Hartland Design



Pony Discovery Centre


National Coal Mining Museum for England



July, 2021

Delving deep into the history of the pit ponies, this project is rooted in creating powerful and emotionally engaging insights into the lives, relationships, stories and history of the pit ponies through photographic and object collections, while also creating a meaningful visitor experience focused on the work of the NCMMEs horsekeepers and how they care for the Museum’s ponies and Clydesdale today.

Working with a small team at NCMME, our focus was bringing the lives of the pit ponies and their keepers to the fore. Our approach was underpinned by the concept of ‘above and below’. In particular, showing horses and miners at work within the mines was key to us providing visitors with an evocative touch-point to enable them to consider what life was like for both the horses and their keepers deep under the earth. Using a combination of the Museum’s own extensive historic photographic collection, miners’ personal stories, information about the current PDC horses and their care, and a series of our bespoke illustrations, we created a multi-layered design and interpretation scheme that captures and shares both the wider historical background of the pit ponies and how the current day NCMME’s horsekeepers care for the Museum’s ponies and Clydesdale.

Working within the parameters of NCMME’s existing brand and visual language, we introduced a complementary colour scheme inspired by the outdoors and underground, along with a ‘stepped’ graphic element to conceptually reflect the idea of layers and moving from above to below the surface. Continuing this theme, interpretation was physically layered, with boldly coloured text interpretation panels mounted over larger image-based graphics to create a sense of depth and visual interest.

The completed graphic and interpretation scheme includes: an illustrated 9m long timeline ‘The Path of the Ponies’; a photomontage wall display; an interactive display wall featuring a measuring chart activity for younger visitors to learn about ‘hands’ and compare their height; a series of interpretation boards detailing past and present care and welfare of horses; an entrance lightbox and; a display cabinet of horsekeepers’ tools.

In addition to the graphic scheme, we also designed and fabricated three kinds of low-tech interactives which will be used by the horsekeepers as part of their audience engagement and children’s activity sessions; a hand-crafted wooden scale model of a mining coal tub, featuring a removable lid with replica fibreglass coal, metal edge detailing, handle, wheels, and bracketry to attach it to the centre’s model horse; three complementary wooden ‘feelie’ boxes for visitors to guess the pony related objects contained inside; and a ‘tails and manes’ display for visitors to brush and plait.