Going down to the underground

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat; ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Most researchers will be familiar with the phrase “down the research rabbit hole”. For those who are not, let me explain from the start that it describes an experience, rather than an educational procedure or method. The idea draws, of course, on Alice in Wonderland. Alice followed the White Rabbit (oh my ears and whiskers!), who owned a large watch (the watch is important) down the rabbit hole. After falling in darkness for ages she ended up in a place where none of the usual rules applied and time appeared to stop. Everything Alice found was fascinating, but it was also BLOODY ANNOYING AND DISTRACTING. No sooner had one mouse in a teapot faded from the scene than a caterpillar with a hookah or a queen with a flamingo for a croquet mallet would turn up. And it appeared to go on for ever.

What follows is a description of one such experience. 

Galloway Nags


Here is an image of Galloway horses, or Galloway nags, that has circulated, in a limited fashion, on the internet. The fact that use of this image is so limited is interesting in itself, since it may be indicative of how little the horses are known today. It is important as it is one of the few images of the Galloway type, which was deemed “extinct”, or at least “decayed”, or absorbed into other breeds such as the Clydesdale, by the time this image was produced. Thereby hangs a tale – when was it produced, and by whom? Which work is it in? Spoiler alert: I still don’t know, dammit.

A bit of internet detective work suggests that this image first became publicly available when published on a website called Falling Angels, Lost Highways, belonging to Brian Moffat. It was published in a blog post about the Galloway as the horse of choice of the border reivers (which is very likely true, though no specific primary documentary evidence supports this).

The image was published along with the text that accompanied it in the source, which Brian Moffat cited as Oliver Goldsmith’s Natural History, since he’d apparently found it in his own copy of that book. He did, however, point out that the text appeared to be later than Goldsmith’s original work, but not how much later, nor who might have written it. Readers will search in vain for either the image or the text in Goldsmith’s early editions: it is not there. However, sharp-witted equine history researchers with an interest in unusual horse breeds will immediately spot the source of the text on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways page  as William Youatt, the prolific nineteenth century author of animal husbandry texts:

A horse between thirteen and fourteen hands in height is called a GALLOWAY, from a beautiful breed of little horses once found in the south of Scotland, on the shore of the Solway Firth, but now sadly degenerated, and almost lost, through the attempts of the farmer to obtain a larger kind, and better adapted for the purposes of agriculture. There is a tradition in that country, that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, that was wrecked on the neighbouring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I, supplied that monarch with a great number of horses. The pure galloway was said to be nearly fourteen hands high, and sometimes more; of a bright bay, or brown, with black legs, small head and neck, and peculiarly deep and clean legs. Its qualities were speed, stoutness, and sure footedness over a very rugged and mountainous country.

This text can be found in numerous editions of Youatt’s work. (I took my version from William Youatt, The Horse, with a Treatise of Draft (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), 102.) The bit about the Armada isn’t true either, but that’s a whole other rabbit warren. Like the work of his predecessor Gervase Markham some centuries earlier, Youatt’s work was popular, ran to multiple editions and was widely cited, indeed, plagiarised. Tracking down every edition of Youatt, and every other text that may have used his work, with or without authorisation, is a major research undertaking in itself. However, it is interesting that Google Books, which contains several editions of his work, does not appear to include any edition with that image in it. Searching for the image, as indicated above, only results in a handful of hits, some of which appear to have used the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website as source, as they too attribute it to Goldsmith.

Goldsmith’s work was also frequently reused by later authors. I have an undated edition of his Natural History “by Henry Innes” which is described on the title page as Goldsmith’s Natural History, with notes from all the popular treatises that have been issued since the time of Goldsmith collected with the utmost care: combining a mass of information and reference, forming a complete vade-mecum of modern discovery in the science which it illtstrates [sic]. Mr Innes was clearly proud of his collection of bits and pieces, a scrapbooking approach to producing popular science texts which is fairly typical of the time.

