The harsh life of a shepherd

Rouser 2013
Rouser 2013

This is David Tom Breach, shepherd of East Dean, with his fathful sheepdog. The photograph was taken in the village in the early 20th century.

Shepherding sounds like a romantic and idyllic life to us today but in fact it was an extremely harsh existence.

Shepherds were out in all weathers and hours were long. It was also usually poorly paid and sometimes casual.

Because of this, shepherds earned extra money where and when they could.

In the East Dean area they would trap small birds during the summer to sell, either as songbirds or as delicacies for the tables of the rich.

Some kind-hearted people would walk around the Downs finding these traps and would release the little captives, leaving in their place ‘the pence of ransom’ – a few coppers as price of the bird.

But huge numbers of birds were killed in this way and the practice only died out when the birds became too scarce to be worth hunting.