Tale of ‘Old Billy’ becomes new children’s book

A picture book and true story celebrating the life of the world’s oldest horse is to be launched in October as part of Warrington’s Mini Children’s Litfest.

‘Old Billy’ lived in Warrington more than two centuries ago and reached the grand old age of 62 – nearly three times the lifespan of an average horse.

He is still in the world record books for this and now the legend will live on for a new generation thanks to a book by Culture Warrington, suitable for all the family.

Old Billy, The World’s Oldest Horse: A Warrington Tale’ has been written by storyteller Felicity Goodman and illustrated by artist Stef Woof, who are both from Warrington.

Billy was foaled at Wilgreave Farm in Woolston in 1760 where he was taught to plough.

He was then bought by Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company in 1763 where he would lift heavy loads into and out of boats and pull other horse-powered machinery.

The tough work would often require him to turn a large wooden wheel via a system of ropes or chains which led to Billy being renowned for his stamina – as well as his volatile temper when he was hungry!

Billy then worked for the company pulling boats from 1793 until his retirement in 1819.

He lived out his last years at Old Warps, a large house and farm at Latchford, which is now Victoria Park.

It was here that he was again cared for by his old companion Henry Harrison, the man who taught him to plough nearly 60 years earlier, and had also retired from working with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company.

Philip Jeffs, Archives and Heritage Officer at Culture Warrington, said: “With the Old Billy storybook, Culture Warrington are reaching out to a much younger audience than the Archives would normally attract and hope to spark a love of local history in these young minds.

“Uncovering the stories that shape where young people grow up can help them to develop research skills and can build a strong sense of identity and pride in where they live.”

The book’s launch will take place at Central Library on Sunday, 8 October, during Warrington Children’s Lit Fest, part of Warrington Literature Festival, and is aimed at six to 10 year olds.

There will be three one-hour sessions at 11.15am, 12.30pm and 1.45pm, at which children will have the story read to them by the author and then work with the book’s illustrator to learn how to draw Old Billy for themselves.

The project has been made possible thanks to Peter Rogerson, a local history librarian who left a legacy to Warrington Archives following his death in 2018.

Philip added: “For Peter, the Archives were a treasure house of culture and identity, helping the people of Warrington to better understand and value their varied culture and heritage.

“Peter was keen that the Archives use his legacy to reach new audiences and to ensure that the stories of Warrington’s past are passed on to future generations.”

After the launch, the book will be available to buy at Warrington Museum and in November there will also be a second event for Warrington primary schools at the Museum on 16 October and 6 November.

For more information about the Warrington Literature Festival launch, click here or to express an interest in the primary schools event email [email protected]