Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our 'Osses - when did our Fells become "ponies"?

Where does the name “the Fell pony” come from?

There is very scant evidence of British ponies in the 12 centuries between the end of Roman rule and the era of Elizabeth I. Every positive statement that can be made about them has a “but” attached to it.

Harness fittings and small pony-size 3.5” to 4” bits have survived from the Roman period and there are some sculptures which portray horses in Britain as small, eg the Roman tombstone to Flavinus in Hexham Abbey (on display at Tullie House Museum, Carlisle, in 2014), but we don’t have evidence of a local Cumbrian type, much less a breed. 

The Bayeux Tapestry shows a pack pony smaller than the fighting cavalry ponies who seem to be about 14 hands, but it is way too far south in its origins to be a reference for Northern England. 

Paintings throughout history show horses in the service of monarchs and generals, but no-one showcased the working ponies of the inhospitable North. 

We may guess that they were around—but who’s going to write about a scruffy pickup truck when there are Ferraris or Rolls Royces to admire?  


Eventually, when printed material becomes more common, evidence of local ponies appears as it does today, in literature and in trivia such as advertisements. The term “Galloway” comes into use in Shakespeare’s time (1597) referring to a small horse in common use.  Daniel Defoe in the early 1700s describes Scotland as having “the best breed of strong low horses in Britain, if not in Europe … from whence we call all small truss-strong riding horses Galloways.”

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The most specific references to local Cumbrian horses are notices in newspapers seeking information about “missing” saddle horses. “DARK BAY GALLOWAY, Eleven Hands and a Half high…. the Mane and Tail rather inclined to black, and had two or three white Saddle Marks… Reward for information leading to retrieval.”

The word “pony”

An explanation is frequently trotted out that the word “pony” traces to the Celtic horse goddess Epona. Sadly that doesn’t really hold water because her name had disappeared from common English usage by the 6th century AD—a thousand years before the earliest known date for “powny” which is a diary entry in 1659: "Diary 18 June, I caused to bring home the powny..." and 1675 W. Cunningham's Diary, 24 May, "Sent to Glasgow for a gang of shoo's to Cuninghamheid's pownie." Both are cited by the Oxford English Dictionary which adds that “pony” comes from Scottish, apparently from French poulenet “little foal”, and that the Irish pónaí and Scottish Gaelic pònaidh are derived from the English word and not the other way around. 
In 1710  Defoe describes characters riding on “Bastard Turks, half-bred Barbs, and Union Ponies, a Kind of Horses foaled upon the Borders, and occasionally owning either Country”. That might mean he is thinking of Scottish Galloways or predecessors of the English Fell. However, since Defoe was sent to Edinburgh in 1706 to worm his way into the confidence of the Scottish Parliament and help secure the Union of England and Scotland, he may simply be poking fun at himself and at recent political history. In any case, later in the pamphlet he remarks, “it is not my business as a Historian, to be over sollicitous about the Truth of Facts” (unusual honesty on the part of a secret agent and a journalist). Perhaps it’s safest to assume he has his tongue firmly in his cheek, and just to note his use of the word “ponies.”

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Spelt “poney” the word appears in 1838 in local advertisements in the Westmorland Gazette where it is linked to the terms “Scotch horse” or “Galloway” but not yet to “Fell”. Through the 19th Century the horses of Cumberland and Westmorland were still referred to as Fell-Galloways, and I have heard farmers even in the late 20th C using the term “Gallower” about Fell ponies. 

Agricultural horses, cobs, Hackneys, Galloways and "fell ponies"

Local shows - mostly held in September after the hay crop had been cleared from the fields - divided classes for horses and ponies into various types: Agricultural horses (ie, Clydesdales and their crosses and others suitable to pull farm equipment); cobs; Hackneys; and ponies. These "ponies" were not defined as a breed but usually the classes specified height limits such as "under 14 hands" or "under 13 1/2 hands".

