On 15th October 1906, twenty-seven farmers who had interest in the breed came together to form the Derbyshire Gritstone Sheepbreeders Society (DGSS) under the presidency of the 8th Duke of Devonshire. The Stud Flock Book was established shortly afterwards listing twenty flocks of acceptable and recognised Derbyshire Gritstone sheep in an area of about eighty square miles in the Peak District Area.
These founding members were initially content on consolidating and developing aspects of the breed such as improving and growing bone, setting the wool free of kemp (hair) and ensuring hardiness was inbred to ensure stock could withstand the challenges of the climate. As a result expansion of the breed was limited to the immediate area of the Peak District although some flockmasters in Lancashire and Yorkshire realised the potential of the breed and introduced it into their own areas.
For the first 50 years of the society the members did not expand, but in 1962 the new secretary, Norman Turner, actively promoted the breed and the society which resulted in active membership doubling to over 50 members in only 8 years. It was during this time that the breed became well known further afield in places such as the mountains of Wales, Scotland and the Borders – places where the breed is still very much active today.
Although the Derbyshire Gritstone was developed in the Peak District the breed has proved its adaptability and can now be found in the surrounding counties of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire as well as areas further afield such as the mountains of Wales, Scotland (including the outer islands) and Northern Ireland.
Its success has come as a result of the breeds abilty to master challenging conditions and its good mothering qualities to produce a virile lamb with a conditioned growth and high survival traits. The breed is a good-looking aristocratic sheep that is easy to manage and is of a docile nature, which relives the pressure of shepherding, and reduces labour costs.
The docile nature and hardiness of the breed is ideal for smallholders, especially those who wish to produce and spin the wool produced. The fleece of the Derbyshire Gritstone is the finest of all the hill breeds and historically it was used for fine hosiery. In recent years fleeces have won many prizes including overall champion fleece at the Great Yorkshire Show beating hundreds of fleeces from across many other breeds.
The founding flocks of 1906 were:
BLACKFOREST – George W Belfield of Old Springs, Swythamley
CASTLE – Henry Martin of Brierlow Grange, near Buxton
CRAG – Earl of Derby’s flock kept at Wildboarclough
ERRWOOD – T B Higgert of Goyt Bridge
GOOSETREE – Abram Mason of Goose Tree Farm, Wildboardclough
GOYTDALE – William Arthur Trueman of Goyt Bridge
GREENBANK – Daniel Buxton of Sutton
HAREWOOD – Cornelius Henry Bowman of Harewood Grange near Chesterfield
HILLHOUSE – James Ripley of Hill House, Kinder
KINDER – John Thomas Gee of The Ashes, Kinder
LOWERBARN – James Swindell of Lower Barn, Wildboarclough
NABS – Daniel Cooper Wheelton of Lower Nabs Farm, Wildboardclough
NOOK – Joseph Joule of Nook Farm, Fernilee
OLLERENSHAW – James Hodgson of Ollerenshaw Farm, Whaley Bridge
OVERHILL – Henry Hodgson of Over Hill Farm, Fernilee
PYEGREAVE – T E Ollerenshaw of Pye Greave, Comb
SHININGTOR – Mr Hellier R H Gosselin-Grimshaw of Errwood Hall in the Goyt Valley
TISSINGTON – Sir Gilbert Greenall, Bart of Warrington
TORGATE – Charles Trueman of Tor Gate, Macclesfield Forest
TURNCLIFFE – Ralph Johnson of Turn Cliffe Farm, near Buxton