Pit Ponies at Ireland Colliery

Pit ponies were a vital part of the coal mining way of life. They worked just as hard as the men by pulling tubs both above and below the surface, delivering coal and many other heavy jobs that their human counterparts couldn’t. This large variety of jobs required for the horses meant that they came in varying sizes. Smaller ones worked directly at the coal face, while bigger ones worked in underground spaces with larger roofs or on the surface. In the majority of mines there would have been ponies somewhere, especially as each seam had stabling for around 15 horses.

If you ask anyone who heard tales of the pit ponies, of which I have heard many myself from relatives, they would often tell you that they were often a miner’s pride and joy. Many of them were perhaps better treated than those who always lived above ground. They would be well fed and cleaned after their shift. Most importantly, their wellbeing was a priority to the regular horse inspectors who would come and check on them, ensuring they had a week off above ground if necessary. A pony driver could also be fined or sacked if he was found to be negligent towards his pony. These were often checks that weren’t carried out on horses working in other industries. Just like the men they worked alongside, any injuries or accidents were recorded in their own accident books.

Most pit ponies would have been allowed up on the surface for either holidays or weekends, as well as if they were deemed unwell by the inspectors. The majority of these were ones deemed special enough to be paraded in shows or competitions. However, during strikes, ponies would be brought to the surface for the entire strike action. After all, why not? They were hard workers too!

Ireland Colliery Pit Ponies

National Coal Board East Midland Division No. 1 Area, List of Ponies at Ireland Colliery, Nov 1960. N42/1/26/7

Whilst researching into the everyday life of pit ponies, Ireland Colliery on the outskirts of Staveley near Chesterfield brought up some interesting documents. First of all was a list from 1960 giving the names and defining features of some of the colliery ponies. If you notice their short names, this was because if there was an emergency, it was quicker and easier to say a pony’s short name. Each pony would have had this name placed above their stable. I find this piece of information, no matter how small, wonderful as it gives them all an identity and personality that shines out of the past.

Whilst on the topic of personalities of ponies, I found an amusing letter written to a Mr Bishop, probably from one of the pony keepers, about a certain pony named Sam. From the letter we can guess he was a new pony arrived at the pit. Unfortunately not much detail is given as to Sam’s short time working there other than the last line indicates “he would be no good for pit work”. I would have loved to have known more about what exactly this meant, but perhaps it just meant he was too naughty. Whatever the circumstances, you can easily imagine the pony’s temperament from this statement.

Letter of bad Sam

Letter to Mr Bishop detailing the removal of Sam the pony from Ireland Colliery, 24 Nov 1947, N42/1/26/7

Generally ponies were no longer needed by the 1960s due to the increased mechanisation of the coal mining process, but some did last longer than that, particularly in Wales. What didn’t change is how much miners were attached to their ponies. Many would bring treats, knowing that the job was just as dangerous for the ponies as it was for them. It’s estimated that up to a horse a fortnight was killed, often by being crushed by the tubs. When accidents like this occurred, men often risked their lives to try and save ponies, in return for the many times ponies refused to move when they sensed danger, often saving many men by doing so. It is with these small memories that pit ponies are remembered, especially during times of trouble.

Bibliography:

Kirkup, M., Pit Ponies (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Summerhill Books, 2008)

Slaney, L., ‘Pit Ponies’, Reflections, Feb 1999, pp. 9-11.

Winter, J, 4 Oral Histories: Cyril ‘Sonny White’ (c. 1996)

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Welcome to the Mining the Seams Project

The Mining the Seams project is a 2 year collaborative project with Warwickshire County Record Office and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Our small team aim to shed more light on the National Coal Board collection we have, with particular focus on the medical and compensation aspects. In the future, this particularly means helping to catalogue this collection in more detail so it is more accessible to those interested in this type of industrial history.

Having graduated from the University of Derby’s MA Public History and Heritage course last November, I’m so far enjoying my time delving into a period of history I don’t usually cover. Still, this isn’t my first time here at the Derbyshire Record Office as I have been involved on and off since my internship on the Pop-Up Archives Project in 2017. It’s so great to be getting more involved in the nitty gritty of how an archives works. As someone who lives in Alfreton and has done all my life, I can’t ignore the town’s mining heritage and that some of my relations have been miners. For me this project is a way to understand what their way of life once was, particularly my maternal grandfather who I never knew but had always heard stories about him coming home black from the coal. My uncle who is now recently retired also played a role in the local Miners Strikes.