The earliest use of the term "fell pony" (without a capital F) that I've found so far is from the Penrith newspaper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, 6th September, 1885. At Dufton show "the entry of fell ponies was good and the competition keen". The lack of a capital F, as opposed to the G of Galloway or H of Hackney, suggests that the term "fell pony" was not a breed name yet: it was being used for "a pony suitable to live at the fell" or "pony that has been living at the fell", in the same way that modern sheep breeds like Swaledales, Roughs and Herdwicks could be grouped under the one term "fell sheep". This version of the term "fell pony" as any fell-going pony is supported by a slightly later report in the Penrith Observer of 25th October, 1887 which stated that "the Judges for Shorthorns, Cobs, Ponies and Whitefaced Sheep were Mr. W. Ellwood, Skelling and Mr, Bousfield, Langwathby," and reports under Special Prizes for Ponies the following result: "Fell-gone pony, with foal at foot - 1, Messrs. Dargue; 2. Mr.Hutchinson." (with thanks to Dorothy Ewin of Dufton)

The Polo and Riding Pony Society

In 1893 the Polo Pony Society became the Polo and Riding Pony Society and began to register native pony types suitable for breeding light horses for sport and recreation. It registered the ponies by the areas in which they were located, and stipulated that they must be at least three-quarters “native” bred. This is when the names of areas such as Wales and the Scottish Highlands began to be linked to pony registrations, and the idea of a local breed with recorded ancestry emerged in place of a local “type”. 

Agricultural Show reports

In the following year, 1894, the first Cumbrian reference couples the words “ponies” and “Fell.” Before that, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald reports from agricultural shows only described classes scheduled for Ponies not over 13½ hands, Cobs over 13½ hands and under 14½ hands, and Hackneys over 14½ hands. Hesket-New-Market (1894) and Shap (1895) were two of the first shows, after Dufton, that offered classes specifically for “Fell ponies.” 
Four years later the Polo and Riding Pony Society Stud Book registered the first 2 stallions and 6 mares in its Fell section.

But we still call them ’osses, even now.

Defoe, (1724–1727) A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies
Cumberland Chronicle or Whitehaven Intelligencer, April and May 1777
Defoe, 1710, The True Account of the Last Distemper and Death of Tom Whigg (Part ii. p. 19) 

Sue Millard's book web site, Jackdaw E Books, now does gift vouchers 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How to Make a Small Fortune from Writing

Let me spin you a yarn about my day. Today, for instance.

I rose at 7 am, and fed our animals. Just before 8 am, I hoisted a rucksack-cum-shopping-trolley of books into the car and set off on a 40 mile journey to a "pop up book shop" as part of a brand-new local Literary Festival. Nota bene - the experienced, a.k.a. knackered, indie author will always choose to transport books on wheels rather than directly by hand. Thus, I was instantly able to identify same, and distinguish them from the unpractised bag-and-box brigade, when we converged at 9am on the library which was our destination.

After a short round of greetings to those whom I knew in the PUBS (sighs... this does not mean the Rose and Crown. It is an acronym for Pop Up Book Shop) I left my stout plastic butcher's-tray of books in what I trusted were capable hands, and drove home again to get a few things done. Recycling was high on the list: for instance, plastic bags, and dog-food tins.

Just after 2:30 pm I set off with another load of recycling and the empty shopping trolley. The library at 3:45 pm was full of people behind and around the book tables, but it was pretty clear from their behaviour that they were writers, not buyers. Still, I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow historical novelist sitting in the "Ask the Author Anything" area, who was kind enough to say she didn't consider this "work" and also told me that the stall holding writers had laughed a lot while reading my Dragon Bait. I was relieved to find that was because it was funny, rather than peculiar.

