In tracing the origin and
history of the North and South Country types of Cheviot Sheep, it is
easy to give a full account of the North Country breed, as its history
is known from the time it was first introduced into the North of
Scotland in 1792 down to the present day. Of the South Country or
original Border breed, it is more difficult to give any exact account,
as a species of sheep appears to have been, from the earliest times,
indigenous to the Border Country.
That flocks—which in the eighteenth century were known as the “Long
Sheep,” in contrast to the forerunners of the Black-faced Sheep, which
were known as the “Short Sheep” —had been kept on the Border hills as
far back as the Middle Ages is a well-known fact. Cosmo Innes devotes a
whole paragraph to a description of the "Sheep-farming Monks or
Churchmen of Teviotdale.”
In the eighteenth year of the reign of King Alexander II. of Scotland
(1232) we find mention of one, John of Hawelton, having stolen, along
with cattle and horses, 200 wethers and ewes, of the value of twelve
pence each, from Wark in North Tyne, and having driven them to
Sewingsheilds and detained them there.
Again, in the thirty-first year of the same reign, one De Bellingham of
Hesleyside lost an arbitration case over the upkeep of ditches and
hedges with Nicolas of Plenderleith, Abbot of Jedburgh, who had been
given a lease of the grating of Ealingham by the Scottish king.
In a final settlement the Abbot had to have free access to the Common
Pasture of Hesleyside within the open time, for all his flocks of
Ealingham, and without the hedges at all times of the year, but the
flocks “shall each night be on the East side of Stirkscleugh.”
When one remembers that the inhabitants from both sides of the Border
were nearly always fighting or raiding, one gathers there would be
little inducement to improve the sheep of these districts; but from the
fact that they were thus constantly mixed up, one may surmise that they
would be one breed—the Long Breed.
That these raids did not always bring happy results to the perpetrators,
and that some of the troubles of the present day were then not unknown,
appears from the following, which took place early in the sixteenth
The Robsons of North Tyne made a raid on Liddlesdale, which was Graham
country, and took back with them a flock of sheep which happened to be
infected with scab. The disease spread to their own flocks, and this so
incensed the Robsons that they returned, captured and hanged seven of
the most substantial Grahams, saying, “The next time gentlemen cam’ to
tak’ sheep, they war no to be scabbit.”
It is, therefore, unlikely that until after the ’45, when both sides of
the Border were finally disarmed, much improvement was effected; but
from that date we have evidence that the Borderers had turned their
swords into crooks and attempted to improve their flocks and herds.
In the year 1756 we learn that three Border farmers, Mr Robson of
Philhope (he went to Scotch Belford in 1760 and later to Chatto), Mr
Charles Kerr of Riccalton, and Mr Edmistoun of Mindrum, brought fourteen
tups from Lincolnshire. Whether these were the improved Leicesters of
Bakewells, like those their near neighbours, the Culleys, brought from
Durham into Northumberland in 1767, or Lincolns, has always been a
debateable point; but in a letter to the ‘ Farmers’ Magazine ’ in 1803 a
writer seems to point to their having been the latter. Signing himself
“A Northumberland Farmer,” he writes : “As a proof of the fineness of
Lincolnshire wool at the period alluded to (1760), I need only observe
that the late Mr James Robson of Chatto, a most respectable man and
breeder of Cheviot Sheep, who then lived at Scotch Belford, purchased
some tups from Mr Mumby, near Barton-upon-Humber, Lincs., who at that
time stood high as a Lincoln ram breeder. These tups, without injuring
the quality of the wool, greatly increased the quantity, and gave Mr
Robson such a decided superiority over his hill neighbours that for many
years after making the cross he sold more tups than one-half of the
other hill farmers.”
These facts are not in agreement with Varney’s evidence before the House
of Lords in 1828, when he states : “Cheviot wool is deteriorated very
much in point of hair, and will not make fine clothes now, as it once
would. It is coarser and longer, a state attributed to the Cheviot
having a partial cross of the Leicester.”
Culley, in his ‘ Observations of Live-stock,’ writing about the end of
the eighteenth century, says of the Cheviot breed: “Their mutton is
excellent, fleece about three pounds, which is in great demand, bringing
high prices. The breed has been much improved of late years, though
there is still a want of depth in the forequarters and breadth both
there and on the chine.” This description would at the present time be
much nearer the North Country type, one large flockmaster having
recently said: “The difference in the two types was that the South had
been improved while the North was the old unimproved type.”
