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A History of Carmarthenshire

Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

With the kind permission of the publishers sundry extracts from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks.

Here is a list of the book's contents and contributors.  

Agriculture;

 


AGRICULTURE

1. THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

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By G Dyfnallt Owen

"But nowadayes, yeomanry is decayed, hospitalitie gone to wracke and husbandrie almost quite fallen," wrote William Vaughan of Golden Grove in 1608, and he goes on to adduce his reasons for indulging in such a pessimistic generalization on the deplorable state of agriculture and the retrogression of rural communal life in Wales at the beginning of the 17th century. The reason is that landlords, "not content with such revenewes as their predecessours received nor yet satisfied that they live like swinish Epicures quietly at their ease, doing no good to the Commonwealth and do leave no ground for tillage, but do enclose for pasture many thousand acres of ground within one hedge, the husbandmen are thrust out of their owne, or else by deceit constrained to sell all they have. And so either by hook or by crook they must needs depart away, poore seely soules, men, women and children."

As a member of the Carmarthenshire gentry, Vaughan was too much of an idealist for his conception of the reciprocal obligations and duties of tenant and landlord to be accepted and practised by his contemporaries. But, he realised that the source of the countryside's wealth, and the true foundation of its material advancement lay in the preservation of a contented tenantry and in the maintenance of a progressive system of agriculture. To him, that system consisted of a well-balanced distribution of arable and pastoral farming ; any cessation in the cultivation of the soil or, on the other hand, any substantial decrease in the number of live stock he considered to be detrimental to the true interests of the rural inhabitants. And there is little doubt that a real apprehension of a possible decline in agriculture, coupled with despair and indignation, lies in his terse indictment of rural conditions in Wales in  1608.

For the causes of this apparent decay in rural operations in Carmarthenshire one must turn to the history of the shire under the Tudor regime, and here it is interesting to note that Vaughan refers to certain events of primary importance shown latterly to have contributed towards the transformation which overtook rural life and habits during the 16th century. The first, as he remarks, was the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the appropriation of their lands by the Crown, and the resultant exploitation and impoverishment of the tenants by the alien or local landlords who purchased or leased them.

The abbeys and priories of Carmarthenshire had, during the Middle Ages, been the recipients of numerous donations of land from native princes and members of the foreign aristocracy, and at the time of the Dissolution, they possessed extensive domains scattered throughout the countryside. Their administration of them was simple and followed the pattern of that of secular landowners. Their treatment of their tenants was considerably more considerate than that afforded by lay landlords. They were inclined to be conservative in the regularisation of the relationship between them and their dependents, rarely interfering with the customs which dictated the operations of farming, the payment of rent, and the tenure by which the tenants held their land.

In two important respects only had the monasteries allowed themselves to be affected by external changes in rural economy. Many duties and rents had been commuted into money, as were also many payments made in kind at various periods in the year. The monasteries had also commenced to follow the new fashion of leasing tenancies for a specified number of years, and including many of the customary perquisites and dues in the annual rent. By the time of the Dissolution, leasehold had become the general practice in most of the monastic territory, with the exception of that of Talley Abbey, which adhered to the old system of copyhold.

Despite these innovations, the relations between the monks and their tenants had remained cordial, and there was no indication that the latter were discontented with their lot, or were prepared to exchange it for any other. Moreover, it cannot be too often stressed that the monastic ownership of land was propitious to the development of agriculture in Carmarthenshire. The monks had always been practical exponents of the medieval theory that the welfare of society was intimately bound up with the proper and consistent cultivation of the soil. Thus, the Abbots of Whitland and Talley stipulated in their leases that their tenants should still pay certain dues in cereals, live stock, and dairy produce, thus ensuring the continuation of agrarian operations.

The advent of alien lay landlords destroyed the old intimacy which had existed on the monastic lands, and substituted a more rigorous discipline and a more materialistic outlook for the human and paternal attitude of the monks. The new landowners were the product of a new age, when social obligations were subordinated to financial considerations, and the ownership of land identified with social status and local political power and administrative influence. The policy of the Tudors in reorganising local administration and their sagacity in entrusting it to the rural squirearchy, with the proviso that those who assumed responsibility should possess sufficient land to maintain their new rank, associated land henceforth with wealth and power. In this way, the first breach was committed in the stability of the old monastic economy, which had to a great extent ignored the marketable value of land and had regarded the continuity of ownership as one of the indispensable conditions of social security and agrarian prosperity.

The same materialistic conception of the value of land also gradually dominated the minds of such lay landowners as were the descendants of old Welsh families in Carmarthenshire. In the universal scramble for estates that followed the Dissolution, they were the first to welcome the opportunity of adding to their own possessions (the Johns family of Abermarlais were particularly prominent) and took advantage of any abortive rebellion on the part of one of their number against the Crown to secure some portion of his confiscated estates. In the matter of land speculation, there was very little difference between them and the alien landowners who exploited Carmarthenshire in the 16th century.

As the century wore on, the precariousness of the economic position of the tenantry became more alarming. With the rise in prices, and the advance in the general standard of living, the profiteering disposition of the landlords, both alien and native, concentrated upon undermining the tenurial customs and monetary arrangements that had hitherto existed on lay and ecclesiastical estates alike.

They could circumvent in many insidious ways the obstructive features of a decayed manorial economy which, in their view, bore no relation to the exigencies of the times. On the manorial lands, they proceeded to repudiate the validity of the leases granted by the monks, contending that with the transference of the property to the Crown, these leases became automatically null and void. This argument was upheld by the royal courts, which subscribed to the view that the Dissolution invalidated all those arrangements concluded between the monks and their tenants, and that, should any dispute arise between parties who professed to hold by conventual and by royal leases, the former should be sacrificed in the interests of the Crown.

For example, an action was brought before the Court of the Exchequer by one William Phillip ap Ieuan, who held the mill of Tirnewydd grange by lease of its former proprietors, the monks of Whitland Abbey, against Griffith Lloid, who claimed it by a lease granted to Gilbert Gerrard by the Crown which he had inherited. The plaintiff argued that the conventual lease was a sufficient and legitimate proof of ownership, inasmuch as it was the act of a corporation whose leases had been recognised by Henry VIII. The defendant countered this claim by pleading that the Dissolution had converted all monastic property into Crown land, which could thus be leased at the will of the monarch. The Court of Great Sessions, in which the suit had been previously tried, upheld this view and had declared in favour of the Crown lessee.

