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.
By G Dyfnallt Owen
The travellers, who continued to visit Carmarthenshire in ever increasing numbers during the 18th century, were not content to repeat the eulogistic phraseology of their predecessors as to the amazing fertility of the county and the pleasant scenes of agricultural activity which they witnessed. They were persons who were not only deeply interested in all that they saw around them, the scenery and rural craftmanship, feminine headdress and the statistics of prices, but they made a commendable and often successful attempt to come into contact with the inhabitants of the countryside, and to study their modes of living, their everyday habits, and their idiosyncrasies, with sympathy and insight. They were, fortunately, more observant and inquisitive than the superficial visitors of the preceding century, and were capable of writing pictorial descriptions of the conditions of life and labour which they investigated with a lucidity which has not yet been surpassed. It is due to their copious notes and lengthy descriptions that a comprehensive account of rural life in Carmarthenshire can be given without any question arising as to its accuracy and reliability.
During the greater part of the 18th century, there was no momentous event in the history of the shire's agriculture. Defoe, for instance, pays a graceful tribute to the civility of the rural classes whom he met, which he attributed partly to their commercial dealings with the outside world, but his description of the farming conditions in the county does not suggest that he found them more interesting or more satisfactory than in other parts of the kingdom. Neither did Pococke, who travelled through Carmarthenshire in 1730 and in later years, profess himself to be enraptured by an extraordinary sight of rural prosperity, and seemed to be more stimulated by the abundance of fish of all kinds which, apparently, teemed in the rivers Towy and Taf. It may thus be assumed that life in the rural districts was comparatively uneventful, apart from the excitement caused by parliamentary elections, which shook the rural community from time to time, and the confusion and loss which resulted from periodic inundations by the rivers of the county, in particular, the Towy.
There appeared to be no protection from the sporadic tendency of this river to flood the countryside in its vicinity. Many of the tourists testify to the calamity which befell the unfortunate farmers in its neighbourhood when it had overflown its banks. Malkin described the floods in rainy seasons as 'most impetuous and frequently produce serious mischief to the husbandry of the vale. Barber contributes a realistic picture of a flood which had disastrous results on the cultivation and livestock of the valley; 'the morning that we left Llandilo brought with it a scene of affliction to the neighbouring country; one of those deluging rains which often do so much mischief in mountainous countries fell with unparalleled violence during the night, when the vast accession of water, unable to discharge itself by the ordinary channels, swept away trees, fences, small buildings, cattle and poultry in its devious course. Several mills were destroyed, and many an industrious cottager, awakened by the flood eddying round his bed, saw himself at once dispossessed of the fruits of many years' hard savings.' Other travellers, like Lipscombe and Spence, also commiserate the helplessness of farmers in the face of the floods. The mischief caused by the floods cannot be overestimated, especially as the farmers were, to a very great extent, dependent upon their livestock and crops to liquidate the heavy charges upon their holdings.
Hunting was, of course, the privileged sport of the gentry, who took it seriously, and solved the problem of maintaining their hounds by throwing the responsibility of feeding and tending them upon the shoulders of their tenants. Ostensibly, the reason for entrusting the tenants with their care was to stimulate the interest of local people in the hunt, and it would appear that one traveller --- an English lady --- found little to amuse her in this custom, inasmuch as she declared that ' any person who keeps hounds quarters one or two of these voracious beasts upon every tenant,' and states it to be the result of the subservience of the tenants to the landlord, and a relic of the manorial custom of obedience to the lord which had not completely disappeared. Otters, as well as foxes, were hunted by the gentry, and the tenants were obliged to endure the considerable losses caused by the chase through their cornfields and meadows. But it must not be thought that the gentry were so engrossed in their multifarious amusements , and wrapped in the seclusion of their manors, as to be inattentive to public affairs. On one occasion they anticipated an intrigue on the part of certain persons in Carmarthenshire to monopolise the supply of salmon and raise its price by exporting it abroad; by prompt action they prevented a riot. Under their supervision also, the administration of law and the maintenance of order were duly carried out, although affected at times by the intrusion of bribery and corruption.
The richer classes of the farming community benefited by the absence of political and economic crises to prosecute their fortunes as assiduously as possible. Their industry and thrift were commented on by many travellers, and in some cases, they were able to aspire to, and attain, a status corresponding to the poorer class of gentry. It is recorded in 1802 that 'luxury has travelled into this county and has its votaries in the mountains. They contain more than one farmer, who, in imitation of their English brothers of the plough, keep their geldings for the chase and side saddle pads for the ladies of the dairy, who feather their caps for the finest of farmer's wives and daughters, whom we have seen at the rural assemblies, and acting the character of duchesses for that night only .'
