War Horses Week: Russley Park Remount Depot, World War One, Women, Horses and Sources

“You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets. … See to it that [a Land Army Girl] means … a steady, pure-minded, hard-working, yes, and attractive girl.”

Hon Mrs Alfred Lyttleton DBE at a Women’s Land Army Rally, January 1918 edition of The Landswoman Magazine.

This blog post is a sequel to Women, Horses and World War One, which I wrote in 2012 after Fran Jurga, who was running the official War Horse blog, tipped me off. The centenary of the Great War has renewed interest in women’s role both on the front and at home, and lots of people were curious to learn about the uppercrust and middle class young women who turned out to work for the organisations that became the Women’s Land Army. The first blog post concentrated on the women who worked in remount depots for the army, rehabbing or training horses that would go back to the front. This post was inspired by the chance I had to take part in a BBCWest/BBC 4 documentary on horses in Britain during the war, and brings together some of the sources I discovered when doing my research. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start here, with the original essay!

Two things need to be borne in mind when we talk about how great it was that women were freed up to do men’s work and get all empowered in quite a glamorous fashion, etc., etc. Firstly, though there were several remount depots run solely or partly by women, most of the Women’s Land Army worked in agriculture, forestry or forage production. If they got near a horse, it was probably a big carter, not an officer’s charger. They are the women writing cheerily about chilblains or the joys of pig keeping in the Landswoman Magazine, struggling against the prejudice of the cash-strapped farmers, who were both sceptical about their ability to do the work and worried about the relatively high wages they were awarded. To get a little flavour of the times (and their propaganda), I recommend spending hours at the excellent Women’s Land Army website, where you’ll find a collection of scans of this hearty publication, complete with advertisements for Royal Vinolia face cream (“Beauty on duty has a duty to beauty”).

The second aspect you need to bear in mind is that only some 20,000 or so women were recruited into the organisations that became the Women’s Land Army, a total which is not insignificant, but is dwarfed by the 180,000-odd “village women” who were also working in the fields, farmyards and forests. In other words, rural working women for whom the labour was not a patriotic novelty, but a familiar part of the day-to-day grind. Class! I found Kate Adie’s Fighting on the Home Front a really excellent overview of all the women, from duchesses downwards, who were involved in the World War One workplace. She doesn’t mention the remount depots, but does dedicate a chapter to the women who made all the haynets required by the British Army – not glam, but utterly essential.

But anyway – we’re here for Russley, which was in many ways the most prestigious of the Women’s Land Army postings. Not only did the twenty or so young women work with horses, but officers’ chargers. Not only was the stable run by women, but the superintendent was the wife of the Director of Army Remounts, Lord Birkbeck. No wonder they were photographed, filmed and even painted (see the first part for a little about Lucy Kemp Welch’s beautiful pictures).

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This row of stables at Russley Park dates from the late nineteenth century and has been beautifully restored by the current owners. From the paintwork to the brick floors, porcelain feed troughs and drain traps, it’s a labour of love and a gem of its original era. The only current resident is a chestnut shetland pony called George (see below). They were built by Russley Park’s owner in the late nineteenth century to house his racehorses (the park was originally a hunting estate dating from 1700). The estate is a hop, skip and a jump from Lambourn – still a hub for trainers of both flat and national hunt horses.

In 1907 it was purchased by Colonel William Hall Walker, the eccentric third son of a brewery magnate, who bred and trained horses both at Russley and in County Kildare in Ireland. Obsessed with horoscopes, Walker had charts drawn up for all of the foals he bred, and chose lantern-roofs for the stallion block in Tully, Ireland, so that the studs could be influenced by the sun and stars. In 1915 he sold both stables to the Secretary of State for War and handed over two stallions, 30 broodmares, 10 yearling fillies and 8 horses in training. The idea was that the government would be able to breed half or three-quarter thoroughbred horses for the cavalry.

Of course, by this stage it was rapidly becoming clear that there would not be much call for cavalry horses in the British Army’s future. If you click through to this extract from Hansard, you can see the March 1916 parliamentary discussion over what on earth the nation was supposed to do with Russley Park and Tully. One side is arguing that the racehorses will be loaned to Lords Lonsdale, and that the top-class stallions will contribute to a better class of cavalry horse. The other side is pointing out that what’s really needed is light draught horses to haul artillery and provisions.

