You learn something new every day – today I learned that leather slipper stirrups were also known as “Devon” stirrups and I learned rather too much about Basil leather.

Leather slipper stirrup

This is a rather worn leather slipper stirrup – it was an early form of sidesaddle safety stirrup, the rider’s foot could not get caught in it in the event of a fall.

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

This illustration comes from a 1901 Bliss & Co Catalogue which gives various safety stirrup options

Catalogue listing

Various options are offered for the metal stirrups : “Malleable” (which sounds faintly alarming – who wants a bendy stirrup iron ? Maybe they mean something else), this could be polished or nickel plated, or else Steel, Nickel Plated Steel or Nickel.

The leather covered options could use Hogskin (today we’d probably say pigskin) or “Basil”.

I had no idea what Basil was, but found an excellent French website ( that gave an excellent explanation & history. It is a leather made from small hides such as sheep, tanned using plant based agents. Its reputation deteriorated from the mid 19th Century when the wool was removed from the skins by using bacteria, which also affected the quality of the hides. For this reason Basil was a cheaper option than Hogskin


I recently bought a silver slipper stirrup from an online auction – I probably should have read the description more carefully, I was a little surprised when it arrived …

Silver slipper stirrups

My new slipper stirrup next to a full size example

I don’t know if it was made as a toy or a tourist souvenir, but it isn’t alone, I am forming quite a collection :

Miniature stirrups

Miniature stirrups

The other examples are Japanese stirrups or abumi

Full size & Miniature Abumi

Abumi or Samurai stirrups

And wooden stirrups from Chile

Miniature wooden stirrups from Chile

Wooden Huaso stirrups from Chile


OK, this isn’t exactly a John le Carré story – it is, however an interesting glimpse into someone’s life…

I recently bought a collection of cowboy / western gear – it’s always intriguing to wonder how it ended up here in the south west of England. This time I have at least part of an answer….

Early 20th century cowboy gear

Buermann spurs, stirrups and Romal reins

Packed in with the Buermann spurs, stirrups and romal reins there was a note to the purchaser :

“To the purchaser of these cowboy reins, stirrups and spurs.

They belonged to my Great Uncle Percy Brown who lived in Southend-on-Sea.
In the early twentieth century my uncle went to the USA to gain some experience of a different life before settling down to be a master tailor like his father.

He was in San Fransisco during the 1906 earthquake and later became a cowboy.
He crossed Death Valley in a stagecoach and shot a rattlesnake. The skin was displayed in a frame on his wall when he returned home.

When he returned home he married Miss Constance Fenton. They lived in Leigh-on-Sea where he had a tailor’s shop. Connie and Percy never had children of their own but adored their nephews and nieces especially my mother. He made the suit that she wore for her 1944 wedding”

Gosh… I’m exhausted just reading about Percy’s life, he must have been quite a man. And one couldn’t possibly separate his spurs, stirrups and reins


This old spur came as part of a collection of rather more glamorous 18th Century examples

18th century spur

Frankly I wondered why the previous collector had bothered to keep it. Yes, it was old, likely late 18th century, but not an unusual design, and not a pair.

The obsessive side of me decided to photograph it for my records anyway. Under the bright lights in the light tent I thought I could make out some engraving…. (it may help to click on this image for a larger version)

18th century spur

It was pretty difficult to read, but after a while fiddling with the lights and the camera focus I could make out
“S. Allen 2d Reg” on one side and “COnL *L*D* 1780″, the previous owner had also engraved “S. ALLEN inside the heelband.

Engraving on spur

Please click to see large image of engraving

engraving on 18th century spur

Please click to see large image of engraving

Apart from the name & rank this didn’t make much sense to me, I’d heard of 2nd Regiments, but not 2d…, but after lots of research a quick delve into Wikipedia, I think I have my answer. The spur seems to have belonged to a colonel in the second regiment of the Light Dragoons during the American Revolutionary War (or War of Independence ? please correct me if I’m wrong). The 2d was a common abbreviation of second at the time.

