Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Sussex Sheep-Shearer.                  99
a skilled labourer—almost an artist—and as such he must be treated with some respect and calls for our notice and attention.
Sometimes, indeed, a shepherd will undertake the shearing of his flock, and then we have the nearest approach to a pure sheep-shearer. But there is many a shepherd who does not shear, as there are thousands of shearers who are not shepherds—not, indeed, agricultural labourers at all. It is the one province of rural industry, now that spinning is no longer carried on in the cottage, that approximates most closely to the work of townspeople. Not only may any hand on a farm take to shearing if he possess the necessary skill and will be allowed by his master to shear for other farmers as well as -for himself, but men who are not farm labourers at all—tailors and shoemakers and such-like as are skilful in the use of the scissors—will join a " Company " of shearers and take a circuit of country, such circuits being mapped out and kept by the different sets of shearers with as much strictness as gentlemen of the long robe keep to their circuits—and some people may be malicious enough to insinuate, for the same object, namely, of shearing their sheep!
The arrival of these shearing "Companies" at a farm used once to be a very important event. Each Company had its captain and lieutenant, selected for their trustworthy character, their superior intelligence, and their skill in the shearing art. And, as a symbol of the authority with which they were invested, the captain wore a gold-laced hat and the lieutenant a silver-laced one. As soon as the Company was formed, all the men repaired to the cottage of the captain, where a feast, which was called the " White-ram," was provided for them, and on this occasion the whole plan of the campaign was discussed and arranged. They generally got to their place of shearing about seven, and, having breakfasted, they began their work. Once in the forenoon, and twice in the after­noon, their custom was to "light up," as they termed it; that is, th,ey ceased to work for a few minutes, drank their
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