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Happy Birthday, Lilo Blum!

January 28, 2017
by the gentle author

‘The first time I rode in Hyde Park was in 1937…’

I know readers will want to join me in wishing Lilo Blum many happy returns on her ninetieth birthday today. Born in Germany in 1927, Lilo and her family came to London as refugees escaping the Nazis in 1937 when she was just ten years old, but within a couple of years she had set up her own livery stable next to Hyde Park. Lilo Blum’s Riding Stables flourished for forty-five years as a popular London institution, occupying Lilo’s entire working life and proving an irresistible magnet for any celebrity, jetsetter or socialite who enjoyed a canter in the Park.

My meeting with Lilo Blum came about when her nephew Edward recognised a photograph of his aunt’s stables in Grosvenor Park Crescent in 1952 by Israel Bidermanas published on Spitalfields Life recently and wrote to me. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to interview Lilo at her swish flat in Park Lane with a magnificent view over Hyde Park and hear her triumphant story in her own words.

“I was four or five when I learnt to ride. My brother was three years older than me and I remember he rode in a pony race, and I cried because I wanted to ride as well. So they got me a quiet pony and I rode round the course, quite a few miles behind the others, but at least it kept me quiet. Working with horses runs in our family and my father was a well-known veterinarian. He could tell at one glance if a horse was lame, because in those days they didn’t have x-rays and you had to be able to just say what was wrong.

I started my riding stables in 1943 when I was sixteen years old. I collected threepenny bits in an old whisky bottle and then I went with my father to the big sales at Newmarket where they sold racehorses. We bought one for fifty-five guineas and I called him ‘Pick-up.’ After I had bought him, I thought ‘What am I going to do with him?’ because he was baby racehorse and unbroken, so I couldn’t use him in a riding school. But I was lucky because I had some friends who worked at Knightsbridge barracks and they agreed to keep him in their stable for me.

The sergeant offered to ask his commanding officer if I would be allowed to take my horse riding from the barracks and, luckily for me, they allowed it during the war. The sergeant broke in my horse, and got him nice and quiet and civilised, so people could eventually ride him and I knew he wouldn’t throw anybody off.  Then I sold ‘Pick-up’ to the Huntley & Palmers people and he raced for them and won some races, which was good for me. I can’t remember how much I got but it was enough to buy some ponies and that was how I started my riding stable.

The first time I rode in Hyde Park was in 1937. Before the war, you could see a thousand horses riding down Rotten Row. You had to dress up properly for riding then and the ladies they rode side-saddle – I tried it once, I didn’t like it. There were hundreds and hundreds of stables in the mews around Hyde Park then. I remember when all the mews were horses. It’ll never come back again. After the war, people didn’t dress up for riding any more. Society changed.

I had around twenty horses in my stable and lived for forty-two years in Knightsbridge in Old Barrack Yard, next to The Grenadier. I’ve spent many hours in their with some of our people and I’ve seen a few landlords come and go. If I had a penny for every time people asked me ‘Where’s The Grenadier?’ without question I’d be a millionaire. Most of my friends I met through horses.

I love horses but there were some anxious moments. It was always a gamble because you’d buy a horse in the country yet if it was no good in the traffic you might just as well get rid of it. My father taught me a lot and I had a great friend, an Irish racehorse trainer who was very good at picking out horses.

My favourite horse, we called it ‘Decision’ because we saw it at a sale and my father wasn’t quite sure about it but then the owner asked, ‘What’s your decision?’ He was very popular and he made me a lot of money. He lived to be old and he worked really hard and we thought ’Well, he’s done well for us,’ so we turned him out in a field but he didn’t like it. He was so used to working and being in the traffic that he died soon after.

With horses, it’s seven days a week, twelve hours a day starting at 5:30am. Often, I would have just locked up and put all the horses away when a whole lot of people would come down, but I would never refuse them. I would unlock the door again, get the horses out and show them all around Hyde Park. It’s nice when people appreciate what you do for them.

