The Fell Pony Museum: 17th century
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Galloways and Fell Galloways as native utility horses

Literary references 1597 --


The earliest reference I know (at present) to the Galloway is in a letter of 1584 from Archbishop Adamson of St Andrews, Scotland, to Queen Elizabeth I's Secretary Walsingham, asking for a favour and offering to make Walsingham a present of "a Galloway nag". (Donaldson).

In Shakespeare's Henry IV part II, (1597), Falstaff's sidekick "Ancient Pistol" visits Falstaff at Mistress Quickly's tavern in Eastcheap. Pistol is described as a "swaggering rascal" by the landlady. He starts making advances towards Doll Tearsheet, who is Falstaff's fancy. He brags of his sexual prowess, claiming that he is superior to "packhorses, and hollow pampered jades of Asia that cannot go but thirty miles a day." Doll scorns Pistol's lack of money and his general uselessness, and when he gets angry and threatens to assault her, she exclaims:

"For God's sake, thrust him down stairs: I cannot endure such a fustian rascal."

Pistol shouts back:

"'Thrust him down stairs!'? know we not Galloway nags?"

Unpicking this scene, Shakespeare clearly expected his audience to understand the various types of horse that Pistol compares himself to, and to appreciate his final claim to be a "Galloway nag" as both proud and ridiculous (owing to his age). It's possible that Pistol is also bragging of his northern roots. Also, if Shakespeare assumed this knowledge in his audience, then the Galloway, its geographical origin and its qualities must have been common knowledge in London for some time. (Bibby, M, 2019)


And in a satire by Bishop Hall also published in 1597:

...Dost thou prize
Thy brute beasts' worth by their dam's qualities?
Say'st thou this colt shall prove a swift pac'd steed,
Onely because a Jennet did him breed ?
Or Say'st thou this same horse shall win the prize,
Because his dam was swiftest Trunchifice
Or Runceval his syre; himself a galloway?
While like a tireling jade, he lags half way.
(Chalmers' English Poets, vol. v. p. 275. book iv. satire 3.)

The term "galloway" then, is older in print than "pony" which the Oxford English Dictionary traces back only to 1659. ("Fell pony" as a phrase appears in print much later, in 1853.)

Gervase Markham, The Compleat Horseman - 1607

Also in Scotland there are a race of small nagges which they call Galloways or Galloway nagges which for fine shape, easie pace, pure metall and infinit toughness are not short of the best nagges that are bred in any country whatsoever; for soundness in bodie they exceed the most races that are extant, as dayly experience shows in their continuall travellings, journeyings and fore-huntings.

Now whether the "Galloway nagges" were amblers or trotters, is difficult to determine, since the writer mentions them separately ("also in Scotland...") from those he has previously described.

Britannia, 1607

Camden, the dogged traveller of Elizabeth's reign, wrote: 

Galloway to the Latin writers of the Middle Ages is Gallwallia and Gallovidia...The inhabitants ... catch ... an incredible number of very tasty eels, whence they make no less profit than from the tiny horses with compact, strong limbs for enduring toil which are exported from here.

The Gull's Hornbook, 1609

Thomas Dekker's satire suggested that the would-be fashionable man should:

Ride thither upon your Galloway nag, or your Spanish jennet, a swift ambling pace, in your hose and doublet (gilt rapier and poniard bestowed in their places), and your French lackey carrying your cloak, and running before you; or rather in a coach..

Nicholas Morgan - Perfection of Horsemanship - 1609

A list of breeds arranged in order of popular esteem in England

1 Arabian; 2 Thessalian (possibly only by repute in classical literature); 3 Neapolitan; 4 Barbary; 5 Turkey; 6 Spanish Andalusian; 7 Sardinian and Corsican; 8 Hungarian; 9 High Almaine (German); 10 Flaunders; 11 Swethland (Swedish); 12 Irish; 13 Friesian.

According to Anthony Dent in "Horses in Shakespeare's England" (1987), Morgan "noted that Great Britain ranked nowhere in this order of prestige, but that proverbially England excelled in palfreys, Scotland in trotting geldings (from Galloway) and Brittaine (Wales) in hackneys."

In 1620 in "The Horsemans Honour...