But, these would be members of the hunt were rare, and the majority of the tenants were content with the cultivation of the soil. It was the custom that the womenfolk should undertake the disposal of the products of the field and dairy, while their men laboured behind the plough, although it was no uncommon sight to see a young girl directing the plough, and performing those manual farm duties usually associated with male servants. One traveller observed this particularly in Carmarthenshire; ' Labour seems to be equally divided between men and women, and it is as common to meet a woman driving a plough as it is to see Taffy at the milk pail'; and another remarked that 'the women join more in the labours of the field than in England.' A man holds the plow drawn by four horses but oftener by six oxen, and a girl drives them and sometimes rides upon one of them. The men more generally drive the carts and waines but the girls and women usually drive a horse, dragging a kind of sledge.
The dress of the womenfolk of the more opulent farmer also elicited complimentary observations. It was described as a garter blue or brown jacket, a petticoat and a black beaver hat. The jacket was edged with binding of different colours. They did not show much of their hair, but confined it with a short cap, rounded at the ears and tied under the chin. A simple form of mantle was thrown over their shoulders --- a square piece of white flannel, bordered with coloured binding. Both the farmers and their wives attended market on horseback, and it would appear that to walk on foot was an indubitable sign of poverty. Many tourists recorded their admiration of the easy manner in which the people, even old ladies, rode their horses, despite the fact that the latter were often mere ponies, pastured on the hill tops and hardly domesticated. They were inclined to be restive, and to take the bit between their teeth at the approach of strangers. It was the spectacle of one of these uneasy cavalcades that must have prompted a tourist to remark that ' none of their ponies would pass me, and their unexpected whirligig propensity occasioned several nymphs to lose the centre of gravity and some swains to become Welsh John Gilpins.'
The fare of this class of farmer was simple, but most nutritious. It usually consisted of home produce, such as milk, butter, cheese, oatcake, and barley-bread, but they were sufficiently prosperous to buy fresh meat at Carmarthen market. It would seem that this was not the case throughout the whole shire, and that the circumstances of the farmer were often conditioned by the nature of the land which he cultivated. Thus, whereas the rich soil of the Towy valley provided the local farmers with means to attain a high degree of material comfort, the hilly districts of north Carmarthenshire permitted no such luxuries in fare and clothing, so that the men of this region were forced to live chiefly on a course kind of black bread, which was disagreeable in taste.
(the book has a copy of an engraving titled ' Inside of a kitchen in Newcastle Emlyn, by Rowlandson 1800)
Around Laugharne, potatoes and buttermilk were additional provisions in the farmhouse, while salted bacon, salmon, and herrings were not uncommon dishes. At Llangadock, a particular kind of oaten bread was eaten, which reminded a Breton tourist of the 'galette' --- the principal fare of his countrymen --- in its shape and thinness.' The variety and wholesomeness of the food must have had an excellent effect upon the constitution and appearance of the farmers, for one English tourist paid a compliment to their demeanour, 'in short there are a healthiness, cleanliness and ease in the countenance of the Welsh peasant that indicate that they are much better fed and clothed than ours are'.
The houses, even of this relatively rich class of farmers, were not all that could be desired. They were usually more like small and ungainly cottages than buildings of stone, and were often made the object of trenchant criticism by travellers. This was partly due to the fact that there was very little building stone in Carmarthenshire, especially in the northern districts, although the farmers were not averse to pilfering stones from the ruins of neighbouring castles. But, generally, the houses were miserable, often consisting of walls of mud with thatched roofs, and curiously constructed chimneys. These one traveller described as 'openings in the roofs constructed of a kind of crate work, covered with straw, and bound round with a twisted rope of the same material. All the houses were whitewashed, sometimes even the slates of the best buildings. Whereas the latter consisted of two floors, the smaller homes possessed only one ground floor of baked mud. It was often the case that the negligence or apathy of a landlord aggravated the squalor and slovenliness of his tenants. Thus, on the Abermarlais estate, owned by Cornwallis Mead, where the mansion was old and shabby, the farm houses and cottages of the tenants 'were destitute of glass windows, instead of which neat chequered lattice work' was substituted, according to one observer, who goes on to add that ' the inhabitants of these wretched huts are better cloathed and have less unjoyous countenances than the tenants of better houses in England; their woollen cloathes are not so subject to hang in tatters as the slight stuffs and linen of the English'.
Peat and turf were the common kinds of fuel used in these houses, especially in north Carmarthenshire, where the still extensive commons offered an inexhaustible supply of both; the farmers devoted a specific period in the year to the turf harvest, digging and stacking it, and conveying it to their farms on carts or sledges. The smell was disagreeable to a sensitive tourist who wrote that ' its smell in some places is painfully oppressive to strangers of delicate nerves.' In the south-west of the shire, however, culm was used --- a fuel which excited the curiosity of almost every traveller who passed that way. According to one of them ; 'a singular custom for a country abounding in coals attracted our notice in this and other parts of the county of Carmarthen, and furnishes a lesson of economy to other counties, that of making and using as their principal fuel what are termed hovilles, that is, balls composed of a mixture of sludge or clay and culm or small coal dust, in a proportion of two of the former to one of the latter, which, after being exposed to the air and dried, make an excellent fire, producing a clear and lasting light.' He considered it to be an old custom which was 'doubtless the production of necessity after the decay of the woods, and previous to the discovery of coal in any great abundance.'
