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Further References to the Welsh Cattle Trade

R. J. Moore-Colyer, National Library of Wales journal. Volume XXV/3 Summer, 1988.

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article by Bill Griffith-Jones 2002


SOME years ago I contributed a series of articles to this Journal which eventually came to form a substantial part of my book The Welsh Cattle Drovers, completed in 1976. 1  Since the publication of that volume numerous articles concerned either directly or indirectly with droving have appeared in the periodical literature while at least one 'popular' (and in places widely erroneous) book has been added to publishers' lists. 2 Among the former works several authors have considerably extended our knowledge both of the basic mechanics of the droving trade and of its economic and cultural ramifications. S. P. Thomas, for example, has emphasised the role of the drovers in determining the spread of Welsh settlers in England while Rowan Watson, in an important and detailed study of the Allt-y-Cadno papers, has shed further light on the complex of routes to and beyond the English border. 3   Meanwhile P. R. Edwards has revealed the extensive involvement of Welsh drovers in the agricultural economy of Shropshire in the 16th and 17th centuries and John Bettey has drawn attention both to the overland trade in livestock between south Wales and Somerset and to a flourishing marine trade between Aberthaw and Minehead in the 1630s. 4  In the course of tracing the career of David Jones of Derry Ormond, cattle dealer and sometime High Sheriff of Cardiganshire, Tudor Barnes has highlighted the precarious nature of the dealer's work, showing that Jones' indebtedness at the time of his death in 1775 was due in part to difficulties with his business activities. 5

Over the past decade I have been involved in the study of a variety of other facets of the rural economy of Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries and in so doing I have unearthed various documentary references to drovers and droving which did not appear in The Welsh Cattle Drovers so that this brief article serves, in a sense, as an appendix to that volume. Readers of my book will perhaps have noticed that contemporary attitudes towards the drovers were, to say the least, equivocal. While realising their vital economic role, farmers and landowners nevertheless distrusted both the business acumen and moral integrity of the drovers, especially the large majority whose trading activities necessitated the extension of credit by their farmer clients. Early in 1775 John Johnes of Dolau-cothi wrote to his brother Thomas of Croft Castle in Herefordshire with the common complaint that he was having difficulty in extracting rent from his Cardiganshire tenants. The letter hints at the problems inherent in credit trading and in so doing reveals David Jones of Derry Ormond as rather less of a shining example of moral rectitude than his staunch Methodist credentials would lead one to expect.

. . . 'tis really a most dreadfull thing upon the Country to suffer so exceedingly by these villains that call themselves Drovers 'tis very wonderfull considering the losses that they every year sustain that they (the farmers) will give one day's Credit, I am in hopes most of my Tenants sold all their cattle to David Jones, but this year they seem very cautious and probally they may have had some dealings with this Rogue, which they may thank themselves for, as I desired them all in the summer not to sell their cattle upon any account but for ready money and then they cou'd go to Market again immediately --- but I am afraid nothing will ease them of their folly and credulity. 6

The common use of the promissory note or bill could also yield problems for those placing too much trust in the abilities of the drovers to sell their animals at a profit to English buyers and to gather the proceeds of the transaction in hard cash. Robert Myddleton of Chirk was doubtless mortified when informed by his agent in 1732 that promissory notes from drovers totalling 450 would not be discharged because the latter had received 'nothing but paper' upon selling their cattle in England. 7  Some years later the London solicitors, Kirton and Grey, enquired of Edward Jones, the Llandovery attorney, as to the circumstances of one William Thomas, farmer and drover, explaining that since one of their clients held Thomas's bill for 220 they proposed bringing a court action to secure payment, '. . . if there is anything to be got from him.' 8

Common though defaulters may have been, gentlemen were still prepared to rely upon drovers for the conveyance of goods and cash to England and to employ their services in the conduct of all manner of financial transactions. Presumably a landed family like the Myddletons would over the course of time build up a working relationship and forge a bond of understanding with a drover or group of drovers upon whose integrity they could totally rely. 9 In like manner Henry Jones of Talgarth was quite happy to entrust the return of a horse loaned to his brother, the Rev. Jones of Darrington, Yorkshire, ' ... by some of the drovers'. This little episode, in October 1756, indicates that on occasions the Welsh drovers travelled rather further north than usual to conduct their business. 10

