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Although heaf-bred sheep tend to remain on their own heafs, some do stray from time to time, so it is important to be able to identify the owner. The traditional way to do this was by clipping their ears in specific patterns, and by "smit" marking their wool, usually with reddish "ruddle" made from iron-rich rocks, or a similar concoction based on Borrowdale black-lead ("wad") for blackish marks.

In 1817, Joseph Walker of Martindale produced a printed "Shepherd's Guide" detailing the marks used by different farmers throughout the area, and many revised editions have been published by a variety of enterprising locals since.

The mark information on this website is based on "The Shepherd's Guide, or a Delineation of the Wool and Ear Marks of the Different Stocks of Sheep in Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland", by William Hodgson of Normoss, Corney (1849), but to avoid slow downloads, the attractive original engravings have been replaced by basic sheep outlines.
I'll leave you to decode the technical terms with the help of the pictures, but you may like to know that Hodgson also gives the following rule-of-thumb:
"N.B.- Twinters are generally redded on the back of the head."


Eskdale & Miterdale manor marks

Birker & Austhwaite (and Easthwaite!) marks

Muncaster and Waberthwaite (and Eskmeals) marks

Birkby (and Miterdale in Irton) marks

Information on changes later in the Victorian period is also provided, from "Gate's New Shepherd's Guide for Cumberland, Westmoreland, & Lancashire", by Daniel Gate (1879). Gate's Guide includes some short essays on the Herdwick breed, including one by West Cumberland farming expert William Dickinson, from which I have transcribed some extracts

The latest Guide checked for this site is "Wilson's New Shepherds' Guide for Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire", which was compiled in 1907 by Thomas Wilson, but delayed due to technical problems until 1913, by which time Wilson was dead, and the Guide had to be crudely updated with a list of corrections in the Introduction. Wilson's guide includes details of the various shepherds' meetings, and their rules concerning stray sheep, the relevant ones for the Eskdale area being:
Wasdale Head meetings (serving the area from Borrowdale to Ulpha)- held Saturday nearest July 17 and 2nd Saturday in December. Unclaimed sheep advertised twice in local papers, claimant to pay expenses; if not claimed, then sold to pay Society's expenses. Meetings advertised in West Cumberland Times & Whitehaven News. Secretary Mr Edward Park, Easthwaite, Netherwasdale. No annual "Fine" for members- voluntary subscription instead.
Meetings held at top of Stoneside Fell, Bootle (serving the area from Bootle to Birker, including Birkby & Waberthwaite)- held Monday nearest July 15 and first Monday in November. Stray sheep advertised 2 weeks, kept a year & a day then sold for expenses. Committee to arrange meetings. President Mr W. Hodgson, Swallowhurst, Bootle. Secretary Mr W. Grice, Old Hyton, Bootle. Treasurer Mr A. Southward, Folds, Ulpha. Annual "Fine" for members 1s.

Also included is a full list of subscribers to the Guide, including the following in the Eskdale area:
(Boot) W.H. Allonby, George Grisdale, John Harrison, George Jackson
(Eskdale) Mrs Hartley, John Parker, Edward Sharp, J. Sharp, John Tyson
(Ravenglass) Alexander Watt, R. Matterson
(Waberthwaite) W. Jackson, F. Mayson
(Birkby) W. Walker, John Jackson, William Preston