The History of Harness Goats
The simple answer is about 4,000 years ago the oldest recorded ref was found in Crete on an item of jewellery, a ring. Dating roughly to around 2,000bc the precious stone had carved into it a chariot pulled by a pair of goats. There is also a record of a goat pulling a plough in Crete at about the same time. In the Himalayas goats are still used today as they have been for centuries, carrying pack saddles loaded with luggage across rough terrain.
The goat appears many times in mythology. Thor the God of Thunder drove a pair of fierce horned billy goats to draw his chariot and each time he threw his hammer it caused thunder and lightning. (Next time you hear thunder, remember it is just Thor driving his pair of goats across the sky).
At the beginning of the twentieth century it would have been quite normal to see a goat cart on the streets in many countries across the world. Many European families owned a goat cart or carriage for their children to enjoy, from the lower classes up to royalty. Whilst the former built very basic carts from recycled materials, the latter, of course, had some very elaborate vehicles. The son of Napoleon and Empress Eugene had an impressive calash, drawn by a white goat. This apparently was the prince’s favourite ‘toy’.
Our King George V is seen in his wedding photograph dated 1893 with children in a goat carriage.
On the great estates and in the gardens of larger houses a goat carriage might often be found. It was used for pleasure but more importantly under the direction of a groom, a boy could harness and drive, learning the art of driving so necessary at that time. Harness makers of the period showed goat harness patterns in their catalogues. They would all be made from leather. The poorer classes would make rough harness from upholsterer’s jute webbing.
It is interesting to note that both of the car makers, Peugeot in France and Studebaker in America started from very humble beginnings, advertising goat and dog carts for sale.
Many different items were carried in the carts, besides children. Milk was delivered, vegetables, barrels of water, and in America “Buck Beer” was advertised being transported in a goat cart. It is known that a basket maker used a goat cart to carry willow shoots, and another goat cart was used by a travelling salesman selling kitchen wear. In 1891, came the introduction of bank holidays and with the advent of railways, towns people were able to travel to the seaside for a day out. Cottagers living near the coast saw an opportunity and pressed donkeys and goats into service. The donkeys carried ladies up and down the beach, their saddles covered with a white cotton cloth to avoid soiling the riders fine clothes and goats pulled tiny carriages giving rides to children. Sadly the goats were often abused and ill treated.
Local councils at seaside resorts later licensed all operators giving goat carriage rides and conditions improved somewhat. In Brighton, the last known HG licence was issued in 1953.
Examples of old post cards can sometimes be found of these Victorian goat carts, some of which were beautifully made by professional carriage makers. As horse drawn carriages reach their zenith, so did the miniature vehicles built for goats. They had to be lightweight, ( a goat should only pull about one and a half times its own weight) These beautiful little vehicles were usually made to order by a local carriage maker sadly many were destroyed, but from time to time another old goat carriage is found amongst the cobwebs of an old carriage house. They were built of wood with iron fittings, exactly as a horse drawn vehicle is built, except that to lessen the weight wheels were sometimes all metal with wire spokes and a narrow solid rubber tyre.
Disabled people also made use of them and photographs dating from 1914/18 war show an injured soldier riding in a goat cart. During the Second World War a pair of goats was used to draw a small trolley carrying food to the forward troops, and due to the scarcity of petrol, horses, donkeys, and goats became popular again drawing carts. Many animals including goats have been used over the centuries to carry pack saddles or pull carts, transporting various goods. The goat has proved itself to be a very versatile working animal.
A Trip To Eastbourne
Recreating a Piece of History
An email arrived from Wendy Grantham asking if we would be interested in attending an event in Eastbourne. Edward Dickinson was launching a book called Eastbourne in Detail. I was curious so I contacted Edward the publisher. The occasion was to be held at the Grand hotel on Eastbourne promenade at the end of September. On the promenade there is an original licence plate. Goat and chaise would leave to give rides along the sea front.
Edward had already contacted the press and Quinn made the front page of the Eastbourne Herald. Quinn is our young Anglo Nubian goat which we have been training to harness over the past two years. Quinn is now 3 years old.
Slightly premature because I had to convince Derek to take a day off work!
We set out to plan our trip. Our job was to take a dignitary from the licence plate which is still in place on a wall just outside of the Western lawns to the Grand Hotel where the Book launch was to happen.
We put the paperwork in order Liability Insurance … AML1 forms … Risk Assessment … Maps …Location … ETC Costume hire … picnic etc etc
I called the vet to check that Minstrel was well enough to travel having had a nasty life-threatening injury in the garden a few weeks before. His bloods were fine thank goodness. Minstrel is an Anglo Nubian goat and is now 11 years old he has travelled far and wide up and down the country to represent the harness goat society.
I rang Pat Newman to ask if we could borrow Elspeth’s Notice Board and arranged to collect it en route to Eastbourne. The notice board is an asset to the society. It has archive photos of numerous members and their goats displayed at shows around the country.
We aimed to leave soon after the first radio interview at 8.50am and headed to the Wilton carpet factory car park to collect the board from Pat. I suggested that Pat might jump up and down so we would see her when we drove in BUT Pat had the ingenious idea of tying a toy goat on the end of a bean stick which she held high in the air so we couldn’t fail to see her clearly.
Within minutes we were on our way a little concerned about the length of the trip for the goats, but the weather was fine the roads were clear and we arrived earlier than planned. Once we had contacted Edward, we began to set up our pitch and soon members of the public came to see the goats and were interested in the event. Minstrel started off the afternoon by giving rides around the lawns.
Quinn took over & gave the author a ride around the lawns too.
At 5.30pm as planned Caroline Ansell (MP) arrived with photographers in tow to take the journey along the pavement from the licence plate to the Grand Hotel.
Both Minstrel & Quinn behaved impeccably.
Once the event was over, we began to pack up ready to start the long journey home.
I collected a Book from Edward as a Thank you gift. If anyone is interested in reading the book, please let me know and I will post it onto you.
At 9.30pm radio Sussex rang for a radio interview, I had spoken to them briefly earlier in the day. This time the interview was longer, so I was able to promote the HGS a little bit more.
We finally arrived in Holcombe at 10 past midnight with two tired goats. The following day they did not look any worse for wear having travelled the distance & we were very proud of them both. It was a fabulous thing to do and one for the memory book.