Horses and Carters

Horses and Carters is presented by SallyAnn Webster from Liverpool Record Office and forms part of the Liverpool Through the Archives series, produced for the Connecting Our Communities project…

Liverpool’s carters and their horses were famous for moving heavier loads than was common elsewhere, yet the men also had a good reputation for the treatment of their animals. The city’s transport system was reliant on horses into the twentieth century, and carters could wield considerable influence in labour disputes as a result.

A number of factors made Liverpool an unusual place for short-distance transport, and particularly suited to heavy carting. There was no direct railway connection to most of the dock estate, so goods had to be carted out of the docks to warehouses or to railway goods stations, which were usually just inland of the Dock Road. In addition, Liverpool City Council and the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board both invested heavily in granite setts for road surfacing, which, combined with special horse-shoes, gave horses a powerful grip.

View of Old Dock showing Custom House 1721

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP/42/28/1

View of the Liverpool Timber Docks 1906

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP/46/1/7

View of carter on Dock Road 1950s

View of carter on Dock Road 1950s

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP /46/1/57

The following photograph shows Garston Docks in the winter of 1895 giving you some idea of the harsh conditions both man and horse struggled to work in

Garston Dock showing the great frost of 1895

Garston Dock showing the great frost of 1895

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP/43/17/1

1939 Transport of heavy timber

1939 Transport of heavy timber

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP/35/9/3

All of the above images are available to view at Central Library Archives.


  • 352 Liverpool Archive Prints & Small Photographs Collection
  • Liverpool in print reading guides (Archives)

Suggested Reading

  • Harry Wooding, Liverpool’s working horses (Liverpool, 1991). Detailed personal account by a young Liverpool carter; has an appendix with lists of firm, horses and carters.
  • Edward N. Clark, The carthorse and the quay: The story of the Liverpool cart horses(Garstang, 1989). Excellent study with great detail and photographs, tracing the rise and fall of the industry.
  • Paul Smith, ‘“A proud Liverpool union”: The Liverpool and District Carters’ and Motormen’s Union, 1889-1946’, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, 16 (2003), pp. 1-38. A recent study of the carters’ efforts to unionise, and the transition to motor transport in the twentieth century.
  • J. Dampier, Kingdom of the horse (1987). Useful general study with excellent photographs, mainly drawn from the Manchester area.