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Animal Week kicks off at the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre with mighty hooves!

Posted on - 10th July 2018
Countryfile Live Oxfordshire

 As people around the country witness their own gardens changing colour from vibrant green to a pale, parched burnt-yellow, we are all saddened by the physical effects of a drought. Alistair and Janet King not also breed champion shires, like Loch Anna, who appeared on Moorcroft’s vase to mark the anniversary of the Shire Horse Society and other wonderful shires, but also plant woodland areas and wetlands to truly give nature a home. In truth, had they not had the foresight to create lakes and woodlands, our wildlife would not be so well protected in this current climate. Many may not know that the British Shire, our country’s own work-horse of the past that transferred beer to breweries of old to enable people to relax with friends and enjoy the fruit of their labour, but also ploughed many a field, is now an endangered species. With the wisdom of people like Victoria Clayton, Secretary of the Shire Horse Society, and breeders like Alistair King and Victoria’s own father, the future of this treasured horse may be secured.

The Society's principle charitable objective is the improvement and promotion of English cart horses, more particularly the Shire horse and, to this end, maintaining a Stud Book in which are entered the names of all registered Shire horses complying with the conditions for the time being applied by the Society. At the Shire Horse Society’s National Show in March at the Stafford Showground HRH The Countess of Wessex supported the work of the Society by taking time out of her busy life to support the charities work, which unless you are part of the shire horse-fraternity, would pass relatively unnoticed. Indeed, HRH Prince Charles is spearheading a campaign to save rare Shire horses this week. They are the magnificent beasts of burden that used to be seen in fields up and down the country but today only a handful of Shires remain. Indeed, so dire has their situation become that HRH Prince Charles has called for the horses to be protected as an endangered species in a foreword to a new book about London’s last working herd by Daily Express photographer Paul Stewart. With just 1,500 of them left across the country – 300 fewer than the global population of giant pandas – their plight could hardly be more urgent. 

Writing in Stewart’s aptly titled The Last Herd, HRH Prince Charles says: “In the 1890s there were estimated to be one million Shire horses in the country, but the internal combustion engine proved to be even more powerful and after the Second World War the breed became all but redundant and virtually died out.”  Pictured below, HRH The Countess of Wessex.


The history of the horses dates back nearly 500 years to the point when Henry VIII decided to develop the ultimate warhorse. He introduced the Breed of Horses Act in 1535 to halt a marked decline in the quality and size of horses.  Three centuries after the Shire horses were introduced for battlefields, they were sent to labour in agriculture but not let us forget that this included manufacturing. Moorcroft has created handmade pottery in the Arts and Craft’s tradition for over a century, and whilst we champion the ideology of the Arts and Crafts movement which advocates for handmade pieces of art for people to enjoy through the generations as items of beauty, whilst still appreciating the need for manufacturing on industrial scales, we would not be here today if it was not for the quiet and humble nature of the Shire horse, and no doubt, the patronage from HRH Queen Mary a century ago, whose own selfless efforts would have helped many a company in Staffordshire and aspiring artists in the region following her occasional visits to our region and many others besides. This is her legacy and the legacy of our own Royal Family today, and it is a good one.

During the time of the Industrial Revolution, where thousands of bottle ovens would have belched fumes into the atmosphere in Stoke-on-Trent, known colloquially as ‘The Potteries’,  a far cry, I might add, from William Moorcroft’s Arts and Crafts dreams inspired by the work of his father a botanical artist, the Shire horses played a crucial role in transporting, for example, coal from mines to fire our colossal kilns of old. Now of course, Parliament has worked over the years to ease atmospheric pollution through the Clean Air Acts, and Moorcroft’s own colossal Grade II listed bottle oven which bursts into the Staffordshire skyline is considered a Heritage heirloom. Indeed, a century on and Moorcroft is able to go full circle and support The Shire Horse Society raise money through its art to assist the Shire Horse Society in protecting the species now industrialisation has progressed to electric fired-kilns, and the poor horses were no longer needed. In truth, as Industrailisation progressed to mass production, and with further imports from around the world, the shire began a steady rate of decline. We really ought to help them for what the shire has done for our nation. In truth, many of our own members within the Moorcroft Club are also members of the RSPB and RHS, other charities that work like tirelessly, like the shires, to carry the burden of protecting the natural world. Moorcroft’s connection to the shire is in itself is a beautiful story. So let us all run with the spirit of Loch Anna and appreciated the natural world as a huge blessing. Interestingly, it was once discovered that the horses could carry move 50 times more weight on water than they could on roads, and canals became popular and the horses became a familiar sight on towpaths, dragging narrow boats laden with goods. Now, we sincerely thank HRH Prince Charles for all the work he has done for Burslem Regeneration, and supporting the Potteries generally, and note with a warm smile that he to, is also supporting the Shire Horse Society. No doubt through the efforts of a few men and women, the Great Shires will rise in number again - they have more significance as a British breed than we can ever fully appreciate.

The evening ended at the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre with a presentation by Moorcroft designer, Kerry Goodwin, of her design Loch Anna to Victoria Clayton on behalf of the Shire Horse Society, after attendees had enjoyed an informative talk (with impromptu hilarious interjections of tiny piglets running across the yard and noisy young colts admiring the mares being plaited for show) by Alistair King, wandered the nature reserve to discover shires in their paddocks, owls, wild cats, foxes rescued by the RSPB,  a family of otters and so much more. Cotebrook and the Shire Horse Society are without doubt, national treasures.




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