The indoor and outdoor activities of the farmers allowed them very little time to seek distraction from the routine of agricultural operations. When they were not occupied in the fields, both sexes had multifarious duties to perform within the house. Their industry, especially that of the women, was proverbial. During the long winter nights, they applied themselves to the manufacture of baskets and floor matting, which they showed great ingenuity in making out of rushes, 'equal in appearance', wrote one observer, ' to the fine matting imported from India'. Another, enquiring the way to Carmarthen of a farmer's wife, who was churning at the door, remarked with astonishment that she took up her knitting as she directed him on the way, in order to lose no valuable time. This phenomenon of tireless activity was not uncommon in this tourist's experience, for he added that ' such instances of persevering activity were frequent throughout the principality, but more particularly from hence westward, where not a female was to be seen unemployed in knitting, however she might be otherwise at work, in carrying loads or driving cattle.
The poorest class of farmers and the labourers, who depended upon the cultivation of a small parcel of ground for their sustenance and who assisted their wealthier neighbours in the capacity of farm servants, led a precarious existence. They comprised the majority of the rural community, and their numbers increased at a rapid rate during the latter half of the 18th century. One tourist went so far as to declare that the population of the agricultural area around Carmarthen had doubled in thirty years, and it is probable that the greater part of them pertained to the class living on the margin of security. They were to be found scattered throughout the villages of the shire, leading a most miserable life, often supplementing their starvation wages with parish relief, and often quitting the land to swell the hordes of unemployed and destitute who swarmed in the streets of Carmarthen and other towns. Their dwellings were pitiable hovels, and when one considers the expense of building a mud hut amounted to the sum of £10, one can imagine the type of home inhabited by these unfortunate people. In the neighbourhood of Laugharne and St Clears, they were able to cover their hovels with a thin stone which they transported from Pen Arthur near Cilmaenllwyd, although many of the cottages, according to one tourist, 'were all of mud and thatched, the chimneys of which, that is, the part of them above the roof, are composed merely of sticks interlaced like basket-work, but I presume that they were plaistered within, tho' in many places we could see through them.'
There were two prescribed methods by which the labourers and farmers could stave off starvation and also the alternative of abandoning the land and seeking work in the towns. The first was by obtaining work either on the farms of the more prosperous members of the community, or on public works undertaken by the parish. Wages were extremely low, and the manual work hard. The former varied a great deal, and each farmer paid according to his estimate of the value of the service rendered. In certain parts of the country, the daily wage was ninepence, but, generally speaking, the farmers preferred to pay small sums of money annually, supplemented by free board and payments in kind. For instance, in one contract with a labourer, the latter was allowed clothes and a place to keep half a dozen sheep, while another received flannel for one shift and sufficient land to sow a bushel of potatoes. Sometimes, in periods of distress, the parish interfered with the monetary arrangements between farmer and labourer, and decided what the minimum wage should be, or agreed that the labourers should be divided by lot between the local farmers to work for a certain sum daily, but as the majority of the members of the Vestry were composed of well-to-do farmers, it is doubtful whether the labourers received the best of the bargain.
Neither was the lot of the labourer much improved if he chanced to enter the service of the gentry. It was reputed that ' wages in this county are astonishingly low, Lord Dinefor not paying his labourers either in the Garden or Farm more than seven shillings a week, which is the general custom of the county, without any perquisite of beer or anything whatever, but small as the sum may appear to the proprietor, it is not so much gain as might be supposed, as the labour they do in comparison with the English labourer, who is better fed, nearly makes up for the additional sum he is paid.'
It is not surprising, therefore, that the standard of living of the rural labouring classes was low. They were poorly dressed, and went without shoes and stockings, and one tourist remarked that ' the men are distinguished by their broad hats and bare feet; as for the difference of sex, it could hardly be perceived in them if it was not for the criterion of the breeches.' Most of the women wore a coloured handkerchief under their hats, ' as if they were afflicted with the mumps or the toothache,' wrote one amused observer. Their fare was as poor as their dress, and extremely frugal. It consisted of oatcake and cheese, while those who lived near the estuary of the Towy were very partial to cockles.
The second method of making both end meet was the cultivation of small allotments of land surrounding the homes, or the manufacture of small woollen articles during the winter evenings, to be disposed of in the local markets. A very descriptive and informative picture of the labourer at home is given by Arthur Young in his trip through the shire in 1776. 'The poor people spin a great deal of wool and weave it into flannel for their own wear; no linen is worn by them, flannel supplying the place .... The poor live on barley bread, cheese and butter; not one in ten have either pigs or cows, fare very poorly and rarely touch meat. Their little gardens they plant with cabbages, carrots, leeks, and potatoes.' Around Llandilo, the labourers had a more prosperous look; ' among the poor, there is a little spinning and weaving of flannel, but few of them wear linen; they manage to buy some wool, spin and send it to the weavers, who earn 1/- to 1/3 a day. Some spin hemp and flax for canvas sacking. Many in the mountains knit stockings, which are bought up in small fairs, and carried to Worcester, etc. They live on barley or oaten bread and cheese. Most get meat once a week; very few keep cows, but some have pigs fed on acorns.'