In the end, Russley Park was used to care for officers’ chargers and new horses from Ireland and elsewhere. There were a couple of broodmares there, but the plan to turn it into a military stud didn’t materialise. Walker was made Baron Wavertree, and Tully became the Irish National Stud.

 

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What about life for the young women at Russley Park? It was a tight ship. A contemporary army report (possibly with a somewhat propagandist purpose) gave some details – repeated from my original post:

“…early morning stables 6 to 7.30, when the boxes are thoroughly washed out and the horses rubbed down, watered and fed. Breakfast follows, and the string then turns out to exercise on the downs. Midday stables on return from exercise and dinner at one o’clock. At two, horses that require special schooling are taken out and clipping and singeing and other odd jobs are taken in hand which occupy all hands till tea at 4.30.

Evening stables 5 to 6, and then the cleaning of saddles. Supper is at eight and the whole establishment is in bed by nine. … Mrs Ironside’s work is that of a responsible and very competent stud groom the care and feeding of some 70 horses is [sic] stables and at grass, the care of foaling mares, the dressing of wounds and contusions, the dressing of ringworm spots, the giving of balls and drenches, taking of temperatures, rasping of teeth, poulticing, bandaging, fomentation etc. etc. are all in her hands and no man ever did it better or with sounder judgment. …

The standard of efficiency of this establishment is that of a first-class hunting stable – attention is paid to every detail, horses clean and bright, stables spotless, windows clean, no cobwebs, brass shining and even pitchforks burnished.”

Each woman had three horses in her care – a far cry from her pre-war horsey experiences with a groom or two to do the hard work for her. There was, of course, some anxiety about young women doing man’s work. The fragant Mrs Hamilton Osgood visited America in June 1917 to impress these patriotic achievements upon young women on the other side of the pond, and, well, you can read the Philadelphia Evening Ledger’s headline for yourself—

1917PhilEveningLedgerRemountLAdiesPantaloon

Screengrab from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America archive.

Mrs Hamilton Osgood – very much of another generation – was desperate to stress how genteel these gentlewomen had remained:

“It’s a divineness of spirit that’s making little frail-handed girls groom cart horses and marchionesses wait on table in little restaurants – all so that England may give her men… English women are doing marvellous work on farms, and mind you they don’t dress up in absurd pantalettes to do it. They wear neat khakhi skirts. … Well-to-do girls who have never soiled their hands before are doing– well, almost unbelievable work. … Let me read you the letter of one little girl who, with either other women, is managing the only all-women remount depot in England. … ‘This morning,’ she read, ‘I was grooming an eighteen-hand-high cart horse, of whose character I knew nothing. We get one pound a week here and get ordered around like everything; no fancy get-ups, either. But we don’t care. We’re just glad to be serving.’”

What I love most about this extract is turning immediately to the Imperial War Museum’s photos and footage of the “frail-handed girls” at Russley Park – not a khaki skirt to be seen, and they don’t look like they’re bothered about having lily-white mitts either. What about the girls themselves? In 1916 the Daily Mail ran a piece by S. R. Church called a “Women’s Remount Depot somewhere in England,” which seems to my eye to draw upon the army report I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure how authentic it is (was it by a woman working at a depot or was it nudged along by the authorities?), and of course it’s unclear which location it’s talking about, but perhaps it’s Russley:

“Women grooms. How we look after the horses. … I am very sorry for the girl who tries to deceive our ‘boss’ about her knowledge of horses.
On your first morning, to arrive in the cold, grey dawn, after rising at the unusual hour of 6 o’clock – to pass through the door into the blackness of the riding school, where 60 horses are tethered in a double line–to look around for someone with authority in the few glaring spots of light that throw strange monster horse shadows onto the gaunt walls–and then to be told, ‘start watering from that end.’
It is disconcerting enough in any case, as you slip by a pair of possibly tactless heels to where you get some horse may own a head and headstall, and then to lead him to the trough, where other dim figures are holding other animals, tramping, snorting, biting, kicking. You are not nervous (absurd idea!) But the effect is weird, grotesque in the darkness, and, as I said before, I am sorry for the girl who comes as a pretender.
But, then, nobody could deceive our ‘boss’ unless with pen and ink; never face-to-face. I would wager that, is losing meant eating our hundred horses one by one, with their shoes thrown in! A wonderful woman she is, with the keenest green eyes in the world and straight brows, almost startlingly black, against her pale face and soft grey hair. She has voice so deep and powerful and clear that you shut your eyes and almost say it is a man’s voice, and then you realise a tender tone in it that no man could have, and you just say to yourself, as I say 100 times a day, ‘what an absolute topper she is!’
It would be a pleasure to go on writing about her, but perhaps you have said all when you have said that she can do anything with any horse and that there is not a girl in the place who does not enjoy obeying her. She is a born commander. And it is so rare an instinct in woman that I doubt if there be one in a thousand who could command such absolute, unwavering confidence.