Convinced, however, that the attribution to Goldsmith on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website was incorrect (never assume, folks!), and that the quote and image must be in some edition of Youatt, I set out to find it. I had no success despite accessing numerous editions of his work. The text yes, the image, no. The historiography of the Galloway is elusive and fractured at the best of times. It was deeply irritating to come so close to a drawing said to be of the Galloway, and yet still remain apparently so far away.

By this time there were two of us searching for the elusive image, myself, and my husband. With his analytical skills honed over a long career in IT, he found it more quickly than I would ever have done. It is in an edition of Oliver Goldsmith, another mash-up version that includes samples from other texts. It dates to 1858 and was published by Blackie and Son of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  

The editor of this version had decided to include chunky “footnotes” of text by other authors, which were often much longer than the main text itself. The publisher also had an unusual way of referencing these additional authors. The footnote number 1 appeared at the start of each section by an author, thus:

With the source, or name of the author and the volume title appearing at the end of the section of text, thus:

So far, so good. That clarified things a bit, and I found the Youatt, or apparent Youatt section, with its reference to the Galloway and the image, very easily. It begins with a bit of interesting nationalism which precedes the actual breed descriptions themselves:

This is not in my version of Youatt. I have gone so far as to discover that it is in The British Cyclopaedia of the Arts and Sciences, Including Treatises on the Various Branches of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, the Useful and Fine Arts, Mathematics, Commerce, &c · Volume 2, by Charles Frederick Partington, published in 1835, which appears to include Youatt’s work on horse breeds.

I have not checked in every accessible edition of Youatt, though, having too many caterpillars with hookahs following me around already, and no, I don’t need another flamingo, thanks.

However, whoever the author of this section might be, they go on to say: “We proceed to notice a little more particularly some of the more prominent kinds of British horses. In doing so, we shall chiefly follow the ‘Treatise on the Horse,’ published in the Library of Useful Knowledge”. This is the Youatt volume, but since it doesn’t specify which one, I’m still no further on. However, I do some double-checking just to be sure, by cross-checking entries between the Goldsmith volume and my own edition of Youatt.

In the Goldsmith compendium, as I call it, the description of the coach horse which follows is near enough that of Youatt:

In Youatt from 1843 we have the very similar: “This animal in external appearance is as different from what he was fifty years ago as it is possible to conceive. The clumsy -barrelled, cloddy-shouldered, round-legged, black family horse – neither a coach nor a dray-horse, but something between both – as fat as an ox — but, with all his pride and prancing when he first starts not equal to more than six miles an hour, and knocking-up with one hard day’s work, is no more seen ; and we have, instead of him , an animal as tall, deep -chested, rising in the withers, slanting in the shoulders, flat in the legs, with far more strength, and with treble the speed”.

And so I continue reading the giant footnote, which is clearly mostly Youatt, reminding myself that it is a footnote and not the main text, going through the various breed descriptions, until that section appears to come to an end, with a snarky and uncalled for comment on the horses of Ulster:

And a new section follows, preceded by the 1 we have previously come to note:

So this should be the start of a new author, and a new text. But wait – there is no attribution at the end of the previous section of footnote!!! Certainly no reference to Youatt. So this is why Brian Moffat and anyone else who read it didn’t realise it was in fact Youatt. Curiouser and bloody curiouser, said Alice, kicking the White Rabbit in the arse, setting light to the caterpillar and twisting the flamingo’s neck into a knot. (No imaginary animals were harmed during the making of this blog and I especially love caterpillars, particularly hawk moth caterpillars, as long as they aren’t irritatingly pompous and don’t have hookahs.) Alice takes a long coffee break, and the caffeine makes her even more irritable and sweary. It’s a good job Alice no longer smokes, as she would be a 60 a day gal with nicotine-stained fingers and a voice like motorbike tyres skidding on gravel.

The end of the section that follows the uncredited “Youatt” section attributes it to one J. Stewart:

A search for J. Stewart follows, “just in case”. His work also ran to several editions, some of which were illustrated, and others not. Not one viewed so far has yet yielded references to Galloways, or indeed to horse breeds in general. That was not the purpose of his volume. Nope, the image is almost certainly from an edition of Youatt; but which one?

