Pit pony

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Pit pony in Germany, 1894

A pit pony was a class of pony commonly used underground in mines from the mid-18th until the mid-20th century. The term refers to the work done by the animal, and has sometimes been applied to any equines working underground, regardless of breed.[1]

History[edit]

The first known recorded use of ponies underground in Great Britain was in the Durham coalfield in 1750. Following the drowning deaths of 26 children[2] when the Huskar Colliery in Silkstone flooded on July 4, 1838, "A report was published in The Times, and the wider British public learned for the first time that women and children worked in the mines. There was a public outcry, led by politician and reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Lord Shaftesbury,"[3] who then introduced the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 to Parliament which barred women, girls and boys under 10 (later amended to 13) from working underground, leading to the widespread use of horses and ponies in mining in England, though the Act did not end child labor in British mines.[4]

In the United States, mules outnumbered ponies in mines.[5] The use of ponies was never common in the United States, though ponies were used in Appalachian coal fields in the mid-20th century.[6]

The British Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887 presented the first national legislation to protect horses working underground. Due to pressure from the National Equine Defense League, formerly the Pit Ponies' Protection Society– founded in 1908 by animal and human rights advocate Francis Albert Cox (June 24, 1862 – May 25, 1920)[7] –and the Scottish Society to Promote Kindness to Pit Ponies; in 1911, a Royal Commission report was published, detailing conditions, which resulting in protective legislation.

In 1904, the president of the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pit Ponies, Countess Maud Fitzwlliam, daughter of Lawrence Dundas, 1st Marquess of Zetland, awarded a young Elsecar Collieries mine worker, John William Bell of Wentworth, the Fitzwilliam Medal for Kindness for an act of bravery that saved the life of his equine workmate. Bell's story of staying behind while his human workmates were able to escape through a small opening– in order to ensure that the pony would also have a chance at rescue –became a successful tool for the Countess in promoting pit pony rights.[8] The brave young man appears to have given his own life to the mines, nonetheless, when, on March 27, 1910, John William Bell, son of Henry, died when hit by falling rock at the Oakenshaw mine while trying to aid another miner whose hand putter's tub had become loose.[9]

In 1911, Sir Harry Lauder became an outspoken advocate, "pleading the cause of the poor pit ponies" to Sir Winston Churchill, when introduced to him at the House of Commons, reporting to the Tamworth Herald that he "could talk for hours about my wee four-footed friends of the mine. But I think I convinced him that the time has now arrived when something should be done by the law of the land to improve the lot and working conditions of the patient, equine slaves who assist so materially in carrying on the great mining industry of this country."[10]

At the peak of this practice in 1913, there were 70,000 ponies underground in Britain. In later years, mechanical haulage was quickly introduced on the main underground roads replacing the pony hauls, and ponies tended to be confined to the shorter runs from coal face to main road (known in North East England as "putting") which were more difficult to mechanise. As of 1984, 55 ponies were still in use with the National Coal Board in Britain, chiefly at the modern pit in Ellington, Northumberland. When Ellington closed for the first time in 1994, four pit ponies were brought out (no ponies were used there during the RJB era). Of the four, two went to the National Coal Mining Museum for England at Caphouse. The last surviving pony was Tony who died in 2011 aged 40.[11]

Pit pony and miner in a mine in New Aberdeen, Nova Scotia, August 1946. The last working pit pony was brought out of the Drummond Coal Company colliery at Westville in 1978.

Probably the last colliery horse to work underground in a British coal mine, "Robbie", was retired from Pant y Gasseg, near Pontypool, in May 1999.[12] The last pony mine in the United States, located near Centerville, Iowa, closed in 1971.[13] The last pit ponies used in Australia, Wharrier and Mr Ed of the Collinsville Coal’s No 2 Mine in Queensland, were finally retired in 1990 after many years’ service.[14]

Breed and conformation[edit]

