In the middle of Liverpool, nestled in the community of Toxteth sits Princes Park. Originally part of the Toxteth hunting forests, the dense forest and farmland that had been worked since the 17th century was stripped of its Royal Park status when Victorian industrialisation came knocking.
In the early 1800s, a local property developer, Richard Vaughan Yates, bought part of the former forest with the intent of building large houses around the perimeter. Once the grand townhouses were sold, the park itself would have been paid for. In true Victorian tradition, grandeur was the order of the day and the park opened in 1842 with a stunning lake, fancy entrances, footpaths and an available carriage ride around the site.
Sadly, the grandeur of the 19th century was slowly forgotten, destroyed or fell into disrepair. The park today remains an open, if relatively unremarkable, space with the only distinctive feature being a former drinking fountain and memorial to the park’s founder. Sadly, the boathouse, Doric Lodge and Chinese bridge are long gone, with the lodge being destroyed in WWII. However, the Sunburst Gates have been lovingly restored with areas of stunning gold leaf, harkening back to the park’s former splendour.
However, beyond the elaborate gates sits a rather more modest point of interest. The grave of Judy the donkey. Judy was a phenomenal little worker, visiting the park for 21 of her 26 years, before dying in 1926.
Judy first visited the park as an unremarkable working donkey, assisting the gardeners as they went about their work, pulling a cart and carrying cuttings, rocks, turf or soil. According to recollections of the groundskeepers’ grandchildren in the 1970s, Judy carried carts of coal on many occasions as far as Tarbock (a journey that takes 2h 22 minutes by foot). She was so familiar with the journey that she stopped both there and back at the same driveway in Childwall, remaining stock still until she was fed sugar lumps. Back at the park, children similarly fed Judy sweets, treats and sticky buns, which, even as a donkey novice, can’t have been good for her teeth. And Judy’s teeth had not gone unnoticed. Aside from a sweet tooth, Judy’s choppers were stained from chewing lengths of twist tobacco, which men would occasionally feed her.
Judy was not to remain a gardener’s dogsbody, and would become most beloved by giving children rides around the lake, apparently for free. On Judy’s so-called ‘days off’, she could be seen swimming in the Mersey or relaxing at Ye Hole In The Wall pub (est. c18th and still open today!), although we will sadly never know what her drinks order was.
Most famously of all, Judy was a hero. In October 1909, some teenage hijinks at the lake could have spelled tragedy, were it not for the little donkey’s courage.
According to strongseyeview, writing in 2014:
Although Judy was already a local celeb, it was an incident in October 1909 that made her a hero. A group of teenagers decided to see how many people they could fit on to on to one of the lake boats, the previous record was eight and they smashed it by fitting fifteen people on. Once the overloaded boat was in the centre of the lake gravity took hold and the boat started to sink. As soon as JTD heard their cries for help she rushed to the edge of the lake, dived in, and one by one dragged all fifteen of the drenched delinquents to safety.
Thanks to Judy’s swift movements, no one was seriously injured and the teenagers left with only their pride bruised. Judy’s heroics and fast action made her an instant celebrity and on 19th July 1911, she went on to be guest of honour at the opening of the famous Liver Building. The mayor wanted Judy to cut the ceremonial ribbon, but owing to there being no hoof-operated scissors, instead some peanut butter was placed on the ribbon and Judy chewed right through.
As much as Judy’s celebrity entertained the locals, by 1924 she had retired from public life, only occasionally returning to the park on special occasions as a publicity stunt of sorts. Although she no longer carried children on her back, on these occasions Judy would still draw large crowds of people, clamouring to see the famous donkey once more.
Judy died in 1926 and was given a burial quite unlike any regular working animal. Buried beneath the trees, Judy’s modest headstone looks over the park where she spent so much of her life bringing joy to others.
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Many thanks to the research of Fay Carter , available via the Friends of Princes Park.