Under these circumstances, former monastic tenants had no alternative but to submit to whatever conditions were imposed by their new masters. Usually, the latter retained the system of leasehold, but there was one important difference between the attitude of the monks and that of the secular lords in this connection. Whereas the monasteries showed a preference for long term leases, generally of ninety-nine years, as a means of securing a steady and continuous supply of money, the lay landlords considered it more expedient to issue short term leases with a view to increasing the fines and rents at the expiration of every lease and application for renewal. This was the beginning of that pernicious system of rackrenting, which reduced the Carmarthenshire tenantry to the penury deplored by William Vaughan.

The same position obtained on the lay estates, where leasehold was substituted for other forms of tenure, such as tenancy at will and customary freehold, the tenants being subjected to increased fines and rents with every renewal of the lease. The new system was hastened by the abolition or modification of old Welsh tribal custom and manorial practice and their replacement by English legal customs and forms of tenure. The disappearance of the old custom of Gavelkind which followed the Act of Union, and the substitution of the principle of Primogeniture for it, together with the insidious attacks upon the customary tenures, induced the tenantry, against their natural disposition to rely upon the impregnability of custom, to consider the feasibility of exchanging their old tenures into leasehold, which more or less placed them at the mercy of their lords.

The position of the tenantry at this time has been graphically described by George Owen, whose denunciation of the effects of the leasehold system upon the character of the peasantry in Pembrokeshire may be considered equally applicable to the conditions in Carmarthenshire. In his Description of Pembrokeshire, he says,

"For now the poor tenant that lived well in that golden world (that is, prior to the 16th century) is taught to sing unto his lord a new song, and the landlords have learnt the text of the damned disciple, quid vultis mihi dare et ego illum vobis tradam, and now the world is so altered with the poor tenant that he standeth so in bodily fear of his greedy neighbour that two or three years ere his lease end, he must bow to his lord for a new lease and must pinch it out many years before he heap money together, so that in this age it is as easy for a poor tenant to marry two of his daughters to his neighbour's sons as to match himself to a good farm from his landlord."

The second method adopted by the landlords on both monastic and secular lands to destroy the foundations of the old manorial economy was to subject the tenantry to illegal and irritating exactions which they could not resist, except by resort to law. The breakdown of the manorial system and the transition from manorial economy to the large estate economy during the 16th century, with its loopholes for exploitation, afforded a unique opportunity for the exactions imposed by the landlords. For instance, the tenants of the commote of Iscennen, in the lordship of Kidwelly, complained of the tendency of their bailiff to molest them in the payment of rents, and of his attempts to force them to pay their dues before the customary time.

Again, the freeholders of the manors of Cetheiniog, Mallaen, and Caeo had been accustomed to pay an amobyr or leirwite of ten shillings upon the first marriage of every daughter, and as long as the Crown kept this due in its own hands, it was regularly and consistently paid. But, it was leased to Robert Davy, the Receiver General of South Wales, who, in turn, leased it to Robert Hopkins of Llanwrda. It was not long before the latter transformed it from a customary due into a tax upon almost every marriage in these manors, irrespective of the question whether the father of the bride were dead, or whether it was her second or third marriage. In one case, he had levied it upon a tenant who had married the daughter of a freeholder who had been dead for five years, and, upon his refusing to pay, had distrained upon the tenant under whose roof the pair were lodged, and had seized a gelding. A protest was sent to Robert Davy, the Receiver General, to inform him of this contravention of a customary payment, but he refused to interfere, and the tax was reluctantly paid. Other tenants had suffered from the illegal imposition of this due, accompanied by threats of distraint and legal action.

Evictions, extortion of gifts of money and kind, and the infliction of irritating demands upon the tenantry, together with the complete disregard of tradition and custom, became the main features of the administration of the new landlords. Among the wealthier gentlemen, it was the custom either to take possession of the documents which confirmed the tenancy of the intended victim of assault and then to expel him, or to evict him without troubling to relieve him of the proofs which might undo their work. For instance, Rees Gwyn of the town of Old Carmarthen, formerly a possession of the priory, complained that, although he had been leased certain tenements, he had been forcibly ejected by Griffith Hygon, an influential merchant of New Carmarthen, his wife, and twenty-four other persons fully armed. At Eglwyscymyn, the rector of the parish and an accomplice entered upon a certain tenement with a view to appropriating it. On meeting the tenants, an altercation ensued, during which the rector, who was armed with a heavy staff, assaulted the tenants, drove them before him as far as a hedge, and struck one of them such a severe blow on the head that he left him seriously wounded on the ground. At Llanfihangel Abercywyn, the widow of a tenant who had been killed on active service in the Low Countries, was evicted from her husband's lands by two prosperous landowners in that locality, despite the fact that she was burdened with five children.

Two methods remained open to the tenants to resist their landlords, and both ultimately added to the impoverishment of their holdings. One was an appeal to force and to retaliatory measures. This opposition more often took the form of a passive resistance to the coercive policy of the landlords than of active reprisals, and demonstrated itself in a refusal to pay the dues or perform the duties demanded. For instance, the tenants of some of the granges of Talley Abbey, leased by Sir Henry Jones, refused to pay their dues, and repudiated the ancient custom of suit and service at the grange mill. A similar reluctance to grind their corn at the grange mill was displayed by the tenants of a former Whitland Abbey grange---Rhuddlan Teifi. Usually, the tenants of leased monastic lands contented themselves with refusing to pay their rents, until threatened by legal action.

On the Crown estates and those of the lay landlords, there was a more widespread movement for the relaxation of duties and the evasion of services. In the manor of Llandovery, some of the tenants declined to abide by an old custom that the lands of a tenant who died without issue should escheat to the Crown. In the manors of Newcastle Emlyn and Llandovery, they refused to grind their corn at the manorial mills, and allowed them to fall into decay. Most of these cases of the deliberate withdrawal of customs and dues were of a pacific nature, but it sometimes happened that an attempt on the part of an unpopular landlord to reimpose them on his tenants led to a hostile demonstration by the latter.

