Doing the donkey work at Erddig
Last year, after more than 100 years, donkeys have returned to Erddig thanks to a partnership between the National Trust and The Donkey Sanctuary.
Erddig’s horse team has successfully adopted two donkeys called Tambo and Lofty who were rescued by the sanctuary.
The pair now spend their time on the 1,200-acre estate and in our stables, bringing to life another part of Erddig’s history.
In its heyday the stables housed nearly 20 horses, with carriages coming and going along the original driveway to the west front of the property. The stables would have been a busy operation, especially when there were guests arriving for a dinner party.
Coachman Medina Dicks said:
“We have plenty of space in our stables and out on the estate and donkeys form part of the history of Erddig, so it's been a perfect opportunity to help the Donkey Sanctuary whilst bringing the past to life.”
“Historically, we know there must have been donkeys at Erddig. There is one photo in particular taken of Simon Yorke III on the West Front steps with two ladies in the donkey cart who are both of his daughters. We still have that same donkey cart on display as part of the transport collection in the stables.”
Donkeys were based at Erddig between the late 19th and early 20th century. From studying the limited photographs in our collection, it seems the donkey carts were usually driven by ladies or servants to run errands or to collect rent from the tenants on the estate.
It is likely that donkeys were considered more manageable for ladies to drive, helped by Queen Victoria who drove a pheaton donkey carriage as her mobility waned. Donkey carriages would have been considered less damaging to the wider parkland.
The horse team is hoping that they can drive donkeys at Erddig once again, as the Yorke family once did many years ago.
Tamlin Watson Donkey Welfare Adviser for North, West and Mid Wales and Shropshire at the Donkey Sanctuary said:
“We are so grateful to Erddig for taking on two of our large donkeys as they are more difficult to rehome. People often don't have the space or expertise to deal with them, so when we were approached by Erddig for donkeys large enough to drive a cart, we were over the moon.
“Lofty and Tambo are such nice natured donkeys, we felt they would benefit from being adopted by Erddig, where they have been receiving the one-to-one attention they need. I think they’re enjoying their Grade I listed home.”
Volunteer researcher, Sarah Bayliss, has been spending time in the Flintshire Records Office, trawling Erddig’s archives to see what else she can find about the role of donkeys at Erddig. She said: “There are some photos and a few references, but so far I have only scratched the surface. There are thousands of documents available and we're finding out more each time we visit.”
Whilst the Erddig team keep digging to find the detail, Erddig’s two new residents have been receiving a warm welcome as they settle into their new home at Erddig.
About the donkeys at Erddig:
Tambo, 9 and Lofty, 8 - now in their teens in human years - were part of a group of 15 donkeys who joined the Sanctuary in November 2014 after the closure of a sanctuary they had been with since 2009.
Even though, as new arrivals to Erddig they were very shy, they have grown to love the attention from all our visitors. Tambo often shows a playful side giving his buddy Lofty a nudge and nip to get a reaction; quite normal behaviour for sociable donkeys. Tambo is also fond of using his fast long legs when he has the opportunity, so this has been keeping the team on their toes.
They have both been warming up their vocal chords with some gentle low brays. Occasionally, the team hears louder calls as they become more and more settled.
5 Donkey Facts
1. Donkeys, also called burros and asses, are found throughout the world. They are members of the equine family, which also includes horses and zebras. Since they are in the same family, donkeys and horses can interbreed. When this happens, the foal is called a mule or a hinny depending on whether the father is a donkey or a horse.
2. In ancient times donkeys were typically found in places like central Asia and northern Africa. There are estimated to be more than 40 million donkeys worldwide. The Romans introduced donkeys to Northern Europe when they were used to carry goods and chattels that the invading force required.
3. Donkeys are super-efficient at converting their food as they are desert animals and would usually only have access to high fibre and low calorie foods in the wild. So when it comes to lush grasses donkeys need to be managed very carefully, something the team at Erddig will need to keep an eye on. Obesity is a real threat to the health of donkeys.
4. Donkeys bray to communicate. There are different types of bray; some for calling to get attention, some for greeting and others are used when they are distressed.
5. Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn. Their good memory and ability to learn ensures donkeys will only perform an exercise if they feel it is safe or if their handler gives them confidence to try. These donkey survival skills mean that they avoid activities they find difficult, frightening or painful.