So, it isn’t as ordinary as it seemed. I still don’t know who Colonel S. Allen was. And I have even less of a clue how it ended up here in England – was it found by a British soldier at the time ? Or was it part of a collection in the USA & got moved over here much later ? More questions than answers, I’m afraid


It is a frustrating fact that very few old sidesaddle safety stirrups will fit a modern boot.
So I was very pleased to find TWO large Cope safety stirrups in the bottom of a case of tack

Cope Safety stirrups

Just a minute – two – as in a pair….
Sure enough, on the underside of the tread one is marked “Nearside” and the other “Offside”

Stamp on stirrup tread

Offside stirrup

Stamp on stirrup

Nearside stirrup

Alice Hayes described the opening mechanism of these stirrups better than I can (see a previous blog here), and pointed out that they can only work in one direction – hence the curved part of the tread is stamped “TOE”

Stamp on safety stirrup

'Toe' and 'Heel' stamped on stirrup

If the rider falls and their foot remains caught in the stirrup the inner arch of the stirrup rotates backwards and releases the outer edge of the tread.

Safety stirrups

Stirrup mechanisms open

They are also stamped “B.Cope’s Patent No. 8940″, “Best Reliagine” (probably a tradename for a nickel alloy) and “45297″. Benjamin Cope of Bloxwich patented this stirrup design in 1895 , one can read the full patent description courtesy of Google here

On reflection it seems that these stirrups were intended for someone riding astride, and given their large size (their interior width is 4 inches or 10.2cm) probably a man.

However wouldn’t they be perfect for an ambidextrous sidesaddle rider ?


Compass on a whip handle
Several years ago I wrote about a whip with a compass in the handle : Read more here

So, I was pleased to find this Champion & Wilton saddle flask with a space in its lid for a compass :

Champion & Wilton saddle flask

Champion & Wilton flask

Champion & Wilton were a prestigious company of saddlers, famous for sidesaddles, but I wonder if this flask was a military officer’s private purchase.
There are more details at

If you find yourself in Trafalgar Square I would recommend visiting the crypt of St.Martin-in-the-fields for several reasons :
It is a remarkable brick built vaulted structure
They have an excellent cafe
And high up on one of the pillars is this stone, in which is carved the name of Benjamin Latchford, Churchwarden

Inscription in the crypt of St Martins

Could this be the same Benjamin Latchford who published “The Loriner : Opinions and Observations on bridle-bits and the suitable bitting of horses, with illustrations” in 1871 ? The short answer is yes.

Latchford's book The Loriner

The Loriner gives Latchford’s address as 11, Upper St. Martins Lane. It was evidently a popular book and ran to several editions, mine dates from 1883. In fact one can still buy re-prints today. The illustrations are excellent & Latchford had some interesting ideas for his time including the now famous line “I frequently tell my friends that out of every twenty bits I make, nineteen are for men’s heads and not more than one really for the horse’s head”, although he also wrote “the horse’s mouth and temper may be compared to a lock, so made that only one key will fit it…” The Loriner also includes Don Juan Segundo’s treatise “A New Method of Bitting Horses”.

Thinking about Latchford’s links with St Martins Lane reminded me of one of my bits that has confused me for a while. It is a check snaffle stamped “Latchford” & “Picadilly”
A steel check bit or snaffle

A little internet research revealed several Latchfords who were bit and spurmakers :

1791 The Universal British Directory lists a John Latchford, Bridle Bit Maker at 8, Little St.Martins Lane

1819 The London Post Office Directory lists Edward Latchford at 12, Little St.Martins Lane and John Latchford at 36 Piccadilly

1829 John Latchford, a bit and spur maker of Piccadilly appears in the records of the Old Bailey (Read the proceedings here). He had been robbed, but the thief was found not guilty, perhaps my favourite line explains this : “Prisoner. He was quite tipsy – he was there before me. Witness. I was not tipsy – he was there when I went down stairs; I do not know whether he was tipsy – I was not; I had not drank more than six glasses of wine.”

