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The history of British Wool

Sheep have grazed in Britain for thousands of years, providing one of our greatest natural resources - wool. The UK has more sheep breeds than any country in the world - over sixty different breeds cared for by more than forty thousand sheep farmers on hills and lowlands.

But where did it all begin? We take a more detailed look at the history and evolution of sheep and wool.

Prehistoric

Primitive man clothes himself in wool from wild sheep.

6000 BC

Sheep domesticated in Europe.

4000 BC

Sheep introduced to the UK by Neolithic settlers.

1900 BC

Wool is spun and woven into cloth in Britain in the Bronze Age.

55 BC

Romans invade, bringing hornless, white-face sheep.

700 AD

Export of woollen fabrics to the continent.

865

Danes invade, bringing horned black-face sheep.

1066

Industry expands with Norman invasion.

1100

Wool becomes the backbone and driving force of the economy and the largest flocks of sheep belong to abbeys and monasteries.

1331

Edward III encourages Flemish master weavers to settle.

1349

Black Death decimates the population, leading to increase of sheep flocks and not enough people to cultivate arable land.

1500

England is largely a nation of sheep farmers and cloth manufacturers.

1750

Industrial Revolution causes upheaval with new inventions to speed up the processes of spinning and weaving.

1760

Robert Bakewell introduces selective breeding – his improved New Leicesters exist today as the Leicester Longwool.

1770

Output of worsted from the West Riding of Yorkshire equals that of East Anglia. Manufacturing conurbation begins to take shape – Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield.

1812

Luddite riots – equipment destroyed by organised bands of workers who feat they will lose their jobs. East Anglia, where opposition is most bitter, never recovers. Yorkshire thrives where machinery is more readily accepted.

1847

Lancashire & Yorkshire railway stretches across the country from Liverpoole to Goole, providing outlets for exportation all over the world. Yorkshire thrives with local supplies of soft water, coal, sandstone and sheep.

1939

Wool Control established so industry can provide clothing for the forces.

1950

British Wool set up to collect, grade, sell and promote wool.

Read some interesting facts about the history of sheep and wool. You can also find out more about British sheep breeds in our breed book.

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The history of British Wool Britain's first native sheep were descended from a breed similar to the Soay
The history of British wool The Roman invasion introduced hornless, white-faced sheep similar to the Ryeland