Lincoln Longwool by David Hodgson
Not everyone eats meat but only vegans don’t wear wool. That leaves the vegan a choice of cotton, linen, and fossil fuel based textiles for their fashion choices. Even silk is out. If one was to source their textiles from within thirty miles of the Stour Valley in order to meet with the theme of this year’s River Stour Festival then the vegan would be strolling around in the altogether. Clothing made from wool, leather, suede and felt would be our main choice.
The Lincoln Longwool is one of the world’s rare breeds of sheep. Originally an Eastern Counties breed that had been around since before the middle ages. Lincolns were the backbone of the wool industry right through to the seventeenth century and East Anglia and areas around the Stour Valley was the centre of that industry. Indeed at the time the town of Lavenham in Suffolk was said to be one of the wealthiest towns in England despite its small size. East Bergholt would have been close behind too and Old Hall was, at that time, the largest estate around. At the wool trade’s height the Lincoln Longwool were exported as far away as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia because their fleeces were the longest fleece and good for spinning. The quality of their meat was also exceptional. Actually people who have tried spinning the fleece of a longwool say that it is hard and difficult. Perhaps the spinning techniques in the middle ages were different to the current methods, who knows. Felt clothing was common in those days too. However the wool trade declined in the seventeen century and the Old Hall estate began to be owned by a succession of London based gold traders, pawnbrokers and bankers. The wool trade in East Anglia was dying.
Jump forward two hundred and fifty years and the pre world war two development of synthetic fibres, nylon, spandex, acrylic and the like, made from fossil fuels, were becoming mainstream by the 1960’s and by 1970 the Lincoln Longwool breed was at the point of extinction. In fact there were only a few flocks left and their survival was down to the dedication of only three breeders. When Old Hall Community started in 1974 a decision was taken to start our own flock. We searched around and purchased nine ewes and one ram from a breeder in Rutland and with limited knowledge, began to save the breed. Now nearly fifty years later we have one of the oldest flocks in the country and there are now over 100 flocks elsewhere. The Lincoln longwool is still on the endangered species list however and the continued nurturing of this East Anglian flock is paramount to its survival.
Jake, a founder member of Old Hall Community now retired, who’s initiative it was to buy lincolns, has handed over his shepherding to Chris Eldred, one of our younger members of some five or six years who has learned from Jake’s experiences. Chris is being helped more and more by another member also called Chris who has lived here almost two years. Both have taken an enthusiastic interest in the flock and between them the Lincoln longwool here at Old Hall is assured to survive on into the future.