The hooves and stud seals used to mark the registration form of foals that Rataplan sired. © English Heritage
English Heritage curators in Yorkshire had a shock recently when they opened the post and discovered the latest object being returned to Brodsworth Hall - a pair of mummified horse hooves.
The strange objects belonged to a 19th century racehorse, Rataplan, owned by Charles Thellusson, whose son built Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster in South Yorkshire in the mid 1860s.
They were donated to English Heritage by 82-year-old Jessie Hall from Dinnington, whose great grandfather, Edward Hornshaw, was the stud-groom at Sandbeck near Rotherham to which Rataplan retired at the end of 1855.
When the horse died Edward kept the hooves as a keepsake and they have since been handed down through the family.
19th century painting of Rataplan which hangs in the Billiard Room at Brodsworth Hall.© English Heritage
Now they have returned home along with the seal used to stamp the stud papers of the foals Rataplan sired. A sketchbook by Edward’s son Thomas containing a drawing of Rataplan has also been loaned to English Heritage for the season.
“The hooves have been family heirlooms for over a century, but some of the younger members of the family don’t want a pair of mummified feet on their mantelpiece,” explained Jessie Hall. “So we decided to donate them to English Heritage for other people to enjoy.”
The horse had a very successful racing career, winning 42 races between 1852 and 1871, including the Doncaster Cup in 1855. His prize money helped the strained finances of Charles Thellusson and in the first half of 1854 alone the horse brought in winnings worth £3,238.
Sketch of Rataplan drawn by the son of Edward Hornshaw, the stud-groom at Sandbeck, near Rotherham, to which Rataplan retired at the end of 1855. Courtesy English Heritage
The Doncaster Cup is on show in the hall’s billiard room together with a painting of the horse by Harry Halls – now joined by the mummified hooves.
“It does seem slightly bizarre to keep mummified horse hooves,” added English Heritage curator, Caroline Carr Whitworth. “But it was a way of remembering a much loved and prized racehorse and was something of a fashion during the Victorian period.”
“Now we have these truly remarkable mementos, and discovered more about Rataplan and where he ended his career.”