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Tarry wool (what is it?)

14 Apr 00 - 10:35 AM (#211658)
Subject: Tarry wool
From: GUEST,aesop

What exactly is "tarry wool?" I sing the song which goes "Tarry wool is ill to spin/Card it well, card it well/Card it well e'er you begin". Does it actually have tar in i

14 Apr 00 - 11:00 AM (#211668)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool
From: IanC


I think it probably relates to the practice of tarring over cuts when shearing sheep. Clumsy shearers cut the sheep, it has to be tarred and this gets in the wool.

It wouldn't be very good to spin.



19 Apr 00 - 03:43 PM (#214466)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool

Thanks Ian

20 Apr 00 - 08:01 AM (#214923)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool
From: IanC

There's a mention of tarring over cuts in "Click go the shears". It's an Australian sheep shearing song to the tune of "Strike the bell".

06 May 13 - 11:44 PM (#3512433)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: GUEST,guest

Ha--I'm pretty excited as I've just discovered what tarry wool actually is!

Before the days of sheep dips, from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th, it was a known practice in Cumbria to "salve" sheep with a mix of tar and rancid butter. This involved parting the fleece at regular intervals along the animal's side and smearing the mixture onto the skin with one finger. It was done from the middle of October to the middle of November and was supposed to kill off lice, keds, ticks and so on which would otherwise feed on the sheep's skin or suck blood from her.

This practice is also mentioned in a couple of other sources, so I'm thinking it's pretty accurate.

One can well imagine that wool smeared with tar and butter would be "ill to spin."

07 May 13 - 04:18 AM (#3512473)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: Gutcher

Guest guest has the correct solution to the question of tarring sheep.
The tar used was Archangel tar which took its name from the port of that name where it was produced. It was distilled from wood as opposed to coal tar, this being obtained at gasworks and as the name implies was a byproduct from coal.
Archangel tar was used for tarring ropes to help preserve them in the days when they were made from natural products. Ropes thus treated were known to us as "tarry tow",--- tow rhyming with plough.
Unlike coal tar Archangel tar has a most distinctive and pleasant odour.

07 May 13 - 05:55 AM (#3512502)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: gnomad

Never heard the term "Archangel" tar before, but wondered from the description whether it might be similar to "Stockholm" tar which is familiar to many nautical folk. It turns out to be the same stuff, also known as "pine" tar. Useful stuff.

07 May 13 - 12:47 PM (#3512619)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)

The Scots traded with Archangel as far back as the 16th. C. This is probably why that name for the tar prevailed in these parts. As far as I remember Archangel was at one time the largest producer of wood tar in the world.
Often products would take their name from the port from which they were shipped,a good example being the red pine known as Memel Pine. The Forbes who built Craigievar Castle in the 17th. C. made extensive use of this timber with its distinctive grain when sawn through and through. He of course traded extensively with the Baltic States.

28 Apr 16 - 04:41 PM (#3787672)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: GUEST,David Holden

Tar would be put on cuts after the wool was cast, so it would'nt get on the wool that way. Herdwicks common in the Lake Distict, have very oily wool which is difficult to work with unless cleaned well,
which is possibly where the song is from.

28 Apr 16 - 07:01 PM (#3787696)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

"Guest: guest" got it right (06 May 13 - 11:44 PM, above) the process was called 'salving' or 'smearing' and was done to protect certain breeds from skin disease and other ill effects of winter pasturing & diet.

Exactly which pine tar from where got used in what recipe depended much on the politics and trade agreements of the year in question. eg: "Stockholm Tar" was the Swedish crown monopoly of "NorrlSndska TjSrkompaniet" (loosely: "The Wood Tar Company of North Sweden.")

Source: Tar Heel genes.
See also: The Rural Cyclopedia, Vol.4, Q-Z, Rev John M. Wilson, ed., (Edinburgh: A. Fullerton and Co., 1849, pp.135-138)

28 Apr 16 - 07:23 PM (#3787698)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: GUEST,henryp

Oxford Dictionaries; don't spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar
proverb Don't risk the failure of a large project by trying to economize on trivial things.
Referring to the use of tar to keep flies off sores on sheep (from dialect pronunciation of sheep as ship)

Tar put on cuts on sheep after shearing would not contaminate the fleece.

28 Apr 16 - 08:37 PM (#3787710)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

ICHTHAMOLYLE -is a standard healing ointment within my family for over a century and then soon more. (Splinter, glass, metallic, this "drawing out salve could work miracles")

Ammonium bituminosulfonate or ammonium bituminosulphonate is a product of natural origin obtained in the first step by dry distillation of sulfur-rich oil shale.)


worked bone-deep...even when the object was wood, unable to be read by x-ray and lodged at the insertion of the gastrocnemeous. Two weeks of fetid featuring, screams into a pillow, a proud scar that looks like a bullet hole from...the mean streets.

29 Apr 16 - 05:24 AM (#3787782)
Subject: RE: Tarry wool (what is it?)

Peter Kennedy recorded Lizzie Haygarth and Mrs Rowe singing Tarry Wool in Dent, Sedbergh, West Riding of Yorkshire on 23/11/54, and talking about "The Terrible Knitters of Dent".

The song may come from there, but perhaps it just appealed to the singers.

There aren't many songs about tarry shepherds appealing to young ladies. But tarry trousers were the trademark of sailors.

Courting too slow

For in there come a sailor all in his tarry trews
And he went into the chamber where my true love was;
He kissed her, then he clapped her, he flattered her so,
And he fair won the day by my courting too slow.

Banks of Inverness

By gazing on her features I could no longer stand.
Showed the mark on my little finger, which was on my right hand.
Then said Mary to her sailor, "Pull off that tarry dress.
Put on your true blue trousers on the banks of Inverness."

Tarry Trousers

"Daughter, I would have you marry
And live no longer a single life."
But she says, "Mother, I'd rather tarry
For my sailor boy so bright."

"My mother would have me wed a tailor
And rob me of my heart's delight,
But give me the lad whose tarry trousers
Shine to me like diamonds bright."

From Mainly Norfolk; Pilgrims' Way sang Tarry Trousers in 2010 on their eponymous debut EP, Pilgrims' Way and in 2011 on their CD Wayside Courtesies. They commented in their sleeve notes:

"A song from Frankie Armstrong, this feisty mother-daughter dialogue was once well-known, circulating as a broadside publication, and represents our second foray into transvestism. The tune is generally attributed to Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave, near Brentwood in Essex, as sung to Vaughan Williams, however we have speeded it up somewhat and added a bass line!

"Tar-boat enthusiasts Tom and Edwin can testify that real tarry trousers are not remotely as effective in attracting the ladies as this song might suggest."