Pit Ponies at Kemberton Pit

Ponies were the main source of power for transporting coal from the face to the pit bottom and taking empty tubs and supplies to the face. They worked in stages, i.e., taking tubs from the face to a point where another pony took over and so on.

Each pony had a driver who was responsible for it. Every pony taken from the stables was recorded in a Mines & Quarries Act record book. Each day the book was signed by the Chief Horsekeeper and sent to the surface to be initialled by the Colliery Undermanager and Manager.

At Kemberton the ponies were housed in two sets of stables, the main one in the pit bottom and the other at the top of the Top Coal Jig, about three quarters of a mile away. In the 1930s the pit had 65 ponies, 55 in the main stables and 10 in the Top Coal stables. Each pony had its own stall, with its name written in chalk on a board. A 50 gallon drum provided water for two ponies, with a wooden box for corn in each stall. 2 chains across the front of each stall prevented the ponies escaping, and sawdust was laid on the floor. Each stall was approximately 6ft high, 7ft long and 4 ft wide.

Corn was sent down the pit 6 days a week, and water in rectangular tanks fitted to tub chassis. The colliery had four horsekeepers, the chief horsekeeper was Mr Matt Owen, he worked all days. Three other horsekeepers covered the day, afternoon and night shifts. Frank Holcroft, Arthur Amos and Ted Owen were horsekeepers I remember, with Jack Childs joining later.

The introduction of rope haulage, conveyors and locomotives left only only one horsekeeper, Albert Garbett, employed by the late 1940 and early 1950s. The last two ponies were worked by Peter Karoly, a Direct Practical Trainee, who later became Undermanager at the Granville Colliery. Their names were Jock and Banger, they came out of the pit in 1953. One had cancer and had to be put down.

Casualties were common, the ponies had to be put down in the main due to broken legs and their feet getting stuck in “partings” or points in the tub rails. The ponies had a sixth sense for danger, they would stop dead and refuse to move, and suddenly the roof would collapse in front of them.

Many boys would start at the age of 14 as drivers. On their first day at work an experienced driver would instruct them for a couple of hours, then it was left up to them. Drivers regularly took apples, carrots and lunch for their ponies.

Some Ponies’ Names:

Drummer, Charlie, Billy, Turk, Sampson.

Some Ponies and their Drivers:

Trojan — Vic Edwards, Geoff — Gerald Whittaker, Douglas — Walter Boden, Laddie — Horace Humphreys, Beauty — Jack Bailey, Britain — Dick Purcell, Archer — Billy Foster, Drake — Ike Simmonds.

Some Drivers’ Names:

Bert Childs, Bob Keay, Manny Purcell, Jack Lycett, Bert Tyrer, Jack Childs, Ted Childs, Fred Bradley, Harold Lloyd, Harry Lloyd, Eric Lloyd, Billy Wood, Cyril George, George Richards, Alf Humphries, Jim Smart, Cyril Farlon, Mick Groves.

Jack Smart, May 1996