So far there isn’t much to write about other than a brief introduction to the project’s aims and introducing myself as a project archives assistant, so apologies for the very brief post! However, there will be more posts on interesting items and themes that come along, which will be posted at the beginning of every month. I do hope you can follow the project’s progress and that some of you may become volunteers when we start looking for them at the beginning of next year.

Coal and Dialect

For those of you interested in coal mining heritage, there’s a great new Coal and Dialect in the East Midlands website created by Natalie Braber and David Amos at Nottingham Trent University.

Coal and Dialect website

It includes lots of oral history snippets explaining the different terms used by miners.  So if you’d like to know what an overman or an onsetter did, or what snaking, spragging or scrufting are, then you can listen to a former miner explaining exactly what these words mean.  Do take a look!

The Perils of the Miners’ Pit Head Baths

Among our work, we have been creating a database from Derbyshire National Union of Mineworkers’ tribunal cases relating to illness and injury.  Among the many injuries, illnesses and diseases, were those caused by visits to and working in the pithead baths.

Before the construction of pithead baths at collieries, miners would travel to and from work in dirty, damp clothes. Pithead baths were first discussed by the Mineworkers Federation of Great Britain at its annual conference in 1910 but for many reasons, ranging from worry over illnesses to a proposed charge for using the baths, there was difficulty in persuading miners that pithead baths were needed.

The first baths in Derbyshire were opened at Grassmoor colliery in December 1929. By the late 1930s ten of the county’s collieries, including Markham colliery, had pithead baths. In the late 1940s the Ministry of Fuel and Power decided that every pithead bath should have an attached medical centre. By the beginning of 1947 pithead baths had been built at 366 collieries across the UK with provision for 450,000 men.

The main two groups of injuries and diseases that we have come across resulting from pithead bath use have been slipping and/or falling and skin diseases such as dermatitis and athlete’s foot.

There were strict rules about using the baths (picture courtesy of National Coal Mining Museum for England):Pithead Bath Rules - compressed

Each colliery might have their own set of rules, too.  This is from the Markham Collieries: ‘The Bather’s Handbook’ [1935-1939] (our ref D1920):
a476_7-the-bathers-handbook-markham-colliery-1935x1939

These next two photographs were taken at the National Coal Mining Museum for England near Wakefield, a highly recommended visit.
The pithead baths at this Colliery (no longer in use of course!) certainly put the accidents suffered by both the staff and bath attendants and the miners themselves into context.
lockers

The pithead bath locker rooms could be dangerous places if the miners were eager to get home after their shift!

 

No Money No Soap

A very clear message!

A week of work experience at Derbyshire Record Office

This post comes from Richard and Cara, who have been at Derbyshire Record Office all week on a work experience placement.  We are all agreed they have done really, really well.

Work experience this week has been fantastic. We’ve done multiple activities such as conservation; Picture the Past and the NUM Project work. We’ve learnt a lot here, and have also gained some experience of being in an amazing work environment such as the Derbyshire Record Office. Everyone here is extremely friendly; you can’t really see a bad side to anyone.

On the first day we both had a tour of the building lead by Paul Beattie. He walked us down into the huge archives, apparently with over five miles of shelve space. It was really interesting to see a deed of a grammar school from Queen Elizabeth I and also the earliest cook book with the recipe for a Bakewell tart. After lunch, we joined in with the NUM project work. This is a two year project where Paul, Emma and Hilary list over ten thousand miners from the county. They look into their births, deaths and any injuries they had during their work. This was really fun, as we got to go down into the archives and fetch some boxes for Paul Carlyle, the Project Manager.

The next day, we were both split up. Cara went to local studies, and Richard went to the search room. Cara looked at her family history and found that one of her ancestors was Scottish. She also learnt how to use the card catalogue. Richard, in the search room, went onto the computers and had a look at the online catalogue for all the documents in the archives. He ordered out two documents, one being a map of the area around where he lives, the other of some sales documents of his road. He found it quite interesting, as he saw that his house dates back to the mid-1700s. After lunch, we went to the computer room in Local Studies and met with Mark, who was looking after the enquiries. We answered some enquiries by using the card catalogue, which was interesting.

