Watchlist breed recruited for its wool by Yorkshire bed maker

A flock of Wensleydale sheep have been added to the farm at Bolton Percy, North Yorkshire operated by Harrison Spinks bed manufacturers.

A flock of Wensleydale sheep have been added to the farm at Bolton Percy, North Yorkshire operated by Harrison Spinks bed manufacturers.

A Yorkshire-based bed manufacturer has taken steps to promote a breed of sheep on the rare breeds watch list, by purchasing a flock on the eve of UK Wool Week.

Luxury bed makers Harrison Spinks has added Wensleydale sheep to its 300-acre farm at Bolton Percy near York in a move which will see the breed’s high-quality, lustrous wool used as mattress filling.

A hardy hill breed, Wensleydales are now on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust's official watch list.

A hardy hill breed, Wensleydales are now on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust's official watch list.

Originating from North Yorkshire in the early 19th century, the Wensleydale’s numbers have declined as its role as a crossing sire diminished, placing its long-term survival in some doubt.

Leeds-based Harrison Spinks hopes to do its bit to help prolong the breed’s useful life by making use of a wool which has always been highly regarded. While wool prices have shrunk since the breed’s heyday, its wool is still used as knitting yarn, in knitwear and cloth and sometimes in upholstery fabrics.

Richard Essery, managing director of Harrison Spinks’ springs division, said: “The reason for buying Wensleydales is it’s on the watch list as a rare breed and because originally it was a North Yorkshire sheep - so it seems a good idea to start a pedigree flock of our own and help that side of the breeding. We thought it was a nice idea to do something with a rare Yorkshire breed.

“Our beds are all about a natural structure and natural fibres, they are better for you and are sustainable and the wool from Wensleydales is probably the finest long aspect wool. It’s very good quality.”

The firm’s existing flock is mainly made up of Texels and Suffolk’s crossed with Zwartbles.

Its complement of Wensleydales has been bought from a breeder in Suffolk.

“It would have been nice to find a Yorkshire breeder to supply the flock but we wanted a significant amount not one from here and there. We’ve bought 22 pedigree ewes and a year-old tup and we intend to grow the flock in the future,” Mr Essery said.

For a kingsize bed the company uses about 1,000 grams of wool in each layer and each individual bed can have several layers. Cashmere is another high-end fibre that the firm uses, as well as hemp and flax which the company grows on its farm and sources from other Yorkshire growers.

Mr Essery said the company was struggling to keep up with the demand for its hemp and flax beds. It grows around 400 acres of the crops and aims to extend that acreage to around 500 next year.

Each Wensleydale fleece is expected to provide wool for four beds, with the first wool crop due to be collected next summer. The flock’s development will be overseen by father and son team Gary and Liam McPartland who manage the firm’s North Yorkshire farm.

“The plan is to do something special with the wool,” Mr Essery said. “We will possibly launch a Wensleydale bed to advertise the breed and it will probably be a limited edition.”

Harrisons Spinks beds are sold direct to retail outlets.

The Campaign for Wool’s UK Wool Week begins on Monday, with the aim to promote wool’s natural, sustainable and recyclable qualities to consumers.

ORIGINS OF WENSLEYDALE SHEEP

The Wensleydale Longwool breed originated in North Yorkshire in the early 19th century from a cross between a long-since extinct local longwool breed from the region of the River Tees and a Dishley Leicester ram named ‘Bluecap’.

‘Bluecap’ was born in 1839 in the hamlet of East Appleton near Bedale.

The breed was developed to produce hardy rams for crossing onto hill ewes, together with high quality and valuable lustre fleeces.

The breed type was not given its name until 1876, when one was required for classes at the Great Yorkshire Show.

The current Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders Association was formed in 1920.