My Grumpy Grandpa & his Shires

Grandpa Dale was a quiet, stern looking man who always wore a shirt, tie and waistcoat on the farm, even on the sunniest days. He was hard but never unkind and I adored him. I followed him about the farm like a puppy, getting under his feet. He always carried a roll of blackcurrant fruit pastels in his pocket and would stop now and then to pop one into my month with his rough shovel-like hands.

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Harvest time: Me & Grandpa (with my brother) c1980

My Grandpa, Wilfred Dale (1903-1995), had been born into a large, hard-working farming family. Farming was his whole life and right up until just a year or two before he passed away, aged 92, he came up to the farm every day to “supervise” my father.

His greatest love however, other than my Grandmother, were his horses. As a young boy he would sometimes do deliveries, the family also made bricks I believe, on a horse and cart in the mornings on his way to school in Falmouth. He told me that when he arrived at the school yard he would turn the horse around and give it a slap on the rear. The horse would make it’s own way home the 3 miles to the farm.

He was a man of few words but ask him about his shires and suddenly he became animated and engaged. It always struck me as amusing that this very tough, Victorian man named all his massive work horses after plants. There was Flower, Buttercup, Primrose, Marigold, Cactus . . .

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Grandpa as a young man with his horse, Flower

Because of him I have always felt a connection to these giant animals and this summer I have taken the opportunity to go to a couple of our local shows to see them and of course all the other birds and beasties too.

I especially enjoyed the Stithians and Camborne shows as I know my Grandpa took his horses to those, and many other shows, back in the 1940s and 50s.

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Grandpa and Cactus at a show c1948

These wonderful animals have thankfully had a bit of a revival in recent years, thanks to some passionate enthusiasts. After the World Wars and the Industrial Revolution they were in danger of vanishing from our countryside.

The Shire was originally brought to this country some time in the Middle Ages to carry our rather weighty armoured knights into battle. Their lovely calm nature but impressive strength made them perfect for farm work and pulling heavy loads – but tractors changed all that of course and the Shire fell out of favour.

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One of Grandpa’s horses decorated with brasses, bells and plumes

Grandpa had to get rid of his horses in the 1960s, the demands of the mechanised farming world had become too great. Although he would never say why, he also gave away all their brasses and leathers too. I think it was perhaps because he just couldn’t bear to keep them. Consequently however as a family we have nothing left of his horses, apart from a few large rusty horseshoes and a couple of the silver cups that they won. But I do have the memory of that sparkle of joy in my grumpy old Grandpa’s eye when he spoke about them.

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Every year I try and go to the Tregony Heavy Horse Show to see these beautiful beasts up close and in all their glory. Above are some of the pictures I have taken over the years. This year it is on August 12th 2018 and I am hoping for sunshine so I can go and sit on a hay bale and feel the thud from their hooves vibrate through my bones as they plod by! Grandpa would have approved!

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The last picture I have of him, taken by me with my old Hanimex camera

For more of my family stories try: My Grandmother & Rope Walk, Falmouth

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10 thoughts on “My Grumpy Grandpa & his Shires

  1. I used to go riding every week at the Little Trevales Farm near Stithians – a horse box would career around Falmouth on a Saturday morning picking up children who would head off with a packed lunch for the day, work in the stables and then get free riding as a reward! No DBS checks, no adults hovering around just a pack of slightly wild children!!
    As a result we would enter all the gymkhana classes at the local shows and Stithians was my absolute favourite! My oldest friend has just been there helping to show sheep from Veryan!!
    Really enjoyed this blog – it’s lovely to get a sense of the mid-Cornwall rural history from the pictures.

  2. We went to the Tregony show this past weekend and absolutely loved it, the Shetlands as well as the Shires. At the end of the show we spent quite a bit of time with a lovely, gentle 6-year old Shire horse and her owner. We also chatted with another member of the Cornish Heavy Horse Society, who was great fun. She urged us to come to Stithians on the Bank Holiday to see the horses there. We definitely will – I can’t wait! (BTW, during our chat I was honoured to be described as Cornish, thanks to my no-compromise attitude to a***hole drivers!).

    1. Haha! Brilliant Ilene, I have been to Tregony on and off for several years, I just love seeing them. And feeling the vibration of their heft through the ground as they go by! 😊

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