For the most part, however, the tenantry preferred to resort to litigation and brought their complaints to the notice of the royal courts. Those who had suffered from the rapacity of the landlords soon became aware of the value of the courts of Chancery, Exchequer, Equity, and Star Chamber, and during the reign of Elizabeth the number of suits from Carmarthenshire, as from West Wales in general, grew rapidly. But the comparative ease with which actions could be brought from Carmarthenshire to London, and tried with impartiality at these courts, was a privilege and a means of legal redress which could be, and sometimes was, much abused.

Thus, the Carmarthenshire tenantry was subjected on all sides to the active hostility and subterfuge of landlords and land speculators alike, and, as Vaughan points out, the law did not help them very much to defend their interests. On the contrary, it aggravated their financial difficulties, and it was this aspect of litigation that incensed him. Not only did he rebuke the disputatious element amongst the tenantry, * but he remonstrated against the tyranny of the courts of law at large and the rapacious methods of their officials.

"We are subiect to more inconveniances than the English Nation ; for we stand in feare (and our feares are not in vaine) continually without intermission to be sued at the Courts of Westminster, at the Counsell of the Marches, at the Spirituall Courts at home and in London, notwithstanding that we have the Courts of Assize of double the terme then they have in England, besides our Quarterly Sessions of the Peace, our Countie and Stewards Courts. Nor yet have I ended all the afflictions of poore Wales. Within these two and twentie yeeres, the number of Clerkes and Sollicitours, at the Counsell of the Marches, have encreased so exorbitantly, if not prodigiously, that, whereas I knew not above one or two of these Clerkes in a Shire, now I can point at a doozen and more in most Shires, whereof many of them have three or foure Foot posts, which they call Cursitors, belonging unto every of them, whose office is continually to runne for Processes ; insomuch that one of these Clerkes sent for a hundred and fortie Processes against one of their times called the Appearance, for they sit ofner than Westminster, the most part of them for matter not appertaining to the Iurisdiction of that Court. I have knowne men sued for a shilling and under to that remote place. . . ."

and here Vaughan definitely associates the decline of agriculture with the growth of litigation,

". . . If the Occasions of Suites were taken away, men would follow their Husbandry diligently at home, fall to enclosures, plant Orchards, marle their lands and not scratch the Earth with weake Heyfers or Steeres. They might then keepe strong oxen to plough withall, which now they are enforced to sell for their Lawiers' use."*

* Vaughan, The Golden Fleece, Part ii, c. 6, "Nowadayes, we reare up two legged Asses which doe nothing but wangle in Law the one with the other. By this meanes we consume our precious time not to be redeemed. By this ungracious brood we become so impoverished."

The reference to enclosures, as a means of improving agriculture, seems to conflict with Vaughan's reprimand of the landlords for surrounding large tracts of land with hedges and evicting the cultivators who formerly dwelt upon them. Here it must be explained that he was definitely in favour of enclosures, but for the progress and development of tillage no less than for pasture and the breeding of sheep for their wool. He opined that commons, mountains, wastes, and heaths could produce much more, if they were enclosed and cultivated properly. The idea---a prevalent one at that time---of converting potential arable land into deer parks was abhorrent to him, especially as he estimated that twenty acres of enclosed ground would produce more cereals than a hundred acres of waste or "confused" ground.

Vaughan's criticism, it must be stated, was not applicable to the enclosure movement in Carmarthenshire during the 16th century. There was practically no converting of arable into pasture ground, while many parts of the shire remained immune from the changes produced by the movement, their methods of land cultivation continuing along the old lines throughout the century. In reality, there was very little need for this replacement of arable by pasture. One of the features of South Wales, according to an English writer of the  16th century, was that it "be very barayne, for there is muche waste and wast ground, consydering there is maryses and wylde and high mountaynes," and there is little doubt that the hills of North Carmarthenshire and the wide stretches of moorland in the west of the shire presented an abundance of pasture for the flocks and herds of the tenants, as well as for those of their landlords, which were numerically greater. The problem of finding sufficient grass for sheep, or of securing more and more pasture for the promotion of sheep farming, never entered into the calculations of Carmarthenshire landowners, as in mid-England, where the presence of so many manors necessitated a stricter definition of meres and bounds. The development of sheep farming and breeding in Carmarthenshire was not hindered by a shortage of pasture, but rather stimulated by the availability of numerous sheep walks. This is one of the reasons why so little is heard of the progress of sheep farming in the shire. If it had resulted in the eviction of the tenants and the depopulation of the rural districts, there would probably have been as great an outcry and protest as there had been in England, and the law courts at Westminster would have been further inundated by suits against the landlords. But the comparative fewness of complaints of enclosures, and the complete absence of accusations against the landowners for converting arable into pasture, can only confirm the conclusion that the enclosure movement in the shire was one of secondary importance, and was in no way detrimental to the cultivation of the soil. The movement took two forms, namely, the separation of land by means of hedges, fences, and ditches, and the accumulation of property in fewer hands, both of which made for the partial or complete disintegration of the old open field system of farming and the emancipation of the individual farmer from communal control.

An examination of the surveys made in 1609 of three of the Whitland Abbey granges in the hands of the Crown will reveal that the enclosure movement had made little impression on the tenants, and that they preferred to leave their lands unenclosed. In addition, it provides irrefutable proof that arable land predominated over pasture even in those portions which had been set aside from the rest of the grange territory.

As in the case of the monastic granges, the demesne lands of the secular landlords were the first to feel the effects of the enclosure movement, for it was imperative that they should be safeguarded as effectively as possible against the encroachments of the tenants, who were diligently casting their eyes around to find small pieces of land which might serve to increase their tenements. In the manor of Llandovery, the demesne had been separated into three small closes of pasture and meadow, one of which contained twenty acres and another seven ; they were not, however, in the hands of the lord of the manor, but had been granted to one of the tenants to be held at will. The demesnes of other royal manors in Carmarthenshire had been the special object of the predatory activities of the tenantry. In the lordships of Llanstephan and Penrhyn, two or three tenants had enclosed considerable strips of land. For instance, Thomas John Howell, a freeholder of Penrhyn, had enclosed a meadow and a piece of marshland called Dolhir of two acres, belonging to the royal forest known as Fforest Ganol, as well as sixty other acres. Another tenant, Thomas John Thomas, had enclosed a part of a wood called Coed y Ffa to the extent of four acres ; John Griffiths, four acres ; Thomas Morris Thomas, a parcel of land and wood of one acre near the ferry ; and Gwenllian Richards and Rees Barret, two acres near Marbillchurch. In Llanstephan itself, the same Thomas Morris Thomas had enclosed two acres called Rowsedowne, and two parcels of land at the Foreland near the Ferry, as well as a small meadow of two acres near Morfa Mawr.

