London’s Green Revolution: How Sheep Transformed the City’s Parks in the 1920s and 1930s

In the bustling metropolis of 1920s and 1930s London, an unconventional solution emerged to tackle the perennial problem of park maintenance. Sheep, yes, those woolly creatures typically associated with rolling countryside landscapes, found themselves thrust into the heart of the city.

Their mission: to act as natural lawnmowers, taming the lush grass of London’s iconic parks and saving both time and money.

Across Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Clapham Common, and other urban pastures, shepherds vied for the privilege of introducing their flocks to these green havens. The concept was ingenious – employ sheep as versatile lawn care multi-tools.

On the Strand. 1926.

As they grazed, they simultaneously aerated the ground with their hooves and enriched it with natural fertilizer in the form of urine and manure. This eco-friendly solution not only reduced the need for expensive mowing but also eliminated the emissions associated with traditional lawnmowers, as sheep required no gasoline or oil changes.

One notable shepherd, George Donald, made headlines when he transported his flock all the way from Aberdeen, Scotland, to London’s parks. The logistics of moving hundreds of sheep over a distance of more than 500 miles understandably raised eyebrows in Parliament.

Holding up traffic in the Aldwych. 1928.

Sir Harry Brittain, a member of the House of Commons, posed the pertinent question: “Were not any English sheep available?” Yet, despite initial consternation, Donald and his Scottish sheep became part of London’s unique green tapestry.

However, as with any unconventional solution, there were those who questioned the wisdom of employing non-native sheep. Concerns arose over the impact on local ecosystems and the potential for disease transmission. Consequently, these woolly lawnmowers faced their twilight years in the late 1950s when they were gradually phased out of the city’s parks.

In Hyde Park. 1929.

Yet, the story of London’s sheep-powered lawn care did not end there. In a remarkable twist of fate, these ovine landscapers have recently experienced a resurgence in popularity. In 2010, they made a triumphant return to one of London’s most beloved green spaces: Hampstead Heath.

This renaissance was driven by a growing eco-consciousness and a desire to explore sustainable alternatives to traditional maintenance practices. The introduction of sheep to Hampstead Heath was hailed as an environmentally friendly solution, echoing the practices of the past. Once again, the city dwellers could witness these gentle creatures at work, grazing harmoniously in the heart of London.

A flock of sheep head down the Kingsway in London. 1926.

Today, the sight of sheep munching on the green pastures of Hampstead Heath serves as a poignant reminder of a bygone era when London’s parks were tended to by unconventional but effective means.

The legacy of these woolly lawnmowers lives on, not only as a testament to innovative problem-solving but also as a symbol of London’s enduring commitment to embracing eco-friendly practices in an ever-changing world.

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