Fearless horsewomen.

And it is her personality backed up by her knowledge that has made our depot the successful concern it is. The more you know of horses, and especially of the raw, rough brutes, many of them thoroughly vicious, which are bound to be among any lot picked out at random from the army type of animal, the more wonderful it seems that we should run them without a man on the premises. Wonderful. Why, it comes near to being incredible! And without her it would be incredible. Some of our girls are fine, fearless horsewomen, and before they have been here long we’re all fairly competent grooms; but it is she who tackles the dangerous horse first, she who is always on the spot in every emergency, and she, too, who organises everything from ordering the tons of hay, oats, bedding etc, to noticing that are stray cats get a saucer of milk in the harness room at teatime. Nothing escapes her vigilant eye nor ever seems to perturb the humour in her face.
With a savage horse she is a marvel, and so calm about it into the bargain. She tamed one who came to us with the cheerful reputation of having half-killed six men running till nobody dared go into his box. Only the other day I was absolutely defeated by a black fellow we called the Snorter or the Warhorse. He bit, he kicked , he struck at me with his forelegs. … He seemed as supple as indiarubber, and his wicked hoofs came crashing around within an inch of me time after time, till at last I went limping off on one foot and a half to say I couldn’t get near him. Well, she came and talked to him and showed him (only showed him) a little short thick stick, and he stood like a lamb after the first five seconds.

No picnic

For the Remount Depot is not a picnic. Now that we have roused the curiosity of a larger public than the small boys who came tumbling out of the cottages and the grinning motorists in passing cars, to whom our string of horses ridden at exercise by ladies on cross saddles was an object of amusement, we’re always seeing ourselves in illustrated papers labelled ‘Smiling Dianas,’ or something equally foolish.
If we are Dianas, we get far hotter, dirtier, and more tired than would be at all dignified in a goddess. Of course it looks very jolly to see us all going out for a pleasant ride in the country. ‘Those girls are having the time of their lives,’ people probably say when they see us. So we are. I cannot deny it. But I think some of our friends who last saw us, say, in a London ball-room would realise the other side of the picture if they could look in one morning at a time when they are generally in bed and see the erstwhile fine lady in her riding breeches and shirt, with the sleeves rolled up over her elbows, busily engaged in cleaning a dirty old carthorse, or a charger back from the front with filthy coat, or raking refuse out of the stalls. Our ‘boss’ has no room for the type of applicant who ‘loves riding, don’t you know, but couldn’t possibly do stable work.’
Love of the horse
We are doing men’s work, as much of it as men could do and considerably more than men would have done in those dim, distant days before the war had taught most of us to put our backs into a job of work and keep them there. It seems a long, long while since one strolled out after breakfast in well-cut habit and shiny boots to where our well-mannered hunter awaited us in the yard with a stud groom and a helper or so in attendance.
But everytime our back aches under a truss of hay or a sack of oats we are braced up by the thought that we (and we hail from New Zealand, Ireland, the North country, as well as England proper) are taking our share in the work that they are doing across the sea – there where our hearts are. And in that thought we go on cheerfully as before.
For we are a very merry crew, mostly under twenty-five I should imagine, and we get to love the horses as if they were our own. There is beautiful Venus, the chestnut mare, for whom I always steal a few minutes from my other charges to make her coat glow in the sunlight. And old Pasha, who looks like a cross between a camel and a clotheshorse, and he knows at least seventeen methods of either nipping or kicking you, even he has his genial moments – at the drinking trough, for instance. And Satan, who never goes out except with our rough rider; it takes several of us to hold him like a rising balloon till she jumps into the saddle, and then away they go in the maddest series of rushes across the paddock. And Baby, how our young carthorse, who weighs 15cwt or so and comes bounding down the riding school to her morning drink in charge of a wee wisp of a girl you could almost pick up in your hand.
Yes, when all is said and done, I suppose it is mainly our love of horses for their own sakes that brings us and keeps us here, although –– ‘I shall be late for the evening feed if I write another word.’
But it is the love of the horse.”