However, after the middle of the eighteenth century the breed rapidly
improved, so that when that great agricultural improver and first
Minister of Agriculture, Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, examined all the
mountain breeds of sheep with a view to increasing the value of his own
property in Caithness and the North of Scotland, he decided that the
Long Sheep of the Borders answered his purpose best, and called them
Cheviots after their native hills. In 1792 ho gave an order for 500
draft ewes to be bought for his estate of Berriedale, now owned by the
Duke of Portland, and still carrying one of the best flocks in the
These sheep did so well that Highland lairds decided to turn their lands
into sheep farms, and in order to do so caused numberless crofters to be
evicted. They were then able to let large tracts of land to South
Country sheep-farmers, who not only brought north with them Border
Cheviots but Border shepherds as well. Some of the lairds engaged South
countrymen to manage their farms, with the result that the North was,
with few exceptions, stocked with Cheviots. The original sheep, called
Kerries, which, according to MacDonald (‘Highland and Agricultural
Society’s Transactions,’ 1875), “were small, narrow in the frame, short,
very unshapely and slow in growth, the wool and mutton producing
qualities very poor indeed,” gradually became extinct, the last of the
species being seen on a few crofts along the north coast of Caithness.
This change-over from Kerries to Cheviots, which caused much more money
to be circulated in the North, was almost entirely brought about by
introducing South Country sheep. It was unlike the way the farmers in
Ettrick Forest, &c., according to Hogg, changed their native sheep to
Cheviots by introducing Cheviot tups till the breed showed all the
Cheviot characteristics. Further, it was largely helped by the
disastrous years 1806-7, when, owing to rot or Liver Fluke in the North,
not only the Kerries but even goats were practically decimated.
Thus, it seems, even nature had some hand in helping on the quick
change-over from a practically worthless breed to one which has made a
name for itself all over the world where sheep-farming is engaged in.
Considering that the first Cheviots went North only in 1792, and well as
they are known to have thriven in their adopted home, they could not
have increased from a few thousands at the commencement of the century
to over two hundred thousand in 1820 without a huge number having been
taken yearly from the South. In 1820 one grazier sent from Sutherland a
hundred thousand fleeces and twenty thousand ewes and wedders.
With these yearly additions from the South there can have been little
difference in the types for a number of years. How this difference of
type did eventually take place it is difficult to say. Some maintain
that the North Country sheep, especially the Caithness type, had another
cross of alien blood, Border-Leicester, thus causing the heavy drooping
ears and greater size. After the country became stocked with wedders on
the high grounds, and ewes on the low grounds, scores of South Country
tups were bought at Hawick by Messrs Todd, &c., and afterwards by the
late John Murray, and sent North. Since the latter’s death it has been
the custom of several of the principal sheep-breeders in the North to
buy for themselves the best tups at Hawick sales.
It is certain that at the present time there is very little similarity
between the two types. Proof that this difference arose during the
second half of the nineteenth century may be drawn from the fact that at
the Highland and Agricultural Society’s Show at Kelso in 1832, Mr
Paterson, Bighouse, Sutherland, successfully exhibited a tup, which was
then purchased by a Border breeder and very extensively used by most of
the leading breeders on the Cheviot Hills. This fact evidently shows
that he had been considered a good example of what a Cheviot tup should
be, or his breeder would not have taken what must have been a very
tedious and expensive journey, nor would Border breeders have used him
so extensively had they not particularly fancied him.
Shortly after this there appears to have arisen a difference of type in
the South Country itself, the Border breeders sticking to the type
produced by the use of the Paterson tup, while in Dumfriesshire, Mr
Brydon, who amongst other large farms held Moodlaw and Kinnelhead, began
breeding a type, longer and lankier, with open coats, which for a time
carried all before them both in show and sale. Mr Brydon’s tups were
greatly sought after, and at his annual sales at Beattock they fetched
big prices, farmers purchasing them from all over Scotland.
