Friday, February 11, 2011

Jacob's Sheep and Charlecote Park...

This blog is an homage to a very dear friend and devoted Willowbrook Park follower, who has asked us to watch over his flock of Jacob's sheep for a while, and at whose behest I have written a post about his ancestral home, Charlecote Park.

Above: Some of the flock
The Jacob's sheep is a rare breed of small, piebald (black and white spotted), polycerate (multi-horned) sheep, that more resembles a goat when newly shorn. Jacobs may have as many as six horns, although four horns is most common..

Below: After being shorn they do look quite like goats...

Jacobs are usually raised for their wool and meat as well as their hides. They are kept as pets and ornamental animals, and have been used as guard animals to protect farm property from theft or vandalism and to defend other livestock against predators.
They are an "unimproved" or "heirloom" breed, one that has survived to the present day with minimal selective breeding. The Jacob is descended from an ancient old world breed of sheep, although its exact origins remain unclear. Spotted polycerate sheep were documented in England by the mid-17th century, and were widespread a century later.

Above and Below: More pictures of the flock...

The Jacob sheep takes its name from the story told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis of how Jacob became a selective breeder of pied sheep.

The Bible story tells how Jacob, the second son of Isaac was sent away to stay with his uncle Laban. While he was there, Jacob fell in love with his beautiful cousin Rachel, but had to work as an unpaid shepherd for his uncle Laban for fourteen years before permission was given for them to marry.
After Jacob and Rachel's son Joseph was born, Jacob wished to return to his own country. To retain Jacob's services as a shepherd, Laban promised to allow Jacob to establish his own flock by taking all the spotted and speckled sheep and black lambs from Laban's flock. Laban agreed to this, but then gave his sons all the black lambs promised to Jacob.
Jacob took all the spotted and pied sheep that were left, used them to establish a large flock and grew exceedingly wealthy. God then came to Jacob in a dream and told him that he should return to the land of his birth, so Jacob fled with his wives and children and flocks and returned to Canaan and his father Isaac.
The Reconcilliation of Jacob and Esau, Reubens
Jacob's pied sheep thus travelled from Palestine. Over the following thousands of years, so it is said, the descendants of Jacob's sheep travelled to Spain via the coast of North Africa and Morocco. In the 17th and 18th Century, Jacob Sheep were imported from Spain by the British landed gentry. The oldest known flock which were imported in the 1750s still graze at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire. The Jacob breed with its splendid horns and distinct spotted fleeces made it an ideal ornamental sheep to graze with deer in parklands surrounding castles and stately homes. By the end of the First World War, many of these flocks had disappeared and by the mid part of the century there were very few Jacob sheep. A small number of dedicated breeders and enthusiasts were determined to preserve the breed, and in 1969 the Jacob Sheep Society was formed with 96 members and 2,700 registered sheep.
The first president of the Society was the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire of Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire. In its early days, the breed was registered as a Minority Breed. Today, the Society has more than 850 members and around 2000 sheep are registered each year in the flock book - The
Jacob's Sheep Society Webpage.

Below: Jacob's Sheep at Charlecote Park...

Charlecote Park

Charlecote Park is a Grade I listed 16th century country house which has been the home of the Lucy family since the 13th century. It is a magnificent Tudor mansion, which was built by Sir Thomas Lucy, on the foundations of an even earlier medieval house. The house and deer park, which covers 185 acres, are on the banks of the Avon in Warickshire, 6 km east of Straftford-upon-Avon and 9 km south of Warwick.

The Lucy family, who came to England with William the Conquerer, has owned the land since 1247. Charlecote Park was built in 1558 by Sir Thomas Lucy (pictured above with his family). Although the general outline of the Elizabethan house remains, nowadays it is in fact mostly Victorian. Successive generations of the Lucy family had modified Charlecote Park over the centuries, but in 1823, George Hammond Lucy, High Sherriff of Warwickshire in 1831, inherited the house and set about recreating the house in its original style.

This splendid elevation of Charlecote (above) is the work of Andrew Cox. His original work can be found here

In the middle of the 19th century the Fairfaxes inherited the property when the male line of the Lucy family failed on the death of Henry Spencer Lucy. The baronets changed their family name to Lucy to reflect the traditions of Charlecote.
The Great Hall has a barrel-vaulted ceiling made of plaster painted to look like timber and is a fine setting for the splendid collection of family portraits. Other rooms have richly coloured wallpaper, decorated plaster ceilings and wood panelling.

There are magnificent pieces of furniture and fine works of art, including a contemporary painting of Queen Elizabeth I, who stayed in the room that is now the drawing room. The original two-storey Elizabethan gatehouse (below) that guards the approach to the house remains unaltered.
Photo by Peter Cock
Sir Thomas Lucy was a magistrate under Elizabeth I. In the course of his duties he was responsible for prosecuting local families with Catholic sympathies, including the Arden family, William Shakespeare's maternal grandparents. William Shakespeare has been alleged to have poached deer in the park as a young man and been brought before magistrates as a result (but the park was not a deer park at that time. It was landscaped by Capability Brown in about 1760.) Shakespeare satirised Lucy by casting him as Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry VI, part 2. He also left graffiti on their gate post!

A museum, housed in a former banqueting room, exhibits the family's passion for sporting activities, including cricket, tennis, polo, fishing and archery. Henry Spencer Lucy (pictured above) was the Master of the Warwickshire Hunt in the mid 19th century, and considered the best 'shot' in the Midlands. As a country house, Charlecote Park would have been at the centre of many livelihoods in the rural community. For example, barley from the estate was gathered by the estate workers, processed in the village, and the malt returned to the Brew House to make ale.
In March 2001 the entire deer herd had to be slaughtered because some animals were infected with tuberculosis. Local people ran a campaign to raise money to restock the park. At the end of November 2002, 32 fallow deer were reintroduced into the park.
Charlecote has been in the care of The National Trust since 1946.

A complete aside - here is a picture of our Dorset Horn Ram getting a pedicure last week, as we trimmed all our sheep's hooves...

1 comment:

  1. This was just wonderful. I am 73 years old and had never seen sheep with all the horns. We raised the Belled Galloway cattle on the farm in Maine. That takes a lot of help and money. I think your Dorset lamb is the cutes. What wonderful estates. Thank you so much.

    It's a real treat to come here.


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