We (the CAA) received a donation yesterday from one of our former presidents, who sent, among other things, a stack of newspaper and magazine clippings from the 1960s … all related to carriages or driving. If you happen to be reading this, Mr. Pemberton: Thank you!!!

This particular one, which was published in the June 1968 issue of Pony magazine, is so adorable, I wanted to share it with you.

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Grandmother’s Album … is full of donkeys, whose friendly faces peering out of its pages show that their popularity is perennial

by Margaret Mason

My grandmother was an adept at telling stories. Often they were much embellished and not always suitably! One great amusement for us children when staying with grandmother was to ask her to show us the family photograph album. We never reached the last few pages, because grandmother paused at each photo to recount some anecdote. One that I remember well, concerned an eminent bishop — her cousin. His picture always produced excited giggles in anticipation of the little rhyme, written by The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop himself, so grandmother vowed:

“Half an inch, half an inch, half an inch shorter

“Skirts are the same for mother and daughter.

“When the wind blows — each of them shows

“Half an inch, half an inch more than they aughter.”

Which all goes to prove that the mini-skirt is nothing new. Turning the pages of the album now, I find that neither is the present fashion for donkeys — their friendly faces and long ears peer out from page after page of grandmother’s book. It seems that it was more the rule than the exception for a family to have a donkey grazing in the park or paddock.

Darkie was bought for 20 shillings from some gypsies by my grandmother and remained with our family for years, eventually ending her days with the bishop cousin. Darkie moved strictly in ecclesiastical circles: her early years were spent at the rectory, and when the children there had outgrown her, she took on the bishop’s children. The bishop’s palace was on the outskirts of a large industrial town, and Darkie, being the only donkey for miles around, enjoyed a multitude of small visitors with offerings of bread and sugar. The annual cost of keeping Darkie at the palace ran into many pounds a year in repairs to the iron railings which surrounded her field, and supported the joint weight of visiting parties.

During Darkie’s less exhalted life at the rectory, she was first and foremost a pet. There is a charming photo [below] of her accepting a tidbit from my mother, aged ten months.

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She had several tricks which she would perform for rewards, and there is an excellent picture of her sitting up on her haunches.

Darkie, however, was not a useless pet. Nannie is seen driving her to a delightful wicker-cart [below], and in it Nannie’s charges were conveyed to dancing class, tea parties, picnics, and the like.

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A pony was also kept and driven to the same cart, but evidently the donkey was considered safer for nursery outings.

Darkie was not in fact of a dark color but silver gray; she owed her name to a much earlier donkey. Turning back the pages of the album, there is the original Darkie: dark indeed, with a beautiful mealy muzzle — this time [below] led by the coachman resplendent in livery.

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The year was 1890, and a great-great-aunt is seen at the age of five, attired in a full-blown riding habit, complete with gloves and whip. She is unmounted, but two younger great-great-uncles sit one behind the other on the donkey.

Before the pram was in general use toward the end of the nineteenth century, babies were carried out for an airing in the arms of a nursemaid. As families were frequently large and additions arrived yearly, other modes of transport had to be found. The donkey was ideal. Carrying paniers, he easily and safely conveyed smaller children. As the family graduated from nursery to schoolroom, the governess took over afternoon outings, for which the donkey was used in a cart.

When nannies and governesses vanished, donkeys disappeared as well, only to reappear quite recently as companions, not to the children of the well-to-do, but to lonley horses! They have gained popularity very rapidly over the last five years. Some as rather gimmicky pets of suburban-dwellers, others in pre-first-pony capacity, and many just because they are delightful, gentle, original, and loveable characters to have around.