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Home > Family Histories > Occupations & Trades > Pony Driver

Pony Driver

pony driver

Pony driver with horse pulling a train of empty shale hutches in Philpstoun No 1 Mine, circa 1940


Pony driving was often one of the first jobs for young lads, usually aged around 14, who were starting work in the shale mines. Boys would normally work as a pony driver for 1 or 2 years before being moved on to heavier work.

Pony drivers were in charge of a horse or pony hauling empty hutches to the different working areas in the mines and bringing hutches filled with shale to the pit bottom. Especially in pits without an ostler, pony drivers were also responsible for maintaining the underground stables, feeding and grooming the ponies and looking after their general welfare.

Pit ponies were well looked after in proper stables with lighting and beds of moss litter. The roads for the pit ponies were usually well made, often laid with bricks, to ensure a good, safe surface for the horses. Despite the introduction of underground diesel locomotives around 1940, ponies remained in use at many mines until the industry closed in 1962.

Wages & Working Hours

According to The Board of Trade Census of Wages conducted in 1886, boys under 15 earned an average weekly wage of 13s 3d with boys over 15 earning an average of 15s 0d. The report states that most underground workers, with the exception of miners and drawers, worked between 54 and 60 hours per week.

In 1925, the Report of a Court of Investigation Concerning the Wages Position in the Scottish Shale Oil Industry, records that an average 5.77 day week was worked by underground workers with around 7.5 hours per day spent underground. Average weekly earnings for boys under 18 years of age working underground were 26s 10d, youths aged between 18 and 21 earned 31s 6d and men earned £2 13s 0d.

By 1958, an Agreement Between the Scottish Shale Oil Companies and the National Union of Shale Miners and Oil Workers records that boys and youths working underground earned (per shift) 16s 7d at age 15, 17s 5d at age 16, 18s 6d at age 17, 26s 1d at age 18, 16s 9d at age 19 and 27s 3d at age 20. They worked an average of 40.5 hours per week over an 11 day fortnight.


Pit pony and lads, Tarbrax Young pony drivers with a pit "pony" at one of the Tarbrax shale mines, circa 1920

"It was just an ordinary boy's job, you looked forward to it when you left school, you'd nothing else in the area but shale mining, and that was the most interesting job we found, dealing with a pony. If we were on the nightshift we used to pop into farmer's fields and steal his turnips or if there was somebody growing nice carrots in their gardens........but that was for the pit ponies. You were dealing with a dumb animal and you had to look after it, stables had to be spotless, and you had to always go down early in the morning first, before the men, brush and curry comb them, take them out to where they were pulling the tugs, backwards and forwards, and then bring him home, maybe half an hour early, same again, curry comb them, feed them, make sure that everything was ok". AB, Pony Driver, Polbeth No 26 Mine

"The boys that were called pony drivers, they just didn't drive the ponies as such, the ponies drove themselves, they knew the road!" JM, Ostler, Totley Wells Shale Mine, circa 1940

"We had about a mile to walk, but I was just handed the horse after we got out on to the level road and was told, 'In you go, till you come to the new dook head!' And I'd never been down a pit before! There was thirty five horses down the pit, you know, in No. 5 and great big white ones, sixteen hands high, and where I was going to work, it had to trail through water, and I had to wash it's feet, every day that I came up from the stables". RM, Pony Driver, Deans No 5 Mine, 1914

Additional Resources

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