3,000 towards the £120,000 fundraising target – were present for the ceremony, witnessed by ex-carters and senior representatives of National Museums Liverpool (NML). Only three of the original 10-strong group of carters who launched the campaign are now left, and all are in their 70s and 80s. One of them is Carters’ committee member Jimmy Doran, 78, who worked as a pony lad in 1944 and 1945. He said: “It's been a long time coming, but this makes it all worthwhile.”

Robert F Edwards

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