And so, the researcher pops her head above ground to take a quick breath and a look at the beautiful scenery where lots of people are simply relaxing and there’s not a single book in sight. Then plunges down the rabbit hole again, grabbing at volumes along the way as they fly past in the space-time continuum, appearing, disappearing and morphing into sparkly three-horned unicorns and giant, sniggering toads. The researcher finally lands with a thud in a pile of torn-up, wet, blackened paper with mystic scribblings and enigmatic phrases that disappear as soon as you look at them. Waiting patiently (with lots to tell) are a large white rabbit, a caterpillar and a flamingo. Hello friends, I’ve really, really missed you!

(Copyright Miriam A. Bibby 2021, wondering if it will end up in a compendium that foxes researchers in 2121)

Horsey Superstitions for Halloween!

I recently participated in the first of a series of Horse History themed virtual seminars, organised by Anastasija Ropa of the Latvian Academy of Sports Education, on the topic of “Equestrian Superstitions and Folklore”. It was great fun. You can now watch it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiBGYDAshgc&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR2gYs4X2Uw_viMBJW_TyDilW5UG1R2OzJBayNJehTOzpN6XhNGlfmSnmzY

The Best Breed of the North

Anastasija Ropa makes some very welcome comments on my chapter on the Galloway nag in “Horses in Premodern European Culture”.


Speculating on the origins of the Galloway horse is a process that is fraught with the issues besetting any contemporary breed enthusiast, since the whole concept of a “breed” is a very modern one and it probably did not cause medieval horse breeders any sleepless nights. A good horse was a good horse, valued for purpose rather than ancestry, and described by gait, or height, or even color or size, but principally by function.

Miriam Bibby, ‘The (Galloway) Horse and His Boy: Le Roman Des Aventures De Fregus and “The Best Breed in the North”?’

in The Horse in Premodern European Culture, ed. A. Ropa and T. Dawson

What do Fregus, Robert the Bruce, and Shakespeare’s Pistol have in common? These disparate individuals, who are either completely fictional (as Talbot’s characters) or partially fictionalized (Fregus is based on a an actual Scottish ruler, but was turned into the title…

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Galloways: a 16th century elite riding horse

It’s been a busy year for me, with a visit to the Leeds International Medieval Congress to present a paper (and meet with other equine history researchers). I’ve a couple of chapters and papers in press too. Here’s the early fruits of my Galloway research for the PhD, published on Academia. Lots of very interesting material emerging about our famed northern Gallowa’, and lots more to come! https://www.academia.edu/39801280/From_North_to_South_the_Galloway_Nag_as_an_Elite_Gift_in_the_16_th_Century

#ShelfieSunday: Kingdom of the Workhorse

Here’s a review of one of my favourite books about working horses, written for the Equine History Collective.

Equine History Collective


Kingdom of the Workhorse by A.J.Dampier
Countryside Publications, 1987
ISBN 0 86157 226 2

Review by Miriam Bibby

   This splendid account of the lives of working horses in and around the city of Manchester at its 19th century zenith, when it was the “workshop of the world”, home to the greatest manufactories in Britain, is one of my favorite books.

   A.J. (Tony) Dampier was from north west England and knew his subject both from his own research and from contact with the horsemen of the region from the middle of the 20th century until his sad death in 2011. It’s therefore largely, though not exclusively, based on local history and oral traditions. Arguably it’s the type of history of which we need more, because all too often the stories of working people and animals are not recorded and then they simply disappear. Frequently the only histories we…

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In search of Tishy Gallowa

I’m on a quest.

Back in the 1920s, a racehorse called Tishy hit the news for coming last in the Cesarewitch in two consecutive years, 1921 and 1922.

She was a success for sporting artist Tom Webster in the Daily Mail, though, because he began to do a series of cartoons based on Tishy and her alleged unusual action, which made him the highest paid cartoonist on Fleet Street for a while.

He also created an animated cartoon, said to be the first fully animated cartoon to be produced in Britain.

