Sheep and Tax Collecting
One thousand acres of Parkland lie around Highclere Castle, and of course the best mowing machines are sheep. We have about 1,600 ewes and theoretically, this year, about 3,000 lambs. The ewes are North Country Mules and are good at surviving the cold winter winds and weather on the downland beyond the Park. The lambs are mostly born in March inside the old lambing barns under Beacon Hill, two miles south from the Castle. Caz is, as ever, in charge of the lambing operation and she does a great job running the shifts through the night. It is an intense few weeks. The last few lambs are left to be born outside as the weather improves. The Park itself, is more sheltered so it is then used as the early nursery slopes for the flock.
We had quite a few triplets and the third lamb in each case is reared as an orphan and hopefully transferred as soon as possible to another ewe with just one lamb. It is amazing how quickly the new-born lambs stand and suckle, a matter of less than an hour. Just a week after they are born, they are outside playing tag over old tree stumps in the Park and the ewes begin to run a sort of crèche system. The lambs find their way back to the right mothers by the different “baaing” tones and whenever more ewes are transferred from the lambing pens to the outside fields there are tremendous choruses until all are reunited again.
I often choose to ride quietly through the fields to look out for lambs and sheep in trouble as I find that this is an excellent way of getting around. Sometimes a ewe is cast and needs a push to roll her onto her feet again.
I have been researching the old park and farm here in medieval times. Unlike today, sheep had a very high value then, but like today, grazed in the various sheltered areas of the current park . During the fourteenth century – which is the period I was looking at – the Crown (Edward III and his government) derived one third of their revenues from the wool trade. The wool was shipped from the new wharfs and quays situated near Aldgate in London which was the export and tax district for the wool trade.
For two years Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval poet, held the post of controller. It was not a job he enjoyed as it was full of politics and bribery. Every wool export was stamped with a dye of the royal seal. The Crown was keen to ensure that no taxes were avoided and that they were all properly collected.
Sadly wool today in the UK has little value but the government is as ever keen to ensure all possible taxes are collected on goods and services. Plus cą change.
Aw such cute lambs. I saw a few of the sheep and lambs when I was at the Castle last Saturday. It was wonderful to see and hear them. As I type I’m watching series four of Downton. I loved the Castle. I think my favourite room is the library.
It is nice to see new life at this time of year in the tress that are springing in to life as well as the new born lambs around the Highclere Estate, How spooky you talk about Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval poet I have just finished playing a part in one of his plays The Canterbury Tales.. I like the sound of the History you are talking about Lady Carnarvon of The Crown of Edward III and his government I have some of his Long Cross Sliver coins with his head on them that would have changed hands when selling the wool to the trade when he became King on 1st February 1327
How amazing to have the coins from such a long time ago!
Aw the lambs ate very cute. I saw a few of them when I was at the Castle last Saturday. I loved the Castle and I think my favourite room is the Library.
Thank-you for the insight! Here (at the end of the world!) in the High Country of the south Island in New Zealand, wool was mainly our export in days gone by too!
There has been a resurgence of late in it’s value. I personally find wool warm and waterproof to wear. We have come a long way in the manufacturing of garments made of wool! As we move into winter here I will be layering my body with it! I have not found any other product that
fulfils this. I also havn’t found a heating source that can heat, for a better word your bones, than the good old wood burner!
Enjoy your summer..
Wool is incredibly useful and I wish there was a use for it, it just seems so wasteful! I am rather hoping we are moving away from fires here however… it has been a long wet winter.
Dear Lady Carnarvon. Aw such cute lambs. I saw a few of the sheep when I visited the Castle last Saturday. I love the Castle and my favourite room is the Library.
Dear Lady Carnarvon Aw such cute Lambs. I saw a few of them when I visited the Castle last Saturday. I loved the Castle and my favourite room is the Library.
I love the post this morning! Adorable sheep….a horse (which I love)….and a beautiful, different view of Highclere. I appreciate the comments about the wool trade too. I prefer to use natural fabrics whenever possible so woolen items are frequently treasured. I’m still slogging through your archived blogs. I’m up to June 2014 now — and enjoying them all! Thank you Lady Carnarvon 🙂
You are very diligent – dip into the blogs on your ipad when you are having coffee – there is quite a lot in them!
I value your blog. Excellent writing and always informative. Thank you. I know this take effort. Please know it is appreciated.Rick
Thank you Rick!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
The lambs look adorable and I love the picture of the horse inquisitively sniffing around the lamb! The rustic ambience at Highclere reminds me of the tales of Dr. James Alfred Wight aka James Herriot, who wrote such wonderful poignant tales of his country practice in post war Britain. Must be lovely to ride out amidst such tranquil and surreal surroundings! Hope the weather has improved since Easter.
I read James Herriot and enjoyed it. I watched some of the ewes giving birth but was rather glad I was not actually helping that part..I hope I would be able to if I had to however!
