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Donkeys in British Culture

Despite their African origins donkeys have gained a firm foothold in many cultures including those of Britain and France.

The British developed a fondness for donkeys based on their reputation for loyalty and stubboness and also because they are often seen as 'under dogs'.

In Shakespeare's play a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' the character Bottom has his head turned into that of a donkey. The author of 'Treasure Island', Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about his journey through the Cevennes in "Travels with a Donkey'.

The word donkey was also applied to a small, ancilliary, steam engine, giving rise to other donkey expressions such as 'donkey jacket' for a type workman's overcoat. This is the use of the word donkey found in the work song, or shanty, 'Donkey Riding'.


English expressions featuring donleys include; 

  • "To talk the hind legs off a donkey." - said of a very talkative person

  • "Donkey's ages" - a long time, as in "I haven't seen you in donkey's ages"

  • "Donkey work" - having to do hard, boring work, as in "he does all the donkey work"

Donkey Engine

Midsummer Night's Dream

Famous Donkeys

Donkey Jacket

A famous donkey from children's literature is the despondant Eeyore in A.A. Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh.'

The Nativity Play, a staple of British primary schools sometimes features a donkey and there is a popular Christmas carol is, 'Little donkey carry Mary".

For many British children, however, their first encounter with this animal was at the seaside. Donkey rides along the beach, along with candyfloss and sticks of rock, were part and parcel of a typical British seaside holiday up until the middle of the twentieth century. The tradition dated back to Victorian times. Queen Victoria, herself as a child, had raced a donkey across the sands at Broadstairs in Kent.

This is a photo of one of the

authors riding a donkey at the seaside.

For more about protecting donkeys worldwide click below: 

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