The labourers were often obliged to resort to other means to maintain their domestic establishment. It was the custom in Carmarthenshire, as well as in other shires, for many of them to migrate to the English border counties to participate in the harvest, and to return home with their earnings at the beginning of winter. Later, when the industrialisation of Glamorgan was far advanced, many labourers left the shire to find employment in the coal pits and iron works. 'There are great numbers' wrote Iolo Morganwg, 'that go out of this county periodically; they are everywhere met with in Glamorgan, and half the hands employed in Collieries, Copper works and Iron works --- and more than half the curates-- are from Carmarthenshire.' The rural exodus had commenced.
Cereals and live stock were still the predominant products of the rural areas, and great quantities of them continued to be exported from the shire. Vaughan's dream of equilibrium between pastoral and arable farming had materialised, and it was rarely --- except in the mountainous districts---that grassland and ploughland exceeded one another very noticeably in acreage. Most of the tourists wax eulogistically over the climate and fertility of the shire, but the main crops were still barley and oats. The soil was not considered to be favourable to the growth of wheat, although Iolo Morganwg opined that it was most appropriate for this cultivation, and attributed the neglect to the ignorance and conservatism of the farmers. When confronted by the argument that any attempt to grow wheat would be nullified by a peculiar blast, due to the inclemency of the weather, he expostulated 'I am angry; what a stupid county!' and added that the soil and disposition of the surface of the shire were eminently suitable for wheat. Most other travellers, however, agree that wheat growing within the shire was likely to meet with very little success.
The method employed in harvesting the corn attracted the attention of many visitors, of whom one, appreciating the ingenuity of the farmers described it fully. 'Harvest is now beginning, a great deal of Corn of all kinds in this Country, but the weather for getting it in is indifferent....The Cradle Scythes....have been used here time immemorial, they mow all their oats and barley with them, and lay it smoother and evener for binding than it can possibly be done with a Sickle. All their Corn is bound in very small sheaves, and immediately piled into what they call field mows, a method of husbandry so much superior to all others that I cannot but wonder why it is not universal. Their method of making them is this; five or six sheaves are set up on their bottoms; against these more are laid, still as the circumference is increased more and more horizontally till at last they are so flat that others may be laid upon them without slipping off. At this time, the circumference is from ten to twelve yards. They are then carried up of the same size till about six feet high, the ears always being put inwards. The sheaves are then laid more perpendicular that they make a shelving roof, by decreasing every time the circumference (sic). When about the height of ten feet, it is composed of about six sheaves, which must be bound together by a small band made of a small part of each, twisted up and tucked into the band of the next; two sheaves are then put together and tyed at the straw end very fast while the Corn is left loose; this is inverted over the heads of the others, and made fast there by a fresh band ... Thus, the straw is made to form a complete covering to the corn, which by being thrown into the centre remains untouched by the severest rains, while it mellows itself and becomes fit to be put up in large quantities either in Ricke or Barn. They say in this Country that these mows will bear a month or six weeks rainy weather, without the least damage.' The instrument used in mowing the corn did not escape the eyes of the tourists, of whom one declared, ' I must again express my admiration at the implements of Carmarthenshire Husbandry; some fellows were mowing oats with the most awkward scythes , with great labour and violent distortions of the body. The cutting and laying the Swath in its proper place were distinct operations; instead of the simple curved stick at the end of the scythe, there is a piece of wood fixed with three teeth, three-quarters of the length of the scythe and parallel with it, upon which the Corn is lodged every stroke, and then deposited in the row.' The method of raking corn, and the implement used, were interesting objects of comment on the part of tourists. 'Their method of raking in this country,' wrote one English traveller,' is, I think, much superior to ours. The heads of their rakes are six feet long, with strong and long teeth; the handles, of about the same length, have a pin stuck into them about two feet from the end, which the right hand lays hold of, while the left guides it. Two or three or may be more people go in a row with these rakes trailing after them discharging what they pick up in equal rows which, if they keep together, they cannot fail of doing. By this means, the most part of the Corn is collected, and what the Rake misses is laid straight, so that a cross raking is sure to pick it up. In this manner is Land carefully managed, tho' a great deal of Corn is left in the Binding, it will be so completely got together that scarce enough will be left for the Pigs and Geese; and that too in half the time, and with half the trouble of our light Rakes.'
The surplus corn was put up for sale in the local markets and was conveyed there in a peculiar type of sledge, which was the common farming carriage in the shire. It was a simple contrivance, consisting of ' two rude poles between which the horse is placed; their ends trail on the ground, towards which extremity there are two or three cross bars; a few upright sticks from these complete the carriage.'
