Woolly wanderings and when wool is not wool

Woolly wanderings and when wool is not wool.   

For those intrepid Somerset folk who wish to push beyond the boundaries of their own county in search of ovine matters, what better place to start than Wetherby?  Wetherby is a town in West Yorkshire and is a place where all young rams with a crystal ball will keep their legs crossed, if they have any sense.  For Wetherby derives its name from the word ‘wether’, meaning a castrated ram.

Departing swiftly from this tricky region for rams, head south to balmy Somerset and Shepton Mallet. Wool was a significant part of the town’s economy in the Middle Ages and the name Shepton comes from the Old English for sheep, ‘scoep’ and ‘tun’, meaning town.  The Mallet part of the name comes from the Norman Malet family, who took a lease of land from Glastonbury Abbey in 1100.  The Malets thought they would jolly up their name with an extra ‘l’ in the sixteenth century, which brings us to the current spelling, Mallet.

Two villages in Leicestershire, Sheepy Magna and Sheepy Parva (‘magna’ meaning ‘big’ and ‘parva’ meaning ‘small’ in Latin) have a long and obvious history of sheep farming.  All this travelling in pursuit of sheepy connections has doubtless exhausted you, so now is the time to put your feet up on our wonderfully cosy Sheepland Handmade Sheep Footstool in ivory or black sheepskin.  When you have finished your coffee break it will be time to hit the trail and head for the most obviously ovine of places, the village of Wool in Dorset.  Have you spotted the odd name out yet?  The name Wool does not derive from wool at all, but from the Saxon ‘wyllon’, meaning a spring or well.  Indeed, there is a spring in Wool and some of it can be seen in Spring Street, dividing the quaint thatched cottages from the road, so that the inhabitants are obliged to cross over small footbridges to gain access to the street. This is not to say that there are no sheep in Wool, because there are.

If you have read Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, you are probably familiar with Wool from its manor house, Woolbridge Manor House, which is reached by an ancient, hump back bridge.  There has been a crossing at this spot since the thirteenth century.  The manor house is where Hardy placed Tess on her honeymoon.  If Tess had been observant she would have noticed a stone halfway along the bridge, on which is inscribed a warning that those who deface or damage the bridge will be transported, that is, to Australia or another penal colony.  Given the number of sheep in Australia, there must have been a vast number of defaulting sheep.  Just picture the delinquent woolly ones waddling out of their fields by night with their spray cans, daubing ‘Down with mint sauce!  Rack of lamb is non-ewe!’ on the sides of the bridge

Released On 19th Mar 2018