Martin Whittle driving Max and Archie

Martin Whittle, 54, has been head horseman at Wadworth Brewery in Devizes, Wiltshire, for ten years. He is the fourth generation in his family to work with heavy horses. He is married to Vicky, who works at Wadworth too. They have three sons, two of whom also work at the brewery. Martin and his team of four look after the brewery’s three shire horses and can be seen five days a week out and about in Devizes making deliveries, as well as at shows and on pub visits. The brewery is one of just a handful of breweries in the UK still doing this and the clip clopping of the horses’ hooves amid the bustling market town’s traffic is as synonymous with the town as the Kennet and Avon Canal and the brewery at its centre.

It’s unusual for a brewery to have a horse-drawn dray isn’t it?
There are only five breweries in the country who own their own horses and Wadworth is one of only three whose horses actually make deliveries, so we are a dying breed. It’s a tradition that the brewery wants to keep and it makes us special. It also makes Devizes special.

You must be one of the town’s best known attractions?
People come from all over to see the horses and all year round there are visitors stopping to take pictures. We had a couple come all the way from Australia just to see them recently. We’ve had people from America and New Zealand come over especially as well because it is so rare to see horses working like this now – especially in such a beautiful setting. We are outside the brewery’s visitor centre every Thursday at 9am and we always get a crowd. When we deliver to the Castle Hotel in Devizes the guests all come out and feed them titbits, actually that happens in a lot of the pubs. It’s great for Devizes because it brings the visitors in. The people of Devizes are very proud of the horses and they think of them as their horses, not the brewery’s. They are part of the town’s identity.

Can visitors only see the horses in Devizes?
Oh no, we do about six or seven major county shows a year, including the Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet, The New Forest and the Three Counties at Malvern. But every weekend if we are not at a show we go to Wadworth pubs all over the Great West Way for fun days and visits. It’s great for the community to come and meet them and the horses enjoy all the fuss that gets made of them.

Brewery Horses Taking Beer to Wadworth Pubs
How many horses does the brewery have?
There are three now. Max is 15, Sam is seven and Archie is six. Sam is the new boy, he replaced Monty last year when he retired. Finding replacements is very difficult because they need the right temperament. The chairman (Charles Bartholomew) likes them all to be the same dark brown colour and have four white legs. I’m always on the lookout for potential replacements.

What temperament do they need?
We demand all disciplines here. They have got to be comfortable going around the town and standing outside a pub and then they’ve got to be good in the show ring as well. A lot of horses might look the part but if they don’t fit the bill they won’t make the grade.

How big are the horses?
Our horses range up to 18.2 hands high, which is over 6ft. They weigh about a tonne, so they are quite powerful, which is why we have to be sure they are comfortable in traffic. But the breed is very stable and placid. They can pull about twice their own weight so two horses on a dray could pull four tonnes. But we don’t work them excessively, they can take it in their stride and they are all very fit.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I’ll get to the stables at the brewery for 6am when the horses get their first feed. They like to stick to a routine. They are mucked out and then groomed until 8am. We get them ready for deliveries and get out about 9am after the rush hour traffic has died down. We go around the pubs at a nice steady pace. We usually go about two to two-and-a-half miles. Sometimes we will take them a little further to give them a bit of extra exercise. We get back around 11.30am and they have their lunch. After lunch we put their beds down and give them another feed – they get six feeds a day plus hay. We finish about 3.30pm but one of us will come back in the evening to give them a last feed. There are other regular jobs to fit in, like cleaning. The farrier from Rowde is in once a week to check the horses’ hooves, they get shod every four weeks.

Wadworth Brewery Beer Pumps
The horses must know their own way by now!
Oh they are very clever, they know the routes and they know what day it is so we mix it up a bit to keep it interesting. They start to get excited when they get close to the brewery because they know they are almost home and it is time for a feed!

What brought you to Wadworth?
I have worked with heavy horses all my life, it’s in the blood. I was working on a show team for a coal firm in Mansfield but that job came to an end. I knew all about Wadworth because of the connection with horses and so I applied for the job, got it and bought the family down to Wiltshire. We’ve never looked back, we love it here.

What makes Wiltshire so special for you?
It is beautiful and unspoiled. It feels so traditional here, although it is modern too. The people are welcoming and because it is so rural with villages and towns dotted about the place there’s a great sense of community here. At this time of year when you go around Devizes and the flowers are all out you realise what a beautiful little market town it is. It’s a lovely, steady way of life here and it feels stress-free. When you are up on the dray behind the horses enjoying the scenery you can really appreciate it.

You obviously know Devizes very well but what other parts of the Great West Way are special to you?
We love taking our rescue greyhound Flower out for long walks. We often to go over to Beckhampton on the Marlborough Downs, which are wonderful. You can see the gallops for the racing stables there too so I like the horse connection. We often go to Avebury. I still think it’s amazing that you can go right up to the stones there and touch them. It is such a magical, mystical place with an amazing sense of history, there’s nowhere else like it. Bath is a great place to go shopping too. We enjoy a lunch out at Norton St Phillip, near Bath. It’s a pretty village with lots of thatched roofs and lovely gardens.

You spend a lot of your working day in and around pubs. You must have a few recommendations.
The Crown and the Bell on the Green in Devizes are very good, friendly pubs that have recently been refurbished. The Three Magpies at Sells Green just outside Devizes is a lovely place to sit and have a pint in the garden, I love it there. The Wagon and Horses at Beckhampton is a nice family pub too. We like The George at Lacock as well, it’s a beautiful pub and the food is good and then you can look at Lacock Abbey and stroll through the village, which is timeless. The Fleur De Lys and The George at Norton St Phillip are both really good places to soak up history. The George is one of the oldest pubs in the UK.

We can’t let you go without recommending a Wadworth beer
I like a pint of Wadworth 6X, it is heady and flavoursome like the beers up north. But my favourite is the stout produced by Wadworth called Corvus. It’s not like Guinness because it is milder and smoother. That’s my choice when I go out.

Wadworth is well known as a family firm and most of your family seem to work here!
It’s a great place to work because you are not a number, you are treated like a person. My wife Vicky used to work on reception, now she is the HR adviser. Cameron, who’s 19, works in the marketing department and Callum, who is 25, works with me with the horses. He’s the fifth generation of horsemen in the family. That’s lovely for me because being a heavy horseman is a dying occupation. You can’t learn it from books, it’s all down to experience. I learnt it from my dad at 16 and now Callum is learning it from me.

Wadworth’s visitor centre gets busier each year. Does it feel like you are working in a museum?
Not at all. It’s a professional environment producing great beer. But we protect the traditions that make us special, such as the signwriting, which is still done the old-fashioned way, and the horse-drawn drays. The visitor centre is the perfect place  to stop off and see it all, whilst exploring the Great West Way.

Wadworth Brewery Beer

To find out more about Devizes and what you can do there and in the surrounding areas, take a look at our See & Do and Plan Your Way pages.

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