On Wednesday, we both swapped around. Cara went to the search room and Richard went to local studies. Cara had to look through all the reference numbers of previous documents because one had been misplaced. After that she answered some enquiries about schools in Derbyshire. Richard sorted out some order cards from previous documents, similar to what Cara was doing. He then looked on Ancestry.com and searched for his great great Grandad.   After lunch, we had a brief explanation of digitisation from Matthew. He explained how to scan a document, which is what he does in digitisation. After that we met with Nick, who explained ‘Picture the Past’. This is where he digitises historic pictures. He gave us the task to find locations of undescribed photos without a location.

On the Thursday, we had a short staff meeting with everyone at the record office. They just talked about the budgets and other important stuff we didn’t understand. We then wandered off towards Conservation where we met with Lien and Clare, who had given us the task to clean some documents from the 17th century. We both enjoyed that task. We had lunch around 12pm, and then went back to Lien and Clare and did some preservation work with ‘spider paper’ and a heat press. This was both very interesting and also fun. We repaired some mock documents which were classed as ‘ok’. Surprisingly, that was quite the compliment for what we had achieved. We tried to make some pouches for wax seals that were attached to a document. Cara did pretty well, Richard failed. (He hadn’t sewn for a long time!)

So after we left Lien and Clare, we met Paul at the search room and he given us the task to list different types of documents

Today (Friday), we did more of the project work until lunch, and managed to list 118 documents on the excel spreadsheet. We decided to go for lunch, and then went to Local Studies and met with Mark again. This is where we returned some books from the library and then sorted out cards from the card catalogue. Both of us then decided to write a blog, which is where we are now.  Later on we’re going to meet up with Paul and have a ‘review and evaluation’ of the whole week.   😀

This week has been both amazing and fun. All the staff members here are extremely friendly and they always bring in food. We would like to thank everyone for this great experience at the Derbyshire Record Office!

Treasure 35: Records of the National Union of Mineworkers, Derbyshire Area, 1880s-2015

The archive of the National Union of Mineworkers’ Derbyshire Area documents 135 years of trade unionism within the north-east Derbyshire coal industry, from the early days of the Derbyshire Miners’ Association, formed in 1880, through to the formation of the NUM in 1945 and the Area’s closure in 2015. It reflects the great changes that took place within the industry, such as nationalisation and colliery closures, and their influence on the economy, culture and communities of the East Midlands.

These records provide an insight into various aspects of the union’s activities, as well as significant national events, including the strikes of 1972, 1974 and 1984-5. They also provide an unparalleled resource for the study of miners’ health and welfare in Derbyshire, with thousands of individual case files of miners who applied for injury and disablement benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1946. Derbyshire Record Office has received funding from the Wellcome Trust for an exciting project to catalogue this important collection and make it available to the public.

Paul Carlyle, archivist for the Miners’ Health and Welfare: cataloguing the NUM Derbyshire Area archive project

Derbyshire mining material.JPG

The photograph above shows some of the material on display as part of the 50 Treasures exhibition. It includes:

  • A volume of Derbyshire Miners’ Association minutes covering the years of the First World War.
  • A brochure for the Rhyl Holiday Centre, 1963 season
  • A large poster advertising a rally and march through Chesterfield on 19 February 1972 organised in support of striking miners
  • ‘The Bathers’ Handbook’. Markham Collieries Pithead Baths, c1938

Find 1926 General Strike documents on Warwick University’s map

1926 map

Our colleagues at the University of Warwick’s Modern Records Centre have been busy.  They have completed the digitisation of over 450 documents on the General Strike of May 1926, including TUC reports, bulletins issued by strike committees, and transcripts of BBC radio broadcasts.

A lot of the documents have particular local content, which you can access by finding pins on the interactive map associated with this resource.  I had a play with it just now and managed to find the text of a speech about the coal industry by J F Vardy of Stanton Ironworks, delivered at the Welfare Institute at Pleasley on 25 Jul 1925.

The site also has some additional contextual material including a summary of key events before, during and after the strike.