Larger horses, such as varieties of Cleveland Bay, could be used on higher underground roadways, but on many duties small ponies no more than 12 hands high were needed. Shetlands were a breed commonly used because of their small size, but Welsh, Russian, Devonshire (Dartmoor) and Cornish ponies also saw extensive use in England.[1] In the interwar period, ponies were imported into Britain from the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the United States. Geldings and stallions only were used. Donkeys were also used in the late 19th century, and in the United States, large numbers of mules were used.[5] Regardless of breed, typical mining ponies were low set, heavy bodied and heavy limbed with plenty of bone and substance, low-headed and sure-footed. Under the British Coal Mines Act of 1911, ponies had to be four years old and work ready (shod and vet checked) before going underground.[15] They could work until their twenties.[citation needed]

Work[edit]

Nineteenth-century illustration of a stable in a mine.
Nineteenth-century illustration of a pony being lowered down a mine shaft at Creuzot, France.

In shaft mines, ponies were normally stabled underground[16] and fed on a diet with a high proportion of chopped hay and maize, coming to the surface only during the colliery's annual holiday. In slope and drift mines, the stables were usually on the surface near the mine entrance.[17]

Typically, they would work an eight-hour shift each day, during which they might haul 30 tons of coal in tubs on the underground mine railway. One 1911 writer estimated that the average working life of coal mining mules was only 3 1/2 years, where 20-year working lives were common on the surface.[16] Recollections differ on how well the ponies were cared for in earlier years.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b English Pit Ponies, The Colliery Engineer, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (August 1887); pages 6-7.
  2. ^ MSIA "Huskar Colliery 1838", Mine Safety Institute of Australia. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  3. ^ Cook, Sue "Making History: The Husker Pit disaster, 1838 — why 26 children died", BBC Radio 4, U.K. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  4. ^ Simkin, John "Underground child labour in the coal mining industry did not come to an end in 1842", Spartacus Educational August 2, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  5. ^ a b H.H. Stoek, J.R. Fleming, A.J. Hoskin, A Study of Coal Mine Haulage in Illinois, Bulletin 132, University of Illinois Engineering Experiment Station, July 1922; pages 15-16.
  6. ^ Benedict, Les (director); Knudtson, Steve (producer) (1972). The Last Pony Mine (motion picture). Iowa State University Library, Special Collections. Available on Youtube in 3 parts part 1, part 2, part 3.
  7. ^ Colby, F.M. New International Yearbook: A Compendium of the World's Progress (1920), Frank Moore Colby, M.A., Editor, 1921, page 171. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  8. ^ BBC "Elsecar 19", Bargain Hunt, BBC, Series 46, Episode 30 (16:20 - 19:00), Youtube, September 20, 2017. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  9. ^ Duncan, K. "In Memoriam: John William Bell", Durham Mining Museum, 2015. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  10. ^ Scottish Mining timeline. "PIT PONIES. HARRY LAUDER BEFRIENDS THEM", "Misc. Hamilton History"; Scottish Mining Website. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  11. ^ "Last Northumberland pit pony passes away" published in the Evening Chronicle 21 July 2011, retrieved 26 February 2014 from http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/last-northumberland-pit-pony-passes-1401845 .
  12. ^ Thompson, Ceri (2008). Harnessed: Colliery Horses in Wales. Cardiff: National Museum Wales. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7200-0591-2.
  13. ^ Benedict, Les (director); Knudtson, Steve (producer) (1972). The Last Pony Mine (motion picture). Iowa State University Library, Special Collections. Available on Youtube in 3 parts part 1, part 2, part 3.
  14. ^ www.wisdom.com.au. "Pit Ponies | Wollongong Heritage and Stories". www.wollongongheritageandstories.com. Retrieved 2018-08-04.
  15. ^ "Coal Mines Act (Schedule Three)". Act No. 50 of 1911. .
  16. ^ a b "The Care of Mine Mules". Mines and Minerals. Colliery Engineer Company. XXXI (11): 650. June 1911.
  17. ^ International Correspondence Schools (1900). "Surface arrangements at a mine opened at a point below the tipple level". A Treatise on Coal Mining. The Colliery Engineer Co. pp. 33–35.

General reference[edit]

External links[edit]