The only horse to ever to pull it cart north bound on the M6. from J13 up to J14
I knew the old gypsy was about to "skin me" with what he wanted for the horse, and gradually got round to a price three times what I had in mind.
Boswell the old GypsyIt was around 1975 when we heard that Boswell the old gypsy who lived on his own permanent site just outside Stafford wanted to sell his horse.
He was getting too old and infirm to work collecting scrap iron, as he had done round our area for years, he had got two daughters who used to work with him at times and knew the job. But they "modernised" and got a transit van, and found they did not have to work out in all weathers, and they seemed to be more the "rag and bone man" type of gypsies.
So I called to see him in his old bow top wagon, where he had slept underneath it all his life, and his misses and the children had slept inside.He was inside with his little cast iron stove going and a pipe in his mouth, Being the bloke he was, I knew he was about to "skin me" with what he wanted for the horse, and gradually got round to a price three times what I had in mind.
We walked across some rough ground towards where the horses were tethered, each one staked down to its own circle. The one we walked to was a half legged honey coloured dunn with beautiful dark main and tail and dark lower half to her legs and feathers. She was tethered to a shiny chain , the chain was directly round her neck with a nut and bolt through the links, the reason for this I discovered much later when we tried to tie her up by a stable.
She did not like being tied short to a wall of fence, and she would pull backwards till the rope was tight and the lift her head with a snatch and break whatever was the weakest be it the fence, the ring on the wall, the rope or more usually it was the head collar.
Back to Boswell, he stuck and stuck on his price till I asked him to throw in the little four wheeled flat wagon and the harness, and he would have a deal. I won't divulge how much he charged, but he seemed pleased, and the cash was duly paid, and the horse "Dolly" was walked home.
Dolly enjoyed the freedom of being loose for the first time in her life, in a small paddock close to the house; she was eventually mixed with a couple more ponies who she dominated beyond belief. It was okay through the grazing season, but when hay or a bit of corn was brought into the field she was first in there, she would stand over the food and even we dare not go near her, turning her backside round to you and threatening with her heals. She could be caught all right with a bit of corn in the bucket and keep hold of the bucket while slipping a head collar on and she led okay.
Our girls soon got a saddle on her and a bridle that had no blinkers, this she was not used to, and she soon got used to the idea of being under the saddle.
One slight problem when walking her on the roads, particularly narrow country lanes, was that she insisted on walking four foot away from the kerb or the hedge bank. This she had done all her working life pulling the gypsy's dray, and no matter how much the girls pulled on the left reign, all she did was turn her head round to the side and keep walking four foot from the side of the road. She never lost that habit all the while we had her.
When Boswell had her they trotted off as far as ten miles out from his camp, on the search for scrap iron. On this one occasion he was out at Penkridge, and had set off back home when he realised that the M6 had just opened a few days before. Not being able to read or write, he could not read the big signs, so proceeded to trot Dolly up the slip road of junction 13, his camp was half a mile off junction 14 so this was a good short cut for him and his horse and cart.
At this point I must say that it was only the short five mile section between 13 & 14 that was opened, by the then minister of transport just a few weeks before.
They had trotted along the hard shoulder and had got about half way when they were stopped by the police; all they could do was escort them the remaining way to J14 and home. This incident was reported on all the television news stations that night and in the new papers the following day as well.
Dolly was the first and only horse to use the M6 motorway. By today's standards it was very quiet only local traffic using it and also at that time there was no upper speed limit, and it attracted all the "boy racers"
In time I acquired an old float, one that had been used to take milk churns to the station and pigs to market, not anything flash. It had at some point in time had its wooden wheels replaced with blow up rubber tyres, it had still got its original springs which made it a very comfortable ride.
Our girls would be 12 and 14 years old and they used to take Dolly out with the float, the only seat was a broad plank wood, then had the long leather reigns through a guide on the front board of the float.
They only walked her, but were often gone two or more hours at a time, the one time when they got home they were most exited about two daffodils they had picked. "You will never guess where these are from" and we did not guess. It turned out that they had travelled about six or seven mile round trip through Ranton, a neighbouring village, and just outside this village lived the "Black Sabbath" or most likely the lead member of that group, no other than Ozzy Osborne and his wife Sharron Osborne, and the little kids Jack and his sister. The girls were big fans of Black Sabbath and played their records at home very loud.
It turned out that while they were spying on the house they decided to take home a souvenir, the two daffodils. Before they could set off home again, with the excitement they had to have a wee, and where better to have a wee than through a hole in the bottom of this old float.
While I'm name dropping we used to have Chris Tarrant come to our local pub, and Lord Lichfield I remember got refused entry to the Holly Bush one night because he was wearing genes, the land lord did not recognise him, and would not let him in. They had a strict dress code to keep out the "ruffians".
However back to Dolly, this is the same story in verse, which I had written some while ago
I Remember Old Dolly The Gypsy Horse
We bought a horse her name was Dolly, a half legged mare was she,
A honey light coloured Dun, black mane n tail black feathers to the knee,
She had big feet and took big shoes, over six inches and more across,
And walk with feet dead in line, deliberate strides as if I'm the boss.
Bought her off a gypsy, the Boswells from by Stafford Common,
There they had a bow top van, they had a permanent site for one,
Grazing enough for three horses, and a flat four wheel dray,
This they collected scrap iron, from far and wide they stray.
It was a day when he took old Dolly, with the four wheel dray,
All the way to Penkridge, collecting scrap along the way,
On the way back he noticed that the new motorway just opened,
So along the hard shoulder he trundled, him his journey shortened.
The short M6 Transport Minister, opened only a few days ago,
Didn't expect to see a horse and cart, police they told him no,
Couldn't read or write you see, big signs at Dunston mounted,
Continued up to Creswell junction, police him home escorted.
On midland news it made headlines, across the country too,
The only horse and cart to roam M6, to Boswell and Dolly it's new,
Now this same horse and cart, I bought it off him for a price,
His younger generation shunned this transport, Transit van surfice.
This horse it had a mind all its own, would not share its hay,
Stood in the middle of the pile, teeth and heels would kick away,
Every one and everything, defend it to the death,
No wonder she looked so big and healthy, savoured every breath.
First time we put on a saddle, she had no blinkers not perturb,
Walking down the road she walked, two paces from the kerb,
This was all of her experience, of pulling in the shaft,
No pulling on the reigns would make her change her way of graft.
For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
for the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
and for the want of a horse the rider was lost,
being overtaken and slain by the enemy,
all for the want of care about a horse shoe nail.Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)