Pictures John Hopkins
AS part of Heritage Open Days an “Old Billy Local History Day” took place on Victoria Park, yesterday, Sunday.
The family-friendly event commemorated the 200th anniversary of Old Billy’s death.
Old Billy was the longest living horse on record (1760-1822) – aged 62 years when he died. This was a chance to learn about Old Billy’s life as a working horse interpreted through theatre, storytelling, crafts and much more. There was also be local heritage stalls as well as food and drinks.
Old Billy was a barge horse from Woolston who worked for the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company until 1819 and made it into the record books as the holder of the record for equine longevity, though some sceptics have questioned whether he really did live to such an advanced age.
There are well-recorded instances from the 20th century of domesticated horses living into their 40s and even 50s, but none has ever matched Old Billy.
The evidence for Old Billy having achieved his great age is good, thanks to the appearance at the start and end of his life of the same man, Mr Henry Harrison. Old Billy was bred by a farmer, Edward Robinson, at Wild Grave Farm, Woolston, near Warrington, in 1760. Henry Harrison was 17 when he began to train Billy as a plough horse at the farm and Billy was just two years old, according to Harrison’s account.
Due to his celebrity, there were various accounts of Old Billy’s life, from which it is possible to piece together the facts. He was also the subject of paintings by several 19th-century artists, the best-known being Charles Towne and William Bradley. Bradley was a rising star portraitist from Manchester when he painted Old Billy in his retirement in 1821, the year before Old Billy’s death. According to one account, Old Billy was in the care of Henry Harrison then, who had been given the job by the navigation company to care for the horse as “a special charge to one of their old servants, like the horse, also a pensioner for his long service, to look after him.”