In 1867 the late Mr John Miller, Scrabster, Thurso, paid 185 guineas for
Craigphpdrig, which had been first at the Highland Show that year, and
Mr Miller at Broubster and Mr Paterson at Bighouse used him very
extensively along with his sons. From records in the possession of Mr
John Miller, Scrabster, of sales at Georgemas, they sold many of his
progeny, which were bought to go all over Caithness, Sutherland, Lewis,
and Orkney, at what were then high prices. It appears the Brydon sheep
were found to be too soft on the Borders, with its severe storms and
bare hills, but that they suited the North seems likely, or such prices
would not have been paid for them or their progeny. First and reserve
Champion, Highland and Agricultural Society Show, Alloa, Bred by John
Robson, Esq., Millkuowe, Duns, and sold at Hawick, for £400 to Messrs T.
R, Elliot, Altonburn, and John Robson, Jun., Lynegai, Watten.
Perhaps it was the influence of the Brydon sheep which changed the type
in the North, or must it be put down to the changed conditions of soil
and climate, or solely to selection?
Probably all three have had their share in its development, as it is
wonderful what a difference soil and climate makes. Clay subsoil seems
to produce heavier sheep and more wool than the bare grassy hills, which
in their turn tend to encourage shorter wool and harder hair, while
heathery lands keep the wool longer and coarser.
The Lammermoors grow sheep with more bone than the Borders, and the
difference can be seen in the same sheep, if changed, in a year or two,
so that it is quite evident a century can make an enormous difference in
In the South, owing to the very severe winters which came in and after
1879, the soft-coated Brydon sheep were unable to survive. A much
smaller, thick-coated, well-haired lamb, having withstood the snow and
cold, possibly led South Country breeders into breeding a smaller type
than was desirable, but since the ’90’s the size has tended to increase,
while still retaining the other features.
As the breeders of each type should know what suits their own district
best, it is evident that the difference has been caused partly by the
requirements of each country, and partly by what is the fashionable type
in each district.
On the Borders, hardihood, wool, and beauty, along with wide-sprung
ribs, good shoulders and gigots, a size which the land will carry, have
been the qualities aimed at.
In the North size has been the first consideration. It is possible that
the breeders of both types have erred considerably, the one paying too
much attention, to style, £he other too little. It is certain also that
the law of the survival of the fittest has had a great deal to do with
the enormous difference which is now apparent between the two types of
That in the North a softer sheep will survive can be partly attributed
to the climate, which, helped by the proximity to the Gulf Stream, tends
to give more equable climatic conditions. In Caithness especially there
is the further fact that a very large majority of the flocks are treated
in the same way as Half-bred ewes in the South—i.e., from January
onwards they get hay, oats, or turnips, while on the Borders ewes only
get hay during a severe storm, and never oats or turnips, except that a
very few of the lean gimmers receive a little help.
The wintering of the ewe hoggs again favours the North, as they are
invariably sent to arable ground in August and September. Many go to
Boss-shire, and still farther south to Aberdeenshire, where they get
aftermath followed by stubbles, young grass, &c., and in February
turnips. They return home at the end of March.
On the Borders they are generally kept on a part of their own farm or
sent to a hill farm which is taken for hogging. It is certain that the
North Country sheep does not succeed on the bare South Country hills,
though it does well in fields and on low ground. There it has, during
the last decade, made great headway, principally helped by the belief
that it is clear of, or less liable to be infected by, scrapie than the
When brought South on to good keep, Northern ewes undoubtedly do well,
and produce a crop of big Half-bred lambs. As long as they do this they
will always have their advocates, if not their admirers.
Those pens of great wether lambs which we see at the Christmas National
Fat Stock Shows are almost without exception a cross between the two
types—Southern tups and Northern ewes.
There is a good demand for North Country lambs, the wed-ders largely
going to Cumberland and Dumfriesshire to be fed. It would be interesting
if a comparison, between the North and South, of their weights and age
when fat could be obtained.
One large South Country dealer always preferred to have a good
proportion of Southern blood in the lambs for the Christmas shows and
sales, saying that the Northern Cheviot did not put on a proper back
until after clipping. This dealer was in the habit of buying thousands
of sheep from the North.
Fortunately there are to be found buyers who are advocates of both
types, so it is difficult to get an unbiassed opinion. In -passing, it
is interesting to note that for the last seventy years, without a break,
the Sandside draft ewes have been bought by the Sproats of
In spite of the way the Southern type of sheep is looked down upon by
the North Country breeder, it would be difficult to find any flock
without a good admixture of Southern blood in it. One of the reasons a
large wool buyer gave for the North Country wool not being so good as it
used to be was that there was not more South Country blood used.
