Pit Ponies and Haulage

Pit ponies are the archetypal symbol of the coal industry, but interestingly there weren’t any pit ponies at Waleswood after the turn of the century. Instead, a new compressed-air driven system was installed. In Kiveton, by contrast, pit ponies were vital to the pit for another half-century. Drivers and their ponies would be assigned to a certain part of the workings and they would spend the shift moving equipment and supports, or shuttling full and empty tubs from the face to the pit bottom. Each tub was designed to hold a tonne of coal.

Until the driving of drifts in the 1970s, Kiveton Pit was reliant on a cage that could only hold a handful of tubs to bring coal out of the pit. This was a major handicap compared to other pits, where tubs might be brought out a dozen or more at a time. It is hardly surprising that men arriving late for shift were told it was tough luck – as soon as men were in the pit the cage was given over to tubs.

The last pit ponies were brought out of Kiveton Pit in the 1960s by Cyril King, who was responsible for all the ponies at Kiveton. As you can read about in Michael Sampson’s book, Mr. King had other responsibilities too, including putting ponies down when they reached the end of their working lives. This tackle was used on Kiveton Park ponies and was salvaged when the pit shut.

Most ponies came out of the pit not to retire but in a tub, dead. The loss of a pony was very serious indeed: many men have suggested that management were more bothered about ponies dying than men – the ponies were difficult to replace. Haulage was transformed, first with the introduction of conveyors, continually pulling coal towards the surface to be sorted and cleaned. With the drifts in place, there were constant streams of coal flowing out of the pit, rather than rattling up a few tubs at a time.

As men got older their usefulness lessened, as it was difficult to work on the face after years in pit conditions – men’s bodies just couldn’t stand the physical toil. It was common for such men to be moved onto less demanding jobs, of which a ‘button man’ is a good example. This involved pressing a button to control the conveyors – a vital job but very undemanding and typically undertaken by older men.