A Sheep's Coat at Sunrise, A Man's Coat at Sunset

A disbelieving crowd gathers to watch as sheep are shorn for the making of the Newbury Coat. Painting by Luke Clift
A disbelieving crowd gathers to watch as sheep are shorn for the making of the Newbury Coat. Painting by Luke Clift

by Ray Setterfield


September 21, 1991 — A new record time was set on this day for shearing sheep and producing a wearable coat from the freshly shorn wool, all between sunrise and sunset on a single day.

The feat was first performed in June 1811 at Newbury, Berkshire. John Coxeter, a mill owner, was boasting that with his new mill machinery he could perform such a task. His boasting was overheard by Sir John Throckmorton, a baronet, who set a wager of 1,000 guineas that it could not be done.

A contemporary account* tells what happened:

"On the day above stated at 5 o'clock in the morning Sir John Throckmorton, a Berkshire baronet, presented two Southdown sheep to Mr. Coxeter. The sheep were immediately shorn, the wool sorted and spun, the yarn spool'd, warp'd, loom'd and wove. The cloth burr'd, mill'd, row'd, dy'd, dry'd, sheared and pressed.

"The cloth having thus been made in 11 hours was put into the hands of the tailors at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, who completed the coat at 20 minutes past six.

"Mr. Coxeter then presented the coat to Sir John who appeared with it the same evening at the Pelican Inn.

"It was supposed that upwards of 5,000 people were assembled to witness this singular unprecedented performance which was completed in the space of 13 hours and 20 minutes.

"Sir John and about 40 gentlemen sat down to a dinner provided by Mr Coxeter and spent the evening with the utmost satisfaction at the success of the undertaking."

(*Shepherds of Britain, published by Constable & Co, 1911).

Another account tells that Coxeter, to celebrate winning the bet, had the two sheep that had been sheared in the morning killed, roasted, cut up and then distributed among the crowd, along with 120 gallons of strong English ale.

The Kennet Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers decided in 1991 to emulate the feat using identical tools and did so at Newbury Agricultural Show, clipping the 1811 time and producing their coat in 12 hours 36 minutes and 26 seconds.

A further attempt was made in 2011 on the 200th anniversary of the Coxeter performance, but the project this time took 14 hours, 44minutes and 25 seconds.

The original fine tailored garment made in 1811 has become known as the Newbury Coat and can be seen at the Throckmorton family's ancestral home in Warwickshire. The coat made in 1991 can be seen at a museum in Newbury.

Published: September 12, 2018

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