Subtitled, "...or the beautie of horsemanship as the choise, natures, breeding, breaking, riding, and dieting, whether outlandish or English horses." Morgan stated:

For the horses of Scotland they are much less than those of England, yet not inferiour in goodnesse; and by reason of their smallnesse they keep few stoned but geld many by which likwise they retaine this saying 'That there is no gelding like those in Scotland,' and they, as the English, are for the most part amblers.

Daniel Defoe

Defoe (1660-1731) wrote in his "Tour Through Scotland":

Besides the great number of sheep and runts, as we call them in England, which they breed here; they have the best breed of strong low horses in Britain, if not in Europe, which we call pads, and from whence we call all small truss-strong riding horses Galloways. These horses are remarkable for being good pacers, strong, easy goers, hardy, gentle, well broke, and above all, that they never tire, and they are very much bought up in England on that account.

So we have two views of the value of the Galloway: one, that he's "common", both in the sense of numbers and by direct comparison with the high class racehorse; and the other, that he is short, strong and infinitely useful. He is a Toyota pickup or a twelve-year-old Ford, not a Ferrari.

Britannia's Pastorals

The Oxford English Dictionary cites William Browne's Britannia's Pastorals, 1613, I.v.504-5, 'a stubborn nag of Galloway, | or unbacked jennet...'

Andrew Marvell

In his poem "The Loyal Scot" 1650-1652 Marvell wrote:

When OEta and Alcides are forgot,
Our English youth shall sing the valiant Scot.

Ship-saddles,Pegasus, thou needst not brag,
Sometimes the Galloway proves the better nag.

Utility horses in Brough, Westmorland

In the Westmorland county archives at the end of the late 1600s a butcher and a mason living in Brough were each recorded as owning a Galloway; one was worth £2, and the other only 5 shillings (one eighth of £2!)

Exporting Galloways: to England and across the Atlantic, 1706

John Spreull (1646-1722), known as "Bass John", wrote in 1706 that he bought and sold "fine Scots galloway horses". (Dent) He stated:

Search the custom books at Port Glasgow where I myself entered and payed [export] dutie for 50 or 52 mostly ston'd horses and maers which I shipped in a great ship of 400 Tunn for Surinam an Dutch Plantation for a brood of horses, and they were almost all Highland Galloways excepting some few ...

And for certaintie the borderers on both Scots and English side came oft to Dunbarton fair and bought small droves of them when they carried up their cattle. And what gentleman did ever ride post in any or all of the roads of England and never met with a Scots galloway, if they have not, I am sure I have, and I have frequented the roads there ... and still when I had some Scots galloway it was coveted and often bought from me. And I can aver as a truth that an Scots galloway of 40 or 50 shils ster [sterling] per piece will ride farder and kill and beat and founder an English Geldin of 20, 30, 40 or 50 £ ster price. If they continue long I know them ride 40 or 50 miles a day; and then they are kept easilie and can feed upon the Orts [leavings, leftovers] of others. It's true English Geldings 30, 40, or 50 £ ster price may run [gallop], and course [race] and do wonders, yet I shall kill them with a Scots galloway of 40, 50 shil or 5 £ ster price, through long fatigue and time, scarcity and wants incident.

Galloways continued to be exported to the New World in the 18th C:

A history of the Cutter family of New England, 1871. Benjamin Cutter, William Richard Cutter (Page X), refers to an accident in 1759:

On September 20, 1759, a spirited Scotch galloway, on which Mr. Cuthbert Lambert, son of an eminent physician in Newcastle, was riding, took fright ...

Stolen! - Newcastle Courant, Sat 20 Oct 1711

...a dark Gray Colt Galloway, 12 hands high, with a short Bob-Tail, past Four Years Old : whoever can give Notice of them, or either of them, to Thomas Drinkrow...

Alexander Pope, 1713

"The Guardian," No 91, June 25, 1713 Volume 2, published a Letter by Alexander Pope, detailing the comical Rules of "The Short Club, a Society of Men who dare to be short". We can infer from this that Galloways were shorter in stature than 14.2hh and relatively cheap.

III If any member shall purchase a horse for his own riding above fourteen hands and an half in height, that horse shall forthwith be sold, a Scotch galloway bought in its stead for him, and the overplus of the money shall treat the club.

