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At The Stables Under The Westway

September 25, 2014
by the gentle author

Whenever I have made the trip to Oxford, I have always been surprised to glance down as the bus ascends onto the monstrous concrete Westway, suspended high above the city, and see a stable far below where horses are being exercised. It is a curious anachronism to discover this peaceful spectacle in the midst of the urban chaos and heartening to be reminded of the persistence of these old ways, before you race off up the A40. So when the West London Stables invited me to pay them a visit, Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I ventured over to learn more.

When the Westway was built in 1968, it isolated an intermediary space between Notting Hill and Shepherds Bush where scrapyards, travellers’ encampments and stables occupied land that nobody else used. Over the years, this has become an unlikely time capsule in which elements that defined the place historically have survived in spite of the more recent developments which encircle them today.

Sarah Tuvey took over running of the stables as a community riding school in 1994. She explained to me that they were originally built as a concessionary gesture for travellers, totters and costermongers from Portobello, at the time the Westway was constructed over land they had used for keeping their horses – but by the early nineties there were only three or four horses left, after their owners had retired or switched to motorised transport.

Yet Sarah also revealed this place was once the site of a racecourse known as the Kensington Hippodrome, built in 1837 by John Whyte. These former ancient grasslands were used traditionally for the working horses that served the city – pulling cabs, dray carts and milk floats – and it was this culture of horsemanship which gave rise the celebrated White City Horse Shows. Prior to the development of the west side of Notting Hill, the decline of the Racecourse led to its use by travellers, and the creation of potteries and piggeries, and a reputation for vagabondage and criminality which lingers to this day. Significantly, it was the West London Stables that supplied the old nag to the BBC for ‘Steptoe & Son.’

You feel you walk off the map when you leave the made-up road and enter the shadow land beneath the gargantuan interchange, where unseen traffic booms overhead like distant thunder. It is a dirty realm of excitement and of possibility, lacking the same degree of social control which prevails in the clean streets. Graffiti abounds and water drips in the dramatic shade cast by the monolithic structures above, and there is a theatricality in the presence of horses in the arena, parading as if within a circus ring beneath a big top.

Beyond, you discover the small enclave of stables which Sarah has run for the past twenty years, offering riding to community groups from the surrounding areas and single-handedly keeping the age-old culture of horsemanship alive in this corner of London. She is evangelical about the social benefits of the stables, especially for children who have grown up in the city and may not have seen horses before. Yet the recent decline in income as an indirect consequence of cuts means that the stable is forced to choose between feeding horses or paying the rent, and now Sarah has been told her lease will not be renewed in February next year.

When I heard Sarah’s news, the pathos of the circumstance became apparent to me, standing there in the stables with the motorway roaring overhead. If we can justify the vast shopping complexes and the titanic motorways suspended in the air, why cannot this small but well-used stables be allowed to exist for the benefit of its immediate urban community? You might like to visit the West London Stables for yourself to experience horse-riding in this unique location while it is still possible and – in the meantime – you can sign the petition to help them survive here.

Sarah Tuvey

Paula Sheenan, Trustee

Carley Small, Rider

Tamara Heirons, Trainer

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

West London Stables, 20 Stable Way, London, W10 6QX

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. September 25, 2014

    Signed, good luck Sarah

  2. September 25, 2014

    How wonderful to find living creatures in that concrete jungle. The authorities that be should be so grateful for this oasis of peace, and yet they want to destroy it. I hope that Sarah manages to save her little corner of paradise. Valerie

  3. Lydia permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I used to live around Portobello back in the 70′s before moving to Australia so your story today was of great interest. I have signed the petition and hope that the Council will rethink their decision not to renew the lease. The horses are lovely and obviously children and adults alike gain so much from their presence. Thank you for such a fascinating post.

  4. September 25, 2014

    A very enchanted place which should be preserved!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  5. Denise Vale permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I’ve signed the petition!
    Thank you Gentle Author for writing such a lovely piece about my local stables…
    I urge everyone else to please sign the petition. I’ve been riding twice a week at West London Stables for the last 2 years – it’s an oasis in Notting Hill – the horses are happy and well taken care of and Sarah Tuvey is a brilliant instructor, this is indeed a valuable resource for the local community and one of the few equestrian centres left in Central London.
    I hope the council and the Westway Trust think about the community for once and not just grabbing land to make money – let them please see sense and renew the stable’s lease.

