IN 2016, donkeys returned to Erddig after more than 100 years, thanks to a partnership between the National Trust and the Donkey Sanctuary.

Two large donkeys, Tambo and Lofty, were rehomed by Erddig's equine team, with the pair now spending their time housed in the stately home's stables and wandering its 1,200 acre estate.

In its heyday the stables housed nearly 20 horses, with carriages coming and going along the original driveway to the west front of the property. The stables would have been a busy operation, especially when there were guests arriving for a dinner party.

The original decision to rescue the donkeys was inspired by a single photograph of the animals pulling a cart on the west front of the historic house. It was to be the start of an exciting new voyage of discovery for the team at the historic Wrexham building, from learning about how to care for these special animals to delving into the archives to uncover a raft of new stories, and after years of research staff now have a much clearer picture of their history and the role they played in the lives of the Yorke family who called Erddig home for 240 years.

"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," said Jamie Watson, general manager at Erddig. "It seems that we've discovered in the archives a genuine affection for these endearing creatures."

Donkeys were based at Erddig between the late 19th and early 20th century and from studying the limited photographs in the house's collection, it seems the donkey carts were usually driven by ladies or servants to run errands or to collect rent from the tenants on the estate.

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, the team made many discoveries, including several new photographs.

One of the rare images was of Simon Yorke III, who lived at Erddig between 1811 and 1894. He was shown sitting in the garden on a deckchair with a donkey foal, with a message on the back saying: 'Simon is said to have carried this donkey home in a basket.'

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!"

The equine team's research also found that Simon was a member of the local RSPCA committee, with the local RSPCA secretary, Mr Swainson, noting at the time that: 'Simon's practical sympathy and interest in animals was well known.'

Medina Dicks, head coachman at Erddig said: "Practical sympathy was a very apt description by the RSPCA as we have found that in 1890 Simon Yorke III 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 one shilling - not bad when a groom at the time generally earned a shilling a day and it's hardly surprising that around 50 donkeys were entered."

An RSPCA Cymru spokesperson added: "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 since Simon Yorke posed with his donkey, and three years into Erddig's guardianship of Lofty and Tambo, staff at Erddig have been approached the Donkey Breed Society to stage another show and parade.

The adoption celebrations, which took place over the weekend, included cake, special talks and demonstrations as well as a donkey show on Sunday, which culminated in a donkey parade along the west front of Erddig Hall.

There was also the chance to become a Donkey Guardian with welfare advisors from the Donkey Sanctuary in attendance on Saturday to discuss their re-homing scheme and answer any questions.

"Lofty and Tambo have settled in so well," added Beth. "They love meeting the public and love their home at Erddig and the parade is a great way to celebrate this."