History of Teeswater Sheep

After the Romans had invaded Britain, they brought with them a large longwool breed of sheep, which developed over the centuries into slightly different types of sheep named mainly from the area in which they had developed, i.e Cotswolds, Lincoln, Leicester & Devon Longwools and presumably the Teeswater. These would all originally have had a white face.

As the poorer land further up the valleys was grazed by sheep, the Teeswater was used in these dales for crossing purposes onto the smaller hill sheep to produce a cross bred sheep suitable for fat lamb production on the more fertile land. Some farmers referred to them as "Mug Tups" because of their facial colour.

There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania in the early 1800's. Also around this time Robert Bakewell started a breeding programme to develop and enhance the quality of the local sheep, which were Leicester Longwools. In the 1840's some Teeswater females were crossed with a Dishley Leicester Longwool ram called Bluecap and the offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed, as it had a bigger and better body shape, it would appear, that eventually the Wensleydale breed became more popular and the Teeswater declined until by the 1920's the breed was nearly extinct.

Hearsay as per Mr Bert Verity of Masham
He can remember, prior to the formation of the society, when the offspring these rams produced were referred to as liquorice lambs, meaning they had both brown and black markings. A local farmer/dealer used to go round to markets buying all the black and white marked gimmer lambs either singularly if possible, or the full pen otherwise. He would then keep all the black and white faced lambs and sell the others on. When he brought the black and white faced lambs back to the market, probably as shearlings they made considerably more than any other of the half bred pens as farmers preferred them.

Thomas Addison and J.B Liddle and others noticed this and decided between them to try and breed a Teeswater Ram that bred only black and white faced lambs. When this was achieved Mr Verity did not know but assumed sometime between 1935 and 1945 to allow for the spread of the breed to 185 members by 1949.

It was the emergence of the black and white lambs that brought about the spread of the Teeswater breed and the decline of the Wensleydale as their lambs had brown and white markings on their faces and legs.

Preface Flock Book Volume No.1 by Thomas Addison
The breed was at one time in some danger of becoming extinct. Fortunately a few farmers in the Tees Valley kept the breed alive and distinct for the purpose of breeding rams for crossing with hill ewes. During the past 20 years the value of these rams for crossing purposes has become better known and it is now appreciated for breeding half bred lambs that have no equal. I am satisfied that for crossing purposes with Swaledale, Scotch, Black-faced, Dalesbred, Lonks and Herdwicks, they are pre-eminent. This is borne out by the high prices realised by half bred-gimmers at Auction Marts in Yorkshire, Durham, Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire. They are a hardy breed and prolific good mothers. Black lambs have been all but eliminated.
Total number of members in the first Flock Book - 185

The Cotswolds, Lincoln, Leicester & Devon Longwools all still have the white face but since 1950, the Teeswater has been developed with chocolate markings on its face and legs and a lot finer fleece.

The Teeswater Sheep Breeders' Association (TSBA) was formed in 1949 with the aim to encourage and improve the breeding of Teeswater sheep and to maintain their purity and in particular to establish the supremacy of Teeswater rams for crossing with hill sheep breeds for the production of half-bred lambs.

Until the 1920's the breed was a comparatively rare one and was not found far from its native habitat, but now that the remarkable crossing qualities of the breed have been consistently improved and developed, Teeswater and Teeswater half-bred (Masham) are to be found in almost every part of the UK. For many years, the Teeswater enjoyed great popularity as one of the leading sires of half bred (Masham) sheep which has formed the basis of lowland sheep flocks.

With the price of wool dropping in the 1970s, farmers looked to breed a cross bred lamb growing less fleece, so Blue Faced Leicester crosses started to become popular, known as the 'mule'. However, despite challenges by continental rams (Rouge, bleu de Maine, Texel and Charolais) during the late 80's, for many people the Teeswater is still a great choice of sire to use on hill breeds such as Dalesbred, Swaledale, Rough Fell, Scottish Blackface, Herdwick and Beulah.

Since joining the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1998, we have had many enquiries from small flock owners from many parts of the country, showing that the Teeswater breed still has a future to play in sheep farming.