Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Southdown Shepherd.                  93
had enough to buy a watch, for which I gave four guineas, and which has now shown me the time of day for more than half a century. My father let me have the privilege of catching wheatears, which brought me in a few shillings. These birds are never found in great numbers so far from the sea-coast, and I very seldom caught a dozen in a day. The bird called the bustard, I have heard old shepherds say, formerly frequented the Downs; but their visits have been discontinued for nearly a century. I have heard my father say that his father saw one about the year 1750; he saw that near to Four Lords' Dool, a place so called because at the tumulus or dool there four parishes meet—St. John's under the Castle, Chailey, Chiltington and Falmer. "When I was sixteen I went to service, as under-shepherd, at West Blatchington, where I remained one year. When the transit of Mercury over the sun's disc took place on the 7th of May, 1799, my curiosity was excited; but in looking for it without due precaution I very much injured one of my eyes.
"In the winter of 1798-9, during a snow, my flock was put into a barn-yard, the first instance I know of putting the sheep into the yard, except in lambing time. There we caught more wheatears than at my father's. I used to sell some to the gentry on their excursions to the Devil's Dyke for 2s. 6d. or 3s. a dozen; at the beginning of the season sometimes catching three dozen in a day, but not often. At Midsummer, 1799, I removed to Kingston, near Lewes, where I was under-shepherd for three years. The flock was very large ([,400 the winter stock), and my master, the head shepherd, being old and infirm, much of the labour devolved on me. While here I had better wages, £6 a year; I had also a part of the money obtained from the sale of wheatears, though we did not catch them here in great numbers, a dozen or two a day, seldom more. The hawks often injured us by tearing them out of their coops, and scattering their feathers about, which frightened the other birds from the coops. During winter I caught the moles, which, at twopence each, brought me a few shillings. I could, therefore, spare a little more money for books. I still read such as I could borrow, on history, &c, for I never, after I was twelve or thirteen years of age, could bear to spend my time in what is called light reading.
" I had very little opportunity of reading at home, so used to take a book or two in my shepherd's coat-pocket, and to pursue my studies by the side of my flock when they were quiet. I was never found fault with for neglecting my business through reading. I have sometimes been on the hills in winter from morning till night, and have not seen a single person during the whole day. In the snow, I have walked to and fro under the shelter of a steep bank, or in a bottom, or a combe, while my sheep have been by me scraping away the snow with their forefeet to get at the grass, and I have taken my book out of my pocket, and, as I walked to and fro in the snow, have read to pass away the time. It is very cold on the Downs in such weather; I remember once, whilst with my father, the snow froze into ice on my eyelashes, and he breathed on my face to thaw it off. The Downs are very pleasant in summer, commanding extensive views of both sea and land : I very much wanted a telescope, and could not spare money to buy one; but I met with some lenses, and putting them into a paste-board case, I contrived one, which afforded me much amusement in pleasant weather.
" In 1802 I began practical geometry from Turner's 'Introduction.' I bought some paper and a pair of iron compasses. I filed off part of one
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