The Nine O’Clock Horses

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Whilst most towns and cities around the UK use the tales of the bogeyman to frighten good behaviour out of their children. The parents of Leicestershire use the tale of the nine o’clock horses.

The amazing thing about the story is that the nine o’clock horses actually existed.


What is the Bogeyman?

The bogeyman (also spelled bogieman, boogeyman or boogie man) is a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults to frighten children into good behaviour.

It has no set appearance, gender or race. The monsters vary depending on the imagination of the child. And is mostly believed to appear from under the child’s bed or closet.

Parents may tell their children that if they misbehave, the bogeyman will get them.

The Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who will not go to sleep—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving at the time.

The Being will take many forms and names depending on which country you are from, and this is what makes Leicestershire unique.

The Midlands county in England uses the nine o’clock horses, who are based on historic fact.


What are the nine o’clock horses?

Local by-laws were strict in Victorian Leicester. One of these by-laws was that household waste must only be collected after 9 o’clock at night.

This household rubbish included human and animal waste.

Farm labourers carried out this unpleasant task. They would descend on the city in their hundreds on horse and cart every night to collect this waste to use as manure for the local farms.

A horse and cart carrying human manure.

Waste problems in Leicester.

Leicester before the 20th century would throw their domestic waste into ditches and gutters. They would also stockpile it in their backyards (if you were lucky enough to have one) or place it in communal neighbourhood yards.

Slum areas of Leicester, 1963 – Well after the night soil men had been needed (Daily Mirror – 1963)

Human waste was treated just like any other ordinary domestic waste and usually joined the same piles and awaited collection.

As a result of this “stock piling”, along with local industry and businesses doing the same, local ditches became blocked and the River Soar that flows through the city became the main sewer outlet.

With the population growth the city was seeing at the time, disease and death was rife in the due to these conditions.


What happened to the waste?

Leicester didn’t developed a decent sewer system until the end of the 19th century. So local farmers collected the human and animal waste for use as manure. Spreading it on their lands.

In the night, farm labourers would come into a city to collect waste products to use as manure on the surrounding farmland. They were the “Night Soil Men”.

Due to the town’s by-laws, the “Night Soil Men” could not come into the City to collect the waste until after nine o’clock at night.

They would travel from the countryside into Leicester on horse-drawn carts. Scavenging the streets looking for animal and human waste.

Sometimes the men would pay for the waste, but this had to be the best quality, well-rotted down and ready to be used immediately.

A soil man filling his cart with human manure.

Child Snatching.

The reason for the tale being told was not only the fear from the sounds and sights of these men and their horses but the rumor that they took children wandering the streets after nine and took them back as cheap labour for the farm.

There could be truth in this. At the time people were moving out of the countryside into the city to earn their fortune. Farm labour was scarce and child labour was cheap. Any child caught wandering the streets of the city could be collected and taken back to farms as a labourer. The pay for child farm labourers was just basic food and accommodation.

Remember all children should be safely tucked up in bed by 9 o’clock, so that the 9 o’Clock Horses won’t get them!


Night Soil Men

Here is a story (how true it is I will leave you to judge) about a couple of Night Soil Men collecting the waste one night.

“It was a warm night and one of the men had taken his coat off and placed it on the cart’s driving seat. Loading was proceeding well and they had a full cart load of good quality manure. There was still more to be had so they decide to load the cart some more. All of a sudden the horses were startled. The man’s coat fell off his seat and into the back of the cart. Without hesitation the man climbed into the back of the cart to retrieve his coat. His mate then asked “Surely you are not going to wear that again.” To which he replied “No, But my sandwiches are in the pocket”.”

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More information at Abbey Pumping Station.


Book Recommendation.

If you are interested in the darker side of Leicester’s history then check out this book on Amazon. (Click on the image or link below)

Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths Around Leicester

“Within the pages of this book are some of the most notorious and often baffling cases in Leicestershire’s history. From the appalling double murder at Melton Mowbray in 1856, known locally as the Peppermint Billy murders, to the 1953 murderer Joseph Reynolds who killed because he wanted to know how it felt. This book explores the cases that dominated the headlines, not only across the city and surrounding county but also nationwide.”


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Thomas Kirkup is an engineer in the Royal Navy. Born and raised in Leicester he is fascinated by the city's long and varied history. He also hates to discus himself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.
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12 COMMENTS

  1. I grew up in Hinckley,at the time we moved there i was about 3,My parents were Scottish so how did they catch on to this story so quick as i remember this from a very early age? Did they just have these people in Leicester or was it throughout the UK?….Mmmmm i wonder…

  2. […] "There was zero visibility in the slums of Leicester. Gas lamps flickered light so weak that it struggled to cast shadows in the thick heavy smog of the town. Their horse drawn carts were hidden within the smog and could only be heard. The sound of metal rims and horse shoes hitting the filth covered cobbles…  […]

    • Gas lamps would have been brighter than the new insufficient LED street lights that are starting to line the streets of Leicestershire towns & villages right now. Giving minimal light leaving large areas in between totally in darkness & making the place darker dingy & more dangerous than ever…. The county is horrible in the evenings now & a throw back to these dark times.

  3. One of the other childhood threats was being sent to the “Yellow Stocking Home” on Fosse Rd South/Westcoates Drive corner

  4. Goodness my dad used to tell me about the fearsome nine o’clock horses. I just thought it was a nationwide thing, not just a Leicester based scary story. So Instead of having a laugh and scaring his daughter somewhat……dad was just passing on some local history…lol

  5. I was born 1942 and lived in Southampton st down past the hide & skin and my mum used to get me to bed with tales of the 9 o’clock horses and I beleaved it as I used to here the horse & carts coming up & down the street from the railway yard at the top of the street &also we would go out and dig up the horse shoe nails that had got stuck in between the cobbles and visit the horses that were kept under the arches at the top of constitution hill and go and try to get my dad out the queen Victoria pub across the road for dinner Sunday morning we would go up to the municipal so where the lion’s are and catch pigien for dinner putting them down our shirts leicester was a great place to be raised.tony julian

    • Hi Tony my nana and grandad lived on Southampton Street next to the Queen Victoria. The other side to them was Miss Gorman a shop.

      • Hi Diana yes I remember the name dunkley and the little shop do you remember the chip shop across from the engine pub ?

  6. Ok, I also live in NW Leicestershire and my dad would use this on me all of the time, especially when it was out of my control and we were driving home, the horrible sod 🙂

  7. I grew up in NW Leicestershire, and my mother used to scare me to bed with stories about the horses! I always imagined a herd of demonic shadowy horses, charging across the fields and carrying me away into the night. I had no idea they were based on an actual practice, this was great to find out!

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