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From the The Herald Magazine, 11th December 1926


In a cottage on the outskirts of the pretty little village of Glynde dwells Arthur Duley, a shepherd of the old school, and a descendant of a line of shepherds. For half a century he has been engaged in sheep tending, and at present has the care of nearly 600 sheep.

One afternoon I knocked at the door of his cottage and inquired of the good lady who answered my summons whether Mr Duley, the old shepherd, resided there.

‘Mr Duley lives here,’ she answered with twinkling eyes, ‘but he’s not an old shepherd. He’s only about sixty, and if you call him ‘old’ when you see him you’ll get into trouble.’

I acknowledged my mistake, and agreed with Mrs Duley that sixty years does not represent old age for a son of the land and a toiler in open spaces.

As a matter of fact, Mr Duley was 59 years of age on December 5th last. He is a typical son of Sussex, with the glow of health on his rugged face, and it should be long before he calls himself ‘old’. Shepherding, as I have already said, is the family calling. Duley’s father, and paternal grandfather were shepherds, while his wife’s father and grandfather followed the same occupation. Mr Duley’s elder brother, who is living at Eastbourne, was for many years a shepherd, while another brother is still a shepherd at Barcombe.

Mr Arthur Duley began work as a shepherd boy at the tender age of nine years, was later promoted to the position of ‘teg-boy’, then to that of under-shepherd, and at the age of 19 years became head-shepherd for Mr Stacey of Firle. Shortly afterwards, he married Miss Annie Coppard, the daughter of a fellow worker on Mr Stacey’s farm.

Shepherding is, apparently, not an eventful occupation. Glynde’s shepherd, who lives beneath the shadow of Mount Caburn, shook his head when I asked him to tell me of any ‘exciting’ experiences which had befallen him while tending his flocks.

‘The only thing worth mentioning occurred in 1881,’ he said. ‘There was a terrible big snowstorm that year. The roads were filled with snow and in places on the Downs the drifts were several feet deep. I was a shepherd boy then at Alciston and my father was head-shepherd at the same place.

‘About seven o’clock in the morning we went out with shovels over the hill to where the sheep were penned and cleaned out the coops, which were full of snow. Then we went back home. Of course, I was only a little’un, and in places the snow came as high as my shoulder. For safety, my father, who was a big man, tied a cord round my waist and, secured like that, I followed behind him. When we reached home, I was nearly frozen and my mother had to rub me all over and place me in front of the fire to warm me.

‘I have seen plenty of snow since then,’ he added. ‘but never a fall like that.’

Although I could not imagine such a hardy, open-air man puffing away at such poor things as cigarettes, I offered my case. The invitation was declined.

‘I don’t smoke’ said Mr Duley.

I expressed my surprise and told him I thought a pipe of tobacco would be a great companion in the solitude of such work as his.

‘When I was a lad,’ he answered, ‘I smoked a pipe that belonged to my father. It made me feel ill and I haven’t smoked since.’

One sometimes shudders at the poor wages that were paid in the good old days. It is marvellous how many persons were able to make ends meet on the scanty remuneration of their labours. Mr Duley has vivid recollections of the old-time low standards of wages.

‘When I started as a shepherd boy,’ he said, with a chuckle, ‘I was paid 4s 6d a week and went up to 6s. When I became a ‘teg-boy’ I received 9s a week and as an under-shepherd my pay was 13s a week. Out of that I had to pay 2s 6d a week for lodgings and 1s 6d for the keep of my dog. When I became head shepherd I was paid 17s a week.’

As an under-shepherd Mr Duley had the task of looking after 300 sheep.

The busiest and most anxious time for a shepherd is, of course, at the lambing season.

‘The best luck at lambing,’ he pronounced, ‘comes when there is plenty of hay and not too much green stuff.

‘There’s plenty to do,’ he added, referring to his work, ‘but I’ve got a very good mate.’ Like all shepherds, Mr Duley has a keen appreciation of a good dog. But it must know its work or he has no use for it.

Before I departed he invited me into his snug little cottage and his good lady poured for me a glass of dandelion wine. A rare treat!

With the memory of that glass of ‘dandy’ still with me, I gave a health to Mr and Mrs Arthur Duley, May many years pass for the Shepherd of Glynde before he feels that it is time to call himself ‘old’.

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