Lastly, here from the April 1919 edition of Landswoman Magazine is a list of women from Wiltshire who were awarded Good Service Ribbons for their efforts in 1914–1918. Could some of them have worked at Russley Park? Over to you.
WiltshireLandsArmyMedalsforgoodservice

Part one of this post.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Melanie Gans, Frankfurt 1906. Image at Jewish Museum, Berlin. M S Forrest.

Melanie Gans, Frankfurt 1906. Image at Jewish Museum, Berlin. M S Forrest.

  • Horse manure generates bio fuel. For book two I’m spending a lot of time thinking about horses as industrial power and product – is this the latest chapter? The British Ministry of Defence are already on the case. (LA Times, thanks to Jane Badger Books)
  • Enjoy In Our Time on the legends and facts behind the Amazons. (BBC Radio 4)
  • The EC cracks down on beef processed in Holland. Because it might well be horse. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Bute is found in corned beef sold by the supermarket Asda in the UK (Reuters)
  • Why are US trainer Bob Baffert’s horses dropping dead? (New York Times)
  • In the wake of the crisis, Spanish horses go to slaughter. (New York Times)
  • A man who attacked his ex-girlfriend’s horse with a knife is struck off by UK nursing authorities. (BBC)
  • The USDA is increasing tests on imported meat. (Bloomberg)
  • On a cheerier note: a horse colour genetics 101 from The Horse.
  • Hat tip to Dug Dug, a new price comparison site for pet supplies with the motto “we dig, you save” – thank you for liking the blog! Good idea to provide a means of sifting everything that’s on offer on the web.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

1967 Yemeni stamp, c.o WikiCommons.

  • An Irish Draught called Rupert performs on stage at the Royal Opera House in London (simplymarvelous)
  • Elizabeth I’s sidesaddle came up for auction in England. (Sidesaddle Girl)
  • A British farmer working a 265-acre farm with a team of Percherons (simplymarvelous)
  • Facebook is hot on the heels of a self-styled record breaker in the US who is “riding around the world” but seems to have already broken two horses doing it (Star Telegram)
  • Recycling racehorses at Suffolk Downs (Boston.com)
  • Canada and Mexico say no to slaughtering US horses. All I can say about this is MORE ANON (Fugly Horse of the Day)
  • Living with an equine comedian (TheHorse.com)

The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot via the British Museum

How could you fit the history of horses and humans into a space? Not even the British Museum could hold it: it would be crammed like Tutankhamun’s tomb. Selene’s chariot horses on the eastern Parthenon pediment would be eyeball to eyeball with Da Vinci’s triple-life-size Spanish steed. The central atrium would be the tackroom to end all tackrooms, with thousands of saddles perched on wall mounts like crows in a rookery: an Icelandic sidesaddle with a tool-worked seat and dinky safety rail, a Western saddle with beaten silver on the stirrups, a wooden nomad’s saddle from Central Asia, spineless, stuffed with deer fur and decorated with snow leopards. Then you’d have to clear out the Egyptian hall for donkey war chariots from Ur, a brougham with some courtesan’s coat of arms on the door, and a racing sulky so light you could pick it up in one hand.

I’d throw in pony rides in the forecourt, floodlit classical dressage and buzkashi matches, some lectures on the subtleties of Stubbs, Peche Merle and Rosa Bonheur… It would represent the life’s work of a batallion of curators and the air freighting of all the artefacts would raise the temperature of the globe by a couple of notches. That would do the trick, I think.

Limits, I suppose, are necessary in these austere times. That’s why The British Museum’s new exhibit, “The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot”, would more accurately be called simply “The Arabian Horse: from Arabia to the Royal Ascot”, although it does contain artefacts from non-Arab cultures, some of which even lie outside the Middle East. The museum and its sponsors – the Saudi Royal Family and their various agents – have chosen their own path through the mass of artefacts, cultures and facts. Charged by King Abdullah to “take good care of the Kingdom’s national antiquities and to project them to the world so it can witness the deep-rooted historical civilization of Saudi Arabia and its people”, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities are heavily involved, and the extended programme for the exhibit featured a talk by Prince Sultan entitled “Measures to Promote the Civilization Dimension of Saudi Arabia.”

