Friday, 20 November 2009

Pit Ponies

Horses were first used in the coal industry to deliver coal on
the surface.Paths were too bumpy for carts so coal was
carried on a horse's back in a 'pannier'. As the quality of
pathways improved, horses were able to
 pull carts loaded with coal.

In 1722 Scotland's first railway was laid between the
mines at Tranent and the Port of Cockenzie on the
Forth, and horses pulled the wagons.
In the early 19th Century locomotives were introduced.
Locomotives  were cheaper to run and moved more
coal than a horse and wagon. Smaller pits, however,
still relied on the power of horses.

As coal was mined from deeper seams horses were put to work
underground. They powered gins to wind coal and workers up
 and down the shaft. In Scotland the task of moving coal from the
face to shaft originally fell to women and children called bearers.
They carried coal on their backs in wicker creels or baskets. The
introduction of iron wagonways meant that hutches could be
pulled by horses or ponies. More horses were used as distances
from the face to the shaft increased.

Horses could pull more than men could, a fact that offset the
 higher cost of horses. In 1810 it cost 5s 1/2d (25p) per day to
keep a horse, whilst a driver's wage was around 1s 2d (6p).

During the first half of the 19th century, women and children
transported coal in seams too low for horses. After the Coal
Mines Regulations Act of 1842 women, and girls and boys under
 the age of ten, were forbidden to work underground. The
number of ponies in use in the pits therefore increased. They
pulled hutches and took supplies to the coalface. The height
of the roof in some roadways had to be raised to accommodate
 the horses. This meant added expense and many mine owners
kept roof heights to a minimum. Ponies often scraped their heads
 or backs as a result, something called 'rooving',
 'topping', or 'scrubbing'.

The conditions that a pony lived in underground depended very
 much on the mine manager. At the beginning of the twentieth
 century the guidelines for feeding and stabling pit horses and
 ponies were as follows:

FEEDING: 'A good daily allowance for each horse is as follows:
 hay, 12 pounds; straw, which is not essential, 1 1/2 pounds;
oats, 8 pound; maize, 3 pounds; bran, 3 pounds. If beans are
used, the oats should be reduced. The cost of feeding horses
per week, as above, taken from actual practice, works out at
9s 6d to 10s 6d per horse per week, according to the market
prices of the foods.'

STABLING: 'The site should have a good fall for drainage. Stalls
 should be 6 foot wide separated by props which secure the
roof and form a sufficient partition without being boarded up.'

Not only were the siting and dimensions of the stables important,
but colliery managers also had to consider the following when
 planning a stables: whitewashing the walls regularly, ventilation,
 bedding, water supply, mangers, shoeing, veterinary care, name
 plates, and dealing with pests like cockroaches and rats.

Several breeds of horses were used underground, depending
 on the task to be performed and the height of the roadways in
the mine. Shetland Welsh ponies, ten to twelve hands high,
were in common use, though horses of up to twelve hands
were used. Of the large breeds of horse, Percherons were
preferred to the British Shire horse due to the lack of 'feather'
 on their legs. This hair could clog up with coal dust and mud
 and cause infection. The names and tails of the horses were
kept close cropped as this helped to keep them cool and clean.

The Coal Mines Regulations Act of 1887 was the first legislation
 relating to ponies underground. Inspectors investigated how
the animals were treated and checked that underground roadways
 were high enough. The Royal Commission of 1911 took
evidence about the living conditions of pit ponies and horses.
The resultant Coal Mines Act of 1911 provided further legislation
 to regulate the condition of stables, the keeping of records
 and the appointment of competent horseman. It also made
 the use of protective headgear and eye guards compulsory.

Legally pit ponies could only begin work at the age of four
 continuing for as long as they were able, perhaps into their
twenties. Before going underground ponies were trained to
pull weight behind them, and to get them used to the harness,
headgear and limbers. A wrongly fitted collar could rub on
the neck and cause sores.

Ponies were lowered into the pit in the cage, or, if the cage
was too small, they were lowered under the cage. The ponies
lived underground, only coming to the surface when the pit
 closed for a holiday or a strike. It could take up to twenty-four
hours for the ponies' eyes to adjust to the light on the
surface, because they were so used to the dark. This might
have lead to the myth that all pit ponies went blind.

During the 20th century mining became more mechanised
in all areas including haulage, and the number of ponies
 working declined. The last pit pony came out of Lady
Victoria Colliery in 1925, but the last working pit ponies
 did not come out of the mines until 1994.

Thanks to our Mining Mod ' Bitza ' .

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