Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences

Reminiscences

Sheep Shearing.



ON the morning of the day fixed for the shearing, a gang of men, 12 to 20 in number according to the size of the flock, accompanied by the "tar boy," made their appearance under the command of a Captain and Lieutenant, who were distinguished by gold bands on their hats. The tar boy's duties, which were rather important, were to walk about among the shearers with a tin pot filled with tar, with which his clothes and face were generally well smeared. After a sheep was shorn, before it was released, it was examined by the shearer, and if he detected any abrasion he called "Tar Boy," and was answered "Coming Sir," and the boy then applied some tar with his finger which prevented any worry from flies or infection to the wound. A barrister of high standing told me that in his quite young days his great ambition was to be a tar boy. During the day these men, who were supposed to shear about 30 to 40 sheep each, were liberally supplied at intervals with mild beer and with a meal in the middle of the day, and after the sheep were shorn the men had more food, followed by more potent ale. The sheep-shearing song was then sung, and the evening was spent in singing, drinking and smoking long clay pipes, their "Yards of Clay."

For the recollection of the following songs and verses (if such they can be called), I am indebted to a nurse, by whom, at the expense of some pains and trouble, I was taught them as nursery rhymes. Anyone interested in old Sussex manners and customs might find amusement in reading "Glimpses of our Sussex ancestor," by Mr. Charles Fleet.

             THE SHEEP-SHEARING SONG.

Come all my jolly boys and we'll together go
Abroad with our Captain, to shear the lamb and ewe,
All in the merry month of June, of all times in the year,
It always comes in season the ewes and lambs to shear;
And there we must work hard, boys, until our backs do ache,
And our master, he will bring us beer whenever we do lack.

Our master he comes round to see his work done well,
He says, "Boys, shear them close, for there is but little wool!"
"O yes, Master," then we reply, "we'll do it well if we can,"
When our Captain calls, "Shear close, boys," to each and every man;
And at some places still we have this story all day long,
"Shear them well and close, boys," and this is all their song.

And then our noble Captain doth unto our master say,
"Come, let us have one bucket of your good ale I pray";
He turns unto our Captain, and makes him this reply,
"You shall have the best of beer, I promise, presently,"
Then out with the bucket pretty Betsy she doth come,
And Master says, "Maid, mind and see that every man have some."

This is some of our pastime as we the sheep do shear,
And though we are such merry boys, we work hard I declare;
And when 'tis night and we are done, our master is more free,
And fills us well with good strong beer. And pipes and tobaccee;
And so we sit and drink and smoke and sing and roar,
Till we become more merry far than we had been before.

When all our work is done, and all our sheep are shorn,
Then home with our Captain, to drink the ale that's strong;
'Tis a barrel then of hum-cup, which we call the "black ram."
And we do sit and swagger, and think that we are men,
And yet before 'tis night, I'll stand you half -a-crown,
That if you haven't especial care this ram will knock you down.


There was one more verse, of which I only recollect the first and last two lines. It began :

"This is a true relation of our sheep-shearing time"

and ended :

"Here's a health to all sheep-shearers, good fellows every one,
"Here's a health unto our Captain, and now our song is done."

The "Black Ram" was a meeting of the whole company at the "Shepherd and Dog" Inn, at Fulking, at which the earnings for the season were shared, and arrangements made for the next year. It was kept up with great merriment until a late, or rather early hour, and usually ended by everyone being more or less drunk.

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