For many centuries sheep have been washed in the spring & early summer, before shearing, to clean the fleece of the dirt, grit & grease which inevitably build up over the winter months. It should not be confused with the chemical sheep dipping which is a more recent practice, begun in the 19C, aimed at controlling parasitic infestation. Sheep washing usually involved driving the flock through a fenced off section of running water. Many localities had a traditional site for sheep washing, most were on local rivers or pools, but some villages used the mill pond or even a suitable stretch of a seaside beach. The men would spend hours waist high in cold water & each animal had to be totally immersed & scrubbed.
Jacob Grimmer (Dutch, 1525-6-1590) Landscape with Spring Sheep-Dipping Detail A woman helps wash the sheep in the water.
Able Grimmer (Flemish artist, c.1570–c.1619) Sheep Washing. A woman out of the pond holds a sheep.
Able Grimmer (Flemish artist, c.1570–c.1619) Four Seasons - Spring Sheep Dipping. Women help tend the sheep on the side of the water.