Love to hear what types of farming you are doing. I am a distant relative in the US also into farming and just purchased a large mansion B&B in Minnesota. It goes back to late 19th century. I’d love to hear about the activities your doing at the castle. We are also open for tours during the day.
Good luck with your projects !
I really enjoy your blog! I would love to have all the animals,and see all the babies. We have a small group of animals; dogs,rabbits,ferrets,chinchillas,and,ducks at our home. We enjoy them all and the different personalities.
That’s seems quite a lot of animals! Pat and Mike who keep the bees have ferrets, they set up the ferret racing at the church fete.
Dear Lady Fiona,
I’m sure you and your husband have days when the thoughts running through you heads are…This broke and that needs replaced and we are working as hard as we can to get the To Do List done before more is added on. Then there are other days when you are witness to the miracle of birth again and again and you are surrounded my new-born lambs finding comfort in their Mother’s milk. Life has a way of balancing itself. Enjoy Spring at Highclere and those early morning rides.
I do enjoy the rides and the lists never end..but I can’t solve it all..
Hi – What a lovely post! Thank you. I was wondering what your sheep are raised for – wool, meat, or both? Do you ever sell the wool (processed or as a fleece)l? I am a spinner and would love the opportunity to spin some Highclere wool. There is a rather larger spinning/knitting/weaving/fiber arts community that would also likely be interested, even if the wool is rougher. (I think I counted at least 4,000 members of ‘Downton Abbey’ groups and forums on the international fiber arts community website – http://www.ravelry.com.) Perhaps a new business venture?
Thank you for your continued posts about life at Highclere. I always enjoy reading them.
I was thinking the same thing! As a spinner and knitter it would be charming to use wool from Highclere sheep.
The lambs are raised for meat – I would love there to be a purpose for the wool, I replied to a blog that I never understand the fact there is no-one who wants it!
Thank you for this informative post. It is always fascinating to get a peek and better understanding of the hows and whys of farming, animal husbandry, etc. Enjoy the babies and the spring! (From NJ)
I have been to Highclere twice and can imagine the sheep and lambs grazing and frisking about on the lush green grass . I learn more about Highclere and English history from your blogs..I am originally from England, now living in the USA. I do miss the English countryside especially in the Spring.
The cherry blossom is out and somehow the air smells different today as if spring is on the way!
Your posts are always very interesting and informative. All your images are done so well, making every post I see from you a MUST read!!
I really enjoy reading your blog entries as you help give insight into the history of the UK and the past at Highclere Castle.
The Brits have such a reverence for history and keeping their buildings and traditions alive. I admire that, and wish we were the same here in the US. As I speak the wrecking cranes are demolishing a lovely historical, elegant building across the street and building a hideous new monstrosity with absolutely no personality.
Beautiful soliloquy describing the sheep, lambs and the birthing process. Love seeing the photos too. It would be fun to hear that chorus of “baaing” tones. Thanks for giving us a peek into your world.
I am planning videos to add to the web site here. I have found a videographer and then can create something which might amuse you!
“Give Rabbit time!” The love affair with acrylic and polyester will end and folks will come back to wool. While not as easy to care for, it is much warmer, much less likely to trigger skin allergies, and retains its beautiful hand far longer than the synthetics, if well cared for. God gave us sheep to give us wool to keep us warm…a true sign of His love, and a perfect example of symbiosis.
Last year, I spent 5 weeks in England in most of April and part of May, one of my favorite memories driving around the countryside is of the lambs. They were so precious! I stopped several times and took many pictures!
I love the way they stand on their mothers, they are so cute at the moment !
How nice to read this charming review about lambs “en masse” and precious wool from long ago. Fine wool from England is still something extra for suits and other loveable clothes that you want to keep for a long time. It is amazing to think about all the ewes and how to keep calm when the lambs keep coming – My brother kept some 20 ewes and he was close to a breakdown when everything was going on day and night!
I gave my husband some glimpse from your blog and after listening he said “- and moreover, how is Lady Fiona?” I assured him that I have the impression that you are the right Lady for your kind of life! All the best to you all at the estate!
I multi – muddle ..
Thank you for another “transporting” post. We hope to catch a glimpse of the sheep when my daughter and I attend the opening day of your Capability Brown Garden Tour. I am so glad we had the foresight to purchase our tickets all the way back on October 16th, as I have observed how quickly your events sell out. Last month, we attended PBS’s Downton Abbey Finale event at The Huntington Library and Museum in San Marino, California. We were treated to a viewing of some of the objects that came to their collection via Lady Almina after her father’s passing. Lovely!
Loved reading about the ewes and lambs.
I too am a “fiber” enthusiast; avid knitter! Many of those in my knitting groups have been Downton Abbey fans, too! If the wool from your sheep was suitable, I think there would be many who’d enjoy being able to say “my shawl is knit from Downton wool!”
What do fiber enthusiasts do besides knitting? What kinds of things can you make? Do you sell your pieces on Etsy?
Fascinating. And great photos.
