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Geoffrey and Roger Sedgwick of Lockbank Farm
in the Howgills, Sedburgh

 

Interviewer: Astrid Goddard

Geoffrey and Roger Sedgwick

Geoffrey and Roger Sedgwick's Lockbank Farm, in the Howgills, has been farmed since 1765, and has belonged to the family for 104 years. Geoffrey's Mother, 97, lives in the original farm house, next to the present farm building. His Grandfather came in 1897. Great, Great Grandfather Sedgwick was here as a Parson and a teacher at Sedburgh School. Geoffrey Sedgwick is an office holder of the Brant Fell Commoners Association.

The old farmhouse was built around 1525. Known family bloodlines date back to the 1760s. Once there were 22 sheep and 7 cows, belonging to a man named Wilson.
I asked Geoffrey about the hefted Sheep:

GS: Hefted sheep keep to their own part of the fell. We have the Rough Fell breed here. There used to be sixteen Hefts on this fell. Now there are only five left. Most farms in this area have lost shearlings [sheared once] and, mostly, hoggs [one year olds before first shear].

Several thousands must have been lost. The ram in this photo (below) is home bred... too good to let go. We are keeping him for breeding. He's the type of tup we like. He has qualities we don't seem to be able to get. Several of the sheep in this field have had embryos taken, and they are stored at York University. The ram in the photo was an overall hill champion, Prize Ram Lockbank II. We had to register them ourselves this year. No one has been allowed on the farm. He has the right face markings and right head; a clean, clear distinction between the black and white areas. The worldwide population of this breed, Rough Fell, are in Cumbria, and in the Tebay and Middleton Fells; mainly in the Howgills. They have been quite decimated. Nobody really knows, but over half of the breeding ewes have gone. These sheep need licences to move now. To me, this sheep breed is as much a part of the fells as the fell walls and the bracken you can see in the pictures, they are indigenous. My son, Roger Sedgwick, is the fourth generation. Roger has had a good education, but farming is in his blood.

Prize ram

RS: I'd go crazy working in an office. I was born to work outdoors.

GS: My concern for the future is that we do not want to see ranches in these Fells.

To get a heft -- they would find a place on the fell where they're heafing, and shepherds had to stay with them for three to five weeks. After that they shepherded them to keep them in, and once established they'd stay there forever, taking their lambs back with them, year after year.

You can always know where to find the ewe, within only roughly a hundred yards of the same place, week in, week out, in the same region. They like their own area. No walls or fences are needed.

The yard was much smaller when I was a boy. I can remember a story of one of our sheep - and this was before I started school - they were treating a sheep with a horn that had come off, and there were maggots in the horn. For some reason, that fired my imagination about breeding sheep, and we still have that line yet. Gosh, I used to come home at the start of lambing time; I couldn't get home fast enough to see if there were any lambs. I used to love the smell of primroses when I was a boy. I remember one day seeing a lamb after school, it was in the field under the fell, and I ran all the way up there so fast, I was out of breath.

I knew where each ewe lambed, when it lambed, and the family line, without having to write it down (we do have records since 1944). I started at fourteen, and Roger started in 1975; and we wrote down little things about each sheep. This record gives a comparison between the years.

Roger and Geoffrey Sedgwick In-by land
 

Granddad Sedgwick joined the Cumberland and Westmorland Yeomanry in 1914 - they went out to Gallipoli. Then, after that, the regiment was disbanded. He joined Yorks and Lancs, and went out to Gallipoli and Salonika, and finished the war in Bulgaria. He came back in 1919. He was away four and a half years, and when he came back it was 6pm. By 9am the following day he was ploughing the land shown in the photograph.

AG: That's love for the land, isn't it?

GS: Yes, he was a keen ploughman, and ploughed all the land with the horses. He was a very interesting chap, full of local knowledge. My father told me when he was a boy they cured Foot and Mouth with tar and salt. It's hard work, and the cure is still used for foot rot. You need to wear Marigold gloves. If you see farmers wandering around with Marigold gloves on, you know they've been using it!

I am a Chairman of the Commoners Association, Brant Fell and the Yorkshire Dales side. We work on issues to do with footpaths and the like. They're rebuilding some of the old sheepfolds, as a tourist attraction. It has in fact proved useful, with FMD as we have been able to use them.

GS: Many of these commons have been overgrazed. The Howgills have less sheep now than 10-15 years ago. By and large a lot of commons are overgrazed. That is why a sliding scale of subsidy would help to check that.

