On one of our regular dog walks, close to home, we pass a flock of Norfolk Horn sheep. They graze on a corner of Cawood Garth, a piece of common ground owned by the folk in the next village. It used to be where Cawood Castle stood (only the Gatehouse remains). This was where Cardinal Wolsey came to live, in 1530 but was here only a short while before Henry VIII had him arrested for high treason. He died on his way to trial in that vortex of doom that is Leicester. By all accounts he was very popular with the locals in Yorkshire and I grew up in a nearby village where every other street had the word ‘Wolsey’ in it. The Garth was rescued from developers when Greater Crested Newts and Star of Bethlehem wildflowers were found – there are also some old varieties of apple growing there.
Norfolk Horns are an ideal breed of sheep used for ‘conservation grazing’ and the fact they are on the Garth is good news for its flora. I have many happy childhood memories of Cawood, where my mother grew up and her aunties still lived. So to get some fleece from the sheep who graze there – and, of all places, on the very site where Cardinal Wolsey once lived – is a rare privilege indeed. My ancestor, Isaac Moses, left a piece of land in Cawood his will, in 1820, called ‘The Close’ which may have been nearabouts and he lived yards away at Market Square. This may or may not have been a bit of the Garth.
I managed to get talking to the sheep’s farmer, and she kindly set aside some of her clip for me. I’ll be spinning some in the next month. Having so much wool to wash or scour, we borrowed a dolly tub. Scouring = a good, thorough clean with detergent and hot water. Washing = a slight opening up of the locks, and then soaking for a few days in cold water, to get the worst of the muck out. I tried a small amount of neck wool on the wool cycle of my washing machine, as I’d read Norfolk Horn was reluctant to felt. It instantly felted. Luckily, only a couple of ounces lost! For links to info about wool scouring, check out:
The wool is short-medium staple and mostly looks to be white, but one fleece has some grey and others grey bits near the margins where the sheep have markings. Fleeces were well skirted and rolled, and quality sorted. The wool looks to be a typical 54s-56s; and finer sections of the one I unrolled this morning had lovely crimp, and looked ‘lacy’ when held up to the light. The wool has a fair bit of grease, too. By another coincidence, they were stored in a barn on my Grandfather’s old farm, where my mother grew up, so it was strange going to pick them up and thinking “She once stood here and this was all where she played.” My mother would have loved to know one day her daughter would be standing there, buying wool.
We sorted the fleeces, labelled them clearly and have stored them in the little loft of our shed – formerly the kids’ playhouse)so it had a tiny ‘upstairs’. I’ve put the best fleeces towards the front and will process in quality order, ensuring the better ones, at least, are stored clean before winter. The wool on the ‘moderate’ ones looks to be very lovely, as well, though.
I’m also about to get a couple of Castlemik Moorit fleeces from a prize-winning flock. With all our efforts going towards covering the cost of shearing at the Museum of Farming, earlier in the year, it feels good to be doing something to keep the rarer breeds of sheep going, in another way. This will be a Norfolk-Horn crazed Spinzilla.
More Norfolk Horn info here:
Here’s hoping for a few weeks of sunny, windy weather, to get at least some of the wool scoured and dry before autumn sets in. We bought a few metres of cheap muslin and have made some new drawstring bags to hang drying wool from the line. I’m trying to get the first fleece scoured and carded, so I can see if my old David Barnett drum carder is OK with it, or whether I’m going to need a higher TPI drum carder to process it. (Hand carding works better but I want to get a shedload carded before Spinzilla…)
I’m still dithering though, whether to enter Spinzilla – if I do, it will be as a Maverick. The year before last I was only 30 odd yards from winning the Mavericks, and as I hadn’t planned on entering the competition til the day before entries closed, I hadn’t cleared my schedule so lost a day of that week to appointments, and unavoidable things that could have been avoided with more notice!
As I card and spin this wool, in the run up to Spinzilla (or Not Spinzilla), I’ll report back how it’s looking as I know this is a breed of sheep a lot of spinners haven’t had the chance to try.
In other news, we just had to do an emergency harvest of our dye garden after it was trampled by some viking re-enactors (which, on the bright side, gives us the rare distinction of being possibly the first people to suffer financially from a raid by inconsiderate vikings, in almost 1000 years…)
Our dye garden area had an impromptu fence around it. But apparently, the vikings had to urgently work on something that involved them being our side of the fence, and walking about on what they must have assumed were worthless ‘weeds’. In fact, the madder we were hoping to leave undisturbed another year or two. The weld – greatest tragedy – was two weeks or so off coming into flower. We have just grubbed everything up, hung it up to dry in the shed, and will see what colours we salvage, when we get time to dye with them. I would have had double the madder, I guess, leaving another year. Anyway, we’re now going to have to re-locate to a place where rampaging vikings won’t do a dance on our crop. (Quite ironic as they were doing ‘living history’ at the time but clearly with more of a 21stC sensibility where anything that isn’t petunias or roses = weeds…) The dye garden was 2 years’ worth of effort put in by four people. A shame to see it go. It will rise, phoenix-like, from the Viking pillage – but in a Viking-free zone.
Talking of Viking-free zones, the other week, we were at the stunning Fountains Abbey, fettling their Great Wheel which is having some teething troubles. (Nothing major – a slight problem with the leather bearings). We’ve had the wheel fixed for them by an expert and will be returning the mother-of-all and spinning head, down the week.
I’ve never fallen in love with a place on sight, so much as I have Fountains. Any excuse to get back there in the coming months, I think! I’ve been reading about its history. Only nine years after the Cardinal was captured, and marched away to die, Fountains Abbey was surrendered at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Cistercian monks are of course, of great interest to anyone who is into woolly history. There was a woolhouse on the site, too. (I’ll explore that the next chance I get and share in a future post). On the ground, you can see how the landscape helped with the wool-growing and wool washing/processing. The abbey is sited in a sort of ravine – like so many Cistercian monasteries; put out of the way of humankind, in places we romantically perceive as ‘wild’ and ‘beautiful’ but medieval society perceived as ‘hostile’ and ‘barren’…
At the moment, I feel like I’m living the monastic life in my own personal woolhouse; constantly washing and scouring wool, and now preparing to card it for spinning, during the autumn/winter. Sick of plastic bins splitting under the strain of wool washing, I hit upon the idea of using a dolly tub. Borrowed one, but it has to go back soon so I’ll be on the lookout for my own as it’s proving to be perfect for the job!
Look out for us demonstrating spinning/Yorkshire Dales knitting at the Cawood Craft Festival, this weekend.
We’ll also be demonstrating Dales knitting, the Great Wheel and/or the Chair Wheel at Masham Sheep Fair, 24th/25th September. Look out for us upstairs in the Town Hall!