Last weekend we went to Bristol Harbour Festival and, as always , had an excellent time. Good food, drink, music, and surprisingly weather, even the bus journey home was enlivened by a child spilling a box of brightly coloured beads and the frantic dash to retrieve them all as they rolled around the floor of the moving vehicle.

The Bristol M Shed museum had just re-opened by the harbour on the site of the old Industrial museum. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit.

Mediaeval spurs and horseshoe

The museum aims to tell the story of the city from prehistory to the present day. The Telegraph reviewed it better here than I can. I was, perhaps predictably drawn to the transport section which featured a full size model of a carriage horse.

The display next to the horse showed a 12th century prick spur and a 14th/15th century long necked rowel spur, a wavy-edged medieval horseshoe, a harness pendant and, most fascinating, an 18th/19th century poultice boot.

The model horse had the following caption :
Henry the horse, early to mid 1900′s
This life-size model of a carriage horse is affectionately known as “Henry”. He may have been made as an early museum model although he could have been used to demonstrate harness at Fullers Carriage Works. He has been copied and used in many other museums around the UK.”

It was such a nice day I didn’t really want to bother a curator about Henry’s somewhat unconventional bitting arrangements….

Upside down Buxton bit

Maybe I should write & tell them that it’s upside down….

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The scarcity of reference material on antique saddlery and lorinery can be frustrating. Old catalogues from any era can be fascinating sources of information – but this one is special.

It is in the prints and books collection of the Victoria & Albert museum. The original can be seen by appointment, it is an album of 306 illustrations by Filippo Orsoni of Mantua. The museum has put a reproduction copy on display in its new Medieval & Renaisance galleries – I took these photos there (not great quality, but the museum has MUCH better images of it here. Only a few pages have been reproduced, it would be fantastic if they could publish a commercial version of the whole thing.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

One of the pages in the book is helpfully dated 1554.

Many of the designs show armour and costumes for parades – the one on the left could, conceivably have been used at a tournament or on the battlefield. The writing at the top of the page is translated by the V & A to read “This is how the war rider is armed, with his horse armed as visible here”.

I find the protective cage stirrups interesting. Also note the long neck of the spur, the theory goes that this enabled the spur to reach up under the bardings or caparison of the horse.

The caption on this second image translates as “This warhorse has a harness of iron plates, wears full armour, gilded and embossed, as visible here.”

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

This is described as a Turkish costume for a pageant. Orsoni offers prospective buyers a choice of red or other coloured silks for the harness coverings and the option of gilded weapons.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

The caption to this illustration is translated by the museum as “This dress is in Bohemian style, and Russian style. It is good for pageant costumes done as visible here, with gold silk feathers for the whole garniture.”
Central and eastern europe were famous for their horsemen, the term “Hussar” probably originated in Hungary (or possibly Serbia). This image does call to mind the Polish Winged Hussars.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“This carriage mare has a harness as visible here. The same outfit can be made of fabric, velvet leather with gilded buckles; these can also be made of leather to make it lighter”
I can’t quite work this one out, I can see a breastcollar, but no surcingle or roller, and are those straps or shafts behind ? Also is that something for coupling the harness in front – is this a tandem arrangement?

 

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

An illustration of a horse with many possible afflictions and remedies listed

 

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“This type of bit, curved as a pitchfork, shaped as capon’s legs…” – the capon-legged bit, a missed marketing opportunity?
Although this bit looks really severe, I believe they were supposed to be used in a similar way to western spade bits, the rider keeping a very loose rein.

Illustration from Orsoni's book of parade armour

“One stirrup here is shown made of gilded iron, or silver, white or black, another is embossed with motifs of leaves”

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