I’m not going to make some facile point about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record vs. the 21st century notion of civilization because that has nothing to do with horse history. I don’t think it’s wrong, either, for the Saudis to put themselves at the centre of this exhibit. After all, this is how the relation of history works: we learn by creating threads of narrative out of the chaos of facts. We tell ourselves stories. You need a narrative or else it’s just display case after display case: thing with a horse on it, slightly later thing with a horse on it – my fantasy jumble sale of saddles and chariots.

My problem with “The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot” is twofold: firstly facts have been overlooked or even excluded to follow an old, well-trodden path. Secondly, a fresh, well-researched narrative could have given Eastern culture an even more central role.

What we actually get is a familiar account of a Fertile Crescent “Birth of Civilization”: Ur, Mitannis, cuneiform, chariots, grain cultivation et cetera. A wealth of booty from the British Museum’s store rooms are laid out to support this in a small maze of dark, air-conditioned rooms in the drum at the centre of Norman Foster’s atrium. It costs nothing to see this treasure, and treasure it is.

It begins with a film of a grey Arabian moving silkily round a floodlit arena in slow motion. Then there are priceless, unique pieces: the Standard of Ur (2600BC) is a small relief carving in shell, lapis lazuli, red limestone and bitumen showing a parade of figures with war-donkey chariots trampling the defenceless underfoot. The donkeys have rings through their noses (“bits hadn’t been invented,” says the caption, which rather overlooks the evidence of bitwear found in Botai horse teeth from 3500 BC). There’s a charming silver rein ring from a driving harness, featuring a trotting donkey with one ear fore and the other aft. Correspondence from Middle Eastern rulers to the pharaohs is carefully chipped in Babylonian cuneiform: memos concerning chariots and horses send by a Mitanni king, and a letter from the King of Cyprus to the King of Egypt, with the formal wish that the king’s “house, horses, chariots and land are well.” Panels provide information on the development of harness, chariots and battle techniques, as well as the spread of horses in the area.

What’s absent is the new story that is emerging from contemporary archaeology, in which horse-centric nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples – like the Saudis’ ancestors, the Bedouins – played a driving role in the spread of civilization. The peoples of the Eurasian Steppes did not leave cuneiform and stone temples, but they shuttled goods, grains, technology and Indo-European languages across vast distances over a long period of time, ultimately leaving traces of their culture everywhere from Ireland to Korea and from Siberia to the Fertile Crescent.  The domestication of the horse in Kazakhstan is mentioned briefly at the British Museum but passed easily over. Nor is there a sense of what role the nomadic Bedouins played in the Middle Eastern world. Horsemanship in “The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot” is tied to settled cultures. There is only one “civilization dimension”.

The exhibit begins to make gigantic leaps in time and space after the first room, bucketing along erratically. A dummy horse and rider kitted out in 15th century Ottoman horse armour stands next to another plastic horse in 19th century quilted Sudanese armour stuffed with kapok wool. An exquisitely cut shadow puppet faces an Uzbek blanket. A painting of a late 18th century Mughal horse with its tail dipped in henna segueways into European oils of the same period:  Sartorious’ Eclipse, Stubbs’ Gimcrack and Letitia, Lady Lade.  There’s an accelerated account of the development of the thoroughbred and modern flat racing and, randomly, images of horsedrawn traffic in eighteenth-century London. In the finishing straight we’re treated to a French version of the racing board game Totopoly, footage of dressage-Wunderpferd Totilas and the Saudi showjumping team and then out we’re spat into the exhibition shop. What’s the connection? That all these horses have Arab ancestry? Where are we going? Would you like a hobby horse with your catalogue?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Donna Landry’s excellent Noble Brutes: How Eastern Horses Transformed English Culture. Landry carefully draws on the work of many scholars to show how the English adopted not only oriental horses but also oriental horsemanship. We took their light, forward riding seat and called it the English hunt seat. We copied the Bedouins’ meticulous breeding records, pedigrees and carefully planned matings – it’s to these nomads that we owe the very notion of a “pure bred horse”. Landry’s “Houyhnhnmization” is the ideal inspired by Middle Eastern horsekeeping practices of the Arabian or oriental horse as a loyal, intelligent and noble creature that was both queerly human and better than a human, and to be treated as such by devoted grooms.

This is what the Saudis were looking for. This is a vision of Eastern culture as a civilizing force that left a deep mark on British ways of doing and thinking: the horse in Landseer’s Bedouin tent with its gentle eyes, the feather-light jockey’s hand on the reins.

