Cowboys and Pit Ponies

The Cowboys and the Pit Ponies.

Pit ponies were employed at Thoresby Colliery to haul underground trucks full of heavy material.

Brian Lee, has written to Acorn with his boyhood recollection that the ponies were brought up the shaft on the Friday evening before the colliery holiday fortnight and taken to Herbert’s farm.

The astonishing fact is that, though the ponies – about six in number – only saw the light of day a few times during the year, they knew the way to the farm.

An important part of this annual spectacle was the welcome the ponies always received from a crowd of children who lined the route. Brian recalls sitting on a wall outside the Royal Oak. The first sign that the ponies were on their way was of a man who was accompanying them on his bike giving a warning shout: “They’re coming! They’re coming!” and pedalling furiously to keep up with them. The ponies were trotting along, relishing their freedom, and occasionally kicking their hind legs into the air. The onlooking children would cheer for all they were worth as the ponies pranced along excitedly. It was rumoured that the duty policeman, having been alerted to this annual caper, would stand at the crossroads ready to stop any motor traffic and give the animals the right of way.

Once at the farm they were allowed to graze freely in a field. Brian’s uncle, Jack Shawcroft, assured Brian and his pals that anyone who managed to catch one of the ponies would be allowed to keep it.

The boys, not to be confused with those in the picture, needed no further encouragement: as eight-year-olds they spent hours in the field, trying to lasso a pony with their mothers’ clothes lines, but to no avail!

There’s an air of mystery about the reluctant return of the ponies to their work below ground. “It must have happened in the middle of the night,” says Brian, “but how it was done I can’t imagine.” The photo, taken in Herbert’s crew yard, shows Mr Arthur Brown, a well-known village personality of the time – about 1955 – with his saddleback pigs. Sitting on the fence (three in cowboys’ outfits) are Brian Wingate, Brian Lee, (dressed, he says, as the Sheriff of Edwinstowe), Michael Smith, John Thompson and Barry Scothern.

Brian Lee mentioned that Derek Wilkinson was a stable lad at Thoresby Colliery from 1953 to 1955. Derek agreed to be interviewed and this is what he said: “In my time three ponies were employed – Duke, Billy and Tommy. Duke was most often down the pit hauling materials in tubs to the training face where young trainees were initiated into mining coal. Billy would usually join him but often there wasn’t enough work for two ponies so Billy, who was hard to handle, would be sent up the pit.”