Local History

Spring a busy time for the Shepherd

The Shepherd – His duty is to undertake the entire management of the sheep; and, when he bestows the pains he should on his flock, he has little leisure for any other work. His time is occupied from early dawn, when he should be among his flock before they rise from their lair; and during the whole day, to the evening, when they again lie down for the night. To inspect a large flock at least three times a days, over extensive bounds, implies a walking to fatigue. Besides this daily exercise, he has to attend to the feeding of the young sheep on turnips in winter, the lambing of the ewes in spring, the washing and shearing of the fleece in summer; and the bathing of the flock in autumn. And, over and above these major operations, there are minor ones of weaning, milking, drafting and marking, at appointed times; not to omit the unwearied attention to be bestowed, for a time, on the whole flock, to evade the attacks of insects. The only assistance which he depends upon in personally managing his flock is that of his faithful dog, whose sagacity in that respect is little inferior to his own.

Henry Stephens’s Book of the Farm

Do you have a Shepherd in your Ancestry? I have at least three on my Great Grandmother Elsie Golding’s family tree as shown below. William Piper’s oldest son George also became a Shepherd as was often the case as it was a skill passed down from father to son. I suspect that Charles Wells was also a Shepherd as he is missing from the 1871 & 1881 censuses for St. Mary Bourne. It isn’t always easy to prove as census records and civil registration certificates often just state “labourer” or “ag lab”. All three that I do know of, were all shepherd’s within the parish of St. Mary Bourne.

Ancestors of Elsie Golding with Shepherds marked with a red star
Old Shepherd’s Hut (curtesy of Carole Cook)

Home for a Shepherd in Spring would have been his hut which he would have placed in a field near his flock. He would rarely be seen and was often missed on census records (as is likely the case for Charles Wells) as after 1841 these took place in early Spring. The old Shepherd Hut above is one owned by family who also descend from George Golding & Elizabeth Wells, I don’t know if it was one used by him or his father though.

A very brief example of some of the Shepherd’s tasks with regards to lambing in Spring have been taken from the pages of detailed information available in the “Book of the Farm”


  • a small field with sheltered corner which should be fenced around with nets or hurdles
  • the building of small sheds roofed with within the enclosure
  • food and water for the the ewes
  • a large lantern for him


  • watch for symptoms that the ewe is about to give birth
  • move the ewe to the enclosure
  • feed the ewe turnips
  • if the ewe struggles to give birth, give assistance

After lambing

  • if bad weather occurs move the ewes and lambs to somewhere with shelter
George Golding (1866-1951)

The photo of George Golding above is a colourised version that I received from my Great Aunt Denny Cox (nee Bevis). It was most likely taken in Stoke where he lived most of his life (at 1 Abbey Terrace in 1945 when his wife Elizabeth died), he died 26th September 1951 in the old workhouse in Andover which was now St. John’s Hospital. His address at the time of his death was 6 Egbury Road, St. Mary Bourne.

Sheep in a field on Egbury Road, St. Mary Bourne (14 Apr 2024)

The view above is much the same as it would have been many years ago, ewes and their lambs in a field! However, today there does seem to be a lot less than in the days of the Shepherd’s in my ancestry.

Andover Advertiser and North West Hants Gazette (27 June 1862)

Looking back to Henry Golding, George’s father and we can see the size of the flock he was responsible for was at least 200 ewes. In 1862 he won first prize £2, at the time that would have been about 10 days wages so a considerable sum for him and his family.

National Archives currency converter, the value of £2 in 1860 compared to the most recent date available 2017.

To have won that prize Henry must have been a very good Shepherd who looked after his large flock extremely well. He must have felt an immense sense of pride at having won, as these competitions covered a large area and the winners shown above were not just from Hampshire but neighbouring county Wiltshire too.

My work is ongoing in discovering more about my shepherding ancestors and what their day to day lives would have been like. Time and patience may also allow me to confirm if Charles Wells was indeed a Shepherd, maybe his name will come up in a newspaper too. George’s does but not to do with his work but with Cricket a story for another day.

Stephens, H. (2011). Henry Stephens’s Book of the Farm. (A. Langlands, Ed.) London: Batsford.
Waller, I. H. (2007). My Ancestor was an Agricultural Labourer. London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises Limited.
Newspaper clippings from https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search-newspapers

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