As a teenager, I once read that the nursery rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” referred to a resentment against Medieval English taxes on wool. I’m not sure if that interpretation is correct but I personally prefer my own innocent view of the rhyme that I held as an infant that it was simply about a very kind (wooly & large) black sheep.
How interesting – may well have been …
The lambs are so cute! I wish that wool fabrics were more popular. I love knitting with sheep’s wool and wearing wool clothing so I would prefer that the ubiquitous synthetics were reserved for blends and not used for complete garments. They feel like wearing plastic wrap.
We will be coming from the US to visit Highclere in August so I hope that we get so see some sheep.
Dear Lady Carnarvon, once again, you have shared another beautiful side of Highclere Castle. My niece and I strolled the grounds after our tour last October and we stood on the hill gazing at those adorable creatures. One could easily miss their subtle but ever so beautiful presence in the far distance hills. They are such sweet animals and I have always felt such a tenderness for them as they are so defenseless by nature.
Not sure if you answered the previous question regarding their wool…do you sell it to your public in any form?
Thank you, again and again
I am preparing for the Capability Brown weeks at the moment and looking forward to them, so I will see you then
I love this post about the new babies, and so see them in the field. I visited England and Highclere in the end of September !
To see the Spring photos is so sweet.
It is interesting to read your post about the wool trade, as a 2nd gen Canadian that found our English family last year we discovered
our family all worked for the local mills in Yorkshire. I am so intrigued by the English lifestyle and history.
Thank you for your lovely post and sharing Highclere.
Love the baby lambs! I also enjoyed your horse smelling the newcomer. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze us as well as make us smile.
Wow – what an operation! Life at Highclere is so vibrant, so exciting – never a dull moment. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Spring babies are so precious. I loved your description of the “choruses” of the lambs locating their mothers.
I find it amazing, I do wait and listen and eventually the lambs do identify the right mother!
P.S. Love the photos
What a lovely way to begin a day here. You look so happy sitting there in the midst of the new life! The photos were great, and such a nice reminder of such a beautiful countryside and castle. Thank you.
Lady Carnarvon, your blogs are such a welcomed read and as echoed by all who reply…so enlightening, entertaining and educational. To the many followers of your blogs that might not have the opportunity to travel to the U.K. and see the majestic Highclere Castle, the gorgeous grounds, lambs and abundant wildlife..this is a treasure trove of information and a history lesson all in one. You transport us as no travelogue can.
Your photos that accompany your writings are so beautiful , it is nice to actually see what you are talking about..I know I speak as many above do, we are so greatful for your blogs.
I can remember my mother telling us when we were young, the women would knit gloves, hats, mitts, sweaters etc. etc..in “Air Force Blue” wool that came from the U.K. for the men in service during WWII…only 100% real wool would do. Today I do a lot of ‘felting’ and only real wool is used to create the desire texture. We all underestimate the gift God gave us from these wonderful animals..bless you for writing about life with these precious creatures. Looking forward to your next blog…..happy spring.
I am so looking forward to spring and green leaves. However there is a rhyme as follows:
“Oak before ash, in for a splash
Ash before oak, in for a soak,”
So I am starting to look nervously hoping the oak trees come out first and the summer is drier!!!
Lady Carnarvon..I wonder if I could ask, what is the name of the tree that we see in the photo of Highclere Castle? It looks huge and very, very old.
It is a cedar tree. The cones of the Cedars of Lebanon were brought back by Bishop Pococke who travelled through the Middle East in the early 17th century. This particular tree was grown first from the resultant seedling and planted out after some 20 year so perhaps around 1770.
Beautiful post Lady Carnarvon
I can imagine the “tremendous choruses” as they reunite. What interesting personalities they must have. Thanks for sharing this with us, it brightened up my day.
Hello Lady Carnarvon, I hope you are enjoying this season and lambs are so sweet looking grazing on all that green grass. Keep your lovely blog going, we look stories and photos.
While the sheep are indeed charming and I adore horses, I was intrigued by the taxes that are still being levied for the wool trade. What is that about? It sounds like a constant drain on finances, or am I reading too much into it? Well, there are always opportunities to circumvent that, if one has enough hands to help out, but I imagine you are wearing as many hats (and possibly a few too many) as you can.
Please keep your blog up as you have the odd moment. They are wonderful and we live vicariously through you. My wish was to someday visit Highclere, but it will never be, as health keeps me quite busy with its own set of demands. (chuckle here). Always something! 🙂 I do have a lovely collection of tea hats that the granddaughters wear when we have high tea. I am trying to teach them a few manners that, hopefully, will be of use to them when they are turned out into society. (Poor society!) Have a lovely weekend! Constance
The wool was specifically taxed in the past. Today we are all taxed too much instead of being encouraged !!!
What great information and your photos are just wonderful! THanks for letting us be apart of your daily life at Highclere!
I would love to get some wool from your sheep. I love to knit
We would like to see if we could use the wool to make things next year .. good idea