The Wensleydale Longwool breed of sheep originated in North Yorkshire early in the 19th Century from a cross between a long since extinct local longwool breed from the region of the River Tees and an outstanding Dishley Leicester ram named ‘Bluecap’. The breed was developed to produce hardy rams for crossing onto hill ewes, together with high quality and valuable lustre fleeces.
The breed is probably unique in that its Association is able to not only identify a foundation sire, but also trace that ram’s parentage, year and place of birth and breeder. ‘Bluecap’ was born in 1839 in the hamlet of East Appleton, five miles NNW of Bedale in North Yorkshire. His qualities, which determined the breed type without any further infusion of Leicester blood, were his dark skin, superb quality of wool and size – 203 kgs (448 lbs) as a two shear. The breed type was not named until 1876, when a name was required for classes at the Yorkshire Show.
Two separate breed societies, born out of rivalry and conflicting interests, were formed in 1890. These were the Wensleydale Longwool Association and the Wensleydale Blue-faced Sheep Breeders’ Association – each producing its own flock book, despite the fact that each represented the same breed with the same characteristics. Eventually the recognition that this division was not in the interests of the breed led to the two societies amalgamating in 1920 to form the current Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders Association.