Carn Cornel Colliery opened in 1983. It worked the upper Pinchin seam of an average 2'6" of coal. Originally owned by Howard Morgan, Louth Evans and Gwyn Bowen it was sold to the Nant Fach Mining Company. Included in the sale was Pit Pony Bob. When we first met Bob in 1993 he was already well past his best. He hauled coal hewn from the two working coal faces in turn about a 450 yard pull over very rough ground between the 2'9" gauge tracks. He hauled the coal out to the surface where he was unhitched whilst the full drams were tipped over a 15' drop into a heap, ready to be picked over for lump coal which was bagged for doorstep sale to local houses and the small was loaded into lorries for Aberthaw Power Station. He would then go into the pitch dark adit to return underground with the empty drams. The journey these ponies took was incredible. They had no lamp and pulled the two tons of coal & dram over a winding pair of tracks. The space between sleepers was erratic in the extreme and the constant work of their hooves would wear deep holes between the sleepers. Lumps of coal & rock would constantly fall on the track making it impossible to negotiate without difficulty.
I took us some time to pressure the Colliery to retire Bob. This action caused serious friction between the colliery owners and the Centre and we were never told where Bob was sent to. Bobs replacement was a pony called Steel.
He had already worked in Fforest No. 3 Colliery and Nant y Cafn Colliery before starting at Carn Cornel. He had been out at grass for several months and was put to work hauling coal about 150 tons per week average for the eleven men who now worked there. He was not fit for the work and struggled desperately. His breathing was very bad as he suffered from the coal dust built up on his lungs.
Blackie had worked at Pentwyn Colliery at Goderigraig for several years and before that at various collieries. He was much fitter than Steel but suffered from an old injury to the stifle and was often lame. Pit Ponies have to work no matter what. If they don't work no coal is brought out for sale. The pressure to produce is all important and little compassion is shown to the ponies. We have been told of the beatings Bob, Steel & Blackie took to make them work. With eleven men there is little chance of escape or help.
We realized that the Pit Pony situation at this and other collieries was like a merry go round as one pony came off another was found. We began talking to the owners about replacing the ponies with machines. The problem was cost. Collieries that have always used ponies have never been designed with machinery in mind. To replace Blackie with a machine was estimated at £26,000.
We asked for help to raise this money to set Blackie free and to ensure no other ponies would work at this mine. However the roof of the return tunnel collapsed. The Colliery has one main tunnel that coal is brought in and out of and another smaller tunnel as a means of escape. The collapse was serious and all the men were diverted to clearing it. The Health & Safety Executive were aware and making several visits so no coal was being produced. Within a few weeks the Nant Fach mining Company was in serious financial difficulties as they had no income but massive expenditure.
In December 1998 they went into voluntary liquidation and we bought Blackie and brought him home to retire at the Centre. We also bought the old stable rails drams etc. to recreate Carn Cornel at the Centre so that people can visit the Centre and really see how Pit Ponies worked in the Private Coal Mines of Wales.