Once I started my stable in Grosvenor Crescent Mews, I had loads and loads of famous people coming to ride. Zsa Zsa Gabor kept her horse with us for a little while, but she liked to go one better so she took him down to the Duke of Marlborough in Wiltshire where she galloped all across his lawn and he wasn’t too happy. So she brought her horse back again and rode him out in Hyde Park. Then she decided to go abroad and asked me to sell her horse, and he became the symbol of Lloyds Bank and starred in ‘Black Beauty’ with Vivien Leigh and ‘Knights of the Round Table’ with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner. A very famous horse.

I remember one day we had our ponies out and the Household Cavalry were training and making an awful lot of noise, so I called Andrew Parker-Bowles, who was officer in charge, and said, ‘You’re upsetting my ponies!’ To be fair he was very nice about it, and he was always very nice to me after that. In fact, one of my horses had an injury and he took it into the barracks to have it treated, so it didn’t do any harm to tell him off.

Topol lived in the house on the corner and we had Jean Simmons & Stewart Grainger at the top of the mews with their daughter Tracy who used to come and mess about with the ponies. Paul Newman came, Raquel Welch was another regular, and Stirling Moss – he lived in our mews, I knew him when he was a kid.

Luciano Pavarotti was a heavy man and he used to sit at the front of the horse, so I said to him, ‘Hey mister, you give my horse a sore back! Sit further back in the saddle.’ Mohammad Ali rode one of our horses in the Park too, but after I shook hands with him I felt mine was going to drop off! Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister’s husband, the Polish Prince Radziwiłł kept his horses with us and that’s how I got to know the Kennedys. I taught the little children, Caroline & John Kennedy to ride but I always had to have a police escort when I took them out.

Sometimes we got these pushy mums. I’ll never forget one lady, she said to me, ‘When are you going to teach my little girl to trot?’ and I said, ‘Give her a bit of a chance, she’s only two years old.’ I told the little kid, ‘Your mummy wants me to teach you to trot,’ and she did it once it, but she couldn’t get the rhythm so she said, ‘Enough now!’ I’ll never forget that but, in time, she turned out good.

I ran my stables until 1988 and it was a great success. Eventually the Duke of Westminster built the Lanesborough Hotel at Hyde Park Corner and he didn’t want any more horses in the mews. It was very disappointing after forty-five years, but life goes on. Everything has changed so much hasn’t it?

It has been an interesting life I must say. You’ve got to make the best of it. I keep telling my friends, ‘It’s a rehearsal not the real thing,’ but they don’t take any notice. I made money and blew money like everybody else. I was lucky I always worked for myself which is a great thing. I’ve done alright. I can’t complain! If I see a horse I like out in the park from my window, I still think ‘That one’s nice, that would have done me nicely.’”

Lilo Blum’s Riding Stables, Grosvenor Park Crescent W1 – as photographed by Israel Bidermanas in 1952. Lilo’s dog Peggy sleeps in the foreground.

The Grenadier, Old Barrack Yard, Lilo Blum’s local for half a century

Archive photographs courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

The Stable under the Westway

The Last Farrier in The City of London

At Wood St Stables

18 Responses leave one →
  1. January 28, 2017

    What a story!

  2. January 28, 2017

    Fantastic story of a wonderful lady – hats off to her! Valerie

  3. Anne Amos permalink
    January 28, 2017

    I would certainly like to add my best wishes to Lila Bloom on her birthday. I used to hang about the stables over the 2 years in the early 1960′s that my parents lived at number 24 Grosvenor Crescent Mews and eventually they allowed me to have riding lessons which I loved. Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger rented our house for a month one summer when she was filming in London and we were away. There stables was a wonderful place, everyone loved having the horses there.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY LILA!

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    January 28, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, another great story – thanks for pursuing it. What a life Lilo had!

  5. Jill Hyams permalink
    January 28, 2017

    Fascinating story. What a lovely lady!

  6. Vivian campbell permalink
    January 28, 2017

    I used to ride at the stables in the sixties. If my memory is correct the lesson was a guinea an hour. We would ride to the park to rotten row. I used to live in Bishopsgate and get the train from Liverpool Street. I was probably only about 12 but I used to go there on my own with my riding attire on. I loved it and have had horses for 40 years as the love of horses has never left me. Happy birthday LILO thank you for teaching me to ride.

