'Able' of Glyncorrwg Colliery - second place in Merthyr Horse Show, June 1955.

'Able' of Glyncorrwg Colliery - second place in Merthyr Horse Show, June 1955.

Darran Colliery, Neath Abbey, c.1974

Darran Colliery, Neath Abbey, c.1974.

Underground stables, probably Penallta Colliery, c.1940.

Underground stables, probably Penallta Colliery, c.1940.

Pit ponies

Horses have been closely connected with coal mining since the early days of the industry. They have been used to transport coal from the collieries to the customer, have been used to power winding and pumping engines and, most importantly, to move coal from the coalface to the shaft.

In 1878 the RSPCA calculated that there were over 200,000 at work in British mines.

Although often referred to as 'pit ponies' by the general public, most of the animals used in Welsh collieries were actually horses.

15 hands high

They were usually around 15 hands high (a hand being 10cms with horses being measured to the shoulder). However some ponies, of about 13 hands, were used for light haulage duties.

The best looking colliery horses would be exhibited in shows, with collieries competing with each other for the champion horse. Such 'show horses' usually led a very privileged life, often kept on light duties to preserve their appearance.

Inhumaine or essential to economic growth?

Although they were essential for the production of coal before the introduction of mechanised haulage, the use of horses in the coal industry has often been highly controversial.

The coal owners argued that they were vital in the economic process of winning coal while animal lovers regarded their use as inhumane.

In between these opposing sides were the mineworkers, who may have felt sympathy for these animals. However they could turn a blind eye to any callousness, or even be cruel themselves, if their pay packets were under threat.

Hard graft

Whether he was a 'willing pet' or a 'wretched pit pony' the colliery horse shared the same conditions and dangers as the coalminer; they were used as a propaganda tool by both sides during industrial disputes, they died in their hundreds from mistreatment, accident and explosion - but without their hard work, the industrial revolution would have failed.

I remember Edgar, a little haulier, who used to say to his horse every morning 'Are you going to work for me today?' Then he'd give him an apple. They were more butties (mates) than workman and horse!
Len Howell, Six Bells Colliery, 1960s

Placed in the hands of ignorant lads who shamefully abused the powers entrusted to them without fear of punishment, worked often in double shifts of sixteen consecutive hours ... the horses are ... kept below ground for years without seeing daylight, left without any form of inspection worthy of the name, their lives were a standing outcry against cruelty and injustice.
The Animal World, September 1918

Comments(6)

Doug Bowen
10 March 2019, 19:58
My father went down the mines when 14 in 1934 in Troed y Rhiw. The family plus my father moved to Blaendulais, called Seven Sisters after the Mine Owner's daughters indicating the power of the Mine Owners. He was very good mechanically but that did mean as a Fitter or similar call outs came at any time of the day or night to ensure the machines kept working. No mobiles etc - stones on the bedroom window indicated a 'problem;.
Every Summer the 'pit ponies' were brought to the field in front of the house for their August holiday, in fact they were huge Shire horses, They were so full of life and galloped around the field providing a wonderful sight, enjoying the freedom from the pits they wore eye guards to protect them from the sunlight.
One day my father announced he was leaving the mines, he'd seen miners killed but that particular day he had experienced a rock fall that killed a favourite horse of the mine. I never heard of cruelty to the horses as they were appreciated by the close knit community underground.
Hilary Jones
7 February 2019, 17:34
It doesn't seem to me that the horses had it any harder than the human miners (my ancestors). Possibly, from my experience of equine therapy for traumatised people, I could think that horses and miners made it more bearable for each other. But it's all part of capitalism, and the exploitation of the many (Welsh) for the benefit of the few (English) . Time for a change?
Mercedes
24 March 2016, 12:27
I have visited the Big Pit many times over the years, and each time I go I try to remember all the lovely names given to the pit ponies that lived underground. Could you remind me of all those wonderful names, of which I can only remember one - 'Welsh'!
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
29 February 2016, 11:09

Hi there Keith,

To follow up your enquiry, our Curator of Coal, Ceri Thompson, responded with the following:

"We don’t have casualty figures for horses killed in service apart from when they are mentioned in disaster reports. The National Coal Board records are now held by the National Archives in Kew, they may have such records."

Thanks again for getting in touch,

Sara
Digital Team

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
26 February 2016, 11:34

Hi Keith

I will pass on your enquiry to our curators and let you know. You may be interested in a book we published on the history of Colliery Horses in Wales, which is now on sale at a discounted price: 'Harnessed: Colliery Horses in Wales'

Many thanks for your enquiry,


Sara
Digital Team

Keith Jones
26 February 2016, 11:30
Can anyone tell me if any horses were killed at the deep duffryn colliery Mountain Ash in the 1950's or up to closure in 1979

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