Donkeyman brought to book after years of fun

IT BECAME a well known summer ritual for thousands of children throughout almost four decades – the chance to have a donkey ride along Knaresborough's Bilton Fields.

David Allott became synonymous with the popular attraction at the North Yorkshire market town, so much so it inspired his own nickname.

Now his son, Philip, will see the fruit of his own labours published this week with the launch of a book dedicated to the colourful life of "Donkey Dave" Allott.

Philip Allott has researched his father's life for the past four years, sifting through diaries dating back to the 1950s and carrying out interviews with some of the visitors who took to the saddle in North Yorkshire.

Photographs stretching back to when his father began the rides in 1954 have also been included in the 170-page book, which includes a foreword by one of his son's friends, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, Ann Widdecombe.

Called The Donkeyman, the book will be launched at the Yorkshire Lass pub in Knaresborough on

Thursday.

The pub, which used to be called the George Hotel, had a special place in David Allott's heart after he dreamed up a bizarre publicity drive to attract more customers.

A photograph which Philip Allott has unearthed for the book shows one of his father's donkeys being fed a bottle of beer by bemused landlord David Castleton – a stunt which was repeated three times.

It ended on the third occasion when the donkey became a little too relaxed after downing a pint of Guinness - and emptied its bowels

on the pub's carpet.

Father-of-two Philip Allott, 47, who still lives in Knaresborough with his wife, Sandra, and runs a public relations company from the town, said: "After that, my dad wasn't invited back. But it was a typical story which I have found out about him – he was a colourful character.

"He certainly wasn't somebody you wanted to cross, and it was hard sometimes growing up as we didn't always have a lot of money. But it was always entertaining when dad was around."

The donkey rides, which cost sixpence, were started by Mr Allott after he injured his back while working for a construction company, and he continued with the business until his death in 1993 at the age of 66.

His widow, Betty, carried on for another three years before she died aged 66.

Mr Allott bought his first donkey for 3 – and was so taken aback by the price that he told the seller that he wanted to inspect the animal's hooves to see if they "were made of gold".

Throughout the intervening years, he travelled the UK and Ireland searching for the ideal mounts – which were 12 hands tall – to provide the sturdiest of rides.

At the peak of the business in the late 1960s, he had as many as 20 donkeys.

While the summer months provided a steady source of income for David Allott, it was the winter which presented tough challenges when the donkey rides had finished for another season.

He would then turn his hand to an eclectic range of jobs, from an eel trapper to a chimney sweep, to ensure he could continue to provide for his family. The book details some of his exploits, including turning up at the wrong wedding dressed as a chimney sweep.

Philip Allott said: "My father saw the chance to make a bit more cash by dressing up as a chimney sweep to go along to weddings, but unfortunately he arrived at the wrong one. It must have been something

of a shock for the happy couple.

"It's just one instance of some of the things which he got up to – it has been wonderful learning a little bit more about him."

Through his research, he also discovered the extent of his father's business, which helped stage donkey derbies at racecourses throughout the North of England. After the main races had finished, professional jockeys then took to the saddles of the donkeys to ensure that punters remained for a few more bets into the evening.

The launch, from 8pm, will see Philip Allott give a reading along with his brother, Raymond, and sister, Katherine Cox, who have both helped research the book. Footage and photographs dating back to the 1950s will also be on show at the pub.

Admission is free, although spaces are limited. Anyone wishing to attend should e-mail their details to admin@allottandassociates.co.uk.