A pictorial record of horse manure

I’ve added a selection of horse droppings to the road and yard on “The Stables”. 

Obviously, prototype research was needed first! Period photos from the 1890s-1930s often show droppings in the street, especially where horse-drawn carriages were regularly parked.

"Bicycle couriers with copies of the Manchester Guardian, which are being delivered to Euston station in London for circulation, circa 1920." Getty Images, embedding permitted.

Droppings can sometimes be seen strung out, as seen below. I assume that’s because the “action” happened while the horse was on the move. But just how many horses were involved here?!

"A view along Holland Park Mews, London." Getty Images, embedding permitted. 

After a while, the droppings would get trampled or washed apart. 

"Looking down one of the streets in the village of Hatherop, Gloucestershire, c1860-c1922." Getty Images, embedding permitted.


In the busiest streets of large towns it could sometimes get quite messy, if I interpret the image below correctly. 

"Newcastle ca. 1900. The entrance to Central Station and in the background, St Mary's church and spire." Getty Images, embedding permitted.  


It’s worth pointing out, though, that many 1900s photos of street scenes show just a few droppings or none at all.  The street sweepers must have worked hard in the big cities!

"London. Holborn Viaduct, about 1900." Getty Images. Embedding permitted.

In villages with limited traffic, the manure would presumably have been rarer. And perhaps quickly snatched up for gardens?

"Stratford-Upon-Avon, circa 1900." Getty Images. Embedding permitted. 

Despite busy horse traffic, urban goods yards also appear relatively clean, although sometimes the presence of a photographer may have helped!

"Paddington Goods Depot, 1923.  Horse drawn vehicles carrying Witney blankets"  Getty Images. Embedding permitted.


A study of contemporary photos and horsey websites showed that the colour and texture of droppings varies considerably. One factor is whether the dung is fresh or old. Another is the horse's diet. For example, I understand that low quality hay results in very brown droppings, while green grass will give you an olive tinge. Here's a selection, รก la carte:

Photos from Flickr Creative Commons. Credits clockwise from top left: Ben Schumin; Ben Schumin; David MW; Bernd Hutschenreuther; Jes; Jes.

True dung enthusiasts will therefore need to study the fodder composition of the companies they model, which incidentally also varied across time and place. For example, Tony Atkins writes in "GWR Goods Cartage", Vol. 1, p77:

"The standard feed mixture made up at Didcot for country horses consisted of 22½ % oats, 10 % beans, 20 % maize, 41 % hay and 6 % oat-straw (chaff). For London horses, a slightly different mixture containing 2½ % more oats and 2½ % less hay was issued. The daily allowance of mixed provender varied between 27 lbs to 32 Ibs, depending on the individual horse. On Saturdays and Sundays bran and long hay were additionally fed to all GW horses." 


I didn't go that extent though. Basically, I just tried out some stuff. From earlier experiments I knew that, when tapped repeatedly, the little balls that form in pigment bottles will move to the front and can be gently shaken onto the ground. This is Vallejo Natural Sienna pigment (ref. 73.105).

The balls were secured by floating a little Woodlands Scenic cement alongside, letting the balls soak it up through capillary action. This binds the pigments together and sticks the balls to the ground. Once dry, a brushing of matt varnish sealed them further.

Breaking up some of the pigment balls adds a more scattered impression:


A light dusting of Johnson's baby powder made for a drier, more discrete look.

A lick of dry-brushed paint resulted in a darker and more compact appearance. An almost black shade would be quite common,  but that turned out to be rather distracting. Little black spots tend to catch the eye! So I went for lighter brownish shades. 

Standard GWR stable blocks had channels that helped carry droppings and urine out of the stable block and into the sewer. So there I went for a glitzy Wet Dung look, using a bit of gloss varnish.


I used additional pigments around the edges to indicate a dissolving dropping. 


Arguably, my droppings are on the large side (quiet at the back!). But I think a slightly stylized look can sometimes work OK, as it helps the viewer interpret what they are seeing. Also, have you ever stood next to a shire horse? 

 Not quite a shire horse. House-trained though. Let's see the Midland beat that!

 Although I like an uncluttered look, it's probably all still a bit too clean.


I'm currently working on that. These are pigments brushed into the setts, after first adding a tiny drop of Woodlands Scenic Cement and letting it almost dry. The idea is to represent residue from past droppings. Must add some bits of straw too.

Meanwhile, Stableman John Rokesmith has had enough of it all. Not what he had in mind when he joined the railways. '"Romance of the footplate", my arse!'