The National Coal Mining Museum’s much-loved pit ponies and Clydesdale are moving home on July 19th. Their brand-new stables in the Hope Pit area of the site offer more space to share the story of the thousands of working horses who were essential to England’s coal mining industry.
The Pony Discovery Centre is undercover with new graphics, displays and activities which create a visually stimulating, interactive learning experience, featuring a timeline charting the history of pit ponies who were first recorded as working underground in the 1700s. They were used on a larger scale after the Mines Act of 1842 prevented women and children working in the mines.
By 1870, it is estimated there were 200,000 horses in the UK’s mines and, though numbers declined as technology improved, the last pit ponies were still working at Ellington Colliery in Northumberland in the 1990s. Carl, one of the last four pit ponies to leave Ellington, became one of several working horses to live out their retirement at the Museum. Although our current ponies never pulled heavy loads of coal and materials, both underground in main roadways and on the surface.
The Museum is currently home to quiet Eric and cheeky Ernie, Welsh mountain ponies who arrived in 2007 after the RSPCA rescued them from an abandoned Welsh coalfield area. They, along with blue and white cob Bud who came to the museum in 2017, are typical of the ponies who would have lived and worked underground. Gentle giant Finn, a Clydesdale, would have worked above ground on the horse gins, transporting men into the mine and coal out.
Horsekeeper Supervisor Neil Beaumont says: “Our three ponies would likely have worked underground 100 years ago. Today they are ambassadors for the horses that did live and work in mines across the UK, helping us to illustrate the story of the thousands of horses who were vital to the coal mining industry.”
The new Pony Discovery Centre has been part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, via the East Peak Innovation Partnership (EPIP), and will help promote rural tourism while explaining industrial life to over a hundred thousand children each year.