Leicester Longwool History

During the 1700's, an innovative English farmer named Robert Bakewell realized that careful selection of breeding animals resulted in improvements in his flock overall. He practiced his selective breeding skills on his own farm with cattle, hogs, horses and sheep.

Bakewell's 400 acre farm "Dishley Grange" was located in Leicestershire, in the east Midlands of Britain. Local longwool sheep were of a large, coarse, heavy-boned, slow-growing type. Using these, and other types collected on his travels, he worked to produce an improved sheep. As time progressed, Bakewell became famous for his "New Leicester" sheep and rented out his rams for high fees. Little is known of his methods but he believed in breeding the "best to the best" which probably meant significant inbreeding by today's standards.

"BAKEWELL'S success was due to his firm faith in the power of animals to transmit their good qualities to their progeny, and a rigid determination to adhere to the type that he wished to produce:

  - beauty of form

  - utility of form

  - early maturity 

  - fattening properties..."

(from: UK Leicester Longwool Sheep Breeders Association).

US President George Washington corresponded with Bakewell, and imported "New Leicester" rams to improve his own Mt. Vernon flock. Leicesters established themselves in the United States and were common until the late 19th century when newer breeds became fashionable. By the 1930s, they had disappeared here. Re-imported in 1990 by Colonial Williamsburg, Leicesters are once again being appreciated in the United States.

In the 1920's, Leicester Longwools were imported by Australia and New Zealand, where they were used for crossing with Merinos to yield a larger, dual-purpose animal. Though Leicester numbers have diminished worldwide, their genetic contribution to the sheep world is indisputable. Dozens of other breeds, including the Wensleydale, have been created using large percentages of Leicester genetics.

For a complete breed standard, detailed information and photographs see the Leicester Longwool Sheep Breeders Association (LLSBA) website:

© Double J 2021 · updated 03 May 2021