Lime remained the most popular and cheapest manure. In the words of one visitor, 'the Welsh seem to know the use and value of lime much better than the English.' Lime was commonly used on pasture and arable land alike, and it was assumed that it would be impossible to raise a crop of cereals without making constant use of it. Carmarthenshire was fortunate in its abundance of lime. There were kilns dotted all over the countryside, in the neighbourhood of the Sawdde river, at Llandebie, Llangadock, St Clears, Llandilo, so that it was within easy reach of most agriculturists. Those who lived in the most isolated districts transported it to their homes in paniers on horses, while the lowland farmers conveyed it in their rough and narrow wheeled carts. It was also reasonably cheap, costing three shillings a load at the kiln, and as three to ten loads were considered sufficient to every acre and were expected to produce three good crops, the farmers were lavish in their application to the soil. Lime laid on grass brought white clover, and increased the quality of the hay, and it was also spread on meadow land as a deterrent to rushes and noxious weeds.
Other crops grown were potatoes, flax, peas and clover. 'Potatoes', wrote a traveller, 'are pretty abundant near the thinly scattered and miserable cottages that are seen from the road, but few other culinary vegetables are to be found,' and it would seem that, as in Ireland, they formed the staple diet of the labourers. Flax was grown on certain hill sides in North-east Carmarthenshire, and the seed itself was imported from abroad. In 1782, flax seed was allowed to be conveyed to this country in neutral ships navigated by foreign mariners, but, although this stimulated the growth of flax, it never became a popular product on the Carmarthenshire countryside.
Cattle and sheep formed the primary categories of live stock in the shire. The latter received the commendation of numerous tourists, by reason of their numbers and the excellence of their wool. The greater proportion of them, of course, were confined to the mountainous pasture land of the shire in the north and north-east, and it was estimated that the tenant farmer at Ystradffin possessed from 1,500 to 2,000 sheep. Tens of thousands of them were computed to be browsing on the hills above Llandovery, and their special characteristic was the possession of long tails. It would also seem that the Black Mountains in 1785 were inhabited by shepherds only. The finest breed of sheep, however, and the best quality of wool were to be found in the neighbourhood of Kidwelly marshes. They were a cross of indigenous and Devon breeds, and in attempting to explain the superiority of this type, one traveller remarked, 'Without supposing something in the salt marsh herbage, it will be difficult to account for the superiority in the wool, as the great prerequisites to produce fine wool are here wanting; frequent crossing and housing in inclement weather. These sheep are left to the care of a common shepherd during the summer months and are wintered on the leys of the higher ground, without other fodder, except in snow, during winter. Besides, it is well known that the Spanish shepherds deal out salt freely to their fine woolled flocks, and it is highly probable this ingredient in their food may produce a considerable effect, both in the carcase and the wool.
Carmarthenshire cattle did not seem to possess much variety of colour, 'some herds being all red, others all black, but they are not universally small'. The greater majority of them, however, appear to have been black, which were a feature of the Dynevor estate. The farmers were much dependent upon their cattle to pay their rents and dues. As one visitor observed, 'the black cattle and horses bred on the hills fill all the fairs of the neighbouring districts, and contribute in a great measure to the support of the farmers.' This fact offers an explanation of the importance of the common of pasture, which farmers formerly enjoyed and which was being threatened by the enclosing activities of the landlords. Cattle were appreciated also for their usefulness in the fields. 'Every farmer,' wrote Arthur Young,' keeps cows and rears many calves; one of £30 will have fifteen cows and rear seven to eight calves for oxen to plough with. All calves are reared, and when three year old are worked for one or two years and then killed.'
Before the growth of modern marts and auctions, cattle were despatched by road to the famous and more frequented markets of England, especially in the county of Kent, and this gave rise to the profession of the drover, a famous figure in Welsh history and literature from the 16th to the end of the 19th century. In the 17th century, pigs had been driven from Carmarthenshire to be sold in England, but it was the renowned black cattle of Wales which brought prosperity and fame to the Welsh drovers. Many travellers, on their way to Carmarthenshire, met them driving their herds along the dusty roads, and causing what one would now call a traffic block. 'Droves of black cattle', wrote one, 'and horses began now to meet us on their way to England. It seems to be a profitable speculation to deal in these animals. The poor Welsh farmer depends more on his live stock to pay his rent than on the produce of the earth, which seldom furnishes more than a subsistence for himself and his family. Warner also mentions that his journey towards Carmarthenshire was retarded by these herds, which were transported across the Severn to be sold in the large towns of Somerset, Gloucester and Wiltshire. Carmarthenshire drovers usually made for Llandovery, where there was much rich meadow land for resting fields; passing through Felindre turnpike gates, they left the main track and joined the cattle track from Cardiganshire at Llandulas, and so on to Rhydspence on the borders of Radnor and Hereford. They could also take the road from Carmarthen to Llandovery and thence to Builth, if they wished to avoid the toll gates at Felindre.
