Erddig archives reveal historic affection for donkeys

Published : 09 May 2019

Lofty and Tambo, two large donkeys, were rehomed by our equine team from The Donkey Sanctuary in 2016. Latest research into Erddig archives has revealed several new donkey photographs and stories in time for our donkey celebration weekend on 18 and 19 May 2019.

The decision to rehome Lofty and Tambo was inspired by one photograph of donkeys pulling a cart on the west front of our historic house. It was to be the start of an exciting new voyage of discovery; from learning about how to care for these special animals to delving into the archives to uncover a raft of new stories. 

We now have a much clearer picture of the history of donkeys at Erddig and the role they played in the Yorkes’ lives and are looking forward to a celebration weekend on 18 and 19 May.

Jamie Watson, General Manager at Erddig says:
“One photograph inspired our journey to rehome Lofty and Tambo and since then our equine team has gone above and beyond to uncover new details about donkeys at Erddig. It seems that we’ve discovered in the archives a genuine affection for these endearing creatures.”

Horse and Donkey Volunteer Beth Jones spent several days at the Flintshire Records Office where many of Erddig’s historic documents are safely stored. During this time, with several other volunteers helping, Beth made many discoveries including several new photographs.

Historic affection for donkeys at Erddig
Simon Yorke III pictured seated with his dog and arm round a donkey foal
Historic affection for donkeys at Erddig

Beth said:
“I remember the moment I found the photo of Simon with a donkey foal. My heart skipped a beat. Not just because it was finally further proof that donkeys played a significant role in the Yorkes’ lives, but because I love donkeys and the photo is simply adorable!”

Carried home in a basket

They say a picture says a thousand words, well the photo of Simon Yorke III sitting in the garden on a deckchair with a donkey foal hints at affection. On the back is written: ‘Simon is said to have carried this donkey home in a basket.’

The equine team’s research also found that Simon was a member of the local RSPCA committee, perhaps as a magistrate he’d heard animal cruelty cases, prompting him to join the society?  

The local RSPCA secretary, Mr Swainson, noted ‘Simon’s practical sympathy and interest in this ill-used animal being well known’.

Meet our adopted donkeys Lofty and Tambo
Adopted donkeys Lofty and Tambo meeting visitors in the Midden Yard at Erddig
Meet our adopted donkeys Lofty and Tambo

Medina Dicks, Head Coachman at Erddig says:
“Practical sympathy was a very apt description by the RSPCA as we have found that in 1890 Simon Yorke offered Erddig as a venue for a donkey show and parade. There were four classes and the top prize paid 15 shillings and Mrs Yorke gave each entrant 1 shilling - not bad when a groom at the time generally earned a shilling a day!”

It’s no surprise that there were fifty entries to that first show! 

An RSPCA Cymru spokesperson said:

“It's fascinating to hear that this research has uncovered information about the role of donkeys at Erddig going back so many years, and the compassion shown to these beautiful equine animals. North Wales has a rich tradition and history of caring for animals and their welfare, and it’s great to hear the role Erddig historically played in caring for donkeys. The RSPCA has been protecting animals since 1824 - and it's so interesting to hear of the connection of the Yorke dynasties to the RSPCA, and our local committee at the time. RSPCA Cymru is always looking for homes for our rescue horses, ponies and donkeys; and we applaud all efforts to help these wonderful companions find loving new homes.”

Now, almost 130 years later and three years into Erddig’s guardianship of Lofty and Tambo, Medina Dicks approached the Donkey Breed Society to host another show and parade.
Elizabeth Brown of the Donkey Breed Society said:

“Medina told me about the history of donkeys at Erddig and suggested a twenty first century show and parade as part of a celebration weekend and I thought it was a great idea! I don’t think we’ll get as many as 50 entrants, but I’m really looking forward to hosting the parade with all the entrants – including Lofty and Tambo - in front of the house.”

Donkeys returned to Erddig in 2016 after 100 years
Donkey Sanctuary horsebox in front of historic hall
Donkeys returned to Erddig in 2016 after 100 years

Plans for the celebration weekend include cake (carrot and ginger for Lofty and Tambo), special talks and demonstrations, craft activities, a donkey show with four competition classes on Sunday 19 May culminating in a donkey parade along the west front of Erddig Hall at 1:30pm. 

A Donkey Welfare Adviser from The Donkey Sanctuary will be at the event on Saturday to talk about their rehoming scheme and answer any questions on becoming a Donkey Guardian.