Entries at Cumberland Quarter Sessions

These reported thefts of Galloways give an indication of values:

11 - Quarter Sessions Rolls
1 - Petitions
162 -

1731 Midsummer petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/162/17
Title Petition of Joseph Nelson of Eaglesfield, "Humbly Complaining" - chestnut galloway [pony] stolen; duly booked with Wilfrid Fisher, Booker at Cockermouth. Ordered £3. 3s.0d. Written in a good clear hand.


ditto, 117 -

1715 Midsummer Petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/117/15
Title Petition of Ursula Hall of Howgill, Cumberland, widow - horse stolen, value £1. 10s. 0d., booked at Brampton; petitioner is a poor working woman, needs the horse for her work; its loss "has proof'd [proved] her great Ruin". Ordered £1. 10s. 0d. At foot, pinned ; Booker's certificate for the bay galloway gelding, the goods of Widow Hall; signed Robert Elliott, book-keeper.


ditto, 138 -

Strays in 1719 - File 3

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/138/7
Title Petition of John Atkinson of Little Corby p. Hayton - dun Galloway [gelding*] stolen, worth £2. 15s. 0d., duly booked. Ordered £2.1[missing] s. *supplied from next item.


ditto, 195 -

1739/40 Christmas petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/195/25
Title Petition of John Henderson of Penrith, yeoman - black bay Galloway [pony] stolen from Pearson's Ing near Keswick; duly booked. Ordered £3. 10s.

The above entries are from Cumbria Archive Service Catalogue.

Dr Johnson, 1755

Dr Johnson's dictionary construed the term "Galloway nags" as "common hackneys", carrying the modern sense of "we can spot rubbish when we see it".

Values of Galloways in the mid 18th C

A history of agriculture and prices in England: from ..., Volume 7, Part 1 - Page 58; James Edwin Thorold Rogers, Arthur George Liddon Rogers - Agriculture - 1902, quotes sale prices between 1751 and 1783:

1752. Brandsby. Farm. No date. 2 coach horses (bought of myself) for the draught £1 15/. Unspecified. Grey Scotch galloway ... Welsh galloway (bought) £6 6/. Grey Galloway (sold) - £4. unspecified 2 Scotch Galloways (bought) - £11; 1751- unspecified Grey Scotch Galloway (sold) - £1.

Interestingly, the term "Galloway" is also attached here to animals from Wales - more evidence of the generic term superseding the name as a place of origin.

Annals of agriculture and other useful arts, Volume 20, edited by Arthur Young, 1793


Waggons and large carts must be absolutely proscribed: I have little doubt of Scotch Galloway stout ponies, of about £8 price (as prices go now) in a light Irish car, or very light cart, one poney to each, being the cheapest draft in such situations, as those ponies will bear keeping on the mountain when not worked.


After the paring, burning, and liming, the land must be ploughed once thinly, not to bury the lime and ashes too deeply. The team for this work will probably be four Scotch ponies, which, for such situations, will be found cheapest.

Agricultural Surveys, 1794

Andrew Pringle of Balencrieff (about 20 miles from Edinburgh in East Lothian, Scotland), wrote in official mode for the Board of Agriculture in 1794 (Pringle), noting that "The (Westmorland) Commons are numerous, extensive and valuable ..." and added that they were mainly stocked with Scotch sheep, black cattle and geese.

He observed frustratingly briefly that "a few ponies of the Scotch breed are reared upon the commons, but the practice not being general, need not be dilated upon." He distinguished between these "ponies" and the local "horses" which he didn't think were particularly useful or valuable (see Countryside Museum). Although Bailey and Culley's survey of Northumberland and of Cumberland contains strong arguments in favour of continuing to enclose common land, Pringle doesn't seem to have paid much attention to it, so cannot be accused of ignoring the ponies because of a bias towards enclosure of the commons, though as Bailey's introduction to the 3rd edition cautiously remarks: "The candid reader cannot expect in these Reports more than a certain portion of useful information, so arranged as to render them a basis for further more detailed enquiries."

It seems reasonable to assume the "Scotch" pony is the same as the "Galloway", given that Galloway, Scotland, is just across the Solway from Cumbria; Pringle did not seem to think it necessary to explain his term, which suggests it may have been in common use and widely understood - and possibly as he was Scottish, to him it was very obvious what he meant. Fortunately small newspaper advertisements of the period give us more detail about the Scotch type of pony.

