Worshipful Company of Woolmen is still going strong
The sheep shearing competition season is now just around the corner, and keen young shearers all over the UK will be eagerly polishing their best combs ready for action. Quite often, keenest of all are the young junior grade shearers, who are just starting out in their careers.
For them, one of the greatest aspirations that they could hold is to win the Worshipful Company of Woolmen Junior Circuit. This circuit takes the top two shearers from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales (as placed in the Royal Ulster, Royal Bath and West, Royal Highland and Royal Welsh shows respectively), plus the two highest placed UK shearers at the Great Yorkshire Show. The ten qualifying shearers then compete at the Royal Welsh to decide the winner.
Most junior shearers are aware of the generous prizes this circuit offers – medals for the winner and runner-up, fantastic prize money for all semi-finalists and vouchers for British Wool Marketing Board (Wool Board) shearer training courses. They know that this circuit is kindly sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen because of the name. Few, if any, however are fully aware of just what this organisation is, or of its incredible history, or of the true depth and breadth of support that it gives to the wool industry.
The Worshipful Company of Woolmen was one of the first Livery companies established in Medieval London. These companies were basically trade bodies, set up to regulate and look after their respective trades.
The Woolmen's earliest records begin in 1180, and for hundreds of years it was one of London's wealthiest and most important Livery companies, at a time when wool was England's number one commodity. Wool, back then, was like oil today, and wool taxes paid for the building of the London Bridge and churches all over England.
Although the wool industry has suffered a massive decline since those days, the Worshipful Company of Woolmen is still going strong.
Today, Livery companies exist in more of a charitable role to support their respective industries, and particularly to help get young people started in them. The Worshipful Company of Woolmen provides support to three groups of young people: agricultural students, young shearers, and students in the textile industry.
Charles Brook, a former Master of the Woolmen, explained how they are conscientious about making sure the money they give goes to the people who matter, and that it is not wasted.
“I have made sure now that all the monies we give away go direct to people in terms of the winners of these junior competitions, the students at the colleges,” he said. “We give to the people.”
The prize money on offer to the young shearers is very generous - £1,600 split between the ten qualifiers. “Put it this way,” says Colin MacGregor, the Wool Board's Shearing Manager, “you're better being winner of that than you are being winner of the open in many competitions.”