I hope you're not getting bored to tears over the snippets of information I find out while trawling through Ancestry 'cos I found an occupation I'd not come across before today.

A Sheep Dresser...no, he didn't put frocks on woolly sheep or socks...he was responsible for dressing the skin after the fleece or wool had been removed. Personally, the thought of spending my working day scraping fat off the skin of a sheep fills me with horror and he must have stunk to high heaven when he arrived home...though his hands were probably lovely and soft...

The side of the skin next to the wool was used for making into a strong leather known as 'skiver' and the side next to the flesh was used as vellum for writing manuscripts on. It had to be soaked in lime for a long time before being rubbed with pumice to make the surface smooth enough for a pen.

What always puzzles me is how did someone think of using the skin of an animal to make a form of material which could be written on? Would you immediately have a 'Eureka' moment while you were skinning a sheep or a calf and think...lets not waste the skin...we can soak it in lime and then rub it with pumice and let it dry and sell it to lawyers and monks to use for their important writing...that way we won't waste it and we'll make a few bob into the bargain.

Did somebody leave the skin of an animal they'd eaten lying about for a bit and realised that once it was dry they could make a decent pair of shoes from it? And while we're cobbling a new pair of shoes for the wife...what about this thin bit thats left over...might be alright to write on.

My sheep dresser lived in the mid 1800's in Kent in England but he was following a trade which had been practised for at least 1,500 years...

I used to have a little book which was used to note down who had paid their dues to the church...it was dated 1610 and the pages were made from vellum...the cover looked as though it was a very thin soft leather or chamois and it was precious to me but was lost many years ago now when Mother had a clear-out of rubbish. It had been given to me by a Rev.Milner who ought to have known better than to give such an item to a ten year old...but he knew I was passionate about history and maybe he thought little of its historical value. I used to look at the deer which sometimes came into Fathers fields and puzzle over how my little book could have possibly been made from their skin. The Rev Milner who wore his hair parted straight down the middle and was fond of sleeveless Fair-Isle jumpers...explained how the pages and the cover had been made. But it wasn't until today that I found out sheep skin was used for the same purpose.

Recipes...for a fruit cake for instance...can be tweaked and altered until you find the version you enjoy the most and which works...and the same can be said for roasting meat. Some people seer the joint in hot fat first...some rub mustard into the outside...recipes for food seem reasonably straight forward the way they evolve...but how did the people who first made vellum come across the idea...and how did they decide that the deer they'd just eaten over a fire in the middle of the forest would provide a material to write upon.

I can see that deer antlers could be easily made into rudimentary tools...they actually look like a simple spade or a hoe for your crops and with a bit of tweaking could be made into a spoon to eat your dinner from...but the skin? Apart from using it to keep you warm in your bed or to hang from the walls in a draughty castle to keep out the worst of the cold, it wouldn't occur to me to treat it sufficently to be used as a material to write upon...for scribes to put down the history of Ireland for instance. Or to keep a record of those who went to the scaffold...

Ancient people didn't rush about bopping each other on the head while grunting UGH...they must have been as inventive and as intelligent as some of the people of this age.

I very much doubt that my sheep dresser ever saw the results of his labour...he had many children and lived in a tiny tied cottage on the farm...he'd not have had the use for a smooth piece of vellum to write upon. Come to think..it's doubtful whether he could write.