  7. January 29, 2017

    Another great post. Love the information, the presentation of this blog. In the background, I can hear the words to the song….nobody does it better! This is certainly true of Spitalfields Life.

  8. John Thompson permalink
    January 30, 2017

    Thank you Lilo for the introduction to Horses and the fantastic birthday lunch on Saturday
    Can’t wait for 100

  9. January 31, 2017

    Very Happy Birthday Lilo so pleased Phil sent me this article about you.
    Remember all your visits to our showrooms where we had a lot of fun.
    You look great in the photograph.
    Enjoy your special Day.
    Love Derek

  10. Susan solomons permalink
    February 21, 2017

    Happy belated birthday Lilo l used to ride several times a week at your stables 1974 as l came from the country where my family had horses so l missed them terribly when l moved to marble arch to run the family business…my saving grace lilo was you you put the beauty of horses and riding back into my life…my favourite horse to ride was sovereign he was a beauty .. Steadfast and true walking through the traffic at Hyde park corner….l spent many a happy hour at your stables and l thank you from the bottom of my heart for the many wonderful hours spent at the stables…l live in Devon now where my love of horses continues we have a cross cob thoroughbred called willow and a Suffolk punch called Bomber we ride both horses through woods alongside the river dart and we put our Suffolk in carriage ..my cousin in Sussex still does her dressage so you see those that love horses never stop l ‘m 60 now and l don’t think we will ever be without our beloved horses…once again lilo happy birthday and much love to you xxxx

  11. March 7, 2017

    I wonder if you remember an American Lady Mrs Conner. who stabled her horse with you *Fadezy. Happy to you. from Jock Swann

  12. Gabbie Cavanagh permalink
    March 23, 2017

    I learned to ride from Lilo and purchased my first pony from her. Bouncer. Such great memories. Would love to see her.

  13. Rachel Kinn permalink
    June 26, 2017

    I learnt to ride as a young girl. My family lived in Lowndes Square.
    Lilo gave me confidence trotting round Rotten Row.
    Very best wishes to Lilo
    & chetished memories
    Rachel

  14. Amelie Charlotte permalink
    June 27, 2017

    My mother rode at the stables in the 50′s. Her favourite horse was extremely tall & called Bubbles. Fond memories!

  15. July 14, 2017

    Sadly, I never got to ride at Lilo’s establishment but used to ride from the other side of the Park. I’d always understood that the Grosvenor Crescent stables had closed after a fire that killed some of the horses/ponies at a time when the adjacent prime-site NHS St George’s Hospital was about to be converted into a luxury 4-star hotel and the stables were naturally in the way. Was the fire the main reason for the closure?

  16. Pat Erskine permalink
    July 20, 2017

    I was riding with Lilo the day she stopped the Household Cavalry and told them off for being too noisy as her horses were frightened!

  17. Pat Erskine permalink
    July 20, 2017

    I have known Lilo for 45 years and been on holiday with her many times as well as stabling horses with her.

  18. July 20, 2017

    Dear LILO

    I came to your stables at Ham Polo in 1989 with Voltaire my beloved horse.
    I had just learned that I was loosing my hearing and within a year after I came to London from UDA I was basically deaf

    Your stables, the friendly atmosphere and your always ready advise about horses and riding saved my morale during this difficult time of transition for me.
    When I rode I never felt dead. I would ride on the rode to the park and Voltaire would hear for me so I alwYs knew if a car was behind
    I met one of my best friends at your stables that first year. Pat Erskine. We are still friends. She came to my 70th in NY last year and always keeps me up to date on how you are doing.

    I loved reading the article. You are such a special lady. No nonsense or fancy stuff no matter who you are around. It is always first about the horses and how their riders treat them. I admire your consistent love and respect for this glories sport and most of all for your love of horses.
    Happy birthday LILO
    And thanks for having me in your stable
    Christel, Voltaire and Chumley, my Sky who ran along on my morning rides along the Thames

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