1833 John Latchford’s luck wasn’t improving – he appears in the Bankrupt Directory on August 6

1840 Benjamin Latchford was a witness in a court case – he stated his occupation as working for his uncle (presumably Edward) at St Martins Lane

1843 The Post Office Directory records Edward Latchford at 12 Little St Martins Lane and John Latchford still at 36, Piccadilly

1871 Benjamin Latchford published “The Loriner” with Don Juan de Segundo

1891 The Saddlery & Harness Journal reported that the Queen’s bit maker Mr Chavasse of Walsall, the principal of Messrs Latchford & Co of Upper St, Martins Lane, WC London was made an honorary freeman of the Loriners Company

Spurs by Latchford

Spurs by Latchford

spur by Latchford

Buxton by Latchford

Buxton by Latchford

Page from the Loriner

Page from the Loriner

And Benjamin Latchford’s link with graves ? He and Mr Petter, his fellow churchwarden were named in a court case concerning burials in a piece of land that the church was selling. It was thought that only a few burials had taken place there & permission was given to move those. The vicar of St Pancras brought the case when he believed that four or five hundred bodies had been disinterred. The whole case is reported in “The Jurist”


This fascinating advert appears in the Bath Directory of 1846 :

Advert for Victorian Riding School

It reads :

CARTER’S Riding School, Livery & Commission Stables,
Top of Russell Street, Bath

Ladies & Gentlemen taught the Polite Art of Riding by an Experienced Master

Horses & Carriages of every description let for hire

Horses Broke & Trained for every purpose

Job and Post Master

Capital Boxes for Hunters

Families Supplied with Hay & Corn – at the Market Price”

And (thanks to Andrew Swift’s “On Foot in Bath” ) I found its original entrance.

Russell Street old site of Riding School

To give some idea of what the school may have looked like this is an image of the slightly later Hollandsche Manege in Amsterdam

Hollandsche Manege in Amsterdam

Intriguingly it was also used as a bicycle riding school at one point. Early bicycles or velocipedes were difficult to learn to ride, in a publication of 1869 the author “Velox” wrote :
“the velocipedes are positively to be found in our streets by hundreds, and our gymnasiums and riding-schools are thronged by anxious learners and expectant possessors of the new iron horse and carriage combined. “
There is also an excellent blog about the earlier “Dandy Horse” here

I thought I had found another image when I read about a “Portrait of Lizard, the pillar horse, in Capt. Carter’s riding-school” by William Sawrey Gilpin RA, but it dates from 1763, so not the same riding school. Good name for a horse though. One of the dictionary definitions of pillar is “The centre of the volta, ring, or manege ground, around which a horse turns”, or it could refer to the posts between which the horse stands in some forms of classical dressage training.

There were other riding schools in Bath. In “The Strangers’ Assistant & Guide to Bath” of 1773 R. Cruttwell wrote

“In rainy weather thofe who chufe to take exercife or learn to ride, may do it very conveniently in a large, commodious Riding-fchool, kept by Mr. Scrace, in Montpelier Row. The days for Gentlemen are Mondays, Wednefdays, and Fridays; and for Ladies, Tuefdays, Thurfdays, and Saturdays. The terms for thofe that learn to ride and ride the managed horfes, are three guineas per month or 5s. 3d. a leffon. Gentlemen whofe horfes are kept at the Riding-houfe, are allowed to ride them in the fchool gratis.” (sorry, I can’t resist a long S)

Riding Scool Montpelier Row BathThe riding school in Montpelier, Bath from Bath In Time

In the 1841 Bath Directory John Stevenson is listed as the proprietor

Old Riding School in BathThe riding school in 1890 from Bath In Time

There was a neighbouring pub on Julian Road called “The Manege Horse” – it was sometimes known as “The Managed Horse”. The riding school was demolished in 1973.


A maritime exhibition in a museum of archaeology might not be the most obvious place to find a silver stirrup.
However this was part of the exhibition of maritime archaeology at Lisbon’s Archaeological Museum

Silver stirrup with shell decoration

18th Century silver stirrup from shipwreck

It is catalogued as a silver stirrup dating from the 18th century, measuring 14cm x 12.5cm x 9.7cm and weighing 667grams.

