History of the London Harness Horse Parade

Steeped in tradition, the parade offers onlookers a glimpse into a world gone by and for those participating, a chance to show off their best turnouts as well as meet up with friends and fellow enthusiasts. The Parade in its present form is actually an amalgam of two traditional parades – the London Cart Horse Parade, which was founded in 1885, and the London Van Horse Parade, which was founded in 1904.

The Cart Horse Parade was traditionally held on Whit Monday and its founder chairman was Sir Walter Gilbey Bart, whose descendant, Walter Gilbey, chairs the current parade committee. The objectives of the parade were to improve the general condition and treatment of London ‘s working cart or heavy horses and to encourage drivers to take a humane interest in the welfare of their animals. The first parade was held in Battersea Park and attracted 102 entries and the following year, entries were accepted from those who owned carthorses stabled within a seven mile radius of Charing Cross , attracting 383 turnouts. In 1888 the parade moved to Regents Park and after the presentation of prizes, turnouts would then drive around the park before setting off across central London . Due to the popularity of the parade, entries were limited until 1914 to 1,000 but in time, with the introduction of motor vehicles and mechanisation in general, and the resulting demise of horses as a means of transport, the entry gradually decreased.

The Van Horse Parade started in 1904 with similar objectives to the Cart Horse Parade and has been held every Easter Monday since then, except during the two wars. The largest parade was in 1914 when 1,259 animals were exhibited. But, like the Cart Horse Parade, by the 1960s numbers were diminishing so in 1966, the decision was made to amalgamate the two parades forming the London Harness Horse Parade, which would also be held on Easter Monday.

Having been founded to encourage good welfare for London ‘s working horses, the parade now reflects changing habits in carriage driving, which to most of the exhibitors is a hobby. There is still a wide variety of breeds of animal – ranging from donkeys, to Dutch Friesians and Gelderlander’s, to the magnificent heavy horses, which remain a favourite with the crowds. However, some turnouts do come from working homes, such as the Shires from the Fullers Breweries, or the Friesians from Harrods and Cribb’s Undertakers. In addition to these commercial turnouts, private driving exhibits are welcomed and now form the majority of turnouts in the parade.

Although no longer being held in London the parade retains its strong London identity, and exhibitors will travel from as far afield as Cornwall, Ireland and Cumbria to participate. With this change of location to the South of England Showground we hope to retain our valued existing competitors, some of which have been attending for generations, but also attract new competitors, and continue to expand as the parade moves into the next stage of its history.