Aha, an intrtguing title you may think. Am I about to start talking the politics of growing you own, or a brief history of industrial decline? I’d love too but post Christmas, my brain isn’t going into anything so deep. I’m talking horses. Clydesdale Horses to be specific, and not any old Clydesdale but one who is part of my family history, curiously became part of my recent history, and will be spoken off for generations to come.
Before I go any further, a wee bit about my family. I came from a long line of policemen. Dad was a polis, Granddad was a polis, Great Uncle was a polis. If that sounds suspiciously like a misquote from a certain soft drinks advert, well it is. That soft drinks company is part of the story.
My granddead walked the beat in Falkirk and its surrounding villages, and on retirement took up a second career as a groom at Callendar House estate. He was certainly an horse lover, and as a young policean walking the beat in the early 1930s he was familiar with the site of the Barr delivery horses, pulling carts laden with Iron Brew, as it was once spelled, around the community. The Barr Family were locals, they had a factory in Falkirk, and a team of horses who were stabled in Cow Wynd in the town centre. Amongst them was the exotically named Carnera. Carnera had a mighty claim to fame…
He was the biggest horse in the world. He stood a mighty nineteen hands, one and a half inches tall. Now a horse is measured not from the tip of its ears, but from the bottom of its neck, the withers. The hand is reckoned to be four inches.That means that Carnera measured seventy seven and a a half inches from the bottom of his neck to the ground. That’s almost six and a half feet. My Granddad had to be tall to be a policement, but Carnera would have dwarved him.
Well, as we all know, the Barr company are very good at the old marketing and they started to use Carnera for advertising the product. He was sent to community events around the country and became something of a celebrity. All the while, though, he was doing that day job of pulling heavily laden carts around the town and this was to be poor Carnera’s undoing. One particularly frosty day, he was dragging a heavily laden cart down Cow Wynd, and he slipped. Now, at first it seemed that all was well. He was able to get back up and go on with his day’s deliveries. Sadly, though, as he approached Cow Wynd later that day, he slipped again, and the poor driver, despite his best efforts could not get the gentle giant on his feet. He realised that there was only one option – to call the vet.
But it wasn’t the end of Carnera’s story. Local people heard what was happening. They gathered around him, feeding him sticky buns. Someone even put a mattress under his head to act like a giant pillow. In fact, the story that my Granddad told his son, who then told me, was that so many people came to see Carnera and help him on his final journey, that they had to get extra police to marshal the crowds. What’s clear to me is that people really loved this gentle creature. I would love to think that my Grandfather was one of the policemen who was there to see him on the road.One thing’s for certain though – that story has lived on, been told to younger generations, and is now a feature of so many of the guided tours at the Kelpies, which are themselves a tribute to the Clydesdale Horse, where I had the privilege to work last year. Isn’t it amazing to think that the life and death of an humble delivery horse, over 80 years ago, can still mean something to us today?