I went into my loft the other day looking for some
more old horse books, from my childhood, and came across an old scrapbook
full of newspaper cutting, opened the book on this one, and instantly
remember it. I thought it was a lovely tale at the time, and still do
- see what you think?
The other newspaper clipping are from either the Daily Telegraph or
the Sunday Telegraph, so I assume that this is where this cutting came
Caring for last of Britain's pit ponies
By John Weaver - February 1969
When Mrs. Margaret Bell tries to get on with the housework it's Fred
who gets in the way. He just marches into the house and generally monopolises
the kitchen - which is surely his right as the retired member of the
Fred is on of the 1,500 remaining pit ponies whose twilight world down
the mines is coming to an end. Within the next 18 months, the Coal Board
plan to have found them all homes. Or if they are too old and ill, they
will be destroyed.
For Fred, now 26, with 22 working years behind him, it's time to rest
at the Bell's home at Witton-Gilbert, Durham. He's not been "put
out to grass" because left alone under those circumstances he would
probably fret or fight. Instead, Coal Board officials and the R.S.P.C.A.
have thoroughly inspected his new home; his sleeping quarters and the
family's ability to feed him through the year.
The Bell's wanted Fred for a pet 14 months ago. But, like thousands
of others in England, they had to wait four months. They could not choose
him. It was a question of whether the Bells were fir enough to give
Fred a good home.
Pit ponies probably get a better life than their relatives above ground.
Their stables are spotless; their handlers dote on them and take down
sweets and sandwiches for tit-bits. To quote the R.S.P.C.A. chief veterinary
officer Colonel Ian Tennant: "They have to be kept at a reasonable
temperature, the same was wine is kept in a cellar.
"The N.C.B. (National Coal Board) go to great lengths to help
us find them new homes. We inspect the accommodation, the land, and
the owners. So often, we get requests from children who just don't have
the facilities or the knowledge for looking after them. At one time,
they were turned out to grass because people thought it was a good thing
to do. But they just charged about, broke fences, and kicked. And the
vandals would tease and frighten them.
Wash and brush up for a pit pony. At one time, there were 73,000 at
work down the mines.
"They are just not used to life above ground and they need careful
Fifty years ago, there were 73,00 ponies working Britain's mines. "The
best miners in the world", was the tribute of one who looked after
them for 30 years. Pony and handler have always been very close.
In Yorkshire pits they play "snap" with their owners by sneaking
pieces of sugar from pockets, trotting forward to sample the sandwiches
and fruit that should have been the miners' lunch.
The tale goes underground that once the late Sir Harry Lauder, when
he was a miner, called his pony Catherine. But Catherine refused to
budge. Minutes later there was a pit-fall just in front of Catherine,
and they say she saved Harry's life.
The table has been turned. Six years ago a 19-year-old miner died trying
to save his pony when it galloped into mine workings in thick gas in
Derbyshire. Such is the bond between man and beast.
Now the end is near, Mr. Gordon Bagier, M.P. for South Sunderland has
sought - and got - from the Coal Board chief Lord Robens, an assurance
that these stalwarts of the black industrial revolution will not be
exported for slaughter.
And next month, on May 9, is the third reading of Sir Robert Cary's
bill calling for greater assurances of the ponies' welfare.
The fear is they will be exported for slaughter. But so stringent are
the Coal Board and the R.S.P.C.A. about new homes for the ponies that
even Lord Robens himself was turned down when he asked if he could keep
The R.S.P.C.A. decided his home at Walton-on-the-Hill did not have
suitable stabling. The Board get at least 20 letters a day with offers
of new homes. R.S.P.C.A. deal with four or five requests a day. But
always the two bodies point out that is costs at least £5.00 a
week to feed and stable them.
They have led sheltered lives down the mines. A Board spokesman said:
"They are probably more spoilt than other animals. They must be
hand fed; they lose the ability to crop grass like other ponies."
Certainly many will have to be "put down". This will depend
on veterinary advice, and it will be humane methods.
Both bodies insist the ponies must not be ridden. They are not cheap
pets, as so many parents think.
Fred, the Bells' pet, breaks the rules, now and then. He is lead round
their three-acre field with their five-year-old son Wealand at the reins.
Technically, it is not allowed.
But, says Mrs. Bell; "it's only for five minutes. And they both
To a nation whose conscience suffers more, than most over the fate
of its four-legged friends, the hope is that the Freds of the twilight
world will retire just as gracefully.
The Pit Pony
I also found this chewing gum card as well - what a lovely dapple grey
This is what is written on the back.
In 1842, the Mines Act prohibited women from hauling coal in the pits
and ponies took over the work. Times were hard for miner and pony but
slowly conditions improved. To day, no pony may work more than 48 hours
The ponies are very well cared for, 15 of them coming under the charge
of the "Horse-keeper". Each day the pony boys drive them to
work and see to the feeding and watering between shifts.
In 1914 there were 70,000 ponies working in the pits. To day (I have
know idea of the age of this card) the number has dwindled to under
10,000 mostly Welsh Cobs, Dale and Shetland Ponies.
The miners are very proud of their ponies and at shows, there is no
other animal to match up to their high standards of turnout and conditions.
Thanks mainly to the R.S.P.C.A.; ponies are found good homes in which
to enjoy their well-earned retirement.