In the royal forest of Glyncothi, the tenants of the royal manors in the locality had encroached on the Crown property, had destroyed an immense number of trees, and had enclosed the deforested portion of the woods. But it is interesting to note that, in the majority of cases, these enclosed strips of land had been turned into arable. It is evident that, to some extent, the value and utility of the acres that had been cleared of wood lay in the natural fertility of the soil and their adaptability to contemporary methods of cultivation.

The process by which portions of the common and waste were enclosed and held in separate and individual ownership, a development which created such an uproar in 16th century England, had its repercussions in Carmarthenshire, and some of the disturbances and acrimonious legal disputes can be attributed to the curtailment of the commons at the hands of both landlords and individual tenants. To the tenants of Rees ap Griffith at Carmarthen, who possessed no commons of their own, but were permitted to share the commons of the town of Carmarthen, any restriction of their recognised privileges would have spelt disaster. And this was true of the tenantry as a whole. They were essentially a class of land cultivators, who possessed small tenements, in which arable predominated over both meadow and pasture. The commons and waste were indispensable for the good tillage and husbandry upon which their whole livelihood depended, especially in those mountainous and moorland areas where the soil could only be cultivated at great expense of time and labour. All soil which was accessible was ploughed, with the exception of a few meadows, where the hay crops were needed as fodder ; the remainder of the grange and manorial land which stretched on all sides of the cultivated field was regarded as absolutely necessary for the sustentation of the tenants' horses, oxen, cattle, and sheep. To deprive them of the common of pasture, or at least to limit it by enclosing the common, would entail a corresponding difficulty in maintaining the live stock.

Gradually, however, the commons became the scene of incessant encroachments and enclosures, which the tenants were unable to prevent by judicial action. According to the testimony of Gerard Bromley, who surveyed the lordship of Kidwelly in 1609,

"it appeareth that anncyently there were very lardge and greate Comons and wasts w'thin the sayde Lo's out of which it should seeme greate inclosures and Incroachments have byne made by the Tenants borderinge uppon them By wch his Maties Rents oughte to be improved. But it havinge byne donne longe since it seemeth not possible to discover them"

---a description which portrays admirably the attitude of the royal officials towards the enclosure movement. They did not deplore the spread of enclosures, with their evils of evictions and depopulation ; they were prepared to accept them as the inevitable concomitants of the growth of commercialism and land exploitation ; they saw in them an excellent method for the reclamation of land which had hitherto been unprofitable waste. This, in turn, would produce higher rents and a corresponding increase in the Crown revenue. It was not the curtailment of the right of the common of pasture which affected them, but the fact that many tenants had concealed their enclosures from the official eye, and still paid the old rents for property that had obviously increased in acreage.

In the Kidwelly survey of  1609, there are numerous references to enclosures of common land. Henry Vaughan had enclosed a part of the common on the south side of Allt Cunedda, which belonged to the borough of Kidwelly, and upon the slopes of which the freeholders had enjoyed common of pasture from time immemorial ; he had converted some seven acres of it into closes. At Morfa Pen y Sarn---a common in the neighbourhood of Carmarthen, probably near the present village of Pensarn---the burgesses and corporation of New Carmarthen had appropriated a large stretch of land, an unequalled example of audacity in view of the fact that they were encroaching on land which had always been in the possession of the lordship of Kidwelly. Another common at Llanelly, known as Y Bryn Bach, had also been enclosed by one William Dame ; a smaller common of half an acre in the same parish had suffered a like fate at the hands of John Gwyn Jenkin, who, however, was paying one shilling annually to Anthony Morgan, gentleman, for the privilege. In the manors of Llanedi, Llannon, and Llangennech, several enclosures had been made by the tenants on the common of Mynydd Bach, where one of them had erected a cottage on the two acres which he occupied ; while, at Llandybie, Phillip Vaughan had added five acres of the mountain common called Mynydd Mawr to his tenement. Again, the common at Mynydd Kyborth had been enclosed by Sir John Vaughan, while David Vaughan had discovered another profitable method of transacting business with his tenants on the basis of leasing common of pasture. Prior to his advent to Llanddarog parish, many of the tenants had held lands from the family of the Donnes, and had been permitted to pasture their cattle on the neighbouring waste without paying rent. Vaughan bought the property, and, claiming the waste as part of the purchased estate, imposed on the tenants a rent of 13/4 for their use of it.

In North Carmarthenshire, following an inquisition held at the manor of Caeo in 1581  to examine the condition of the waste land within the parish of Cynwyl Gaeo, it was announced by the jury that it had formerly consisted of fifty-one acres of mountain land and twenty acres of meadow, each acre being worth a penny annually. By the year of the inquisition, however, it had been completely enclosed by hedges and ditches, the work of one of the tenants, David Thomas Llywelyn ap Howell, a yeoman, who had separated, enclosed, and fenced half of it in 1569, and the other half in 1572, under the pretence that it was his private property. In the manor of Llanddowror, a bitter quarrel broke out between the lessee of the manor, Morgan Phillip, and his neighbour, Sir John Perrot of Laugharne, concerning a portion of waste land belonging to the former. Both gentlemen had covenanted to exchange lands, whereby Sir John would receive part of the waste land of Llanddowror to enable him to realise his cherished design of creating a large deer park in his manor of Laugharne. Owing to some fraudulent dealing on Sir John's part, the scheme of exchange fell through, but he was determined to allow nothing to prohibit him from proceeding with his original plan. He intruded upon the waste land, and hired a number of Herefordshire men to enclose a large section of it. Morgan Phillip retaliated by ordering his tenants to destroy the hedge, and they had rased some twenty perches of it before being interrupted by Sir John's men. As a result, there was much bickering between the two lords of the manor before the matter was finally brought before the Court of the Star Chamber.