Here’s a clip of the 1921 race, with a possibly trotting Tishy at the back


You can read more about Tom Webster here: https://www.cartoons.ac.uk/cartoonist-biographies/w-x/TomWebster.html

There are also lots of Tishy cartoons on the same site: https://archive.cartoons.ac.uk/GetMultimedia.ashx?db=Catalog&type=default&fname=TW3717.jpg

And this reel contains some Tishy animation, about 10 minutes 30 seconds in:  http://www.britishpathe.com/video/flashbacks-reel-2-reel-2-is-old-reels-3-4-combined/query/TRAINING+RACE+HORSE

My quest is this: when I was growing up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my mother told me that there had been a cartoon called “Tishy Gallowa” in the newspapers in the north east. This isn’t surprising, since the term “Gallowa'” was (and still is) a general term for a horse in north east England, and it derives from the old Galloway breed/type of horse that were the running horses who formed a major part of the foundation stock of the Thoroughbred.

I assumed, therefore, that “Tishy Gallowa” had been a syndicated north eastern version of the famous cartoon.

However, although I’ve contacted many of the cartoon archives, I’ve drawn a complete blank. No syndication, apparently, and no-one else recalls Tishy Gallowa.

Anyone else recall their parents or grandparents in the north east talking about Tishy Gallowa?

Two hundredweight a galloway: ponies in the Weardale lead industry

Mind your heads! (Unless you are a pony)

Wearing borrowed Wellingtons and hard hats, our group is sloshing along in single file up a narrow channel down which a stream is flowing. The water is quite deep in places and the only lighting comes from the round metal torches we carry, which are powered by battery packs slung at hip level. Every now and then there’s a “clunk” as someone’s helmet hits a low section of roof.

Our guide reminds us that he did say that would happen.

“But just look at the construction of the tunnel,” he enthuses, quite rightly. Torch beams flash up onto the roof. It’s a remarkable feat of drystone engineering  which leads right into the heart of the mine at Killhope, Co. Durham, which is hosting an event in celebration of the ponies – the famed galloways – who worked in the lead industry in Weardale, Britain’s biggest lead mining area in the 19th century. We are wading in the steps of the equines who worked underground in the Park Level Mine. This tunnel and its donkey-shoe-shaped entrance were designed with ponies in mind – and that’s why even the smallest adult amongst us – that would probably be me, then – frequently has to duck even lower.

Ponies in boots

The entrance to the mine bearing a fitting resemblance to a horse, or possibly donkey, shoe.

The entrance to the mine bearing a fitting resemblance to a horse, or possibly donkey, shoe.

As we entered the door, a phrase from Tolkien ran through my mind – “in Moria, in Khazad-dum”. After walking up the tunnel for what seems like an age, this is replaced by “where Alph, the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea…” It’s definitely more Khazad-dum than Kublai Khan, though, and this is giving our group a vivid impression of what it must have been like for the ponies, men and lads who were employed in the industry, starting at 4d. a day for the youngest. That’s fourpence in pre-decimal currency, or approximately 2 pence at today’s rates – slightly less, in fact.

Dales pony Westwick Paddy and Kevin Owens at the entrance to the mine.

Dales pony Westwick Paddy and Kevin Owens at the entrance to the mine.

The galloways, it transpires, were better off in terms of working conditions than the men. The miners wore only wooden clogs and felt hats; the galloways had leather boots to protect their feet from the flow in wet levels and leather blankets to save their backs from the drip, drip of acidic water from the roofs of the tunnels. An average day’s work down the mine would involve 15 turns – that is, trips in and out to fetch the distinctively narrow tubs for carrying out the ore, possibly up to three at a time. Each pony would usually perform two to five of those turns.

The underground roads set with rails for the tubs were originally levels through which water flowed freely. They were later called the horse levels, the areas to which the horses and tubs had access, rumbling along rails that were at first made of oak but latterly of iron. The miners worked away in side tunnels, often above the heads of the galloways, for in the Killhope mine the lead ore was frequently extracted by working upwards, rather than downwards or horizontally along the seams.