Further, when flocks were large the owner bought one good tup, and by
using his progeny gave to his whole stock a simi-' larity, whereas with
the dividing up of the sheep farms into holdings each smallholder bought
a tup which was quite possibly a different type from his neighbours’,
and the result was that very many different kinds of wool came from the
North. The wool at one time was more or less similar.
It is also becoming much more difficult to find good tups. Whether the
dividing up of large farms, which successive Governments have vied with
each other in bringing about, will be advantageous to the country as a
whole, time alone will show, but it appears already to be effecting a
change in the North Country Cheviot.
In spite of its greater size the North Country sheep grows a lighter
fleece than the South Country, which again may be caused by soil and
climate, or partly by selection. Until recently, however, it has always
(except for a few South Country clips) been well worth about twopence a
pound more, although latterly there has been very little difference.
Whether this is owing to fashion, or the undoubted fact that there has
been improvement in South Country wool and probably deterioration of the
North Country kind, it is hard to say; but it is known that some of the
farmers in the South, who sold off their Border type and introduced ewe
stock from the North, have found their wool has deteriorated
As an example of how locality affects the wool, it may be mentioned
that, at Hawick tup sale a few years ago, a very large flock owner and
wool expert from the Falkland Islands was making an examination of the
tups, and on coming to a lot of pure South Country type he opened the
wool and at once remarked: “ These sheep come from quite another
district: the wool is finer.” These sheep came from Caithness.
Another wool expert remarks: “North Country wool undoubtedly holds first
place and is finer than South. This is, of course, taking an average all
over. There are a few South Country dips, and especially one or two in
Northumberland, which are equally as fine and good in colour as any of
the North Country ones. Again, there are North Country clips which are
being bred away from the pure Cheviot. There appears to be two distinct
strains in the North Country sheep. One might be called the original;
the other shows a longer and stronger fibre. The wool of the former, or
“original” as I have called it, is short and fine, and has a denseness
of fibre. It is this quality which has made North Country sheep famous
for wool, and which is much sought after by manufacturers of the best
Cheviot suitings. The latter is not the original North Country Cheviot.
I should say that at some date the sheep growing the stronger fibre was
bred through a Half-bred (Border Leicester x Cheviot), as quite a number
of clips show up “ breedy.” This, no doubt, pays the farmer better from
a mutton or lamb point of view, but he will have to take a lower price
for his wool.
If farmers could combine the two types and get a longer Style of fibre
and retain much of the fineness, it would pay them. They would get a
heavier fleece, and still keep the size of the sheep and lambs.
South Country wool, like the Northern, varies according to the different
land on which the sheep graze, the altitude of the farm, and breed of
sheep stocked. On the whole, South Country is a very good commercial
A large manufacturer on the Borders says that North Country wool would
spin two counts more than South Country wool. That is to say, if the
South spun to 18 “cut,” the North would spin to 20 “cut” (“cut” is a
Scottish spinner’s term for the thickness of the yarn, and means so many
threads to the ounce). He was likewise emphatic about the way wool had
changed in quality since 1913-14. His cloths were coming up different
to-day owing to the wool being coarser. Where Cheviot wool used to spin
to 20 “cut” pre-war, it will only spin to 16 “cut” to-day.
The average weight of fleeces is as follows :—
North Country Cheviot ewe, washed . . 3 lb.
South Country Cheviot ewe, washed . . 3 to 3½ lb.
North Country Cheviot ewe, unwashed . 3½ to 4 lb.
South Country Cheviot ewe, unwashed . 4 to 4½ lb.
As a result many consider wool as only a by-product, and with the high
prices given since the war for stock, farmers have probably paid less
attention to wool than when lambs and ewes were much lower in value.
One of the main considerations fifty years ago, in keeping tup lambs,
was to see that there was no kemp. If there was, however good the lamb
looked, he was castrated. Now many think a little coarseness of the
brich means a hardier sheep, and undoubtedly there is more kemp in North
Country wool now than used to be the case.
If an analogy were wanted between the two types, as regards shape, one
might compare the North Country type to the dairy Shorthorn—long, wider
behind than in front, and standing higher; while the South Country type
is like the Cruickshank Shorthorn—square, set on short legs, wide, deep,
and full of mutton to knee and hock.
We may conclude with the saying of a well-known old shepherd: “I aye
think it a pity that thar warna twa breeds of Cheviots—ane for yowes,
anither for wedders.”