Edward Jones of Llandovery seems to have spent a disproportionate amount of his time dealing with complaints as to the alleged skulduggery of drovers. In August 1775 he became embroiled in a dispute between Daniel Jones of Sunnyhill, Tregaron (?) and two drover brothers, John and William Jones of Nantyrhenfoel. The brothers, it appears, had purchased cattle (on credit) from Daniel to the value of 28 and had failed to discharge their debt. Daniel, a canny operator in the honourable Cardiganshire tradition, having discovered that William was under-age, and thereby contravening the Elizabethan statute precluding a man from dealing in cattle unless he were over 30, had persuaded the brothers to sign a partnership agreement which was clearly of questionable legality. In so doing he had hoped to bring the law to bear and thereby receive his money. However, he had clearly underestimated the cunning of the elder brother John who, in order to circumvent the law of 6 Anne, cap. 22, 1706 which forbade drovers from bankruptcy, had entered into a partnership with another 'rascally' drover, one Davies of Radnorshire to commence a legitimate non-droving trade which would enable him to go bankrupt and defraud his creditors. Daniel was less than amused, and though expecting little from the bankruptcy gave notice that he intended to strain every sinew to force, ' . . . the villain to give a true account of his efforts'. 11

Some years later Edward Jones received a frenzied letter from one David Jones of Nant-y-ci who, having bought certain sheep from the drover Rees Pryce had received, in change for a 100 note, ten counterfeit guineas. Pryce, it seems, made a habit of using counterfeit coinage and though he was usually prepared to compensate his victims once they had discovered the fraud, David Jones had not been so privileged and had unwittingly passed on some of the coins to a Rhayader man who now proposed to take action against him! 12   Other cases, held before local Quarter Sessions and elsewhere, provide a less than flattering view of the droving fraternity. Thus we find Isaac Morris of Llanddewi'r-cwm, being indicted for stealing a bay gelding in 1743 and William Jones of Llanfrothen languishing in prison after being found guilty of assaulting the widow Lowry Jones of Beddgelert in 1806. 13 Again, in 1804, William Price of Maentwrog, drover, was bound over in a recognisance of 40 to, ' ... hereafter demean himself as a good and loyal subject . . . and be of good behaviour'. 14 However much this concentrated Williams' mind it did little for his business acumen since, ten years later, he found himself in Dolgellau Gaol at the suit of John Lloyd for a debt of l6-17-0. 15

If the cases cited above give some credence to the 19th century adage 'Not only a drover, but a rogue', other evidence suggests that from time to time drovers could justifiably claim to be more sinned against than sinning. The death at the hands of a highwayman of John ap Howel of Llanfihangel, drover and 17th century ancestor of the artist Thomas Jones of Pencerrig, was probably one of many cases in which drovers returning with cash from England were subject to the unwelcome attentions of highwaymen and footpads. 16 More commonly, though, business misfortunes (often beyond their control) were the drovers' undoing. Englishmen dealing with the Welsh drovers tended to assume that the latter would swindle them if they could and accordingly themselves resorted to all manner of stratagems to ensure that the boot was on the other foot. In 1768, for example, a Welsh drover at Brentwood Fair in Essex sold a group of cattle to the steward of Lord Halifax, agreeing, so he alleged, a price of 6 guineas per head. However, when he called upon Halifax's man to collect his money, the drover was firmly told that the agreed price had been 5 guineas! The upshot of this unsatisfactory saga is taken up by Edward Price in a letter to Robert Myddleton at Chirk Castle.

... As luck would have it the Poor Drover had 2 of his countrymen with him when the Bargen was made and they call'd the Stuart a Rogue and told him he bt. the cattle for 6 guineas and if so I fear it makes good the old proverb; Trim Tram, like Master, like Man. The poor Drover is come up to London in order to have Mr. Wilkes' Council how to proceed to come to his money. 17

One suspects that the drovers in the Halifax case were of a rather more pacific disposition than some of their fellows. In 1850 a drover at Barnet Fair was robbed of a sum of money by a group of pickpockets. Having succeeded in capturing one of the thieves with the help of his countrymen, he fastened the unfortunate man across the back of an unbroken colt and galloped the animal some four or five miles after which a bruised, battered and doubtless chastened pickpocket was only too ready to purchase his freedom by repaying the stolen money. Again, evidence given before the Somerset Quarter Sessions in 1657 indicates that the drover could be easily provoked into violence when he thought his interests were being threatened.

