Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A recent email question & a request for help, which has developed & grown into a Joint Venture involving help from some of the experts we can call on for help & advice. But lets start at the beginning: some weeks ago I received the following email from Clem Oxby

Company: Earby Lead Mining Museum
City: Earby
I am a member of the Earby Mining Research Group. I've been asked to make presentable part of a harness used by 'pit ponies' in old lead mines, most of which closed down in the very early 1900's. The harness is very old and is brittle/fragile in places, especially where the leather has been in contact with the now-much-rusted steel buckles and the like. Parts of some of the straps have now broken off. We intend to clean the harness and mount it on a 'pretend' pony, and display it in the museum which is currently undergoing restoration of the building and its interior displays. I would be grateful for your advice. My thanks to you.
Clem Oxby.

I try to help & respond to all inquiries but with this one there is a lot of problems & redirecting Clem to companies on my site was not going to help him. I am not located near him I am not a Saddler or Harness Maker, (Great Grandfather was). A request for more information got the following response:

Dear Francis,
Thank you for responding so fully and promptly. I'm based in Leeds, UK and I'm a volunteer 'worker' for the Earby Lead Mining Museum near Burnley, Lancs. Most of the Lead Mines closed around 1900. I think all that is required of me is that the harness is cleaned, and
treated so that it can be displayed in a clean state and without further breaking of the straps, parts of which have become brittle/fragile. I do not think that it needs restoring with the broken parts replaced. I will take a picture or two and send them to you by email within a few
days. Many thanks. I'll be contacting you again in a few day's time. Clem (Oxby)

I now had a clearer picture of what was required. The project involves a small Local Museum attempting to record & display part of the local history. As you can see from the emails Clem is a voluntary worker & I guess most of the rest of the helpers are. Many emails have been exchanged but there is no need to reproduce all of them. The pictures did arrive. Some interesting snippets arose during the exchange of emails, but I will return to them later.

Clearly More help was required & other experts needed to be involved. Enter the first expert on leather preservation. This is one of our Major Associates namely, Ben Staerch of: Company: Zenith, 9 Oakfield Road, Whickham, City: Newcastle Upon Tyne, Zip: NE16 5HG, Phone: 0191 4403179 (To view their products on My site select 'Furniture Clinic For Furniture Care' at the top of this page or just Click Here). Or use this URL to go straight to their site. Ben not only offered advice but sent the museum some leather treatment to use. Zenith is one of the leading suppliers of Leather Treatments in the UK.

The next expert had to be a Saddler/Harness Maker to help sort out the pieces of harness that the museum had, (there appears to be parts of more than one old harness). Make necessary repairs that don't detract from the age of the harness, (Like replacing rotted stitching, etc) & of cause assembling the harness on the model pony. Enter our second expert: David May. At The Cumbria School of Saddlery. Redhills, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0DL. UK. Tel: 01768899919. David is an experienced & Competent Saddler, he is also provides some Leather Craft training. His courses are mainly short term courses. Linked to the National Skill Assessment & Qualification Scheme for The Saddlery Trade. (This is a Test Centre). To find his listing on this site Click Here. Or use the following URL to go straight to David's site. (we will report later on David's efforts once he has seen the tack).

I also Contacted Mrs Hazel Morley (Executive Secretary), of The Society of Master Saddlers Ltd. Tel: & Fax: 01449711642. E-mail This is the main Saddlery association in the UK & represents the majority of the Saddlery Industry as well as the rural Saddler. Anyone contemplating a career in this craft or starting a business should contact them. This organisation continues to help & support the saddlery industry as it has always done. Hazel informs me that Pat Crawford, their press officer may also become involved with this project. Find them at,

The harness is old & in a sorry state, especially the collar The stuffing (straw) is in place but the lining at the back of the collar is in need of TLC. The harness is crude compared to Show harness & is not even comparable with that used on farms. However it was serviceable & adequate for the job it was made for. Don't forget it was used underground & in the dry.

When you consider the conditions that the men & pony's worked under in the late Victorian & Edwardian era, in fact it was not until after the last world war that the pit pony's were replaced in the coal mines by machinery. The men had to wait until the mines closed altogether to be separated from that environment. Needless to say they resented the closing of the mines as it was their living & support for their families.

More information on the Lead Mines & the pony's used. The Pony used in the Lead Mines were significantly bigger than those used in the Coal Mines. They were in fact Dales Ponies. More on this & the assembled harness when the exhibit is ready for display.

If anyone has any Knowledge on these Lead Mines Or the making of these harnesses Please contact both Clem & myself (I can add the info to this blog & my site). To view pictures of the Harness visit my site & then click on the 'Leather Related Questions & Answers' page.