NOSTALGIA: ‘It was important to let people feed the animals’

Terry Wigmore pictured in 2012 with two orphaned lambs which were found by walkers on the downs
Terry Wigmore pictured in 2012 with two orphaned lambs which were found by walkers on the downs
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As visitor numbers to the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre at East Dean rose to 28,000 in 1997, writes Elizabeth Wright, the old barn was converted into the Hay Rack Tearoom run by Terry Wigmore’s wife Pamela and the gift shop was extended.

After closing time all their work wasn’t finished because Terry then had one hour of essential paperwork to do each day, dealing with medicine records and VAT.

As a then member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Terry was proud of the variety of little-seen breeds of sheep kept at the centre.

They had the goat-like Soay, unchanged for thousands of years, with a fleece that moults wool which is plucked and not sheared; the Jacobs, with their dark spots, stand out from other sheep. Their patches were originally black but get bleached to dark brown in sunlight.

Terry experimented by crossing Shetlands with Wensleydales and the offspring had long curly soft wool “that was a spinner’s delight”.

There were Herdwicks, which “are the hardiest sheep in the world”.

And of course, he stocked the local breed of sheep, Southdowns, which have probably roamed this area since before the Roman invasion of 43AD – a stocky, hornless, “easy-care” animal, thrifty, fast maturing “even on a spartan diet, producing meat of excellent flavour and a butcher’s delight.

Because the colour of Southdowns is a shabby light fawn, Terry decided to experiment and breed an all-black one.

It took eight years and selective out cross breeding using St Kilda’s, before he managed to produce, in 1988, a dark body coloured youngster he named Sam.

After three decades they decided to close the business on September 4 2016.

Terry said at the time, “It’s my 70th birthday coming up and it will be the first birthday I have been able to celebrate in 50 years as I have always been too busy at lambing time.

“And it has always been really important to us to allow people to touch and feed the animals, but each year made this harder and harder to achieve.”

As a business he had to cope with visits from Weights and Measures, Health and Safety, MAFF inspections, Environmental Health and occasionally Ministry vets.

On Saturday October 15 2016 South East Marts from Hailsham, offered some 800 lots from the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre in a Closing Down Auction Sale.

The items made fascinating reading and included steel trunks, pots and scales, a quantity of road lamps, an iron rimmed cart wheel, sandstone knife sharpening wheel on wooden stand, three iron wall hay racks, a quantity of bull ring nose cutters and bull leads plus pair of horn trainers, a set of hot timber branding irons, a quantity of vermin traps, cart horse nose bag and bushel measure, laundries mangle and wash board, Pevensey Levels eel spear, brass carriage lamp, thatching needle, shepherd’s smock, pair of leather gaiters and bowler hat, shepherd’s leg crook, wooden dairy maid yoke and chains to carry two buckets, small wooden dairy churn with lid, assorted wicker bread baskets, sheep bells, hurricane lamps, spinning wheel and lazy Kate, original Taskers shepherds’ hut, wood and corrugated iron, Aylesbury ducks, Bantam hens, Alpacas. hoof trimmers, chicken ark, quantity of old horse shoes, Jerry cans and a huge variety of sheep.

As Terry and Pamela bowed out, Terry said, “We have had a fantastic time and we are both very proud of what we have established here. However, the time is right to move on and enjoy our retirement.

“We will miss our visitors and, of course, our sheep.”