Meet the Carisbrooke Donkeys
A supply of fresh water was essential for a well defended stronghold like Carisbrooke. For hundreds of years the castle's resident donkeys have drawn up water in the well house. Visit the castle and delight in the demonstrations of the donkeys working the 16th century tread wheel.
What did the Donkeys do?
The well house at Carisbrooke was once the main supply of water for the castle. Built in the 1580s, a huge oak wheel would be turned to draw a bucket down to the water and back up again. For one bucket, the wheel must be turned 255m, a job that is thought to have originally been performed by prisoners. Since at least 1696 however, it is known that this role was performed by a team of donkeys, a tradition we continue today.
All the donkeys at Carisbrooke have names beginning with the letter 'J'. This tradition was started when Charles I was a prisoner at Carisbrooke. When Charles I wrote letters or was planning his escape route, he always signed his letters with a 'J'. So for 150 years all the donkeys at the castle have had a name beginning with this letter.
Nowadays the castle donkeys provide demonstrations of the well house for our visitors each day the castle is open, spending the rest of their time relaxing in warm stables, being groomed by their supervisors or grazing in the five acre field behind the castle. Their duties are much lighter than they were historically, and we only ask them to turn the wheel twice each demonstration, around 30 seconds of work.
Meet the Donkeys
Born: 2000, Isle of Wight
Jack is by far the naughtiest of the castle's donkeys and is also very clever. A true escape artist, he can find his way out of anywhere you put him, whether the stables, the well house or even the field at the rear of the castle. Whenever Jack escapes, he always takes the other donkeys with him. It's a lot of fun for four cheeky donkeys who love sampling new grass they're not normally allowed.
Jack is by far the most affectionate donkey, which means you can never be cross with him, even at his very naughtiest. He loves being part of the fun, and chases the team around each morning until he gets a cuddle.
Born 2000, Isle of Wight
Jill is Jack's half sister, and a bit of a madam. As a part miniature, she compensates for a lack of size with plenty of attitude. Jill loves her food, and stops at nothing to get at it, regardless of whatever might be in the way. Her love of food and singlemindedness means her well house demonstrations have to be carefully timed, lest we interrupt her lunch; she's very good at making it clear when work is off the menu.
Although not as sociable as her brother, Jill can be very cuddly, so long as it's on her terms. She's very well behaved, and never gets up to mischief, even if she has picked up escape artistry from her brother. She's a pleasure to groom and hoofpick, and always utterly adorable - especially with her fluffy winter coat.
Born 2003, New Forest
Jigsaw is our hardest worker, and loves turning the wheel at the well house. In fact, she loves it so much she often turns it a little faster than it was meant to go. Where the other donkeys take 30-40 seconds to turn the wheel, Jigsaw can do it in 20, and she's very proud of this fact.
Jigsaw is a beautiful donkey with a gorgeous coat, and definitely knows it. Sometimes a diva, she loves fussing, and is prone to sulking when she doesn't get her own way. This often backfires for her, as it's adorable and rarely has the desired affect. She'll always cheer up with a good scratch, and in fact, often uses staff members as scratching posts.
Born 2012, New Forest
Our latest donkey arrived at the castle in November 2017, and was named Juno following a public vote held on our facebook page. As the youngest of the bunch, he's very curious, and loves to follow the team around and lend a hand in their duties. He loves attention and is often the first to demand a cuddle, and is always happy to meet new visitors.
By nature, he is friendly, playful and intelligent, and he loves a game of tug-o-war with the other donkeys. He is very well behaved most of the time, however you need to be careful; he loves nibbling every new thing in his path.
Learn more about this fascinating fortress at the heart of the Isle of Wight.
Blog: Five Minutes with Jigsaw
Jigsaw the donkey took five minutes out of her busy schedule to tell us more about her work at Carisbrooke Castle's famous well house.
Article: The Escape Attemps of Charles I
Famously, Charles I was held prisoner at Carisbrooke. Explore his life at the castle and hear about his many escape attempts in our article.
Profile: Countess Isabella de Fortibus
A powerful woman and mistress of Carisbrooke until her death, discover the story of Countess Isabella de Fortibus.