The Naked Sheep of Ossett Town

This is a myth I wrote for the wonderful Flock to Ossett event on 30th June 2012. It was adapted and performed by the Yew Tree Theatre company as well as retold by the very talented story teller Susanna Meese from Telling Tales.

 

A merchant was approaching the end of his long journey from Leeds to his home in Ossett having sold his cloth for a little over cost price. As he neared the Dale Street Well he spotted a sheep layingat the side of the road. The merchant climbed from his cart and found the sheep completely naked of wool. The sheep was cold and seemed unwell. The merchant took pity on the creature and carefully placed it on his cart and took it to his home with him. He placed the sheep near the fire and brought it some fresh water. The sheep could hardly lift its head to drink and was shaking with exposed chill. The merchant looked for materials with which he could fashion a crude bed and blanket, but being so poor from having had such little gains from the cloth trade the merchant only had one blanket in his whole home. He fretted that the sheep would not make it through the night if he did not provide cover, and so he went into the town and knocked on the doors of the spinsters and weavers, telling them of the naked sheep and asking for any blankets or scraps of cloth they could give to keep the animalwarm through the night. The wool makers of Ossett Town, also penurious due to the low sale price of their cloth, had very little they could offer the merchant, but each being of a generous and kind naturetore a scrap from their own blankets and gave it humbly. The merchant took the scraps and rags and feared they would be useless. Nevertheless, he covered the naked sheep as it slept by the fire, hoping it would be well again come morning. Satisfied the sheep was comfortable, the merchant retired to his bed. He lay there, worrying that he would not be able to sustain his cloth business with the cost of wool becoming so high and pricing him out of the market. He worried for the spinsters and weaverswho relied on him to provide the wool that they spun and weaved which he sold at Leeds market. How would they survive? After a restless few hours the merchant finally fell to sleep. Within his dreams St Blaise appeared. St Blaise held what seemed like a scrap of blanket in one hand, much like the ones given by the spinsters and weavers that very evening, and a fine piece of drapery in the other.It was cloth like he’d never seen before. The merchant sensed a calming hope in the presence of thepatron saint of wool makers and slept soundly until morning.

 

 

 

The next morning, when the merchant awoke and went to check on the poor naked sheep he found the scraps given by the wool makers had all disappeared and the sheep had grown a full new coat of wool, luxuriant and bright. Within the wool he could see fibres of different colours, and he could tell they were the scraps given as alms which had somehow coalesced with the sheep’s own wool to make a full fleece like never seen before. Astonished, the merchant embraced the sheep and fed it some leafy alfalfa and laid down fresh water. The merchant was in awe of this new material and wondered what use he could make of it. He washed the sheep and carefully sheared it. Then he took the fleece to the spinsters and weavers, who could hardly believe their ears as the merchant recounted his tail of finding the naked sheep that very morning with a full new coat that incorporated the scraps of blankets they had donated just the night before. The weavers were keen to see if this new material could be woven, and the spinsters set about spinning it into yarn. When they saw the golden lustre of the wool mixed with their old rags and then felt it between their fingers as they span it and sent it through their looms they knew this was no ordinary cloth they had crafted. The merchant gathered the sturdy cloth and took it to market in Leeds where a tailor from far away lands spotted it and offered 7s. Having borne no cost to himself, the delighted merchant accepted the amount, and returned to Ossett where he distributed the profit evenly between himself and the spinsters and weavers. Delighted with this turnaround in their fortunes the wool makers brought their old flannels and hosiery to cover the naked sheep that night. The merchant fed and watered the sheep and left it that evening beside the fire, comfortable and fast asleep.

 

The next morning, much to the merchant’s disbelief, the sheep had once again grown a fine covering of wool. He sheered the animal and took the fleece to the spinsters and weavers who, in grateful astonishment, spun and weaved the wool into robust cloth and the merchant once more took it to market in Leeds and sold it for a goodly sum. That evening, intrigued by the happenings reported to him, the local tailor arrived at the merchant’s home with a bundle of off cuts and scraps of old clothes from his business, which he would usually donate to the local manure heap. The merchant thanked the tailor and placed the felted scraps on the sheep. Ossett Town slept a restful sleep that night, and the next morning the sheep had once again produced a full new coat. This time it felt of a finer quality, smoother and softer. As he had done the previous mornings, the merchant took the fleece to the spinsters and weavers who marvelled at this hardy pelage. They produced a cloth that seemed less course than before and the merchant took it to Leeds market. This time there were two drapers who started to outbid each other for the fine looking cloth. The merchant was aghast as the bid increased from 8s to 10s, then to 12s. Finally a draper to the Lords of the southern cities won the bid for a healthy sum of 15s. The merchant returned to Ossett to share the profit from the cloth with the spinsters and weavers.

 

That night, and every night, the wool makers of Ossett Town would bring their scraps and rags to cover the naked sheep. The same events occurred the following morning, and the next, and the next. Each day the merchant would return from market and share the profits with his fellow craftsmen. Astounded by the Ossett man’s fortunes his fellow wool traders pestered for the merchant’s secret. What was this wool and how was it made? The merchant did not tell the tail of the naked sheep, but instead offered to sell them the much lower cost flock from which the cloth was made so they too could produce a fabric of quality that would aid their floundering fortunes. A fair sum was agreed. The merchant returned to the wool makers of Ossett and told them of the deal he had struck with his fellow wool traders. The wool makers set about sorting through rags and old cloths and collecting off cuts and old felted clothing from the tailor and visiting bailor. They combined the cloth rags with half of their virgin wool from their sheep flocks and the felted rags with the other half to make shoddy and mungo, and the merchant sold this along with the cloth produced from the naked sheep’s daily yield at Leeds market, returning to Ossett each day to share the profits.

 

Ossett Town became well known for its wool making reputation and all its residents prospered from it. The spinsters and weavers would bring offerings for the sheep, coverings to keep it warm, food and water, all manner of hand crafted wares, and each day the sheep would produce a fine thick coat of shoddy and mungo for them. This continued every day until the naked sheep’s death a year later. The merchant and the craftsmen buried the sheep near the old pinfold and made coverings from recycled rags and cloth mixed with wool, just as the sheep had shown them, to keep it warm in its shrine. For generations the wool makers of Ossett Town would return every year to the shrine with gifts in remembrance and lay a new covering made in just the same way as a mark of gratitude to the naked sheep for making Ossett a reputable and prosperous town, which it still is today.

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