Old Billy: The World's Oldest Horse

One day in 1760, in an English village called Woolston in Lancashire Country, a horse was born.  There are no records to indicate that anyone expected this horse would be at all above average, but in the end the horse went down in history as the oldest horse in the world.  The average lifespan of a horse is 20-25 years, but this horse lived to be a wizened 62 years old.

There are few records that remain about the horse, who became known as "Old Billy".  We don't know exactly what breed Billy was, but he was said to look like a cob/shire horse and that he was black with a white blaze.  The only existing image of Billy is a lithograph taken in 1820.  In the lithograph, Billy is standing with Squire Henry Harrison who had known the horse for 59 years.  They are standing in a field in Warrington.  The Warrington Pasrish Church is visible in the background.  This lithograph may be viewable in the Grange Sports and Social Club and in the Warrington Museum.

So what does a horse do for 62 years?  Old Billy was a barge horse owned by the Mersey and Irwell Navagation.  In the 1700s, horse-drawn barges were used to transport cargo throughout England by way of canals.  The horse would be rigged up to the barge and travel along an adjacent towpath to pull the barge along the canal.  This was a very common job for horses in situations where using a sail boat was impractical.  Barge horses became obsolete, however, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the boat engines.  The railway also had a hand in retiring Old Billy, as its speed and efficiency made slow barge transport outdated.

While Old Billy's birth may not have been recorded, his death certainly was.  As the oldest horse in the world, his passing on November 27, 1822 made the papers and was recorded in the Annals of Manchester.  2 years later, on August 30, 1824, Old Billy's head was presented to the Manchester Museum by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company.

Despite the interest generated over Old Billy by his death at such an old age, there is little recorded evidence generally available and many questions still to be asked, by any who are interested now.  How many years did Billy work as a Barge horse for Mersey and Irwell?  Why did they present his head to the Manchester Museum?  And, of course, what did they do with the head in the 2 years between his death and his enshrinement in the museum?

  • http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_old_billy_the_horse_look_like
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Billy
  • http://www.archive.org/stream/annalsofmanchest00axon/annalsofmanchest00axon_djvu.txt

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