William Jenkins with many other Welshmen treated at Thomas Hoddinot's house with Mr. William Knoyle of Sandford to buy a close of grass to put their cattle in and not agreeing they drew their swords and assaulted Mr. Knoyle, Hoddinot, the tythingman's deputy, his wife and many of them who came to part them using violent language, cudgells and stones. 18

Obtaining overnight grazing for droves of cattle and sheep had become increasingly problematic by the mid-18th century. With the growing realisation of the link between long-distance movements of stock and the transmission of disease, farmers became less willing to let pastures and closes to drovers, besides which, the sudden release of several hundred head of cattle onto a newly-sown or recently-enclosed pasture could have disastrous effects. Pryse Jones, a Carmarthenshire farmer learned this to his cost. In an undated letter to Edward Jones of Llandovery he complained that drovers' cattle in a neighbour's field had steadily eaten their way through a freshly-planted hedge, feasted happily on his (Jones's) young grass and furze and, in short, had 'thrown all my little improvements into ruin'. 19

As The Welsh Cattle Drovers reveals, drovers travelled widely throughout north and west Wales in order to purchase stock for subsequent sale in England or the Welsh border counties. Thus Richard David of Ledbury and Morgan Price of Bishops Castle went as far west as Machynlleth to buy cattle in 1632 while in the final year of the 16th century Eglwyswrw Fair in Pembrokeshire was host to Hugh Goch, David ap Howell, David ap Robert, David Lloyd William and Rice Griffiths, all of whom had journeyed from Merionethshire. 20   My maps show both the movements of drovers in Wales and their widespread activities in the central and southern counties of England and it may be no exaggeration to suggest that at one time or another most countrymen in these counties would have seen, or at least heard, the drovers. They are virtually ubiquitous. We find them drinking in Canterbury inns, lying buried in Northamptonshire church-yards, scheming to avoid tollgates in Leicestershire, chipping away at the 'King' stone at Rollright in the belief that such chippings would ward off the 'evil eye', sleeping in Midland inns (as recorded in the 1851 census) and listening to the many Welsh preachers who flocked to the great fairs of Barnet and elsewhere. 21  In all probability once they had arrived in England they followed no specific routes but varied their course according to the timing of fairs and markets and, importantly, the changing availability of accommodation for their stock. Most kept a careful inventory of their expenses, typified by those set out in The Welsh Cattle Drovers and the one printed below. In emphasising the availability of grass, the scale of the fair and the extent of buyer demand, the letter written by the compiler of the inventory to his employer Sir Richard Myddleton of Chirk in the following year underlines some of the drover's most vital concerns. Meanwhile the final document, an undated (but probably late 18th century) list of money lost by named but unidentifiable drovers and drawn up by a lawyer, exemplifies the frustration faced by the researcher in this field!

Kettring 28th Oct 1702

Hond Sr'

This is to acquaint yr worship that I have sould ye beast alredy 2 runts that I did value at 6 4s which I had 7; 4 steers which cost 7 14s for 19 5s, one ould cow for 1-10-0 and wee cam so fer verey well but gras is verey scarce I faine to go out of the road a mile or to sumtimes. Thanke god wee had very good weathar and the beast is in verye good ordr nor nevar a one lame but ye cow yt I sould. There is but few beast going towards this faire, I cannot have an acct of but 800 and that is not above half what use to be an othar year. I question not if god please to continue the weathar as it is now that wee shall a good market. Good sr I am yr worships humble servant.

                                                             Evan Edwards

To the Honble Sir Richard Myddleton  22

 

Evan Edwards, Charges to Blackmor Fair, 1701    23

14 August 1701

 

   s    d

Att Redbrooke

00-10-00

Att Newport

00-11-08

Att Norton

00-12-04

Att Smockinaton (?)

00-13-00

Att Kelmarch

01-05-00

Att Partunhall

00-12-06

Att Cummington

00-13-06

Att Langley Green

00-15-04

Att Biship Starford

00-16-00

Att Woodbarnes

04-00-00

Att Blackmore

01-00-00

Pd. to Daniel Jones for 20 days

01-00-00

Pd. ye same to Richd Price

01-00-00

Pd. to kepars

00-06-06

Pd. for standing

00-03-06

Toule and hewards (?)

00-09-00

Chargis to London ............................................................(

                             .............................................................(

                             .............................................................(

                            ..............................................................(

00-05-00   Att Chickwell

00-18-00   For Gras at London

00-07-00   For keepars and standing

01-10-00   Paid to Richd Roberts for 30 days

 

...............

 In all

17-09-00

 

...............

 

Memorandum of Money Lost by Drovers  24

 

      s   d

David Jones

192-12-0

Joseph Williams

440-00-0

James Lewis

  31-18-6

Titus Jones

  10-10-0

James Jones

  21-10-0

Mr Jones his sister

  16-16-0

Henry Davies

  25-00-0

Rees Job (?)

    3-05-0

A Scochman

    4-04-0

John Phillips

    4-10-0

 

................

 

749-15-6

 

................

 

R. J. Moore-Colyer

Aberystwyth

 

  Notes


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