Prized Galloways

Unlike the ponies who worked in the later deep shaft coal mines, galloways involved in the lead industry lived above ground and the stables they used can be seen at Killhope along with the blacksmith’s shop that provided a range of vital tools and services to the mine. Local tenancy agreements included the provision of ponies and the majority of them were provided by farmers from further down the dale, along with supplying their own labour in the mine. The activity of both men and galloways was controlled by the famous local merchant family, the Blacketts, who later became the Beaumonts. Tenant farmers were limited as to how many animals they could keep – so many sheep or so many cows, or an even more limited number of galloways – this was called the stint. Ponies were capable of providing useful labour for the lead mines and so they were valuable and valued.

Charlie Parker of the Roandale Dales Pony Stud with Roandale Rock (Rocky).

Charlie Parker of the Roandale Dales Pony Stud with Roandale Rock (Rocky).

On the whole, the galloways working underground were better off than their fellows who carried the lead ore over the hills to the Allen smelters or the refined lead onwards to the staithes at Blaydon. The ponies in the mines needed to be literally bomb-proof – there were frequent explosions as the miners fired the rock to blast out the useful ore – as well as coping with the rest of the working conditions. Walking steadily along in the dark, in flowing water, drawing clattering tubs of ore, clearly required equines with special qualities. A galloway who possessed those qualities was prized and cherished. (It’s worth pointing out here that pit ponies who had spent a life working underground in similar conditions could, and sometimes did, live into a ripe and healthy old age.)

Over the tops to the smelter

The pack galloways, loaded up with 2 cwt (hundredweight) of ore each (that’s 101 kg), were not led but picked their own way across the tops. They wore muzzles to stop them grazing along the way – a standard with all pack horses, for the trains could be twenty to thirty strong with just one or two men to accompany them. If the horses or ponies were stopping too frequently to graze, shipments and deliveries would never be made on time. However, the lead mining ponies’ muzzles had a more important function in preventing them from eating grass contaminated by lead.

There were other hazards, too. More than one galloway ended in the mire as a result of wandering too far from safe tracks en route to the smelters. The tracks across the fells went by various names: the Carriers’ Way, the Black Way and the Broad Way. Later, as road improvements meant that more efficient transportion of the lead in horse-drawn loads was possible, the first roads in the area were all determined by the lead industry. Finally, chugging their way up the valley a little too late to save the declining lead mines, came the railway’s iron horses linking Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Hexham – and beyond.

“The packhorses…were kept by the farmers in the neighbourhood, often to the number of twenty or thirty. Mules were also sometimes used. The animals were provided with a sort of angular wooden saddle, which had raised pieces of wood affixed, back and front, with holes in them, through which chains were passed, in order to secure the timber when it was being carried to the mines. They also wore leathern muzzles to prevent them from stopping to crop the herbage by the wayside. The driver of the string of “galloways” frequently bestrode a donkey, kept for that purpose. The same Galloway always led the way, and was called the raker.” G. Dickinson, “Allendale and Whitfield”, 1884.

The stables at Killhope.

The stables at Killhope.

Lead mining transformed the landscape and in its early stages it was an industry as dependent on horses as on manpower. Water, too, which was diverted from the tops of hills right along the dale and channelled into a series of reservoirs to provide energy for the mighty waterwheel at Killhope. Occasionally dams were deliberately breached to create a rush of water that would create a “hush” – a man-made valley within which the lead ore was exposed and accessible. Lead was one of the most useful commodities of the time and it is still a requirement in many industries today, most notably the production of lead batteries.


Dales pony Westwick Paddy, whose galloway ancestors may well have worked at Park Level Mine, Killhope.

During the 1840s, when lead extraction in Weardale was at its peak, there were perhaps 1500 galloways involved in the different stages of the industry. Although not called Dales ponies at this point, they were indeed the ponies of the dales of north east England: Tynedale, Weardale, Teesdale, Allendale and also the neighbouring eastern dales of Westmorland and those of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Teasing out the differences between the Fell ponies of Cumberland and Westmorland – now Cumbria – and the Dales ponies at around the time of the establishment of the first stud book in 1898 was difficult. It was only with the establishment of a separate Dales pony stud book in 1916 – the event that is being celebrated at Killhope today – that the recognition of a particular type relating to the remote upland areas of the region came about.

