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Home  > News  > Museum Sad As Sparky The Pit Pony Dies

Museum Sad As Sparky The Pit Pony Dies

April 05 2007

We've just heard the sad news that Sparky, one of the last pit ponies in the UK, has died aged 36 after a short illness.

photo of a brown pony in a field

Pit ponies used to work underground in coal mines, and Sparky had worked for 13 years at Ellington Colliery (coal mine) in Northumberland.

Here's Sparky in his field. © NCMM

He finally stopped work in 1988 and had been enjoying a peaceful retirement at the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Overton, West Yorkshire, where he was very popular with visitors and staff.

Sparky was thought to be the oldest surviving deep pit pony, which means he worked in very deep mines moving coal and other materials.

There are only a few other pit ponies left, but they didn't work as far underground as Sparky.

Horses were used in coal mines for many years. At first they were used just above ground but were later used in the underground tunnels.

Most of them actually lived underground - their stables were underground and they only came to the surface for the annual miners' holiday or at other times when their mine was closed down.

This picture shows what it was like in an underground stable.


There were about 70,000 ponies working in British mines by 1913, but after that were used less as machines were made that helped with moving things around down the mines.

The ponies were still useful, though, as they were very strong for their size.

black and white photo of a miner leading a pony in a coal mine tunnel

Sparky worked alongside another pony called Carl who was one of the last pit ponies to still be working - he finally retired in 1994.


There used to be lots of coal mines across the UK but most of them were closed down in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mining was a tough and dangerous job for men and horses, although conditions did improve over the years.

The ponies were treated well because they were valuable, unlike children in Victorian times, who were made to work down the mines in terrible conditions.

Would you have liked to work down the mines like the boy in this picture? Why not write us a story about what you think it might be like?

You can find out more about child miners and read what children from Echline Primary School wrote about them to get you in the writing mood.

black and white photo of a boy digging at a coal face with a pick axe

Graham Spicer