After a year or more of planning by the Friends and an absence from Hunsbury Hill of about 100 years, Robert Clarke of Hartwell Shires bought his magnificent Shire horse William to the Country Park on Sunday, 20th September 2020, to chain harrow our Wildflower Meadow.
We are so sorry that we were not allowed to organise this as a public event, due to Northampton Borough Council’s restrictions because of COVID-19, but Robert has agreed to bring William to the Park in the future, when public events are allowed once again, not only for chain harrowing but maybe for other events as well, including giving rides in a carriage.
Although NBC have restricted public events to less than 30 people, which is why we decided not to publicise this harrowing experience, we have to thank Peter Hackett of NBC for giving us permission to go ahead with the chain harrowing, as it will be beneficial to the establishment of the Wildflower Meadow by helping to spread the seeds about.
Another big thank you is owed to Nicola Clarke and the idverde team who ensured that the meadow grass was cut and cleared away the week before William’s arrival.
And of course the weather on the day, and for the 2 preceding weeks, was just right to ensure all this could be done.
So the one thing this harrowing experience was not was a harrowing experience (if you see what I mean) !
For those who are interested, William (full name Eastcote William) is 7 years old (so he is only young and is still growing) and stands at 19 hands. The ‘hands’ are measured at the shoulder and each hand is 4” (4 inches). For a comparison, Robert is 6 ft. tall, and you can see from the photo above that he only just comes up to William’s rump, not his shoulder.
Shires are said to have been “invented” by King Henry VIII by selective breeding, specifically to get horses capable of carrying a knight in full armour, and are now rarer than Giant Pandas. Although the need for knights in full armour declined, the need for powerful draught horses did not and Shires joined the other heavy horse breeds (such as Clydesdale and Suffolk) in farming, logging and, later on, towing canal boats and barges and brewers’ drays, as well as omnibuses, hackney carriages, etc.
We know that Shire horses were used on Hunsbury Hill in the 19thCentury, to pull timber from Whittlewood Forest destined for Northampton sawmills along the Drovers Road and up the Hill; and then into the 20th Century when the Hill was being quarried for ironstone. Small rail trucks loaded with ironstone were run down the Hill by gravity to the foundry by the canal and the Shire horses were used to pull the empty trucks back up to the quarry faces. They were replaced by steam locomotives in 1912, so it might be 108 years since a Shire has been seen working on Hunsbury Hill.
We don’t think it will be another 100 years before we see William again, it will probably be more like 200 days. We have already had some ideas.