Support for the interpretation of "Scotch" as "Galloway" comes from Tuke, writing, in the same national survey, of the North Riding of Yorkshire:

"Horses constitute a considerable part of the stock of the high parts of the western moorlands; the farmers there generally keep a few Scotch Galloways, which they put to stallions of the country, and produce a hardy and very strong race in proportion to their size, which are chiefly sold to the manufacturing part of the West Riding and Lancashire, to be employed in ordinary purposes."

It's notable that both surveyors use the same phrase, "a few" Scotch Galloways, "a few" ponies of the Scotch breed. As Pringle points out, running ponies on the open common was not a widespread practice. Even on the hill farms, breeding ponies was apparently less common than breeding horses. I have been told by a senior breeder of Fells that the hill farms would keep at most a couple of mares, one mare rearing this year's foal, and the other mare doing farm work. The newly foaled mare was probably running on the fell, along with her foal, her own 2 year old offspring, a yearling out of the other mare and possibly a 3 year old. The working mare would be served by the travelling stallion during the early summer. The following year they exchanged roles, so they bred every other year. This was also a great way to ensure that the ponies retained both their hardiness and their good temperaments for work. If you worked the mares regularly, you would know which ones were most useful and you wouldn't breed more foals from the awkward ones.

If that was the case, the ponies grazing the fell would have been one mare per farm and 3 youngstock from 1 to 3 years old, so the farm would have one 3 year old unbroken "stag" to sell each autumn; but there would not have been many of today's "volume breeder" pattern, ie large herds belonging to one owner. We mustn't be tempted to think that breed diversity is dependent upon large herds; scattered small breeders following the traditional practice of keeping female lines for many generations can conserve both old lines and diversity so long as the stallions are unrelated.

Pringle's counterparts Bailey and Culley (see also below) wrote at the same period about the horses of Northumberland:

"those bred in the county are of various sorts, descended from stallions of various kinds, from the full blood racer, to the strong, heavy, rough-legged black. From the full-blood stallions and country mares, are bred excellent hunters, road and carriage horses, and from the other kinds of stallions are bred the draught horses, which in general, are middle sized, active animals, well adapted to the husbandry of this county."

In his own part of this 1794 survey, for the Galloway region, Webster wrote that:

"Tradition states that the antient Galloway horses sprang from a Spanish breed, which escaped from a vessel of the Armada that was wrecked upon the coast. Some of these are yet to be met with; their shape, which is in general good, does not exceed their other properties, being esteemed high spirited, very hardy and easily maintained."

A portrait of the Scots poet Robbie Burns shows how small a riding pony was likely to be at the end of the 1700s.

Galloways as Pack Animals in Cumbria

page from Hutchinson's account of coal being carried by galloways

William Hutchinson's History of the County of Cumberland, 1794, describes galloways being used to carry coal from the pits to the ships in Whitehaven harbour:

The coals were then drawn out of the pits by men with jack-rowls, or windlasses, and were carried from the pits to the ships by galloways or small horses, upon their backs in packs, weighing about fourteen stone each, and measuring about three Winchester bushels, or twenty-four gallons. There is a print of Whitehaven extant, in which is exhibited a man driving some of these galloways, with packs of coals on their backs, towards the ships.

Scottish Parish Surveys, 1790 --

On the Scottish side of the Border, Parish surveys were also conducted between 1791 and 1799, in which it was noted: from Twynholme (Kirkcudbright, Galloway region):

"The old breed of Galloways, so highly valued for spirit and shape, and which continued a long time after the wreck of the Spanish Armada, when several stallions were thrown upon this coast, is almost entirely, if not totally extinct."

[How much trust one can put in the "Spanish Armada" story, I am not sure; it crops up in other breed backgrounds as well, and to believe it as a source for all of them stretches credulity quite a long way. It may in reality reflect a continuous tradition of trade along the Atlantic seaboards from very early times, that has by default become attached to this one seaborne historical event.]

The Parish surveys in the Dumfries and Galloway areas yield almost no other comment on specific horse breeds, though from Wigtown (Wigtownshire, Galloway region) it was reported:

"... the breed of horses has been greatly improved. The little galloways, the native produce of this place, are totally worn out; and a breed much larger, and abler for the purposes of agriculture, brought originally from the West of Scotland, has been introduced."

References for these readings are on the Thanks page.

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Last updated 8 November, 2021 .
Copyright © since 2000 The Fell Pony and Countryside Museums.

8 November, 2021