New exhibition celebrates the toil of the pit ponies

LEGACY: Welsh ponies Eric and Ernie with Claire Worton at the National Coal Mining Museum.
LEGACY: Welsh ponies Eric and Ernie with Claire Worton at the National Coal Mining Museum.
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IN THE days when coal was king, they carried out the crucial work left behind when women and children were banned from working underground.

Now a new exhibition at the National Coal Mining (NCM) in Overton, Wakefield, celebrates the contribution of pit ponies and horses.

Picture by Harold White/ NCMME

Picture by Harold White/ NCMME

Opening on Monday June 22, the Path of the Ponies looks back on the rise of use of the animals, which moved tubs of coal from the seams to ground level after the banning of women and children in the 1840s.

By 1913, there were 70,000 ponies working in the British coalfields, but the rise of mechanical methods meant this had fallen to just 23 by 1992.

Curator of social and oral history at the NCM, Anne Bradley, said: “We wanted to tell the story of the ponies working underground, and the romanticised idea of them working together with the miners as a team - which they did. They faced the same dangers as the miners and many died underground in accidents, but we also look at the measures taken to protect the ponies.”

Stringent rules governed the use of pit ponies, including a charter, introduced in 1911, that deemed ponies had to be four years old before taken underground, and mines had to have procedures in place to quickly and humanely put down the animal should it be hurt underground.

These ‘humane killers’ will be displayed alongside a taxidermy pony on loan from the National Coal Board Museum. Visitors can also meet the NCM’s resident ponies, Eric and Ernie, and Clydesdale horse, Finn, in the stable yard.

“Lots of people remember when mines shut down or during the strikes, when the ponies were brought to the surface and out into communities,” Mrs Bradley said.

“This exhibition gives a snapshot into what life was like for the ponies, and the crucial contribution they made.”

The Path of the Ponies opens on Monday June 22 and runs until October.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm and is free to enter.