Friday, June 12, 2020

Cattle Call, Updated

I originally published this post in October 2009, but a couple of interesting tidbits came my way this week, which warranted an update.

Tattersall’s Repository was in the nineteenth century and still is Britain’s foremost auction house for horses (called cattle in that day). And not just any cattle. The description of the drawing from the early nineteenth century states, “Cart and agricultural horses are seldom offered for sale at this place, as the purchasers who attend here are devoted rather to the pursuit of pleasure than of business.”  

Founded in 1766 by Richard Tattersall, formerly a groom of the Duke of Kingston, and operated in the nineteenth century by his son, apparently also Richard, Tattersall’s was the place you went to purchase a saddle horse, carriage horse, hunters (horses you rode while hunting), and racehorses. They also auctioned carriages and coach-harness and hounds. It was located on the south side of Hyde Park Corner until 1865, when it relocated to even bigger digs near Knightsbridge Green. It is still in business in Newmarket. While many a Regency romance has called it Tattersall’s, the group itself has stopped using the possessive.

The space included stables and a central circle for checking out the horses and giving them a try. See the folly in the center? The bust on top is of Prinny, the Prince of Wales.

But the idea wasn’t just to buy a horse back then. A young gentleman might go to Tattersall’s even when it wasn’t a sale day on Monday or Thursday, just to be seen around “sporting” types. Tattersall’s was the home of the Jockey Club, the body that makes the rules for England’s races, so you were sure to run into people famous in the racing world. Then too, for about a pound a year, you could buy a subscription to a private room at Tattersall’s, where you could settle your bets. You see, true gentlemen didn’t carry sums of cash to the track. They met at Tattersall’s a few days later and settled their debts. So you could look like you were wealthy and privileged just by hanging around. 

Approximately 100 horses a week passed “under the hammer” of the auctioneer. Saddle horses cost 40 to 200 pounds, a pair of coach horses from 150 to 420 pounds, outstanding hunters around 350 pounds, and racehorses 1,500 pounds.

Think you’d like to purchase one? Think again. Women were not welcome at Tatt’s. You’d have to send a male agent if you wanted to purchase one of the prime bits of blood there. Or even a horse.

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