Eli Whalley founded his business at Ashton- under Lyne during the 1890’s and his premises were beside the Ashton Canal at Whiteland’s where it makes a head on junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
He occupied a comparatively small area of land at the end of Ashton Old Wharfand for many years this was known as Eli Whalley’s Wharf and nowadays it is known as Donkey Stone Wharf.
This company became well known for its manufacture of donkey stones, which were produced in huge quantities to meet the demand for the mainly northern tradition of donkey stoning stone steps, windowsills and a area of pavement outside ( known as “flags” or “front”)
Donkey stones were about the size of a large bar of soap and when being used they needed to be wetted as they were scoured over stone surfaces.This was a regular chore performed by generations of housewife’s at the terraced house of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
A proud housewife never neglected this duty, as it was a public demonstration of the cleanliness of her home.
As the stone surfaces dried, they took on the colour of the stone used in the manufacture of that particular donkey stone. The result was entirely decorative, as the finish was not long lasting.
It seems that there may have been more then the one “recipe” for the composition of these stones and it is known that some of the stone used in their manufacture was quarried at both Wigan and Northampton and these would have been sandstone. Another “recipe” contained limestone that was quarried around Dove Holes in Derbyshire and this would have been supplied via the Peak Forest Tramway and Canal. Colours ranged from brown, through cream, to white with intermediate colours being made by mixing different coloured stones.
The quarried stone was first ground in a stone mill to which water was added to make a slip. Next, cement and a bleaching agent were added to form a paste.This was then pressed into oblong moulds after which it was cut into individual bars and allowed to set.
Donkey stones cost about ½ d each to buy but more often than not they were exchanged for old rags and bones whenever the Rag and Bone Man passed down the street calling out in a very loud voice for rags and bones.The number of stones given depended entirely on his assessment of the quantity and quality of whatever was being offered. If he considered them reasonable, then he would give more stones.
Donkey stones took their name from image of a donkey used in the largest 19th century manufacturer.On the other hand, Eli Whalley used a lion as his trademark and the inspiration for this came from childhood visits to Belle Vue Zoo at Gorton, Manchester. Eli Whalley’s company reached its peak during the 1930s when it was producing around 2.5 million donkey stones every year.
By 1973 the owners of the company were Gilbert Garside and his Son, Harry, but by this time production had shrunk to about 720,000 stones a year. However, it outlived all other manufacturers to become the world’s last surviving donkey stone manufactures and Eli Whalley and Company remained in business until 1979.
Buy Lion Brand Donkey stones from Period Features while stocks last!