A top payment on the first 200 sheep and after that, less, up to no payment when you got up to, say, 800. I have been planting trees for forty-five years now. Oaks, ash, and cherry trees and so on. I have planted primroses that were not there, and snowdrops.

RS: We hedge lay and keep the walls up as well, nothing is worse than a tumbledown wall to make the place look untidy. I used to wall and hedge-lay for competitions. Dry stone walls, you have good days when everything fits into place, and you have your off days.

GS: Most of these Fells have a lord of the Manor. Mostly inactive; these days. We are trying to encourage them to become involved. So in our local Manorial Rights from the 1700s and 1800s, the farmers were allowed to keep the amount of sheep they could winter on the in-by land. If the Lord of the Manor were to get involved and put his foot down, the fells would not get over-grazed. I remember seeing the Sedburgh Manorial Rights in 1965. The registration of 1965, required people to register a number of sheep. We formed an association for Brant Fell.

We need to see less sheep on these Fells, because the herbage is not there to support them any longer, and there is too much hand feeding of supplementary feed. So I realise that we have to cut the numbers of the sheep in one form or another. We have been encouraged by subsidy to have large flocks. Dalesbred, Rough Fell, and Herdwick have had help from Voluntary Action Cumbria. Heft is unique in an animal's brain from the Mother to each generation.

I would like to see a sensible stocking rate on these fells. I'd like to see the future discussed, what happens now. I was worried when Margaret Beckett said she wanted to make it a test case. What kind of an experiment is this? Sheep, it gets in your blood. You can't get rid of it.

There is a lot of hard work in it. The old adage is true: It takes a lifetime to make a reputation and five minutes to destroy it. Another problem on these small fells, are horses. They have been happy to overgraze the fells; I don't know how to stop it.

AG: What about welfare, animal suffering?

RS: A horse is prone to laminitis - caused by over-feeding. There is nothing worse. The same people who overfeed their animals criticise farmers. You get the odd one, often people not brought up to understand animals. They are the worst. Farmers, you see, are competitive. They like to better the other fellow. The real villains are the dealers who hawk the animals around the auction marts, taking them from one to another. We don't approve.

GS: We take our lambs to an abattoir 20 miles away. I don't like to see them travel. I used to wonder if I would make a farmer at one time, because I was so soft. By and large, the majority of farmers are good stocksmen. It's only the larger farms that don't take the care.

Our ancestors came from Dent. Some of them were parsons. Adam Sedgwick, a relative, was a famous Geologist. We have friends in Mid Western America, Indianapolis. There are 5,000 acres of beans and corn, soya beans and maize. All to feed pigs; no wheat. There is one unit of 500 cows. The government has loaned them $2-3 million. They are planning to have another 500 with a fixed milk price for a year. Milk is sent into Ohio in an articulated vehicle, which they call a semi. The cows are milked three times a day. I think this is wrong.

Astrid Comments: Geoffrey Sedgwick produced a wonderful family tree of the Sedgwick family. Dating back to 1146/7 with John Wat Sedgwick (died 1197) and his son Hubert who was killed in the Crusades. The Kendal Sedgwicks seem to have been the main source of Sedgwicks in Dent. There is a long line, in the 1100s...
I was deeply impressed by the quiet dignity and historic significance of this family, but they are not living in the past, as Geoffrey Sedgwick's next words prove:

GS: Quad bikes are a boon. For the dogs, too. They get a ride for the first two or three miles. The old dog hops on the back; it's delightful to see him. For the welfare of the sheep, more than anything else. There isn't the labour force.

You used to have more time. Now we are too busy filling in paperwork. The farm now has twice the acreage, but only the same number of people looking after it. Things evolve quietly in their own time, if you allow it. If we are not careful, the changes are going to come about too quickly. I'd like to see some common sense about how we deal with it. How you get the heft back onto the hills in a common sense way. It will take a lot of thought.

Astrid Comments: In this report, I have sought to describe the urgent need to save the precious heritage that these farmers represent. It was not my purpose to write a scholarly treatise about the phenomenon of the hefted flocks. However, it is my hope that this wonder of nature will be accorded the respect and interest that it deserves in the future.

So long as no one attempts to find out how the sheep are hefted, by any dissecting of their brains! There has been far too much of that kind of invasive and nonsensical experimentation, and it is no substitute for patient observation, by dedicated persons who care enough to preserve them alive and intact in their natural environment and family groups.

We could do worse than to learn from the intelligent and articulate farmers that Westminster and Europe clearly believe to be non-existent.


 
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