Apart from a few disorders, the tenants of Carmarthenshire seemed to have accepted the enclosure movement with equanimity, partly because it did not interfere with the normal routine of the cultivation of the soil, and partly because they themselves welcomed it as a means of increasing and consolidating their lands, and upholding and intensifying the principle of private ownership. It was not a universal movement in the sense that it was indiscriminately adopted by landlords and tenants alike to further their personal ends, for, while it may have affected the lives of the tenants of certain inland and coastal manors, it does not seem to have penetrated into the more remote manors of the shire. For instance, there are no indications that it in any way influenced the economic life of such lordships as those of Llandovery and Newcastle Emlyn. It was also largely, though not exclusively, directed towards a more progressive husbandry and not towards the substitution of sheep farming for tillage, as in England. There was neither depopulation nor a campaign of eviction in Carmarthenshire as a result of the enclosure movement. On the contrary, the yeoman class fixed its roots deeper in the soil, owing to the disappearance of the old system of communal ownership which enclosures expedited. There is also evidence that the tenants themselves applied the principle of enclosure to their own individual tenements, or portions of them, with greater alacrity and avidity than did the squires to their own estates, sparing neither common nor demesne in their efforts to accumulate more land. It was from this proprietary attitude of theirs that the characteristic land hunger of their descendants arose and became intensified in the course of the next three centuries.

The growth of the export trade from the port of Carmarthen, and the nature of the commodities shipped overseas, throw a very interesting light on the problem of progressive farming during the latter half of the 16th century.

From the middle of the century, when Leland had stated in his Itinerary that the port of Kidwelly, owing to the silting up of the harbour, was being rapidly supplanted by Carmarthen, the latter had forged ahead by leaps and bounds and had become generally recognised as the most convenient and the most admirably situated place for both coasting and foreign trade. It was sufficiently distant from the sea to be immune from molestation by pirates, who were particularly active along the coast of West Wales at this period,* but at the same time, it stood on the banks of a tidal river, which was wide and deep enough to.................

*The French and Breton seamen were the worst offenders in this respect, but many Carmarthenshire men were guilty of actual piracy or of aiding and abetting. The Government were informed of their irregular actions, and instituted an inquiry in 1577 (Calendar of State Papers Domestic, 1549-1580, p. 567). The commissioners appointed for the inquiry seem to have executed their duty thoroughly, for in 1579 the Government was able to name certain persons guilty of selling pirates' goods in the shire, and to declare the value of their lands and chattels (Ibid., 1566-1579). At times, the Carmarthen men retaliated against foreign pirates. In 1552 the Privy Council despatched a letter to the Mayor of the town, demanding the release of a Breton ship, if it was found upon inquiry that it had been illegally detained by one from the port.

.........................carry ships of a substantial tonnage to and fro. Moreover, it was the gateway to a long and accessible valley which traversed an immense agricultural hinterland almost to the walls of Brecon and upon which all the subsidiary valleys, rich in arable and pastoral produce, converged. It was thus natural that the town should gradually come to occupy a position of pre-eminence as a port, for all merchandise bound for inland towns had to be conveyed along roads which radiated from Carmarthen in all directions. For a long time, also, the ancient reputation of the town had been enhanced by its position as the administrative and judicial centre of West Wales. This aspect of the history of the old town should not be overlooked, for, with the growth of inland commerce and foreign trade, mercantile and civil law assumed increasing importance, and the proximity of the Royal Courts in Carmarthen made it desirable that commercial enterprise should maintain as close a contact with them as possible, so as to solve the numerous and complicated problems arising from illegalities caused by trade rivalry.

Under the early Tudors, a great deal had been done to establish law and order in Welsh mercantile affairs. The defences of the Welsh coasts had been repaired and improved to some extent, and under Elizabeth strong measures were adopted to suppress piracy. The machinery for the administration of the Customs Revenues had been overhauled and reorganised, and Welsh ports and creeks had been grouped, according to their importance, into Head or Legal Ports. One of these was established at Milford, while Carmarthen was selected as a most suitable place for a Custom House. It is from the records and Port Books of this Custom House that it is possible to demonstrate the transition which characterised the Carmarthenshire export trade in the last half of the 16th century.*

During the Middle Ages, trade with France had formed the main branch of the overseas commerce, and it continued to do so during this century. Formerly, it had been, for the most part, inward trade connected with the salt and wine products from La Rochelle and other ports, but with the exploitation of coal in the Pembrey district, outward traffic developed considerably. Between 1566 and 1603 about fifty­eight ships carried salt, wine, tar, fruits, and, other goods to Carmarthen, while some eighty-nine barks left the port for France, Ireland, and Scotland, carrying corn, coal, and provisions of all kinds.

The coasting trade also witnessed a great development, and it was in this department of maritime intercourse with other English and Welsh shires that the most important change took place. The greater part of the inward traffic from Gloucester, Bristol, Tewkesbury, and other ports had consisted of barley malt and cereals, and this despite the fact that agriculture was the main industry within Carmarthenshire and the mainstay of the greater part of its population. When one considers that even the inhabitants of Carmarthen itself cultivated allotments of land outside the town walls and subsisted to a great extent on their produce, it seems hardly credible that they should have found it necessary to import such considerable quantities of foodstuffs as those recorded in the Customs returns.

The reason was that the shire suffered from periodic visitations of famine, and that the amount of crops raised in the countryside was not sufficient to meet the exigencies of a temporary scarcity of corn. It was found that the sole effective method of counteracting the threat of famine was an appeal for Government intervention. And the Government was quick to respond, for it dreaded nothing more than that the inhabitants should censure it for its apathy or administrative ineptitude and thus bring about a conflict between the central authority and provincial sentiment.

Thus, in 1550, the Privy Council decreed that the Mayor of Bridgwater, and the Justices of the Peace of Gloucester and the Forest of Dean should permit the inhabitants of Carmarthen to import corn for their own use from time to time. In 1573, the shire was again in distress, and the inhabitants were allowed to infringe the law against the transportation of cereals from one shire to another, and to procure what they considered to be sufficient. In 1586, they were in exceptionally desperate need of corn, and a further appeal was forwarded to the Privy Council on their behalf. On this occasion one of their number, Richard Nash, undertook to purchase malt and corn from Gloucestershire, Bristol, London, Southampton, and Hampshire, and to give securities that he would convey them directly to the famished shire, and not dispose of them elsewhere. Periods of scarcity were thus quite common in the county and would account for the monotonous repetition of cereals in the discharge of commodities recorded at Carmarthen port.

