Last month we celebrated the success of the campaign to save Park Lane Stables in Teddington so they can continue their vital work with Riding for the Disabled. With overwhelming public support and so many contributing fond memories of the Stables over the years, we wanted to share some stories of the Stables’ early years. In fact, when Natalie O’Rourke, the current proprietor of Park Lane Stables, was asked which three people she’d most like to meet, the former proprietor John Quinn was right up there alongside her late mum and Princess Diana. Here we reveal why the Stables hold such a special place in people’s hearts…
Former Stables proprietor John Quinn was born in Co. Wexford, Ireland, in 1934 to a family that worked with horses. He moved to London in 1955 and worked as a drayman for Fullers Brewery, then as a riding instructor at Wimbledon Stables, with clients such as Oliver Reed and Gregory Peck.
In 1962 he moved over to Park Lane Stables as manager for Peter Churchill, a pioneer who introduced horsemanship as a night-school course.
John took over the stables a year later and met Veronica, whom he married in 1966. Their son Sean was born in 1968.
John semi-retired in 1983 and moved back to Ireland, where he still lives. Sean became an International polo player and coach and now lives in Scotland. Here he shares some childhood memories:
“My first memory was when I was two years old. I was walked up the road at 4pm by the head stable girl to meet Dad returning from the ride. She would hand me up to him and everyone would wave from their windows as we rode past.
“One day, Dad bought a near-dying pony from Southall Market. He often rescued horses from these places. She was so thin, we didn’t think she’d last the night, but Mum hand-fed her hot bran mash and she survived. She became a much-loved palomino pony called Silky.
“Two young sisters and keen riders were heartbroken when their family had to move abroad. They ran away and a search was put out. They were eventually found cuddled up to their favourite ponies after climbing the fence of the stables.
“Dad’s biggest gripe was when people parked in front of the stables. He once threw buckets of manure over a coach! The driver never parked there again.
“Film and television companies often used us. Sapphire had her blaze blacked out so she could appear in the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle as Black Bess, with Dad as the Highwayman.”
A request put out on social media revealed many fond memories of Mr Quinn, as he was known to his pupils:
Sue Horne: “I started riding at Park Lane around 1963 when I was eight years old. Everyone was smartly dressed. Mr Quinn always wore a collar and tie, breeches and a cloth cap – I never saw him in a hard hat although they were provided for beginners’ early lessons.”
Ginny Jarish: “John Quinn was in charge and we use to ride in Bushy Park – sometimes without stirrups to make sure our grip was good.”
Denise Wilkins: “I was four years old when my dad took me to Park Lane. Mr Quinn said I was too young, so a year later I went back and had my first lesson – 10 shillings for an hour.”
Caroline Dalington: “I won a competition in about 1965. The prize was 12 riding lessons and a riding hat. I had my lessons at Park Lane Stables and got my hat at a lovely shop called Luxfords in the High Street.”
Compiled by Cathy Cooper, with thanks to contributors Sean Quinn; Sue Horne; Ginny Jarish; Denise Wilkins; Caroline Dalington; Laura Hall; Debbie Hilton and Liz Thomas