AN apple tree has been planted in memory of the North- East’s last working pit pony.

Pip, a tiny workhorse who lived to 35, died at Beamish Museum, near Stanley, in County Durham.

He lived there happily for the past 23 years. During that time, he had a booklet published in his honour and was introduced to royalty.

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His days at Beamish were far removed from his earlier working life underground.

Pip began at Blackburn Drift, Marley Hill Colliery, near Sunniside, Gateshead, working the narrow seams 150ft underground until it closed 30 years ago when he was five years old.

He then moved to Sacriston Colliery, near Durham, and worked there until it ceased production in the mid-Eighties.

Pip was kept on for another year to help with salvage work before he went to Beamish.

His handler, Jonathan Kindleysides, said: “Pit ponies were used to pull coal out of the coal seams.

“They would pull tubs that would contain about half a ton of coal, and in some cases would pull up to three tubs at a time.

“He has had a very good retirement for 23 years, a lot better than most of the pit ponies in the North-East.”

Pip was something of a celebrity at the museum and visitors loved to meet him, including Princess Anne.

Mr Kindleysides said: “He was not one for doing what he was told, but he was always a gentleman and very good with visitors.

“People at Beamish always loved to see him and he was happy to stand and have his photograph taken.”

At the peak in 1913, there were 70,000 ponies underground in Britain. By 1984, the numbers had dwindled to 55.

Beamish spokeswoman Jacki Winstanley said: “He was the only surviving working pit pony from the Northern coalfields.

“Pip had a long and happy retirement at Beamish and he trained his successor, Flash, to wear his harness to show visitors the type he wore down the mine.

“He loved apples, so we have planted a special pippin apple tree as a memorial to Pip in the museum grounds.”