This film is part of Free

The Initial Craft

The ancient battle between farmers and sheep rustlers provides a job for life for a blacksmith fabricating the branding lettering of farmers.

Documentary 1973 11 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for Yorkshire Film Archive


Near the ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian monastery of Bolton (a priory rather than an abbey) there worked a smithy by the name of Jack Wood, who, with his brother Donald, laboured for 50 years for the Duke of Devonshire, who owned the Estate. In 1970 Bingley’s roving filmmaker Eric Hall was on hand to capture Jack on one his tasks, to forge branding irons, or ‘horn burns’, marking for their entire lifetime the horns of ewes with their owner’s initials.

Eric Hall began making films documenting the local customs, people and places of Yorkshire in 1929. He was at one time Chairman of the North East Region of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers and President of Bradford Cine Circle. The 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey Estate is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and run by Chatsworth Settlement Trustees – they also own Chatsworth House, thanks to Sir William Cavendish and Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Sheep rustling remains a big problem, 80,000 sheep stolen every year, and horn burns are still in use, as well as microchips and traditional markings of smits and lugs, listed in The Shepherd's Guide of 1817, still used to identify sheep.