Voices in the Dark

Voices In The Dark: Pony Talk & Mining Tales by Derek Hollows

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an anthology of poems, memoirs, stories, pictures and recollections dedicated to recalling the special place that pit ponies hold in the annals of mining history. Many of the contributions come from the Bevin boys, men who found themselves directed to the pits, rather than the battlefield during World War 2.

I am the granddaughter of a miner. A man who was plunged into the belly of the earth to hew black rock from seams, often aided by the faithful service of pit ponies. One of the greatest sadnesses of my life is that I never thought to ask my Grandad more about what his life was like down the pits, and so all I have is a collection of fragmented memories of stories he told me. I remember that he spoke of his pit pony Molly. I can recall the fondess that he spoke of her with.

In many ways, reading this book was like giving voice to that once more. The book could possibly have benefitted from tighter editing, and some of the contributions were probably unnecessary. Derek Hollows added quite a bit to the stories that he collected, and some of his poetry is not as polished as one might like.

However, the real value in the pages of this book is the way in which it faithfully records that special relationship between miner and pit pony, they way in which it archives the language of the pits, the sounds that echoed through the mines, allowing you to get a real picture of what it must have been like for those animals to spend 51 weeks of the year underground, never seeing the light of day.

There were moments in this book that made me cry as the casual cruelty with which some of the pit ponies was discussed, the manner in which some of them met their deaths. But it also made me laugh as miners recalled just how clever pit ponies could be, finding ways to force the miners to share their ‘bait’. My Grandma used to make an extra sandwich for my Grandad’s pit pony. It is one of those small details that needs to be preserved.

I think this book needs wider circulation. Those pit ponies suffered an awful lot, and it is important that all that they endured – all that miners like my Grandad endured, be recorded for future generations.

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Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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