Friday, 22 April 2011

More on the Cadogan Riding School

I wrote this piece some years ago when I was writing my book, Heroines on Horseback, and struggling to complete the chapter on Ruby Ferguson and the Jill books. I am a grade A prevaricator, and like to prevaricate by researching anything other than what I'm supposed to be working on. I'd just bought a collection of Riding Magazines from the 1930s, and they provided rich, rich fodder for prevarication.

I wrote an earlier post on the Cadogan Riding School and what happened to it in the Second World War, and you can find that post here.


I have now finished my accounts, Holiday Club is behind me and I have therefore nothing to prevaricate about at all and no reason whatsoever for not getting on with wrestling some sense into my great thoughts about Ruby Ferguson, but like a horse turned out to pasture for the first time in the spring the freedom from duty has gone to my head, and my head has turned to the Cadogan Riding School, about which it wishes to know more.

The Cadogan Riding School was one of the major riding schools of the inter-war period.  The Cadogan School taught beginners through to advanced riders; jumping, driving and evening classes.  The school's premises were at the back of what is now the Carlton Tower, in Cadogan Lane.  Besides this central London branch, it had offshoots at Richmond, and a hunting stables at Holyport, Maidenhead, which was managed in the 1920s by Dick Francis' father.  Horace Smith, the owner, and his daughter, Sybil, taught the Queen and Princess Margaret to ride.

I still haven't managed to find a picture of the Cadogan school's indoor riding school (I do not know why I am so obsessed by this, but I am).  I have, however, tracked down an article Horace Smith, owner of the School, wrote for the first issue of Riding Magazine, which appeared in June 1936.  In this he recommends that beginners spend at least six weeks learning in the indoor school before they are allowed out into the open.  The picture below shows Mr Smith returning from a ride out in the Park, at, presumably, the Cadogan Riding School.

The present Queen and Princess Margaret were lucky to be taught by him:  I wish some of my early riding teachers had followed Mr Smith's dictum:

"The art of teaching lies in a good judgment of psychology; in knowing just how far to go, in giving confidence to the pupil by combining kindness with discipline, and by always being careful to see that when the pupils have finished their lesson they leave the school with a happy memory."

The picture below of one of Mr Smith's lessons exudes regimented calm:

The picture must have been taken in the indoor school, but none of the interior details are shown. The Cadogan Riding School was the last Central London school to have an indoor riding arena, and this and most of the school's buildings fell victim to the Blitz during the Second World War.  The school returned to London, albeit in a reduced form, after the Second World War, and was finally closed when the pressure of traffic between the school's buildings in Cadogan Lane, and the entrance of Hyde Park which it used at Albert Gate became too much. The School then operated out of Holyport until it closed in the 1970s.

As a nod to my current obsession with the indoor riding school, here is an advertisement for another riding school. This one was in Kingsbury, in what were then the rural outskirts of North London. The advertisement appeared in the same issue of Riding as Mr Smith's article.

Riding Magazine, June 1936
Joyce Bellamy, Hyde Park for Horsemanship, J A Allen, 1975
Horace Smith, A Horseman Through Six Reigns, Odhams, 1965

Thursday, 21 April 2011


The lions were gloriously unzipped in the spectacularly unseasonable April heat.  My husband asked me how I got the background to the picture of the monkey.  I have no idea.  The picture was taken through a coach window:  the monkey was about to leap up to the coach wing mirror.

I did wonder what the attrition rate was for the monkeys, who despite their extraordinary athleticism treat moving cars with no respect at all.

It must be a good 40 years since I was last at Woburn and now everywhere has sprouted those hand cleaning dispensers you get in hospitals.  My little group of children were distinctly sniffy about the idea of washing their hands before they went in until I told them the idea was to protect the animals from them, not the other way round.  They then attacked the dispensers with verve every chance they got.  Interesting.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Review: Janet Rising, Pony Rebellion and Stables S.O.S.

Janet Rising - Pony Rebellion
Janet Rising - Stables S.O.S.
Hodder Children’s Books, £5.99

Thanks to Janet Rising for sending me Pony Rebellion.  Stables S.O.S. I bought myself from a real, live shop.

Pony Rebellion, book 5 in the series, sees Pia and her friends putting together a musical activity ride in aid of Riding for the Disabled.  This involves practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  Unfortunately the ponies get very fed up with all this practice; so much so that they go on strike.  Nothing Pia tries, despite her ability to talk to the ponies, will make any difference to the ponies’ decision. 