It was the first object which identified the archaeological site of the wreck of the San Pedro de Alcantara.

Silver stirrup from shipwreck

18th century silver stirrup

The stirrup is heavily decorated. There is a suspension loop, the sides of the arch have masks at their top ends these have beards which flow down the flared sides of the arch. The front of the stirrup is protected by two shells making it a “cage stirrup” ( or in portuguese “de janela” or window stirrup ).
It was made in Peru, then a Spanish possession. Shells were frequently used in the baroque style of decoration and the fashion for the baroque lasted around a century longer in Peru than in Spain.
However, scallop shells also frequently appeared on harness decorations – a reference to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. There were one hundred licensed scallop shell sellers around the cathedral of Santiago in 1200AD, it may be that the shell refers back to an earlier pre-Christian religious ritual around the journey of the dead, read more here

It seems rather ironic that a stirrup with a maritime theme should end up in a famous shipwreck.

Pillemont painting of the wreck of the San Pedro de Alcantara
The wreck of the San Pedro de Alcantara by Jean-Baptiste Pillement

The San Pedro de Alacantara was a ship of the line of the Royal Spanish Navy. It was built in Cuba and launched in 1771. The ship was a prototype and there were problems with its design.
It was active in the Pacific Ocean during the American Revolutionary war, when Spain also declared war against Britain in 1779.
In 1783 it set sail for Cadiz in Spain from the port of Callao, very heavily laden with gold, copper, ancient pottery and prisoners from the Tupac Amaru Inca rebellion. It seems that the ship may have been overloaded with heavy cargo , partly because of the end of the American War of Indepence, partly because the British had finally lifted the blockades on South American ports and partly because of the Inca rebellion. It had to stop en route to Spain for repairs and eventually was wrecked at 10.30pm on February 2nd 1786 at Peniche, north of Lisbon.
One hundred and fifty two people died in the wreck including seventeen Tupac Amaru rebellion prisoners who were still manacled at the time, fourteen officers, five women and one hundred and twenty eight crew members. Shortly after the wreck many divers arrived from all over Europe to salvage valuables, they retrieved most of the guns and a large quantity of gold and copper ….

but not this one piece of silver, which stayed submerged for another two hundred or so years


Antique beagling whip



This little beagling whip came from an online auction.
It had looked great in its photo.
And indeed it has an antler handle well carved as a hound’s head ( complete with the surprised expression that the dogs on these whip handles always seem to sport ).
It has a lovely collar decorated with a scene of a hound chasing a fox by a gate.
The short shaft or stock is made of golden malacca cane with a good patina. The rawhide open keeper needs re-binding but is otherwise fine.
The only problem was with the hound’s eyes – or more accurately, eye.
It had lost one of its original glass eyes, leaving an empty right socket that looked downright sinister.

Left eye of whip handle

The left eye is present and correct

Whip handle missing hound's eye

Just a socket where the right eye should be

It looks like something out of a horror film – so – what to do ?

This was my first thought – not exactly practical, but it amused me for five minutes :

Beagling whip with eye patch

Actually, I think he looks quite rakish.

But obviously that wasn’t the answer. On careful inspection of his remaining eye it looked to be made of glass. So I hit the internet.
I now know that there are many different sort of glass eyes out there – eyes for actual people, eyes for taxidermists, eyes for toys, eyes for the macabre end of the interior decorating spectrum.
After a LOT of searching I found some suppliers of 3mm diameter German handblown glass eyes.

Whip with glass eyes

And they were too small….
Back to the internet, different company, 4mm diameter eyes.
I’m spending so much time on this whip I almost feel like I should be giving it a name.

Whip with glass eyes

A selection of 4mm eyes

The eyes are handmade and vary fractionally in size. So I chose the one that most closely fits the socket.

Beagling whip with two eyes

The iris is a bit paler and a bit smaller than the original eye, but I think it’s the closest that I’m going to get. I’m certainly not going to try replacing the original eye. I still need to find some sort of cement to hold it in place

And then all I have to do is get the keeper re-bound