A Tribute to
Donkey Stone Manufacturers
The Blue Plaque situated on the bridge at Donkey Stone Wharf recognises Eli
Whalley, whose firm was founded in the 1890's and was the last in the country
to mass produce donkey stones.
What are Donkey Stones?
stones are scouring stones, named after the trade-mark of one of the earliest
firms, Reads of Manchester. They were originally used in the textile mills of
Yorkshire and Manchester, to provide a non-slip surface on greasy stone staircases.
The stones were available in three colours; cream, brown and white, with cream
being preferred in the Manchester area.
The basic material, a type of sandstone from Northampton called cotta stone,
produced the brown colour, while the white stone came from Appley Bridge quarry
near Wigan and the cream a combination of the two.
Later, proud housewives took to stoning their front doorsteps, which became
a form of decoration and great competition between the women.
In addition to stoning the front doorstep, the house-proud housewife might
also treat her stone door surround, window sill and even "her" section of the
pavement in front of her house! "Doing the step" was an ideal occasion for gossip
between neighbours, as well as a source of rivalry.
How were the Stones produced?
Eli Whalley's works were based on the old wharf of the Ashton and Peak Forest
Canal and stone and salt were delivered by water. The large chunks of stone
were crushed in a stone crusher, then mixed in the pan with cement, bleach and
water. The pan was a grinding machine made by T.T. Crooks of Bolton in the 1890's
and latterly powered by an electric motor. The pan itself was ten foot in diameter
and contained two circular stones.
Rotation grinds and mixes the ingredients to form a paste. The smooth paste
was transferred immediately to the work bench before setting and formed into
a block with wooden boards and cut to form two and a half dozen stones.
Lion Brand Stone
The final procedure would then be the impression of the "lion brand" mould
board, with the stones being transferred to racks to dry.
The lion is the trademark of Eli Whalley and was taken from a photograph of
a live specimen in Belle Vue Zoo!
In its heyday, Eli Whalley employed eight men, producing one hundred gross
stones in a working day, in order to supply bulk orders for seventy or eighty
gross from mills and the Co-op, whilst the private customer obtained the stones
from the rag totter, in exchange for old rags!
Upon the closure of Eli Whalley early in 1979, machinery was laboriously dismantled
by the Friends of Tameside Museum Service and today is housed at Portland Basin
Industrial Museum in Ashton-under-Lyne.