Woolly thoughts

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Strolling with my canine partners around the Bedales estate on these fresh May early mornings and starting to absorb the thoughts on nationhood and nationality springing from the election’s aftermath, I can’t help thinking about a particular kind of Englishness – one that beats no drum and certainly wouldn’t harm a fly – a timeless, pastoral Englishness that gripped Edward Thomas and Hardy (Dorset, not kiss me..) and that Shakespeare tapped into so brilliantly. This strand of nationality, essentially romantic, may have something in common with the romantic strands in Scottish nationalism, which is itself partly informed by landscape, poetry and music (and partly, less appetizingly, by anti-Englishness).

As I turn right by the school reception and head home past Butt’s Field, where our Jacob’s ewes and their 26 progeny are grazing and whose name comes from the time it would have been used by the men of Steep to do their longbow practice (firing their shafts at the butts/targets), I think back to an A Level English lesson I taught in the glassed box classroom that overlooks Butt’s field four years ago.

We were reading Act 3 Scene 2 of Henry IV Part 2 – where the two old Englishmen, Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, are reminiscing about their lives and talking about agricultural matters; Silence has just told Shallow that their mutual friend Double has died:

SHALLOW:  Jesu, Jesu, dead! A drew a good bow; and dead! A shot a fine shoot. John o’ Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head. Dead! A would have clapped i’th clout at twelve score, and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and fourteen and a half, that it would have done a man’s heart good to see. How a score of ewes now?

SILENCE: Thereafter as they be. A score of ewes may be worth ten pounds.

SHALLOW: And is old Double dead?

As we were reading this scene, Peter Coates was feeding the sheep: the timeless sights and sounds alongside us chimed with the Justices’ conversation. We were all constructively distracted as the cacophony of baa-ing and the sight of sheep outside – a properly remarkable scene.

There are other strands of Englishness that underpin the school – notably that of Locke, Paine and Orwell – but I suspect that the pastorally restorative and timeless side is one we can easily overlook.

Some of you will remember that the sheep combine with the Maths department to have the annual lambing probability test. This was announced by head of Maths, Michael Truss yesterday morning.

Question: based on i) the probability of a ewe lamb being born as 0.6 ; and ii) there being 12 male lambs and 14 female lambs, what is the probability of this outcome? Michael will be choosing the winning answer at random from all the correct ones later in the week.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.