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.

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 busy week with some interesting finds

As you may know we are constantly adding “new” material to our collections (some of it new, i.e. recent, especially in local studies, and some of it much older). It is rare to go more than 3 or 4 days without accessioning new material, this was a little exceptional though with 7 new and additional  archive deposits and gifts in just 2 days.

Some of this was fairly typical of the material we take in on a regular basis, for example, late 20th and early 21st century school governors minutes. Some was was a little less typical and I got a little excitable as I looked through these new accessions to produce a summary for the official receipt and online catalogue.

One of the key professional duties of an archivist is to undertake an initial assessment of material that is being offered (whether it is being offered as a donation or a deposit, where the organisation offering the records remains the owner and the Record Office acts acts the custodian). We then summarise and describe the records and record in our database where the material has come from. This is known as as the accessioning process, and also involves assigning a running number to each new accession in addition to giving it a catalogue collection number. If we already have other records relating to the same collection (for example, in the case of a parish, school or business), we use the existing “D” reference number. If this is the first accession of material for a particular collection it is also assigned the next “D” reference (we have almost reached D8000 by the way).

Once we have entered all the necessary information into the database (which may also include information about access restrictions and copyright, amongst other things), we produce an Accession Receipt for the donor/depositor to sign along with the duty archivist. Both parties then each have a copy of the receipt.

Screenshot of our internal database for recording accessions and catalogues, showing list of accessions received on 14 July 2016

The next stage is to add information about the new accession to our online catalogue so that people know what we have. Very occasionally, if the new accession is quite small and individual records easily identified, we can add individual catalogue entries for each record and assign it a unique reference number. I was actually able able to do this on two occasions this week, for new material that came in from the Parish of Draycott and a separate accession from Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union.

When it is not possible for this to happen a summary of the new accession is added under ‘Description’ at home collection level entry on the catalogue until full cataloguing and number if can take place in the future. This is what I have done with the rest of the new accessions received last week.

So what new accessions did we receive this week? Can you guess which ones I was particularly excited about?

On Monday, two boxes of governors records arrived from Aston-on-Trent Primary School (ref: D6701) this was by far the largest deposit and contained a large number of documents that are not required or considered appropriate for permanent preservation in the archives. I undertook an initial assessment of which files contained archive material, returning those that didn’t to the school this week. The remaining files have now gone to be processed by our Records Assistants, checked, boxed and added to our archive strongrooms. However, as only the initial assessment has yet been completed, further appraisal will be required to identify other material within the files not appropriate for permanent preservation – for example there are a number of duplicates of items and publications from other bodies that do not relate to the school.

On Thursday, the first to arrive were were the minutes and reports from the Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union, which sadly disbanded earlier this year. This material has already been fully catalogued and added to the existing collection under the reference D4603. Two deposits were received from the Parish of Wilne with Draycott, including an original Register of Apprentices for Draycott, 1804-1816 (ref: D2513/5), an apparently very comprehensive survey and valuation of the whole of Draycott, including names of owners and occupiers, produced by William Cox in 1810 (ref: D2513/6) – see images below.

The deposit for Wilne (the mother church to Draycott) was much larger and generally much more recent, including for example, Parochial Church Council minutes 1993-2004, inspection reports, inventories of 1908 and 1935 and papers relating to various works and improvements undertaken between the 1950s and 2000s  (although these latter files will be appraised further as part of the cataloguing process – see my post in February “to keep or not to keep”) – ref: D2513. The star of the accession was undoubtedly the addition of the parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award of 1847-1848. Although we already hold the Diocesan copy of these important and incredibly useful records, Wilne was one of the few Derbyshire parishes for which we were not also protecting and preserving the parish copy. Nevertheless, the parish had clearly been taking good care of it as it is in very good condition:

Parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award 1847-1848 (D2513)

We also took in a small collection of printed items (see picture above), with a couple of photographs and news cuttings, relating to William Rhodes Junior School (later, and now, Primary School), donated by a friend and former colleague of the teacher who collected them during her employment there from the late 1960s to her retirement in 1983. Although not yet fully catalogued this material has been added to collection D5234, which also includes log books and admission registers for the infants and juniors from the 1930s.

Finally, we had two donations via the British Cave Research Association Library in Ashbourne. The first consisted of the only collection of material specifically relating to the Peak Forest Mining Company, including letter books and accounts from the late 19th century (ref: D7981). This material had once been in the possession of a past member of the Association (formerly the British Speleological Association), Mr Peter Crabtree, who passed away in 2003. And it was the research and other papers of Mr Crabtree that complete our list of new accessions received  (ref: D7982).