Gradually, however, inward corn traffic decreased, and shipments of oats and barley appeared more frequently in the outgoing traffic. In time, this attracted the attention of the Government, who were apprehensive of any surreptitious export to the arch-enemy of those days---Spain. In 1591, the Privy Council ordered the cessation of the transportation of corn and butter from the shire to Spain, and excused the order on the grounds that it might lead to a local scarcity. To counterbalance this prohibitive decree, which might prove detrimental to the interests of the Carmarthen merchants, the Council tactfully suggested that neighbouring counties and not foreign countries and potential enemies should receive the benefit of a surplus amount of both commodities.

Five years later, the Council found another pretext---and a most justifiable one---to reprimand the shire for acting contrary to the interests of the State in the matter of corn. In a letter to the mayor, the Council remarked that

"wee are informed that you do under cullour of your priviledges and chartres ingrosse great store of corne and make more quantity of barley mault than all the rest of the shere and in like manner permitt the farmers and corne masters to . . . their corne in your towne, whereby the price of grayne is inhaunced, and the corne bestowed there is sold to suche as transporte the same out of the shere to the great offence of the inhabitants."

It is not surprising that such unscrupulous tactics on the part of the merchants led to the increase in the price of corn of 50 per cent, malt 30 per cent, and oats 25 per cent between 1583 and 1603 and that in 1597, corn was so excessively dear that it was sold at Carmarthen at forty shillings a bushel, while barley realised 28/8.

Nevertheless, these events suggest that by the end of the 16th century, Carmarthenshire had become more or less self-supporting in grain, and could afford to export its arable and pastoral produce to other shires and across seas. This must be attributed, in a large degree, to a greater application and persistence in the cultivation of the land.


2. THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

By G Dyfnallt Owen

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There is very little evidence of any marked advance in the methods of farming and in rural life and habits in Carmarthenshire between the death of Elizabeth and the latter half of the 18th century. Contented, more or less, with the acquisition of broad estates and their preponderating influence as local magnates, the landlords proceeded to settle down to enjoy the fruits of their expropriatory and speculative labours, and to take a greater interest in local and national politics, until the advent of the Great Rebellion forced them to face the reality of a momentous constitutional crisis. It was during this breathing space between the incessant exploitation of land, which lasted until the end of the 16th century, and the outbreak of the Civil War that the rural life of the shire assumed a static condition which remained, to a great extent, unaffected either by the vicissitudes of the war or by agricultural improvements successfully carried out in other parts of the country.

The rural classes, after the agrarian upheaval of the preceding sixty years, slowly disintegrated and resolved themselves into strictly defined categories of land cultivators, each occupying a specific position in the community, which was dictated by economic circumstances and corresponding social status. The social line of demarcation between them was primarily drawn between the landowners who lived by farming their possessions and those who depended for their income upon rents and profits. But this distinction was emphasised by other qualifications and considerations, such as the length and purity of family pedigree, connection with older aristocratic families, the occupation of important administrative offices like those of Sheriff, Lord Lieutenant, and Justice of the Peace, and, lastly, by the scale and character of the domestic establishment.

The class of gentry was already separated from the yeomen and less important farmers, and formed an order apart. They possessed prejudices, privileges, and notions that tended to make them more and more exclusive, and enabled them to assume social importance in the same way as they had obtained the political power of the older aristocracy. They had long shown that they were favourably impressed by the materialistic conception of their superior position in rural society which had percolated over the border into Carmarthenshire, and had not hesitated to put precept into practice. Now, they began to assimilate or subordinate their old culture to that which prevailed in contemporary England. They studied at the older English universities, participated in court life and functions, imbibed ideas which were alien to the mental outlook of their countrymen, and in time became so completely anglicised in language and thought that they could find no sympathy for the aspirations and ideals of the lower rural classes, which remained essentially Welsh in spirit and tongue. The disappearance of mutual understanding and respect between the landlord and his native dependants sometimes took a violent form, as in the case of the second Lord Carbery of Golden Grove, who, on one occasion, maltreated his tenants in a particularly inhuman fashion, by cropping their ears, cutting out their tongues, and dispossessing them of their land. Such extremes of cruelty would not have been tolerated in the old days, when the Welsh tribal system provided a link of warm affection between the chieftain and his dependants, and encouraged a sense of duty and obligation on his part and on theirs.

On the other hand, it would be erroneous to suppose that this inhumanity was characteristic of the Carmarthenshire gentry. William Vaughan, younger brother of the same Lord Carbery, was his antithesis. Not only was he a cultured person, of wide and progressive views, but his unflagging concern for the fate of the farmers of the shire, and Wales in general, led him to propagate a scheme for the solution of their economic difficulties. Encouraged by the apparent success of colonising expeditions to Virginia and other places on the mainland of America, he proposed that a settlement should be founded in the southernmost part of Newfoundland where impecunious agriculturists should be conveyed gratuitously and permitted to cultivate the soil in peace and quiet. Vaughan is said to have visited Newfoundland and to have given the name of Cambriol to the colony, but, although he devoted all his fortune to the enterprise, it proved to be a failure.

Broadly speaking, the estates of the Carmarthenshire gentry were not of the first order. Some were extensive in area, but, from the standpoint of annual revenue, they did not stand in the first rank. The best piece of evidence on this point is afforded by an examination of the list of baronetcies conferred from the reign of James I up to 1682. James had created this order with a view to replenishing his depleted treasury, and offered it to all persons of good repute, whether knights or squires, who possessed lands which brought in a thousand pounds a year. About two hundred baronets were created in his reign, and by 1682, over 866 had received the honour. During this period, however, only five out of the thirty-seven Welsh baronets were Carmarthenshire landlords. This suggests that the majority of them were relatively well-to-do people, whose income from their lands would vary between five hundred and a thousand pounds annually.

