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Robert Bradley - Retired Surveyor

Pit Ponies And Ostlers

My Great Grandfather John James Rowland was know as Pony Rowland and he looked after the ponies which they used in the mine. He was crushed in the pit but survived, I have very little memory of him but am keen to find anything about his life down the pit that I can. I know he used to go to the Mining Convalescent home in Skegness.

Gillian Anwyll

The Ostlers Job Was - Looking After - Grooming - Hair Cutting - Harnessing or Limbering Ponies Ready For Work

Bernard Shaw - Foreman Saddler - 1958

An Ostlers Job

Bob Bradley

An Ostlers job was looking after ponies, grooming, hair cutting, harnessing or limbering ponies ready for work and making sure they had a pony bag of food for partway through the shift, usually when the ganger who was working him, to pull tubs etc, was having his snap.

Prior to the mid 1930s the ponies hauled tubs of coal from the faces to the pit bottom or to a main road where the tubs of coal were clipped onto a moving steel rope and hauled to the pit bottom by an engine to be raised up the shaft. The empty tubs or jotties would be taken back to the coal face stall working and could contain timber props etc used for roof supports.

When the ponies returned to the stables in the pit bottom area he would make sure they were well fed and watered and had clean bedding in their stall in the stables after a shift's work. He would also examine the horses for any injury and would treat minor cases with care and medicines or potions and liniment etc accordingly he could also refuse to allow them to work next day or until he thought them fit. These decisions were not liked by management but he would have, like all other Ostlers, put the remarks in the 'Pony Records Book' which  could then have been seen by the Mines Inspector of Horses.

No Manager could overrule his decision if he warranted that the said horse or pony was unfit for work. Nor could a horse be worked for more than 7 shifts without a rest.

Of course in the 19th Century those rules did not exist and the poor creatures were worked until they dropped. The Pit Ponies Charter was enacted after the 1911 Coal Mines Act.

Pony Rowland' obviously well known for his job would also have been in charge of the 'humane killer', a device unfortunately made to destroy or kill an animal should it be involved in an accident and in pain. These later instruments were made like a leather head covering with a hole where a charge was fired through a hand held gun device to put an animal out of its misery. Sad but necessary. Of course he may never have used it.

Depending upon the number of ponies under his command he would have or could have had several helpers.

He would have made sure that the stables were clean and washed down daily and usually whitewashed and reasonably well lit. He would also make sure that the ventilation through the stables was adequate and baffled by clothings and not too cold as the ponies could be quite sweaty on their return at the end of the shift.

He would have made sure they were rubbed down with a blanket. He would also check to make sure that the gangers were not cruel to the animals. Only a very few were and if they were caught ill treating a pony they suffered the consequences. Most gangers loved their animals and used to take them tidbits such as carrots and apples as extra treats. The Ponies normal feed was a mixture of beans, peas, chaop and hay and other grain sometimes.

Generally the ponies were brought out of the pit during the pit holiday week and put in a field, when they were loosed they would gambol and frolic for some time before settling down and because they ate green grass they sometimes had the gripes and had to be weaned back onto chaop. When the time came to take the ponies back down the pit it was usually a very difficult job to catch them as they knew their fate. When they were caught they would have a bag over their head as they were lead to the cage where they were roped in to stop them thrashing about.

At some pits mice or rats had got into the pit in the food sent down the pit and they multiplied as the food was plentiful. You never found rats or mice together. I don't know whether there was any vermin down Bond's Main. Sometimes they had a cat in the stables which usually caught them.

The colliery, Bond's Main, was named after one of the Directors of the Company.

You mentioned that he was 'crushed' but survived. That could have been whilst he was pony leading or on a previous job such as coal face work before being appointed as Ostler.

He was obviously injured sufficiently to be sent to the Convalescent Home at Skegness to recuperate from his injuries. That would have been paid for by the Company if it was proven that it was not his fault that he was injured, or possibly out of the Union or Sickness fund. It is possible that he was given this job after recuperation as it was in the pit bottom, no travelling or walking inbye to faces etc and that it was classified as 'light work'.

This is a brief description of the job Ostler, looking after the ponies.

Trusting this will give you an insight into the very important job of an Ostler.

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