Dragon Bait was my star of the day - one sale to a MOTP (work it out) and one to a fellow writer. I bought a collection of short stories, and intend to study them to learn about modern SS style. Well, they were written by a chap who teaches SS writing as a specialism at the University. I also bought a historical novel by the lady in the AAA area, and very nearly doubled my day's takings when she offered me change from my £20 in the form of.... wait for it... a £20 note and a couple of £1 coins. Being honest (or stupid) I suggested she reconsidered this.  I really should have offered, as part payment for her book, a copy of Dragon Bait, which she had said she intended to buy - but there we are, I too can be a bit slow after an earlier-than-usual start.

When I was re-packing I couldn't locate some of the books I had taken to the PUBS (stop it!). The slim poetry pamphlet, it seemed, had too closely resembled the kids' activity books - they were printed by the same firm - and the two activity books had not been displayed individually because they were the same thickness. The three items all spent the day in the same stack, and registered no sales at all. Moral - if taking several books which are similar, pack them in widely separated batches so that even those who are unfamiliar with your stuff will realise they are not all the same thing.

The accounts for today look like this:

Car mileage: 160 miles (40 miles there and back, morning and afternoon)
Parking fees: £1 x 2 (very reasonable and handy for the venue)
Donation per sale to the PUBS (stop sniggering at the back please): £1 per book, ie £2

Costs: £4 outgoings, car fuel discounted as part of recycling run... which is frankly bloody optimistic)

Book Sale: £6 x 2

Income: £12

Net income: £8 (see remark on Costs)

Purchases: errrrm... *coughs*

See, this is why writers are rubbish at business. Having "made" a few quid at the expense of 4 hours of driving, I blew it all and more by buying 2 books that cost (together) more than I had actually taken, which in any case I can't dignify by the term "profit" (see remark on Costs!)

All in all, a very typical writer's "sales" day. Lots of batting around, lots of jawing, a bit of networking, a bit of positive feedback, and one or two lessons learned.

Oh, and how to make a small fortune from writing?

Start with a large one.

Dragon Bait is available from Sue's web site,  and on Amazon Kindle, UK or Amazon Kindle, USA.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Songs to Old Tunes 2

I love the Northumbrian pipe melody of "Kielder Hunt". I've been trying to write a song about Orton Farmer's Market, but it just refuses to go with the haunting tune.

But passing Lune's Bridge on the way to choir the other night I remembered the morning of Sunday 15th February 2004: when our little local road became busy with traffic diverted off the A685, which was closed while emergency services dealt with 4 dead and 5 injured men from the Tebay railway accident.

Here's a fragment of the tune, sung by Willie Scott, which is more or less as it's sung by the hunters in Cumbria.

And here are my lyrics to it, about the railway accident.

Lune's Bridge

The night is cold in Tebay Gorge, the wind is keening sore
in the February darkness of the year two thousand-four.
The railway lads are set to work between mid-night and morn,
from Saturday the fourteenth to the Sunday's frozen dawn.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

The scrappers' gang is working up the trackside at Scout Green,
unloading sixteen tons of steel from a flat-bed truck by crane.
And down at Lunesbridge level there's a cutting gang as well
who work by floodlight through the night, at the south end of Loups Fell.Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

The Scout Green truck has got no brake, she’s stayed on wooden blocks;
the crane unloading jerks her from her feeble wooden chocks.
With sixteen tons of rusty rail she runs from where she parked
and down the one in seventy-five goes rumbling through the dark.Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

She'll clear the cut at Scotchman's Bridge, the bank above Low Scales,
Low Greenholme's airy viaduct and Loups Fell's trembling rails.
Get out your phone and make the call to warn the Lunesbridge crew -
Tell Tindall, Buckley, Burgess, Jump and go, she's bound for you.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

All sixteen tons down seventy-five is killing weight indeed;
that minute while you try to call builds up her deadly speed.
The cutters of the Lunesbridge gang they fall without a cry;
she throws five men from out her path and sends four more to die.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

In vain the phones are ringing now; an answer cannot come,
for Waters', Buckley's, Burgess, Tindall's time on earth is done.
No monument can bring them back, no killer's years in jail.
Remember, when you pass Lune's Bridge, the men who mend the rail.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.