In the early days of banking, merchants used to give cash to drovers to deliver to creditors. The drovers left the money at home, and paid the merchants' creditors out of the proceeds of the sale of the cattle. This led, in time, to the establishment of private banks by drovers, and early in the 18th century several banks were founded by members of the droving community. They were occasionally rich enough to lend money on interest, and there is an instance of one Thomas Phillips, in the parish of Penboyr, stipulating in his will that the sum of £80 should be paid to one Morris Morgan the drover, as a debt due to him. That the drovers were not always scrupulous in their financial dealings may be inferred from a statute passed in the reign of Anne, which provided that they should be entitled to be deemed bankrupt, if they could not free themselves from their obligations. Vicar Pritchard has also some trenchant criticism of the drover's lack of scruple, and exhorts him, in one of his poems, to be honest in his dealings, to fulfil his promises, to refrain from imbibing too freely, and to drop the habit of absconding with his employer's money to Ireland and the Low Countries.
Towards the last decades of the 18th century, there was a change in the attitude of the landlords of Carmarthenshire towards the amelioration of agricultural conditions and methods. This meant a reversal of the popular idea that land should be regarded as the basis of social status and local or national influence, and the means whereby that status was maintained. The foreign policy of England and the intense industrial development in many parts of the country put an end to this limited conception of the value of land, and led to a more profitable realisation of its utility. The constant wars which afflicted Europe during the 18th century, and into which the country was inevitably drawn by reason of its own interests, led to frequent fluctuations in the price of corn and other forms of country produce, and placed a premium on the cultivation of the soil. This encouragement to the exploitation of land was helped by the economic consequences of the Industrial Revolution, which concentrated a large proportion of the population in the ore and coal mining and the textile manufacturing areas, and led to a corresponding increase in the demand for the necessaries of life. Many of the farseeing English landowners had anticipated these events, and had adopted almost revolutionary methods of increasing the productivity of their land and the numbers of their live-stock. In this way land gained a greater importance as a source of supply for the market, so that its proprietors were no longer merely persons of local influence, but potential business men.
Wales had always lagged behind England in industrial development and material comfort, and its efforts to follow its neighbour were due to successful experiments and ventures in industry and farming across the border. This is as true of Carmarthenshire as any other Welsh shire. It was, perhaps, fortunate that the town of Carmarthen was not only the administrative centre of English rule, but was a centre of commercial enterprise and organisation based on similar organisations in England. Any reforming movement in English rural economy or municipal industrial life was bound, sooner or later, to reach the shire by means of the land and sea communications which connected it with England, so that it is not surprising that the enlightened policy of some of the English landlords , not to speak of their more questionable methods, were soon emulated by the Carmarthenshire landlords. But it must be added that the attempts of the latter to improve the husbandry of the shire were greatly assisted by the existence of a growing industrial population within the shire itself and in the neighbouring county of Glamorgan. The needs of manual labourers and their prolific families were not such as any landlord who regarded his interests could afford to ignore.
It is not easy to trace the steps of this agrarian revolution in Carmarthenshire, but one may well attribute it to that condition of success --- a closer association with England. In 1776, Arthur Young had undertaken a tour in Wales and had visited the county, where he had elicited some items of information, and had incorporated them in an account of his tour which he published in his Annals of Agriculture. It is possible that many landlords were subscribers to the Annals of Agriculture and thus kept in contact with the latest suggestions and schemes for the development of the industry. This closer association with England was strengthened by the policy of the newly-formed Board of Agriculture, which in 1793 undertook a comprehensive survey of agricultural conditions in the shires of England and Wales with a view to recommending improvements. In Carmarthenshire, this work was allocated to one Charles Hassall, who was conversant with the shire, and twenty years later it was followed by a fuller and more detailed survey drawn up on behalf of the same Board by Gwallter Mechain. These two reports were the prelude of further surveys, in which the shire received as full a measure of attention and study as any other county in West Wales.
But no effort by the government, or any other extraneous authority, could in itself have roused the agricultural population of the shire to an appreciation of reforms. Indirect action had to be implemented by reforms and efforts undertaken from within; any project for the amelioration of farming had to come from those who had the power to effect it, and it was fortunate for the shire that it possessed a number of landlords who believed in the more novel methods employed by English landowners to improve their estates. It is interesting to note in this connection that tourists who visited the country were lavish in their praises of improvements effected by local landlords, but that they reserved their highest praise for those who were not natives of the shire. At this time a considerable number of estates were in the hands of Englishmen, , who had purchased them and retired to live on them, but who were, nevertheless, much concerned with their betterment. A certain Du Buisson , for example, had originally settled in the shire as the proprietor of an iron work, and had bought the estate of Glynhir, which he had made 'by great perseverance and profound agricultural knowledge, from cold mountain ground, as good land as any in the County'. In the neighbourhood of Llandilo, 'besides the mansions belonging to large estates, there are more gentlemen's houses on a small scale within five miles....than anywhere in South Wales, excepting some parts of Glamorganshire.' These, it would appear, were mostly occupied by retired English army captains and naval officers, who took a deep interest in agricultural matters. Their first venture was to establish an Agricultural Society to instil into their own tenants their progressive ideas, and that by the method of offering prizes and premiums. The Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Industry in the County of Carmarthen was founded in the year 1795, and its principal object was to encourage the introduction of an approved system of agriculture and to excite a spirit of industry and emulation among the poorer farmers and cottagers. Amongst its subscribers were men of position and means such as squires, parsons, solicitors, and substantial farmers, who each paid a guinea as a qualification for membership. Every parish which subscribed over two guineas had the right to send a delegate to the meetings of the society, which were held four times a year, twice at the Bear Inn at Llandilo, and twice at the Ivy Bush, Carmarthen. The society published its annual programme, containing particulars of competitions and prizes, for many years in Welsh, in order to attract the notice of the smaller farmers and labourers, but this custom seems to have been discontinued after 1802.
