‘We Wiped the Tears Away and the Grease off the New Motors’: Changing Professions at the End of the Working Horses’ Life

What if there is no future? When Liverpool’s carters returned from the Second World War, they came home to an environment that was very different from the one they had left behind. It had become more economical for haulage companies to motorise their businesses. The government encouraged this and offered subsidies for lorries if businesses reduced their stock of working horses. The terms of employment had changed significantly for these men. The proposed paper studies the business strategies of hauling companies at the end of the working horses’ economic lives as well as the alterations caused to the profession of the carters. Using a qualitative approach and a micro-history perspective, my paper is largely based on oral history records of Liverpool carters who experienced the evolution from horse to car in twentieth-century Britain. It analyses the Lebenswelt of a working-class occupation that is largely forgotten today. Although it was not recognised skilled labour, carters were highly specialised professionals. Following their love for horses and the experience of seeing their professions disappear, I will examine their ability to adapt to change. I argue that carters needed different strategies and presentations of self to have the possibility to make a living in the motorised era. After horses were replaced many started driving lorries for their old companies, however, struggled with the new way of things. A comprehensive account of the disappearance of professions and the new ones that evolve out of them intersects with the history of technology. It further needs to engage with historical anthropology and socio-cultural history to provide a deeper understanding of the dynamics of professional practice and mentality.