Besides this, there’s Pia’s ongoing crush on James to contend with, as well as her rivalry with Cat.  One of the series’ ongoing loose ends is tied up in this book.  Having hung on for four, and jolly nearly five books to find out what dread secret it was Cat was harbouring, I was slightly puzzled by what the secret turned out to be:  much of the dramatic tension arises because Pia’s friends won’t tell her what the secret is, though they all know.  Once I knew what it was (not going to issue spoilers, so read on in peace) I couldn’t quite see why they wouldn’t tell her.  Maybe that’s just me not understanding the sometimes opaque workings of the teenage girl’s mind.  My daughter would say it was definitely a case of that, no question.  It’s a minor quibble though; the book’s the same excellent read the others were.   There's very little in the pony book field which has ponies working to rule, unless you count C Northcote Parkinson's Ponies Plot, and I enjoyed the agony of seeing Pia completely fail to work out what was plain blooming obvious to any sensible adult (ie me). 

It’s one of the great truisms of pony book stables that sooner or later they will all be threatened with Destruction; whether that’s the threat from a rival riding stable (even Ruby Ferguson’s Mrs Darcy had a minor wobble when the Drafters set up shop nearby) or the stables being covered over by a soul-less housing development, with the developer laughing all the way to the bank.

Alas you have only to look at the fate of so many riding schools over the years to know that many of them have now been concreted over:  nearly all of the riding schools in Central London are no more, the siren song of immense London property values having ensured their demise.

The last in the Pony Whisperer series, Stables S.O.S., sees the livery stables threatened by owner Mrs Collins’ dastardly son, who takes full and horrible advantage of his mother’s hospitalisation to attempt to sell the stables and the land for development.  Pia and her friends hope that they can stop him by proving the stables is a site of historical interest to the nation.  Alas, there is no actual building left, only the ruins the ponies can sense under their field, so they have a fight on their hands.

The book, the last in the series, is full of the things that made the rest of the series work:  although Pia can hear what the ponies are saying when she has her statue of Epona, that doesn't mean she actually listens.  The adults are as wonderfully drawn as they were in the other books: Pia’s parents are just as dim.  Her father remains sublimely unaware of what his daughter’s actually thinking.  He and his new partner plan to buy the stables once they’re converted, pleased it will bring them closer to Pia.  Pia learns that matchmaking your mother is not really a good idea, but her own proto-romance with James edges a little closer.  I like the way this is dealt with:  the romance just trickles along at the edges of the story, so it’s comfortable for girls who are happier with the idea of loving their pony than a boy, but there’s enough for the girl who’s widening her horizons. 

And so the Pony Whisperer series ends; I think in a satisfying place.  I can imagine Pia and James sort of riding into the distance, though I suspect Drummer would very soon put paid to any smooching.  Pia’s father and Skinny Lynnie will carry on not quite getting it, and Pia I suppose comes to terms with her mother’s romances.  I wonder what Pia will do with herself when she’s older?   Janet Rising is planning more pony books, but Pia I think will live on just in our imaginations.  It's been a great series and I'm looking forward to whatever Janet does next (Twilight with ponies?  Just aching to be done, I'd have thought.)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Hackney Horse

The Hackney Horse isn't the most common of British breeds; it and the Hackney Pony are now on the Rare Breed Survival Trust's Endangered list, which means there are between 300-500 adult breeding mares left. The Hackney, like the even more endangered Cleveland Bay, has presumably lost popularity as carriage driving became a sport rather than a mode of transport.  Here's some film of when there were rather more of them about.


and from the 1920s:  Princess Mary presents prizes at the National Hackney Show in Doncaster


The Hackney Horse was descended from the Norfolk Trotter (amongst other breeds), which figures large in K M Peyton's historical duo, Small Gains and Greater Gains.  If you want to understand the fascination trotting races held, her books are an excellent place to start.

Friday, 15 April 2011

A round up

Christina Wilsdon remembers time and model horses gone by.

Presumably these horses were sold in nice dry weather.

Pony Book Chronicles takes time off from books to contemplate gardening.  Day lilies might be thugs over there, but in my garden they are tender sensitive souls, who shy prettily away from the idea of flourishing and then wither away to nothing.

Stephen Foster writes about the appeal of the book rainbow.

And with a single bound

and just one dozen riding lessons, they cleared ooh, say 5 feet?  Who needs Photoshop?  This ad appeared in the Christmas 1931 review of The Institute of the Horse, one of the precursors of the British Horse Society.