Despite any disparity of rent roll, however, the gentry recognised that an affinity of interests was a sufficient bond to link them, and this bond was strengthened by intermarriage and the consolidation of family influence and authority. For instance, there was great matrimonial activity between the old native aristocratic families and the alien land speculators. John Vaughan of Golden Grove had married the daughter of Gelly Meyrick, the supporter of the Earl of Essex in his abortive rebellion against Elizabeth. Francis Mansel of Muddlescombe had wedded the daughter of Alban Stepney, who had acquired a great deal of property in the neighbourhood of Llanelly and Kidwelly ; while Walter Rhys of Newton had taken the daughter of Edward Mansel to wife. By this time, also, the Phillipses of Kilsant, the Vaughans of Cwmgwili, and the Herberts of Castell Pigyn had joined forces with the rich landowning classes, and presented a solid front to any encroachment upon their privileged position.

This increasing exclusiveness in status and wealth was accompanied by an increase in comfort and a higher standard of living. The beginnings of this movement can be detected as far back as 1531, when the hall of Dynevor castle was paved with "fflaundrys tile," while the list of commodities discharged at Carmarthen during the 16th century affords an idea of what the resident gentry conceived to be indispensable to their gastronomic and house furnishing taste. The cargoes consisted of soap, pewter, vinegar, sugar, fruit of all kinds, ginger, marmalade, bedsteads, brass goods, playing cards, pins, buttons, chests, trunks, earthenware, in addition to wines and other liquors. One may be sure that, although some of these were requisitioned by the wealthy merchants of Carmarthen, a considerable percentage was despatched to country houses and manors. A superior degree of internal comfort and external appearance inevitably followed increasing importance in rank, and the entertainment of highly-placed government officials and influential personages by the county aristocracy would not have been contemplated by the most ambitious amongst them, had not the amenities of the Carmarthenshire manors come near those of English country houses. And no distinguished traveller need have complained of the variety of beverages which Dinely describes as having been in common practice in North Carmarthenshire :

"The rich are happy and high to an extreme ... those of estates have their tables well spread, French wines (clarets especially) plenty and good at the rate of £5 per hogshead as I was informed. They have choice wines of their own growth off the mountains which the Welsh gentlewomen make of Resberries which abound in these parts. But, as usquebauh is in the kingdom of Ireland, so the celebrated liquor here is Punch, which they make to a miracle."

The Great Rebellion and the Civil War had some effect in regard to the formation of new, and the destruction of old, landed estates. The Carmarthenshire gentry were, as a rule, Royalist, but there was much uncertainty and tergiversation on the part of individuals and families. It was suggested, for instance, that Carbery, who professed himself a Royalist, made no extraordinary attempt to defend the king's interests in the shire, and allowed himself deliberately to be intimidated by inferior numbers. Whatever can be put forward in explanation of his conduct, he succeeded in ingratiating himself with Cromwell, even to the extent of receiving a present of stags from him to furnish the Golden Grove Park.* He escaped sequestration, and, owing to his immense authority within the shire, was able to prevent many of the gentry from espousing the Royal cause too seriously. It is probably this fact that accounts for the comparative immunity of the shire from parliamentary expropriation of land.

On the whole, little estate was brought into the market, there was no rush of newcomers into the county, no wholesale splitting up of properties, and no extinction of families, while, from 1688 onwards, no political troubles interfered with the operation of the economic and general causes which made for the increase of the wealth and power of the landed classes down to 1850. From the restoration of Charles the Second to the latter half of the 19th century, it may be said that the Carmarthenshire gentry continued to fulfil their administrative duties, to collect their rents and dues, to protect their own interests assiduously, and to enjoy the amenities and facilities which their wealth and position conferred upon them.

The continuity of the existence of those who lived by cultivating the soil and extracting enough from it to pay their rents and to live did not suffer much change during this period. The freeholders were, perhaps, the most fortunate members of this class. Many of them had only small parcels of land which they tilled themselves, while others had freeholds of considerable size. Socially, some of them ranked with the gentry, and many of their children became associated with the latter through intermarriage or as the possessors of extensive estates, and became assimilated to them in speech, manners, and comforts. In this way, the freehold class had a more prolonged existence than in England, and has not yet entirely disappeared. Nevertheless, with the tendency towards larger estates and the accumulation of land in fewer hands, the freeholders, whose annual rentroll was small, began to lose ground during the 17th century. Many of them sank to the position of small farmers ; others sold their land to more prosperous neighbours or were forced to sell out owing to mortgages. Subjected to vexatious demands on their time and money by the State, and to the undisguised hostility of the wealthier landowners, who resented their independent attitude towards politics and formalised religious worship, they were unable to withstand the pressure of the rule of the great families, which was the rule of the landed interest, and their numbers slowly dwindled.

The leaseholders and others who held by various forms of tenancy were rarely interfered with, except when the landlords chose to raise their rents. They continued to perform their customary duties, and to pay their customary dues, attended the Courts Leet and Courts Baron as they had always been accustomed to do, and on the whole were exemplary in their fidelity to time-honoured methods of farming. In order to establish their relationship to their property, an intensive campaign of rental and survey was carried out, especially by the Crown, and the results of these investigations were adopted as the basis for the supervision and regularisation of the agrarian economy. The manorial payments were re-examined and defined, the tenants' privileges and duties were subjected to inquiry and reformulated, and their status in the manorial economy readjusted. The tenants themselves were, undoubtedly, relieved to have their rights and obligations ascertained and fixed after the uncertainty and vagaries of their fortunes during the previous century, and offered no opposition to the royal surveyors. But the landlords, who had indulged in surreptitious pilfering of the Crown estates, were not so spontaneous in their welcome, and were prepared to stir up the more refractory tenants into hostility by arousing their suspicion that their own encroachments would be reclaimed and confiscated by the king's servants. For instance, in 1604, a commission was nominated to survey the honour of Kidwelly, in order to ascertain the property and revenue of the king. It was at first courteously received by the local tenants, but one of the local landowners, Francis Mansel of Muddlescombe, who had for many years detained profits illegally from the Crown Woods and seized a great deal of demesne land, conceived a dislike for the commission which is easily understood ; owing to his opposition, the survey was never fully executed. Later, in 1616,  the difficulty of forcing the tenants to relinquish their encroachments was circumvented by the decision of the Crown to compound with them for certain waste land on the payment of £100 increased rent annually.

