July 23, 2008

New Book Spotlights Little Workhorses of the North East Pits

PEOPLE'S enduring fascination with the pit ponies who toiled for centuries in Britain's mines has inspired the latest book by a North East author, historian and former mineworker.

Retired college lecturer Mike Kirkup - who has written a series of books on the region's mining heritage - says 'Pit Ponies' is a record of the vital work carried out by horses below and above ground during the heyday of an industry now extinct in the North East.

The 40-page, fully-illustrated book includes scores of old photographs and colour paintings - and features the work of former miner turned professional artist Bill Hindmarsh.

Britain's last pit ponies were finally pensioned off at Ellington Colliery in Northumberland in February 2004, ending a mining partnership between man and beast that stretched back 300 years.

Yesterday Mike, of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, said: "As chairman of the former Friends of Woodhorn Colliery Museum for over 10 years, I often acted as a guide for schoolchildren. The first place the children asked to visit was the stables and they couldn't get enough of pit pony tales.

"Young ponies, often only four years old, were broken in on one of the coal company's farms, before being led into the cage for a 1,000ft drop into the bowels of the earth.

"Many of them died in terrible accidents, such as at Woodhorn Colliery in August 1916 when a pony perished along with its young master, John George Patterson, and 12 other men, as a result of a gas explo sion."

The paintings in the book are the work of former Linton Colliery electrician Bill Hindmarsh, whose pictures of pit life are featured in the Tallantyre Gallery in Morpeth. His work will also be exhibited at Woodhorn Museum and Archives Centre in January.

Mr Hindmarsh moved to Tyneside and became a full-time professional artist in his 50s, and now lives in County Durham. 'Pit Ponies', published by Summerhill Books, is available in shops and museums, priced pounds 4.99.

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