Premiums were annually offered for a variety of rural operations, such as breeding good bulls, raising clover seed, reclamation of waste land, enclosures, cultivation of best beds of turnips and cabbages, together with other vegetables, raising of buckwheat for manure, hoeing turnips, draining land, planting corn and vegetable crops in succession, and many others. Further prizes were intended to stimulate the planting and fencing of forest trees, the planting of willows for hurdles, and other trees for building purposes; here a distinction was made between the tenants and the landowners, inasmuch as the former had to obtain the permission of the latter to engage in this competition.
With regard to the cottagers, who formed an appreciable proportion of the farming community, their industry received a fillip through the offer of premiums to those who manufactured the greatest quantity and the best quality of cloth and flannel spun at home by wives and children, or who knitted the best and greatest number of stockings. Prizes were also bestowed upon those cottagers, whether day labourers or the widows of labourers, who maintained their families by their own labour and without parish assistance.
It will be seen that the activities of the society extended to all rural occupations, except those of the small craftsmen who had not yet been divorced from the countryside. The ideal of its promoters was the maintenance and further development of the old type of rural community, in which all who depended upon farming, landlords, freeholders, and tenants alike, should contribute something towards the prosperity of all. Despite the criticism of one tourist, who declared that 'with respect to the agricultural society of this county, it seems rather to aim at the fanciful refinements of an imaginary system than to direct the judgement and skill of gentlemen and farmers to practical purposes,' there is little doubt that the society contributed largely to the adjustment of farming methods to the economic changes of the industrial world and to the general rehabilitation of agriculture itself. One traveller, on a visit to the neighbourhood of Laugharne, was pleased, 'to observe a more rational husbandry than is generally seen in this part of the kingdom. The Kentish and Norfolk ploughs drawn with a pair of horses abreast in the lighter soils, and on the stiffer by two yoke of oxen, with collars substituted for the painful and absurd instrument, the yoke. Manuring and liming here go hand in hand, and the strength of the land is not suffered to be exhausted by a previous or contemporary crop of weeds'. And another tourist wrote in his diary that 'the country (around Llandilo) was fertile to a degree which we had not yet witnessed in Wales and the state of agriculture seemed very flourishing.'
It is to the credit of the landlords, however, that they did not remain satisfied with the promotion of an Agricultural Society. They were prepared to introduce on their own estates the changes in farming operations which they advocated at the meetings of the society. But to overcome the apathy of their tenants was not as simple a task as to gain converts at large by the distribution of prizes. It is possible that this reluctance of the tenants to accept the more novel maxims of husbandry has been exaggerated. Iolo Morganwg, at any rate, was much impressed by their readiness to profit by the successful methods and experiments of others; he writes that ' being intelligent, the people of this county are alive to new methods of progress in Agriculture and are not bigoted conservatives.'
The personal intervention of some prominent landlords in the propagation of improved methods of farming was often noticed by travellers interested in agriculture. During his wanderings in the vicinity of Carreg Cennen, Evans discovered two gentlemen engrossed in the management of their estates, of whom one displayed some ingenuity in making use of furze to feed his livestock. 'Among other deviations of the latter gentleman,' he says, 'from the irrational practices of his neighbours, one appeared particularly worthy of observation, as it may suggest a hint of improvement, even to the midland or eastern farmer; the cultivation of furze or whins, as food for horses and other cattle.' A field of ten acres 'was sown with furze seed the beginning of March, 1794, and cut in the autumn of 1796. Half the field he sold for £50, and the first half crop maintained sixteen horses thirteen weeks.....He now cuts it every year and keeps through the winter months his whole team, riding and other horses, and gives it mixed with hay to his horned cattle.' Here, indeed, was an experiment worthy of the name, inasmuch as the main problem which had confronted agricultural experts for many years had been the provision for cattle of suitable winter feed. Formerly, this difficulty had been met by killing and salting live stock, but fresh meat was indispensable to the carrying out of the manual labour which accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Means and ways had to be devised for maintaining cattle throughout the winter months, and due credit should be awarded to the obscure country squire of Evans' eulogy for contributing his share to the solution of the problem.
