Though Whitbread records go back to the foundation of the brewery in 1742, and there have been horses at Chiswell Street in the City of London continuously since those days the first reference to the stables is 1802 when 60 horses were employed. The number rose to 111 in 1880 and to about 400 in 1904. The heavy horses have always been shires, though a small number of light vanners were used for delivery of bottled beer.
During the first World war about half the brewery horses were commandeered by the Army, but with the introduction of mechanical vehicles for delivery of cask beer, the number steadily decreased, so that in 1939 there were only 53 shires in the stables.
The bombing of London during the War made it necessary to have shifts of stablemen with the horses day and night and the soundness of the policy was shown when the great incendiary raid on London took place on the night of December 29th 1940. The stables were set alight by incendiaries, but with the help of volunteers from the brewery shelters, all the horses were led out to safety in the streets and were tethered while a fire-fighting party extinguished the fire. A few horses broke loose, but all returned to the stable in the morning, together with a number of strangers which were eventually restored to their respective owners. The only casualty due to the War was an old horse who dropped dead from heart failure on the explosion of a land-mine nearby.