Apart from these periodic incursions by royal surveyors, the tenants of Crown manors and other estates pursued an uneventful life. Even the Civil War left them unruffled, despite the portentous statement that "the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan are exposed to be absolutely plundered, the country people have no other arms than pitch forks, clubs and such like." The tenants were Royalist in spirit, or were sufficiently subservient to their landlords to allow themselves to be dictated to in the matter of political prejudices. It may be taken that the fluctuations of the war did not affect the ordinary life of the tenant to a great extent, and he was allowed to cultivate his land in comparative tranquillity.

During this century, Carmarthenshire became more and more a corn and live stock producing county. Many topographers and travellers who visited it referred to its rich soil, and constantly extolled the diversity of crops grown within it, and the numerous herds of cattle and sheep that attracted their attention. Blome, in his Britannia, states that, "Caermerdenshire, esteemed by some the strongest county in South Wales, and generally of a fertile soil, bearing good crops, hath rich meadows which feed store of cattle and is well clothed with wood ... the inhabitants are plentifully served with foul and fish, especially salmon in great abundance." A Mr. Rogers, in his notes written during three years' travel over England and Wales, although differing in his views as to the fertility of the soil, declared that the shire "hath a wholesome air . . . and is well stored with cattaile." Camden, in his Britannia, dating from the beginning of the century, spoke of the shire as being, "plenteous enough in corne, stored abundantly with cattle," while Dinely, who accompanied the Duke of Beaufort in his itinerary through Wales in 1684, described the soil as being particularly rich.

As at the end of the preceding century, corn continued to be exported from Carmarthen to other shires. In 1630, for instance, the Privy Council was petitioned to permit one John Kynne to carry cereals from it to Gloucester, and a pertinent reminder was added that this town had supplied Carmarthen with corn when it was badly in need of it in 1629. A similar petition, with a like reminder, was submitted to the Council by the Bailiffs and Burgesses of Tewkesbury in the same year. The year 1630 happened to be a felicitous one for landlords and tenants, for it was declared by the Justices of the Peace of the county that the harvest had been abundant, and that a substantial surplus could be transported to more necessitous areas, if desired.

Enclosures and encroachments did not cease with the advent of the Stuarts to the English throne. With the increase of population, there was a demand for land to form new holdings, and, until the Enclosure Acts became more common in Carmarthenshire in the 19th century, these holdings were mostly formed by the process of squatting upon the unclaimed waste and the common land. Even the property of the church was not always safe from the squatters. In the Churchwardens' Presentments for Trelech and Betws in 1684, it is stated that there were cottagers settled upon the vicarage land. Enclosures continued to be made, both openly and secretly, but they sometimes met with violent opposition on the part of the tenants or discontented farmers. At Llandilo in 1655, a yeoman named Thomas Griffiths forcibly attacked the close of Phillip Lloyd, gentleman, and destroyed the fences to such an extent that cattle entered it and trod down the corn and grass grown there to the value of 66/-.

But, concurrently with the continuity of the agrarian economy bequeathed by the 16th century to Carmarthenshire, there occurred certain developments which made for the improvement of agricultural operations. It has been said that there was no marked progress in the methods of agriculture down to 1750, yet in regard to the ordinary farm holdings on some estates, there was much commendable betterment. It was during this century that a greater interest was shown in the efficacy of land drainage as a means of enhancing the value and stimulating the fecundity of the land ; certain parts of the shire became the experiment ground of the reclamation methods which then prevailed. In  1629---the year of the corn scarcity---three gentlemen were granted permission by the Crown to assume proprietary rights over certain marshes in the county---probably in the neighbourhood of Kidwelly and Pembrey---on the condition that they undertook to drain them and protect them from inundation by the sea ; for this right, they paid the insignificant annual rent of fourpence to the king. Eight years later, three others were permitted to drain marshes and surrounding lands within the shire, and to divide the reclaimed land amongst themselves as they saw fit. It is unfortunate that there is practically no information available as to whether they succeeded in their venture.

But the feasibility of improving the soil had appealed to other minds, less interested in the remunerative and speculative aspect of the problem. Vaughan himself, in his Golden Fleece, had advocated certain measures which, in his opinion, would be conducive to a progressive system of farming. He was eager to encourage the recovery of land from the sea, and believed strongly in the advantages which would accrue from the formation of enclosures. These, he declared, would keep men from becoming robbers by offering them work, and would also bring more profits to the farmers. But, lest the newly enclosed ground should be exhausted by monotonous crops of corn, he emphasised the importance of manure, in especial marl, and proceeded to describe the different sorts of marl, and the way in which it should be applied to land when ploughing. He considered dung and muck to be effective, but suggested that a much more extensive use should be made of sand, clay, and the soil of old ditches. He also commended the planting of orchards, and mentioned that certain landlords had convenanted with their tenants that the latter should plant fruit trees every year of their lease.

This reference to landlords is interesting, inasmuch as it affords evidence that the landowners themselves were not averse to extracting as much benefit as possible from the latest methods in agriculture. Whether those whom Vaughan extols for their perspicacity lived in Carmarthenshire it is impossible to say, but, on the other hand, Lord Carbery seems to have shown some enterprise in the proper cultivation of his land. On one occasion, he had such an amazing crop of barley from a farm called Gwal y Ci, in the parish of Llanarthney, that he changed the name of the tenement to Barley Mount.

By the end of the century, agriculture was a flourishing industry in Carmarthenshire. Edward Llwyd, in his Parochialia, praised the soil of the county, which grew wheat, barley, and oats in considerable quantities, and which was regularly manured with lime and muck. Lime, in fact, tended to replace marl as the most popular compost. At Newcastle Emlyn, where the soil was generally barren and bore no sort of grain without manure, the inhabitants journeyed to Ludchurch in Pembrokeshire and to Carmarthen town to procure lime, and went as far afield as Mount in Cardiganshire for loads of sand ; and this, despite the fact that every valley throughout the district was sufficiently stored with marl.

Thus, little by little throughout this period, the rural areas of the shire assumed that external form which had been foreshadowed by Thomas Churchyard in his Worthines of Wales

" They have begun of late to lime their land,

And plowe the ground where sturdie okes did stand,

Convert the meares and marrish everywhere

Whose barraine earth begins good fruite to beare

There Barley sweete and goodly wheate is sowne,

Which makes men rich that liv'd in lacke long while."

 

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Gareth Hicks  

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