The Pit Pony Stable project is now nearing completion, ready for its grand opening on 29th March. Over the past few weeks the building has been a hive of activity with museum staff and contractors busily carrying out the final tasks. All of the plumbing and electrical work has now been completed. Over the past few days I have been adding the final finishing touches to the interior of the building. Today also saw the first pony venture into the stables. Flash, or Butterby Limelight to give him his full name, was brought into the stables for his regular hair cut. Pit ponies were always ‘Hogged’ which involved their mane’s and tails being clipped to prevent them becoming matted with coal dust and entangled in harness or machinery. The museums pit ponies are hogged to maintain an authentic appearance.
As the museum has such a vast collection of objects the stable has been entirely furnished using items from the stored collections in the museum. From furniture to enamel signs it is during projects such as this that the museums collection comes into its own. Over 40 years of collecting has provided us with a wealth of material to use in the museums exhibits.
For the stables we were lucky in having a good collection of pit pony harness and collars, signage and stable fittings. The majority of the items used in the stables were collected during the 1970s and 80s during the break-up and closure of the majority of the North East’s collieries. It is because of the work of museum staff, during this period, that we have these items to create new exhibits. Since the closure of the North East’s collieries many of these items are simply no longer available.
Alongside work on the stables the whole site is gearing up for the coming season. The Fairground team have been busy with the build up of our 1893 Savage steam Gallopers. Sections of the ride have been subject to overhaul and winter maintenance, since being dismantled in January. All of the floor sections have been refurbished and painted, the centre truck has been painted, and the rounding boards have been repaired and painted. All of this along with annual maintenance and testing of the Centre Engine and drive mechanism has resulted in a very busy few months for our RHEC workshop team and the Fairground team. The Gallopers are now gleaming and ready for the season ahead.
The Pit Village has also seen the addition of a new feature. A row of traditional telegraph poles have been installed through the Village, from the tramway to the colliery cottages. The poles were erected by contractors whilst the cross-arms and insulators were installed by Gordon and Mark from the Transport and Industry Team. The cross-arms have been made using ex GPO insulators. Many of these were collected by Les and Peter from the Tram Group whilst others have been salvaged and donated by BT Openreach.
These poles will carry a fiber optic cable to allow tills and staff computers to be connected to the museums network, while also being able to carry telephone lines from our Strowger exchange in to the Pit Village.
Telegraph poles were becoming increasingly common during the Edwardian period. In colliery villages the colliery offices, manager’s house and doctors’ house were often the first to be connected to the expanding telephone network. Therefore, the poles carry out a dual role of providing a means of efficiently running the museum in the modern computer age whilst also providing a further traditional feature to the exhibit.