Wovember Words: Grey Hodden

We shall be hearing more from Kate Graham this evening, and as we were thinking yesterday about coloured fleeces and their sale and use, I came across the phrase “Hodden Grey” in K.G. Ponting’s worthy tome, The Wool Trade.


Herdwick photo, © Kate Davies

The Herdwick is a very hardy breed found in Cumberland and Westmorland. It is of somewhat uncertain origin, possibly Scandinavian, and it is certainly one of the oldest breeds in the country. The name could derive from Saxon times, as herd meant enclosure and wick a village. There is, of course, no truth in the Armada story that the sheep came from Spain and swan ashore when their ship went down. It is difficult to imagine a sheep less like the Spanish merino.

The cloth made from the wool of the Herdwick used to be called “Hodden Grey”:

What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden-grey, and a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.

– Burns: “For a’ that and a’ that”.

The sheep are very resourceful, selecting good shelter against storm and scraping away the snow to get at the scant grass. They scarcely ever stray from the place where they were born and are always sold with the farm.

-K. G. Ponting’s The Wool Trade past and present, Columbine Press, Manchester & London


Rachael Matthews’ amazing sweater knitted in Herdwick Wool