The Fell Pony Museum: Early 19th C
The Fell Pony Museum
19th C: Last Days of the Pack trains :: Breed for Speed :: Small Ads & Local Transport :: British Regional Breeds

The Local "Poney" in Demand

Advertisements on the front page of the "Westmorland Gazette" indicate that there was a demand for "the right sort".

September 2 1837:

“WANTED – a Galloway, or Strong Poney, of good appearance, and accustomed to carry a lady safely and quietly.

"Any person having one to dispose of, is requested to apply to Mr Digley, Milnthorpe."

Of course, there were always those who preferred not to waste their cash and - like car thieves today - just took what they fancied:

September 23 1839:

on Tuesday 24th of September
from LOANING HIGH PASTURE near Dent Town
in the Parish of Sedbergh and the county of York.
about thirteen hands high, with a small star on the forehead – whoever will give such information as shall bring the offender to justice, shall, upon their conviction, receive a handsome Reward from the said Thomas Greenbank. Loaning, near Dent Town, 25th September 1839.

It has to be said that there was probably little demand for a full time agricultural pony as such, unlike in Austria or Norway. Ponies were however involved in the work of the farm, pulling light ploughs and harrows, and pony-sized block-carts; they were still needed to carry produce such as butter, poultry, eggs and cheese to the markets; they even carried corpses on their last journeys from remote dales, such as Mardale, which had no high road and no burial ground, to the churchyard (in this case at Shap).

Local carriers, however, staying on the made roads, seem (at least from later 19th century photographs) to have used a single big "vanner" type of horse to pull a larger and more economical cart than a Fell type pony could manage.

There was a hierarchy of transport in the Lakes:

  1. primary railway lines, linking major towns;

  2. a limited number of local railway lines mostly round the edge of the Lakeland mountains;

  3. mail and stage coaches which were slower and cheaper than train travel, but faster than most other horsedrawn traffic, linking the smaller towns;

  4. a limited number of canals, again only round the edge of the mountain massif;

  5. horses or ponies driven in harness;

  6. local carriers using horse-drawn carts;

  7. horses or ponies ridden bareback, with a turf pad held by "hay bands", or under an actual saddle;

  8. pack horses, ponies or donkeys;

  9. "Shanks' Pony"!

Carrying the mail

In outlying hill districts where the tracks were really rough, post boys mounted on ponies were still delivering the mail. One Fell stallion, Old Lingcropper, was noted as having done the mail run for twelve years without a break. The Stud Book does not indicate when it was, but rough calculation from the pedigree data given puts it in the 1880s.

The pickup point for the postboys' mail might be the local inn or the local station. However, either of those could have been thirty miles from some of the mountain hamlets, so there was still work for a stout all-purpose pony to do. There was also a need for local distribution of goods from the stations to the mountainous centre of the Lakes and vice versa. Pack transport was still the only practical solution to getting goods to and from some farms, so ponies were still used there, although on a reduced scale both in terms of numbers and the distances they covered. Surplus packponies were bought up and exported to the Continent by Belgian meat dealers, along with heavy horses (FPS referring to Parliamentary papers of the time).

Roads were still frequently unmade; some of the great drove roads and packhorse trails never were tarmacked. There are stretches of the Galloway Gate which are rough tracks still. Luckily the part of it that lies outside my front door was "made up" in the last fifty years of the 20th C and gets renewed about every 15 years. It was never a turnpike: in fact its local name is Pikestoll Lane! (to "Pike" was to avoid paying the toll on a trust-maintained road.)

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Last updated 23 May, 2021 .
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