Sultan the Pit Pony

A Great British GeoSite

The Geological Society of London has run a fantastic campaign to track down the 100 best sites of geological interest within the UK. After several months this has culminated in over 400 nominations across 10 categories, currently being wittled down through online voting. Whilst I have contributed some of the nominations I want to take this chance to raise the profile of just one of them.

Reportedly named after a well loved pony from the local mines Sultan the Pit Pony is a massive 200 metre sculpture based in Parc Penallta in South Wales. The largest figurative sculpture in the UK it is built from spoil from a former coal tip marking a pertinent reminder of a distinct industrial heritage that changed the world.

Designed by Mick Petts using roughly 60,000 tonnes of coal shale — Barely visible in the photograph is a person sitting on the horses nostril, which gives an appreciation of the sculptures scale. Photograph originally taken by Jonathen Webb.

As part of the Penallta colliery the area had been one of the centrepieces of the Industrial Revolution. With a heartland in South Wales this Revolution, powered by coal, put Britain at the forefront of the free world for over 100 years. Coal provided the necessary power source for steam engines which, through James Watt, became one of Britain’s most significant contributions to human history, altering whole economies and social structures.

The Penallta colliery finally closed in 1991 with the last shift led by a brass band. Regeneration of Penallta colliery commenced in 1996 and now constitutes, in addition to ‘Sultan’, numerous cycle trails, walking trails, two fishing lakes a marsh and a business park, with plans to retain the headgear of the old mining shafts in a new housing development.

The sculpture is powerfully emblematic of the Industrial Heritage that made Britain Great as well as the ensuing cultural and social shifts that went with the development of steam. It is also forward looking being a great example of celebrating your past but regenerating the land for present-day use.