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Mid 19th Century

The term "Fell pony" appears

The earliest use of the term "Fell pony" that I've found so far was very kindly sent to me by Dales enthusiast Jackie Snowdon in 2018:

Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1853 (held by the British Library)

DENT HORSE FAIR - At this old established fair which was held on Monday last, the show of fell ponies was better both in quantity and quality, than it has been for a year or two back. The prices realized for the ponies were upon the whole, considerably in advance of last year's prices.

Note the absence of a capital F, which suggests that the term "fell pony" was still not yet a breed name: it was "a pony that has been living at the fell". (n.b. - the Cumbrian term is often "at the fell" rather than "on the fell"). Also, compare the way that modern sheep breeds like Swaledales, Roughs and Herdwicks are often grouped in conversation under the one term "fell sheep", or a working sheepdog with huge energy and stamina is complimented as "a good fell dog".

Dent is a village in the Dales, close to the boundary between Yorkshire and Westmorland. Reference to "a year or two back" suggests "fell ponies" have been sold here for some time previously.

Cumberland and Westmorland Advertiser, and Penrith Literary Chronicle - Tuesday 25 September 1855

TAKEN UP, on Lazonby Fell, on the 7th inst., FOUR FELL PONIES. The owner may have them again by paying all reasonable expenses. Apply to John Graham, Lazonby.

From the British Newspaper Archive [ref]

IREBY DISTRICT AGRICULTURAL SHOW - Carlisle Journal, Friday 10 October 1856

... For the best Brood Pony direct from the fell, 15s.; second best, 7s. 6d. Nine entries. First, H. Casson; second, John Park.

For the best two years old Pony direct from the fell, 10s.; second best, 5s. Four entries ...

Straying - Carlisle Journal, Friday 07 December 1860

NOTICE. TAKEN UP, at LONGWATH, near Rosley, TWO FELL PONIES. The Owner can have them again by applying as above and Paying Expenses.

Westmorland Gazette - ORTON AGRICULTURAL EXHIBITION, Saturday 21 September 1861

... five Herdwick gimmer lambs. First, Mr. Dobson, Bretherdale; second, Mr. Geo. Robinson, Orton Hall Farm. Also for the best fell pony of any age. First, Mr. George Moffat, Sunbegin. PRIVATE SWEEPSTAKES. For the best bull calf. First, Mr. G. Holme, Orton. ...

(The Orton Agricultural Society's first Show had been held on 20 September, 1860.)

STOCK AND CROP FOR SALE - Penrith Observer, Tuesday 14 October 1862

... at SKIRWITH, part of the STOCK and CROP comprising as follows : 4 Fell Ponies; 1 Work Mare, rising five years old, and 1 Filly, rising three years old; 20 Head of Cattle ...

Penrith Observer, Tuesday, January 20, 1863

advertisement for Fell ponies in 1863 newspaper

January 20, 1863 - To be SOLD, by AUCTION, on Friday the 23rd of January, the property of Mr Isaac Cheesebrough...2 Fell Ponies...

I can't be sure that the term is meant as a "breed title" yet as there are lots of capitalised terms in the advert including Yellow Turnips and Stacks of Oats.

SECOND DAY (of a trial) - Carlisle Patriot, Saturday 24 February 1866

... he had seen some ponies of Mr Fetherstonhaugh’s on the fell, between the year 1820 and 1828. Since the year 1828 [he] had never known anything be long on the fell with the exception of two or three ponies ...

Sale Report - Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser, Tuesday 08 March 1870

There was a much larger show of ponies for saddle and harness, including many good animals; prices ranged from £15... A few young Fellside ponies changed hands at from £16.

BROUGH HILL FAIR - Penrith Observer, Tuesday 01 October 1872

... doing a rattling trade... Fell and other ponies were also well represented, and for these £16, £18, and as far as £3O were the ruling prices ...

Sale at Renwick - Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Saturday 09 April 1881

... Autumn calvers, 10s to £18 5s ; present calving heifers, £20 5s ; bull, £16. Fell ponies from £4 to £12 ; work horse, £30; do., with harness on, £40; dog cart, £21 5s. Mr. W. Kilvington, of Brough, was the auctioneer ...

Court Case - Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Saturday 20 January 1883

... the tenants of the farm had been in the habit of pasturing fell ponies end other stock on the Common for thirty years without interruption, and he contended that that was sufficient to establish ...

SHAP AGRICULTURAL SHOW - Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Saturday 13 September 1884

... Pony mare—1, M Atkinson, Greenholme (whose family owned the farm and house I now live in); 2, Jos Bainbridge, Little Strickland. Six entries. Two-year-old gelding or filly pony-1, Thomas Kirkbride, Bampton Hall; 2, Thomas Wales. Five entries. ...

Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, 6th September, 1885.

At Dufton show in 1885 "the entry of fell ponies was good and the competition keen".

Penrith Observer of 25th October, 1887

At Dufton Show "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, conversation in 2015)

Severe Snow - Penrith Observer Tuesday 27 March 1888

The sufferings of the Fell ponies, and sheep have been pitiable in the extreme, as there is little hay left, and many drifts have been ten feet deep, some much more. How these miserable ponies live, is a mystery. ...

SHAP AGRICULTURAL SHOW - Penrith Observer, Tuesday 18 September 1888

... [light horse] foals turned up in great force, and were a promising lot, the colt by Young Comet being much admired. The ponies were a large class. They were all hardy animals, suitable for a fell district, but most of them had not been prepared for show. Mr. Moses Hully showed the best mare, and likewise took the first ticket for yearling geldings, but a protest was entered against him by Mr Kitchen, the second prize taker, on the ground that the Orton horse was not a gelding.

Later in the day:

In the next class also - that for gelding or filly ponies not exceeding 13 hands 2 inches, a protest was also entered by Mr Hully against the first prize being given to Mr Armstrong, of Eamont Bridge, on the ground that he had not had the animal in his possession three months.

It was clearly a truculent sort of day!

Hesket-New-Market Agricultural Show - Carlisle Express and Examiner, Saturday 20 September 1890

The new prizes for fell ponies under 13 and a half hands have elicited an extraordinary number of competitors, and much interest will be manifested in this hardy class ...

WHAT IS A TENANT FARMER? - Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Saturday 26 September 1891

... [the land] is incapable of cultivation in its present condition. It is covered with heather, ling, bent, and stones. Nothing but mountain sheep, fell ponies, and grouse can be supported on it. Its owner pays the State £3 a year for a licence to shoot over it ...

Carlisle Express and Examiner, Sat 26 Sept 1891

... show of Herdwick sheep and fell ponies. He was of the opinion that it was a very good thing for the small shows to take the breeds peculiar to their districts, and thought that the Committee had acted wisely in making Herdwick sheep and fell ponies the principal ones ...

THE LUNCHEON - West Cumberland Times, Saturday 22 September 1894

... Speaking of the above he said people would be surprised to see such a fine show of Herdwicks and fell ponies. They were adapted to the district. Farmers should strive to breed animals adapted to their districts, for otherwise ...

MARKETS - Carlisle Patriot, Friday 25 October 1895

... Mr Wm. Young, Carlisle, also bought a few fell bred ponies suitable for the collieries in Durham and Northumberland. ...

FELL PONIES MAKE A FINE DISPLAY - Lancashire Evening Post, Sat 5th Sept 1931

Tebay Agricultural Show, held yesterday, attracted nearly 1,000 entries, but the attendance was seriously marred by inclement weather. Throughout the day rain and cold winds, which sometimes reached gale force, swept the showfield, and judging was carried out under difficult conditions. The quality of the stock entered was exceptionally good for the high lying district, and the best show of sheep since the society’s inauguration, 13 years ago, was seen. A feature of the horse section was the fell pony classes, which attracted good entries. These ponies, which are brought down from the high lying fells to be judged, looked exceptionally well in their rough and wild state...

The above newspaper references are to be found at the British Newspaper Archive.

In Literature...Earliest Record quickly superseded!

On 20th October 2018 I uploaded here the following reference from the Oxford English Dictionary:

1871 'A. Clare', Davie Armstrong, Chapter 6: "A lad...who stood with his hand on the shaggy mane of a rough, sturdy little fell-pony."

Davie Armstrong: A Story Of The Fells (1871) is only available as a facsimile reprint, so I don't have a copy. 'Austin Clare' was the pseudonym of Wilhelmina Martha James (1845-1932). She was the daughter of the Rev Octavius James, who lived at Clarghyll Hall, Alston, Cumbria. (He was a cross between a squire and parson; an amateur builder who expanded the Hall considerably; friends with the "Mad" king Ludwig of Bavaria; a heavy drinker, and a breeder of bulls. Plenty of material there for a young author to draw on!) She would have been 25-ish when she wrote Davie Armstrong. Her use of the term fell-pony is the earliest I have yet seen in fiction.

However, its overall "earliest" status lasted for only half a day before Mrs Snowdon sent me the 1853, 1855 and 1863 advertisements above, and I began searching the British Newspaper Archive and found all the inter-dated references. I sent this newer information to the Oxford English Dictionary (23 October 2018) and I am delighted to note that the October 1853 extract from the Westmorland Gazette has been accepted and their timeline reference for "fell pony" has been updated (accessed 25 August 2020).

I think most Fell pony enthusiasts can guess who "She" is who prefers the Fell ponies.

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Last updated 23 May, 2021 .
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