I don't know if the riding school portrayed actually was the Cadogan Riding School.  If it was, it was ferociously glam.  It reminds me of the glorious Marshall Street Baths in Soho, where I used to swim when I worked in the West End.  It always felt like swimming in a ballroom - not that I ever have swum in a ballroom or indeed been in a ballroom at all as far as I can remember, but it was a world away from your average municipal bath.

The Cadogan Riding School (according to Joyce Bellamy's Hyde Park for Horsemanship) had 200 horses and 60 ponies, which seems an amazing amount of equines to fit into central London.  The Cadogan wasn't the only central London riding school either:  there were schools in Gloucester Terrace, Queen's Gate Mews, Radnor Place and Connaught Mews, to say nothing of the riding schools in Hanwell and the Finchley Road, and the positive glut in Richmond, Wimbledon and Putney:  nine, including an offshoot of the Cadogan.

Clapham Park Riding School laid claim in Riding Magazine, 1939 to "the largest covered school in London". The Riding School was at 11 Grove Road, Balham, London SW12, and a quick look on Googlemap shows something large and industrial there now.  There are still riding schools in London, but only two now in Central London.  It's a miracle there are any there at all, but Ross Nye and the Hyde Park Stables are still there; both just a tad more expensive than the average out of town stables, but then I don't imagine their overheads are particularly small.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

April's pony book releases

This info is already on my website, but for those who don't go there, here's a round up of what's published in the pony book field this month:

Monica Edwards - Black Hunting Whip
Girls Gone By’s republication of Monica Edwards continues with the re-issue of this Punchbowl Farm story, together with the usual extras which make this book well worth buying.

Diane Lee Wilson - Ravenspeak
Already out in the USA, Ravenspeak is due out in April 2011 in the UK.  For those who haven’t yet read her, Diane Lee Wilson writes excellent historical stories in which her characters and their horses try and make sense of their world. Ravenspeak is the story of Asa, daughter of a Viking chief.  The clan is in the grip of a vicious winter, and most of the menfolk sail away to find food.  Jorgen, the wise man who is left behind, wants to eat Asa’s beloved horse (which bearing in mind there is no food seems not entirely unreasonable) and to take over the clan while Asa’s father is away.

Elaine Breault-Hammond - Sky Pony
An interesting entrant into the field by an award winning Canadian author, Sky Pony is the story of 12 year old Katie, who has to take on board two things she really doesn’t like:  firstly her family move tothe Yukon, and secondly they foster a six year old.  Katie has a handy method of avoiding both these blots on her horizon.  Her Icelandic pony, Peggy, can fly.  Not only can Peggy fly through space, she can fly through time as well (I am tempted to make all sorts of Dr Who references at this point).  Katy and Peggy end up in 19th century England, where they experience the best of times, and the worst of times.

Sharon Siamon - Runaway Dreams
Runaway Dreams is number 5 in her Wild Horse Creek series.

Dandi Daley Mackall and Claudia Wolf - the A Horse Named Bob series
ZonderKidz are releasing titles 1-4 of this series:  Bob’s Great Escape, A Horse Named Bob, Double Trouble and A Perfect Pony.  The series is aimed at the younger reader.

Lauraine Snelling -  High Hurdles Collection
The High Hurdles series is being released in two volumes:  books 1-5, and books 6-10.  Get them all in one go if you happen to like them.  High Hurdles is a series about a teenage girl and her desire to compete as a show jumper in the Olympics, with which desire she has her faith in God to help her.

Catherine Hapka and Anne Kennedy - Really Riding
Part of the Pony Scouts series, Hapka and Kennedy’s latest title in their series is issued in hardback.It’s part of the I Can Read programme.

More from the intrepid 1930s

If you don't fancy either the cigarette race or polocrosse in the Easter Holidays, and you have no exams to cram for, then you could always try playing soliders, which Riding Magazine suggested in August 1936 as something for the Pony Club to do "when the weather is too hot and ponies too fat to take .. strenuous exercise."

As a child I'd have looked on this and blenched not at all, but as a mother, I'd have gulped a bit at the thought of my darling attempting the tandem driving (the leader was previously trained on foot, but still ... ) I wouldn't have fancied holding the hoop either if it all went wrong.

As for the surfboard, maybe the riders' descendants are now horse surfing.