Other landlords were not slow to take advantage of lessons learnt in England. 'Mr Rice (of Newton Hall) some years ago brought hither a Berkshire bailiff, by whose means he cultivated turnips and cabbages. I saw a field of each, which were good and well managed. He finds them of admirable use in feeding bullocks and fat and lean sheep......He succeeds turnips with barley and then clover and wheat, in the Norfolk husbandry, a perfect contrast to the fallow of this land from Carmarthen to Llandilo, which are all succeeded by wheat and then spring corn in succession until the land is tired.' In 1805, the Cambrian newspaper had occasion to draw the attention of its readers to a successful agricultural experiment on the part of a local landlord, Mr E W R Mansel. It stated; 'We feel great pleasure in communicating every instance of advancement in the interesting science of agriculture within the Principality; a meadow on the Stradey estate in Carmarthenshire, from the improved system introduced into that quarter by E W R Mansel, has now been mowed near ten days, being five weeks earlier this year than was ever before remembered and has produced an unprecedented crop; the forwardness of the barley and promising aspect of the wheat on the same estate are also remarkable, and reflect no small credit on the industry and spirit of that gentleman.'
In no other agricultural pursuit did the gentry take a more active interest than in that of Afforestation. During the middle ages, and even at the beginning of the 18th century, Carmarthenshire had immense tracts of woodland, upon which comparatively little impression had been made by the increase of the rural population. The waste and common land had been more than sufficient to meet the needs of this increase, so that the forests had been left alone. During this century, however, two economic factors had combined to threaten the existence of the woods. The first was the development of the coalmining area in South-east Carmarthenshire, which set up a demand for timber, and the establishment of iron and tin works and lead mines, which also exacted a heavy toll from neighbouring woods. It was only during the latter half of the century that charcoal was definitely abandoned for smelting purposes. In the second place, bark and timber became important articles of export from Carmarthen, the former being shipped to Ireland, and the latter to various ports in the kingdom, to be used for the construction of battle ships or trading vessels. The necessity of protecting her trade routes and meeting any challenge to her supremacy on the sea, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, forced the country to exploit her supply of timber to the full, and the woods of Carmarthenshire did not escape the destruction. The county was in some places completely denuded of its trees. Fenton observes that a tremendous amount of timber had been cut down during the last forty years of the 18th century, and that about 1780 there had been an extensive wooden tract near Llanybydder which had served as the refuge of highwaymen.
There were differing opinions as to whether the county was suitable for afforestation, but the gentry did not allow themselves to be troubled with the question of congenial climatic conditions. They realised that trees not only beautified their estates, but also enhanced the value of their land and did not hesitate to embark on an intensive policy of plantation. This was noticeably the case at Llandilo, where every estate bore witness to feverish afforestation, as was also the case in the neighbourhood of Llanstephan. Some of the plantations struck travellers as being more ornamental than useful, but there was a consensus of opinion among them that greater attention was paid to timber in Carmarthenshire than in England.
In 1807, the first Enclosure Act affecting Carmarthenshire was passed by Parliament, and from that year onwards enclosures rapidly increased in numbers. In 1795, the estimated amount of common land and wastes lying unenclosed in the shire was 170,666 acres, but by 1885, about 33,813 had been taken from them and apportioned between various claimants. These acts were sponsored by the landlords, who solicited and usually obtained the support of the local clergymen and influential or rich tenants. The lands ordered to be enclosed were, as a rule, the uncultivated and unenclosed common and waste lands, 'upon which no severalty rights attached [and] over which parishioners had long been accustomed to exercise their rights of common in lawful manner.' It was inevitably the poor, the cottager, and the occupier entitled to rights of common , who suffered most under these acts. Generally, the Lord of the Manor received one-fourteenth of the land to be enclosed, but the labouring poor and those of their number who had encroached on the wastes and had built habitations there were deprived of their immemorial rights to fuel and pasturage. In these circumstances, many of them had no alternative but to throw up their small holdings and to emigrate to the towns or the industrial valleys. Occasionally, as at Llansadwrn, a small proportion of land was left open to all proprietors and their tenants, so that they might get fuel, but in most cases any surplus enclosed land was sold to pay the expenses of the Enclosure Commissioners, who were sent down from London, armed with arbitrary powers, to divide the land.
A typical illustration of the method under which Enclosures Acts of Parliament were initiated and expedited within the shire is supplied by a contemporary newspaper. 'The Burgesses of the Borough of Llanelly are requested to meet at the Falcon Inn in Llanelly....for the purpose of signing their consent to a Bill for inclosing the Commons within the said Borough for which application is now making to Parliament. A meeting was held at the Falcon Inn to settle and sign the Bill now pending in Parliament for embanking, draining, dividing and inclosing the extensive marshes in the neighbourhood. Mr Brown, the solicitor, opened the business in a neat and appropriate speech and the meeting was ably conducted by the chairman, Mr Eaton, portreeve of Llanelly. A letter was read from Lord Cawdor, lord of the manor, in which his Lordship gave the measure his hearty concurrence and liberal support, and named Mr Hassall of Eastwood a commissioner for carrying the Act into execution. Mr Hopkins of Troserch was elected commissioner for the burgesses. Mr Hassall suggested some important amendments to the Bill, which were unanimously approved by the company; the blanks were filled up' and the meeting apparently ended in good humour. The Bill was passed in 1807, and 600 acres enclosed.
Return to top of page
Find help, report problems, and contribute information.
Copyright © GENUKI and Contributors 1996