In 1955, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower kept at least one Southdown ewe on his Gettysburg, PA farm. The president of the American Southdown Breeders’ Association bred a ewe for the President “free of charge….hoping of course that you will have some Southdown lambs for the grandchildren.”
On June 28, 1811, Sir John Throckmorton won a thousand-guinea bet by sitting down to dine in a damson-colored suit made from Southdown wool which had been shorn at sunrise that very morning. Damson refers to the Damson plum, which was used for dyeing (deep purple-blue-plum color). The two sheep were shorn at 5 AM, and the tailors completed the coat at 6:20 PM. The cloth was described as “a hunting kersey of the admired Wellington color.” Five thousand villagers turned out to see Sir John don the coat! Here is a link to a page that shows pictures of a more recent version of the coat and the painting that commemorated the day. Oh, guess what was for dinner? The sheep from whom the coat was made, of course.
John Ellman is credited for turning the native heath sheep into the Southdown. He is regarded as a hero in England for revolutionizing agriculture at the turn of the 18th century. His story is amazing because he was a humble man born without family connections or inherited wealth or titles, and had little formal education. Yet his accomplishments made him a friend of dukes, earls and even kings and princes. The Emperor of Russia ordered two Southdown rams from Mr. Ellman through King George III. The King gave Ellman some Merino sheep from his own flock, which Mr. Ellman later got rid of because “I could fatten three Southdowns where I could only fatten one Merino.”
In the old days in England, the shepherds washed the Southdowns by herding their flock into the river, and bathed them while floating in buckets. The men were in the buckets that is, not the sheep.