1861. April 27. Died at Cleugh Head, Mary Stobbart, aged 64 years. She had for many years travelled the roads with her two horses and carts, carrying ore from the lead mines to Allen smelt mill, and lead from the mill to Haydon Bridge, and doing all the work of an ordinary cartman. When on one of her journeys to Haydon Bridge, one of her horses ran away while she sat on the limbers, from which she unfortunately fell, the cart passing over her, and she received injuries which resulted in her death shortly afterwards. – G. Dickinson, “Allendale and Whitfield”, 1884.

Galloway, Dales and Fell

It’s worth pointing out that whilst standardisation of many breeds and the establishment of stud books took place in the 19th century and early 20th, there was – and still is – room for differing types within each breed, which is necessary if breeds are to survive and flourish. Like many other famed northern breeds of horse – the Cleveland Bay comes to mind – Dales ponies were bred with a purpose and that purpose was similar in both cases – an all-round equine that was capable of taking on a range of functions from farm work to participating in social activities such as hunting and showing.

The Dales pony’s only rival in the mid-twentieth century was the little grey Ferguson tractor, but that was sufficient: by the 1950s Dales ponies were in serious decline. Extinction was prevented by the rise of leisure riding from the 1960s onwards. Today the breed is doing better, but is still a vastly underrated northern British achievement that is now mostly kept by a relatively small number of aficionados. A shame; because as well as being hardy and easy to keep, both Fell and Dales are so charismatic and human-focussed, intelligent and versatile, that those who share their lives with them know their value is above rubies. The legacy of the Galloway horse ancestry of both is recognised in the terms “Dales galloway” and “Fell galloway” which are current. In addition, the eye-catching Dales trot is inherited from the famed roadsters and trotters of the 19th century.

“There was John Jackson who lived at Sparty Lea, and kept sometimes eight and sometimes ten ponies, and a mule which he called his “his devil” as it was hard to lead; but Jackson being a low, thick, and exceedingly strong man, used to hold the mule by main force while he threw the two bags of ore on to its back. When the weather was fair, Betty, his wife, had to go with him to catch the ponies while he was loading them. I have often seen her riding on the back of those ponies with a man’s weather-beat hat on her head. Jackson was not satisfied with his day’s work with the galloways, but went to pump water in the mines at night; and it has always been a saying that nobody beat the world with hard work in Allendale but Jackson.” B. Irwin, “Notes on Allendale”, 1880.

The contribution of these ponies to industrialisation and the economy should not be underestimated and must not be forgotten. Thanks to Killhope Mining Museum and the Dales Pony Society for a memorable and enlightening day. For further information on Killhope, visit http://www.killhope.org.uk/ and for information on Dales ponies, http://www.dalespony.org/ 

All text and images copyright Miriam A Bibby 2016

Forthcoming events to celebrate the historic contribution of horses

Heads up for two forthcoming events that will celebrate and honour diverse aspects of the contribution of the horse to human history.

The first is this weekend at Beamish Museum in Co. Durham, UK, where the theme of the popular annual Horses at Work event will this year be Horses at War. With over 50 horses and ponies attending in addition to the Museum’s own equines, there’ll be a range of vintage horse-drawn vehicles including ambulances for both equines and humans from WWI. There’s much more working horse activity taking place too. Check out the details on the web site here: http://www.beamish.org.uk/events/horses-at-work/

Hadrian’s Wall lies not so very far from Beamish Museum, but you’ll have to wait until 2017 for the spectacular exhibition “Hadrian and his Cavalry” which will include activities such as battle re-enactments at sites right along the Wall. Bill Griffiths, the head of programmes atTyne & Wear Archives & Museums is chair of the project steering group. He suggests that the armoured cavalry will be  “shiny and showy”, in the spirit of Hadrian’s cavalry, describing it as “bling”. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/apr/09/hadrians-wall-roman-cavalry

Plenty to look forward to if you’re a fan of history and the horse!