DONKEYS' YEARS! an account of how The Heath was once home to numerous donkeys.
Hampstead Heath was once very famous for its donkeys which not only provided pleasure for numerous children (and adults!) but were found in Victorian times roaming wild on The Heath.
In the early nineteenth century the donkeys became increasingly unpopular with local residents due to the numerous hirings out of both ponies and chaises.
By the early 1830s, there were almost an hundred donkeys to be found for hire on The Heath and many would stray onto the lands surrounding Whitestone Pond and there was an unsuccessful petition to impound them!
By the mid nineteenth century, the hiring out of donkeys was quite prevalent on The Heath and it is said that many famous people, including Karl Marx, used to ride them!
Donkeymen (see pictures) used to position themselves at two main points, namely Whitestone Pond and Downshire Hill but were forced to become licenced in 1871.
Two cattle troughs were erected at these places for the donkeys and the one near Downshire Hill is still standing (see below)
Back in the nineteenth century, donkey boys used to congregate on the Spaniards Road, their donkeys decked with white saddle-cloths.
It was noted that the donkeys
"are much like their brethren everywhere in a countrywhere the donkey is despised and mismanaged.They are much more comfortable to ride when homeward than outward bound. The sullen crawlof the 'outward-bound' donkey—his perpetual endeavours to turn round, and his craving after roadside vegetation—are, as may be well imagined,varied at intervals by the onslaughts of the donkeyman, who, with a shower of blows, a string of guttural oaths, and a hoarse "kim up," stimulates the unlucky beast into a spasmodic gallop of two minutes' duration, during which time the equestrian powers of the rider are severely tested."