Alas the author of the piece, Gwen M Parry, doesn't mention which branch of the Pony Club this is. If anyone has any idea please let me know. The branch shown had just got back from Belfast, where they did a display at the Royal Ulster Show.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


I posted earlier about Polocrosse - an early variation on polo which is, as its name suggests, a cross between lacrosse and polo.  I didn't go to a lacrosse school so my only exposure to the game was reading about it in Enid Blyton's school stories, where it took on a sort of mystical fascination as some daring and glamorous game.  Had I actually come across lacrosse I would probably have run a mile (or at least hidden in the changing rooms) - I was never keen on thundering around a field unless it was on a horse.

Polocrosse was started in the UK at the National Equitation Centre in Roehampton:  it's been played since the early 1930s.  I recently found an article in Riding Magazine, December 1936 by "AP" describing the game as "intended to amuse children and give them confidence handling their ponies," which the riders in the clip below certainly have.  It's a British Pathé clip of polocrosse in 1940.


Does anyone have any idea at all about where this game was played?  British Pathé have no note of the location, so I have no idea whether it's Roehampton.  Might it be Richmond?  

Polocrosse is still going strong.  The World Cup will be played in England 8th-17th July 2011 at the Onley Grounds Equestrian Centre near Rugby.  I actually drove past the ground recently (goodness, it's smart) and made a mental note of it as somewhere worth exploring, and here is my chance to see England play, and of course the holders Australia.  Here's a clip of Australia playing the USA:

Many thanks to Jane Venworth for telling me about the Polocrosse World Cup and sending me the links.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Are jodphurs bad for us?

Apparently leggings are bad for us, making our muscles lazy.  Well, not mine, because I never wear leggings, but I do wonder if a dependence on the fitted jodphur when young explains the less attractive aspects of my figure now.

Will parents despairing at their daughters' horse mad state now hiss at them "all this jodphur-wearing will simply MAKE YOU A FLABBY DISASTER WHEN YOU ARE OLDER."  Would make a change from rude remarks about eau-de-cheval and the unsocial qualities of a one subject discourse I suppose.

(You can tell, from this sudden flurry of blogging, that it is the financial year end and that I should be doing my accounts, can't you?)

Where music went, the book is following

With the proliferation of e-books, it is perhaps no surprise that illegal use would pop up sooner or later.

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, and many others, probably has the right idea in keeping her books firmly in the traditional format.

Politically incorrect gymkhana games

Can't see this gymkhana game being given programme space in the Prince Philip Cup.  This photograph shows Lady Margaret Drummond Hay and her partner "at a difficult stage of the bun-eating, water-drinking and cigarette lighting competition in the Ladies' Gymkhana at Ranelagh," sometime in 1936.  This event was, strangely, absent from every pony book description of a gymkhana I ever read.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Black Beauty in stitches again

I have now heard from Penguin, who say that these editions will be published in the UK late this year or early next.  They do not have any internal illustrations, which is fair enough I suppose in the case of Emma.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Black Beauty in stitches

Penguin have commissioned artist Jillian Tamaki to produce three covers for its Penguin Threads edition, Black Beauty, Emma and The Secret Garden:  whether we are going to get these in the UK I do not know.  So far enquiries to Penguin have only produced a rather discouraging "out of office" email.

I think these covers are stunning:  I'm assuming that only cover illustrations are involved rather than a complete new edition, but still well worth getting, I think.  It's the most exciting new cover for some while.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Afternoon walk

I don't tend to photograph the less lovely bits of my walk, but here's the view over to the railway line.

I'm wondering if this is a rhododendron or something less sinister.  If it is a rhododendron, do I go and hoik it out, bearing in mind it might take over the hedgerow if left? 

The sloe blossom is out:

as are the dead nettles,

and the temperature is just right for bathing.

I wonder what the pigs would make of the stream were they able to get to it, but they seem intent on digging for victory.

These stones, whose scale I haven't managed to convey entirely successfully despite the dog, are supposed to be the remains of a Medieval manor house.  As the site is handy for the stream, and for this valley, reasonably well sheltered, it seems at least possible.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

CILP Carnegie Awards

The full shortlist is here:  included is the excellent The Bride's Farewell, by Meg Rossoff, which has been in the to be reviewed pile longer than I care to think about.  It is a fantastic read.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A few more oddities on the search front

Perusing my stats, as you do when you know you should be clearing up the horrendous mess underneath your desk so your feet have somewhere to go, I came across the current recent searches:

bathing machine
detailed story summary War Horse (to which the only answer must be READ THE BOOK)

and one at which I can only boggle, and hope I don't get sent a review copy.  Or perhaps I do want a review copy.  Who knows?

self publishing children's compost book