The Fell Pony Museum

Setting up the Museum

There must have been Fell ponies at Dalemain since time immemorial. Whether they were carrying out light jobs on the estate and on the farms, snigging timber out of the woodlands, carrying red deer shot in Martindale Forest, or sledging them down the lower slopes, these tough ponies were always at hand. It seemed essential to preserve something of the history and antiquity of our north country breed so that generations to come may become conversant with something of the past.

The huge and ancient barn in the cobbled courtyard at Dalemain with its loft and splendid timbered roof seemed an ideal place to stage a permanent museum. With the blessing and encouragement of the Fell Pony Society, we began this inexhaustible project which can only grow over the years. Willie Mason, our estate joiner, gave valuable time to build glass fronted show cases. Reuben McCormack from Penruddock, our retired blacksmith and farrier, sadly unwell, gave or lent me most of his tools, his anvil, and even his precious apron made of pigskin. Magnificent bellows came from Bampton Smithy. Over the years I collected items with the idea of creating a museum so we started with a good nucleus. The assemblage of stud cards is of particular interest, the earliest dating back to 1901. A number of these were given to me by the late James Graham of Upton, Caldbeck. These elderly pony men had a vast store of knowledge and unless it is written down and items brought together as a collection, much fascinating history wil be lost forever.

... The museum includes driving harness, pit pony harness, pony boots for wearing when pulling the lawn mower, photographs, some extremely interesting early rosettes and a fascinating pit pony saddle discovered in a peat bog by Mr Douglas Kent. Mr Kent was taking some boys camping near Middleton in Teesdale, and as they dug into peat to sink their "loo" they came upon a perfectly preserved saddle only inches below the surface - only the horsehair had gone. A brass disc with the maker's name responded to cleaning but the Middleton in Teesdale saddler has long since gone and his shop is not even remembered today so the saddle must be of great antiquity. His name was J W Walton.

The Museum will be grateful to receive an items of interest including old photographs (which can be copied), newscuttings and so forth. They can be given or lent and the donor's name will remain with the item. The gales of this spring accounted for much damage to the roof of the barn but repairs have been carried out and, together with the collection of agricultural implements, the beginnings of the Fell Pony Museum are once more on show.

Sylvia McCosh in the FPS newsletter VI, 1984

The Murals

I heard about the Fell Pony Museum and its proposed murals some time before becoming actively interested. I had read in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald that Mrs McCosh of Dalemain was seeking an artist to carry out an idea that would bring colour and life to the museum. Bearing in mind that I was used to painting stage scenery (at College) and had undertaken one or two murals on other occasions, I offered my services. After we'd studied some of my old sketches and had a great deal of enthusiastic chat, I was accepted and started work.

The main difficulty was deciding what not to include! There were so many ideas that could be included: shepherds' trotting races , the use of Fells in pits , Brough and Appleby fairs and decorative items simply showing yearlings having fun. In the end these were discarded in favour of a "straight history". This can now be seen at Dalemain.

The easy subjects were carried out first, pony trekking, two typical foals, the Dark Ages when Roman stock interbred with the Celtic Pony. Murals which seemed too complcated for research, such as King Arthur and his Knights, were simplified. King Arthur and his retinue became striking black silhouettes against a sunset sky.

The Victorian age was based on a local view and on photos depicting a Dalemain pony in a gig. After this the final panels required to be researched - the painting of the pack ponies and the agricultural monks working their monastery land.

Peggy Crossland was most helpful with the pack ponies, partly by sharing her own knowledge, and partly by sending me to Kendal Museum where a painting of a pack horse complete with woolpack, muzzle and bell collar may be seen, as well as an actual bell collar. Clive Richardson also shared his knowledge of monastic uses for the ponies, as well as John Fairer, our Shap historian, who provided details of canonical dress at Shap Abbey and plans of the Abbey's development. In a book given by a friend (and largely disregarded as at the time I had no use for harness horses) I found a beautiful drawing of a 13th century team pulling a cart, with distinctive details. These last two panels gave us the both the greatest pleasure, because we took pains to get it right in as many details as possible. Peter and Edith Robinson generously loaned me photographs of and allowed me to take photographs of their stock.

When I finished at Dalemain I put my brushes away and said "never again"...

Sue Millard in the FPS Newsletter VI, 1984