  6. September 25, 2014

    If I might quote you back – this beautifully written observation hits the nail firmly on the head: ‘If we can justify the vast shopping complexes and the titanic motorways suspended in the air, why cannot this small but well-used stables be allowed to exist for the benefit of its immediate urban community? ‘
    Let’s hope the decision-makers are listening….
    I comment as a RBKC resident, a rider at the stables and a trustee for the stables charity: west london community riding centre

  7. Sally Baldwin permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I so appreciate your stories like this. These outposts of a former time are more and more rare, and increasingly precious. I give grateful thanks to people like Sarah who keep these oases alive, offering so much to the people around them. I pray that the council and the Westway Trust will take the longer, wider view, and allow this wonderful stable to keep operating. I was so glad to be invited to sign the petition.

    Delighted too to learn a new word. Totters. Not a word that crossed to this side of the pond! Looked in many dictionaries before finding the definition in Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words. Many thanks for this satisfying start to a new day!!

  8. May Joynt permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I visited the stables last Saturday it was lovely to see the enjoyment the children got from the riding lessons. And it was very busy .The parents all said how much they wanted the stables to stay open. I hope everyone will do their best to help keep this unique riding school open God knows there’s not many other recreational venues for children in the big city May Joynt

  9. September 25, 2014

    Coming from London myself, my brother sent me an email to tell me about the stables. It would be a crying shame if these were to go. I have 2 horses myself with my daughter, and to think that the people of London will let this happen.. A decision by the council to see these go, I hope they can live with it. As so many people do not have the advantage of having stables in London. Good luck.

  10. Hetty Startup permalink
    September 25, 2014

    Spitalfields Life becomes west London life. Very interesting story. I am originally from Shepherds Bush so this was fascinating. Hetty

  11. September 25, 2014

    I am so sorry to hear that the stables are at risk. We need horses in our lives and places that are historical. Since I am an American, I don’t know that I can legitimately sign the petition, but I’ll try.

  12. William permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I travel regularly alonn the Westway from Oxford and have often wondered about the stables while admiring the horses when they’re out. Very sad news about the lease; I hope the petition will prompt a re-think by the council.

    Best wishes

    William

  13. Caroline Knight permalink
    September 26, 2014

    Save the stables!

  14. amanda marfleet permalink
    September 27, 2014

    oh no, – helped sarah at the very beginning!! fab days with Snowy the Pony, and my Kate is now 23, but Sarah called her “I can’t Kate” when she was 4 as that was her response to everything, – ” catch your pony Kate! “I can’t Sarah!” Sarah gives so much to the community , and the yard is a London icon!

  15. amanda marfleet permalink
    September 27, 2014

    Also forgot to say the early days were not easy!! Sarah took the yard from a run down tip, with neglected animals of other peoples, to the super place it is today – She struggled for several years to keep the yard open, , clearing mountains of rubbish, building stables, mending doors, so deserves to stay!

  16. Pandora Melly permalink
    September 28, 2014

    Signed.

  17. helen Kendall permalink
    September 29, 2014

    Save the stables.

  18. Jackie Oswald permalink
    September 30, 2014

    I spent all day on Sunday at the stables my daughter has her pony there, an event was taking place for youngsters that care for their parents, it was nice to see them have a break from their normal Sunday life and do something for themselves for a change. It was amazing to see these lovely selfless kids enjoying themselves, they loved it, they were so greatful, they were provided with drinks, sandwiches, cakes, crisps and fruit. They were given hats and boots to wear around the yard. When they were leaving they were saying thank you over and over. Such lovely selfless kids the youngest was an adorable 7 year old lad who helped care for his dad, he had the biggest smile when he was being led out for his ride. The staff and helpers also enjoyed having them, this is the second event that the stables have had the pleasure of holding this event for these young careers, a great time was had by all. What a shame if we lost the stables and couldn’t continue to provide such greatly needed distractions for these kids. being there listening to there individual stories was an eye opener for me, I just didn’t realise there were so many young carers. They were a really nice bunch of kids that should be having the time of their lives. We were all tried at the end of the day, but got a lot of pleasure from seeing them all having fun, it was well worth it. I’m really looking forward to seeing them again soon. great effort Sarah and her team. Well done.

  19. Dehra Mitchell permalink
    October 3, 2014

    My daughter learned how to ride at the stables on a pony called Josh. He regularly tossed her off his back and she adored him. Sarah has worked tirelessly to keep the stable open, the horses fed and cared for and has given local children a chance to do something positive with their time. For some reason, the council has worked tirelessly to get rid of the stables. I do hope they will rethink their decision and recognise how important this little part of the borough is.

  20. roy wilmin permalink
    February 20, 2015

    This stable is the best London has .The amount of children and adults who use it is amazing

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