In this version of events Arab culture would, however, have had to share credit with the Turks and North Africans, and this, perhaps, is the problem. The British Museum states that the thoroughbred was descended from three Arabian horses, but as Landry and others have pointed out, the Byerley Turk was probably so named because he was just that, a Turkish horse, and during his lifetime no one could decide if the Godolphin Arabian was not, in fact, the Godolphin Barb. There is evidence that Arabians themselves are originally of Turkic origin (think of an ancient Akhal Teke type), or perhaps desended from the tiny and fine Caspian horses of Northern Iran.

This rich and complex picture is not only blurred at Great Russell Street but supplanted by an attempt to write a new narrative. At the furthest end of the air-conditioned maze sit the Al Maqar stone carvings, aka Saudi Arabia’s much-trumpeted evidence that horse domestication took place in the Arabian Penninsula 3,500 years before the Kazakhs pulled it off.

It’s a treat to see them so soon after their discovery: the Al Maqar horse is beautiful – hefty, primitive, precise. It has a blunt profile and a smoothly joined rather than pronounced cheekbone. A groove cuts horizontally across its muzzle. To me it’s a Przewalski from the shape of its head to the mealy nose. There’s a vertical line running down its shoulder which the caption optimistically claims “may represent part of a halter or a harness” – what sort of harness would that be? Horse collars and breast yokes for draft are not believed to have been invented until 4th century BC China, and a loose strap on the neck would provide little control for a rider. Even if domestication had happened in the peninsula at that period, it became obsolete as the hypothetical Al Maqar domesticated horse died out: new DNA research shows that all modern domestic horses are descended from animals of the Eneolithic Eurasian Steppes.

The limbless stone horse is exhibited side by side with two companion carvings, one of which is believed to be a saluki and the other a hawk: the classical Bedouin accoutrements of horse, dog and raptor. Could this triptych have been set literally in stone in 7000BC? The caption hedges its bets: “Further research may determine the exact date of the three stone carvings.”

Just behind this display case is a light box which shows a series of images of striking Bedouin rock paintings of Arab-like horses led by stick figure men, black against gradations of red. When you press on an image it is projected onto the wall of the exhibition space. The figures look primitive and ancient enough but bafflingly, no date is provided for them; the caption refers to the artists using the Thamudic script but does not place them in history.  A short Google reveals that the Thamudic alphabet was used by Bedouins in the period 200BC to 300 AD. Quite a jump from the Neolithic.

Ignore me though. Go and have your eyes widened. Pass over the narrative and feast on the tiny golden chariot of the Oxus treasure, on Letitia Lade’s nonchalance and devilry, on a delicate pink chalcedony seal of a flying horse and Rembrandt’s copies of Mughal miniatures. Get confused. Forget the title. Start thinking about 19th century Sudanese cavalry and what inspired Bedouin tribesmen to paint horses on desert rock formations. Take a deep breath and throw yourself headfirst into the richness and diversity that results from millennia of interaction of humans and horses.

Drinka-Pinta-Donk-a-Day

The Guardian reports on a Newcastle University study to be published in the Journal of Dairy Science this month and notes, among other things, that we should be drinking donkey milk as it’s higher in protein and lower in fat than cow milk.

In the nineteenth century physicians believed that donkey milk helped to cure tuberculosis, and milch jennies were kept in Berkeley Square in Mayfair for wealthy consumptives. I’m not sure if it was effective; the only snippet that comes to mind is the fact that mare’s milk is closer to human breast milk in composition than cow milk is. Also, how much milk does one get out of a donkey? And would one have to resort to the ancient Scythian practice of putting a blow-pipe to the lady equid’s, er, parts, to bring the milk down?

If you don’t fancy drinking donkey milk, you can always do a Cleopatra and bathe with it. The Swiss firm Câlinesse has an entire range of donkey-based cosmetics from moisturiser to bust firmer to eye cream. Naturally it is taken only from very happy donkeys.

Lactose intolerants beware though: it contains considerably more lactose than cow milk.

11.11.2012 Update: donkey cheese is the most expensive in the world, at £800 per kilogram. This fact courtesy of this Telegraph image of a Serbian woman milking a donkey.

Heavy Horse Week: Sweet Punch

Suffolk Punches from the Hollesley Bay Colony Farm near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The horses were cared for by inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Hollesley Bay, until the entire stud was bought  by the Suffolk Punch Trust, who have opened a visitor centre on the site. Although now a rare breed, Punches had an excellent year in 2010, when a record total of fifty purebred foals were registered with the Suffolk Horse Society.