Pembrokeshire Farming circa 1580-1620


B E Howells, National Library of Wales journal, 1956, Winter. Volume IX/4 pp 413-439

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

This is the final part of three extracted by Gareth Hicks, Dec 2002.

See also Part 1

See also Part 2



Before proceeding to a consideration of Pembrokeshire tenures in detail, an attempt will be made to indicate how the fundamental contracts between the English and Welsh parts of the shire were underlined by the tenurial distinctions between them. Most of the land in the Englishry was held by customary tenure, the essence of which resided in the fact that tenurial customs were based on the custom of the manor in each case, so that when the central courts were asked to decide on a case concerning customary lands, their first step was usually to empanel a jury in order to establish the custom of the manor. In talking of the law affecting one particular type of customary tenure, copyhold, Tawney observes that 'its essence is to be local and peculiar,' 1 and this may be extended to embrace customary tenancies as a whole. As a result the greatest care was taken in recording local usage concerning customary tenures in a manor whenever a survey was taken, and surveyors went to great trouble in attempting to differentiate between customary land and other types of land.

At best the copyholder of inheritance with fixed fine virtually enjoyed the security of a freeholder, though only too often a commentator like George Owen could aver that 'nowe the world ys so altered wth ye poore tenante that he standeth so in bodylie feere of his greedy neighbour that 2 or 3 years eare his lease end he must bowe to his lord for a new lease & must pinch yt out many yeares before to heape money together, so that in this age yt is as easye for a poore tenante to marry 2 of his daughters to his neighboures sonnes as to match him selfe to a good farm from his landlord'.   2

The prevalence of customary tenants in the south of the shire---they embraced almost the whole landholding population at places like Linney, 3  Penally, 4 and St. Florence 5  ---contrasted sharply with the predominance of freeholders in the Welsh districts. In 1583 there were fifty-nine freehold tenants and seven tenants at will at Moelgrove   6 while in Cemais Infra seventy out of seventy-two tenants were freeholders 7  and the same was true to a lesser extent of Cemais Supra, with twenty-three free tenants out of a total of thirty-five.   8  Indeed, it must be stressed that in the case of several Cemais manors great care was taken to point out in surveys that the tenants at will were holding parcels of demesne land on a...............

  • 1. R. F. Tawney: The agrarian problem in the sixteenth century, p. 293.
  • 2. Owen's Penbrokshire, part I, pp. 190-1.
  • 3. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/260, fos. 134-5.
  • 4. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fos. 43ff.
  • 5. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fos. 229-43.
  • 6.  Vairdre Book (Bronwydd 3), fos. 254-5d.
  • 7. Ibid., fos. 243-4d.
  • 8. Ibid., fos. 241-2.

................. year-to-year basis, 1  so that the possibility cannot be ruled out that before the late medieval recession there were only demesne lands and freeholders' lands on many northern manors.

In north Pembrokeshire the tenants at will or customary tenants had theoretically less security than those of the Englishry, for their only guarantee against arbitrary eviction was the custom of the country that 'they were not removeable without 2 lawfull warninges to be given at usual feastes, that ys the one on our Ladie eve in March. The other at Maye eve, and then was the old tenant at Mydsomer to remove out of the hall house and to leave yt the new tenante, and the pasture to be common between them till Michaelmas, and then the old tenant so depart cum paucis ...'   2  It is difficult to decide whether their plight was as harsh in practice as their legal insecurity would suggest : the absence of sufficient evidence must leave the question an open one, though it may be noted that George Owen speaks sympathetically of their position. 3  Most of the data relating to tenurial customs in north Pembrokeshire are provided by evidence relating to Cemais: both Cilgerran and Dewsland are badly documented, though fragmentary evidence would suggest that customary tenants may have been numerically more important in Dewsland than in Cemais. 4  Bearing these broad distinctions in mind, therefore, it may now be permissible to analyse the tenures by which land was held in the Pembrokeshire countryside prior to the Civil Wars.

The copyholder as such is rarely mentioned in sixteenth and early seventeenth century manorial documents relating to Pembrokeshire, preference being given to the wider generic terms 'customary tenant' and 'tenant at will', as to the more specific 'husbandryholder' or 'censory holder'. The reason for this seems to be in the fact that contemporaries were more concerned with knowing the legal position and obligations of the tenant than with his ability to prove his title, for in the last resort the strength of title of any customary tenant lay in the testimony of witnesses who could remember his taking up his land in the manorial court at the hands of the steward. Formal seisin of the holding was usually granted in open court by the steward, the formal act of seisin being symbolised usually by the handing of a rod to the new tenant, who was then said to hold 'by the rod'.   5

Customary tenants may be regarded as falling into two broad categories according to the nature of the land they held, the distinction between them being based on the original character of the lands in question. The first group, frequently named coloni or husbandry-hold tenants, held lands which before the great recession had been held by villein tenants, and as they held estates of inheritance they were regarded essentially as tenants 'whom the favourable hand of time hath much enfranchised'. Nevertheless, although the decline of demesne farming which.........................

  • 1. Vairdre Book (Bronwydd 3), fos. 244d, 245. 247d, 251, and 255d.
  • 2. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. I, p. 191.  
  • 3. Ibid., vol. I, pp. 190-1.
  • 4. Black Book of St. David's, pp. 46-68, 72-80.
  • 5. Manorbier, 1609: 'Censorie hould is that by wch the tenant doth hould any messuage lands or tenements of the lord of the mannor by the rod for term of lief onely ...' (Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fo. 44). The surveyors of Haverford lordship in 1577 wrote of 'customarie tenantes that holde their landes by copie of cort roll or by the rodde...' (Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/238, fo. 21).

............. had occurred in the country well before the Black Death had resulted in the commutation of many services for sums of money which, by the sixteenth century, were lumped together with the rent due from tenements, a number of services, dues and renders were still demanded from this class of tenants as may be seen from the 1609 survey of the manor of Beere. 1

'All the tenants for their husbandrie hould do service and sute: for everie one that misseth iiid.  Likewise the same tenants are to make the lords haie once a yere and the same haie to drawe or carry to the castle of the mannor of Beere aforesaid at their owne proper costs and charges. Also they owe and do sute to the lords mill there, and do purge the back water of the same mill, and are to bring the millstones from the town of Tynby or Pembroke, or from a place called Malefont's Crosse to the mill aforesaid, the lord or farmer finding one sufficient cart to carry the same millstones with one horse called a carthorse, and one rope to binde the foresaid milstones and one man to drive the foresaid cart. Also they are to carry or bring all tymber for the reparacon of the same mill from the forests of Narberth and Coydraffe to the mill aforesaid at their own charges. And all the tenants aforesaid to geve to the lord for a heriot for every tenement ye best beast after the death of every tenant. And likewise to geve to the lord for every messuage a hen at the feast of the birth of our Lord yearly'.

Where demesne farming was going on these burdens were often much heavier. The last of these obligations disappeared only with the passing of the Law of Property Acts in 1922.

The strength of the tenurial position of the husbandryholders of this manor is indicated by a subsequent passage:

'Furthermore they do present that if any of the husbandrie tenants do die, and his next heire shall not come into the court either in person or by his frende after the presentment made by the homage before the steward within the term of one whole year and a daie next after the death of his predecessor or ancestor, that he shall forfet his customarie tenure, and that then it shall be lawfull for the lord of the manor aforesaid to dispose of the same lands and tenements at the lord's will according to the custom of the mannor (alwaies provided that an infant or childe under age and all such persons as shall be employed or prest in his Majestys service are excepted & shall not so forfet their estates)'.

This statement makes clear the reasonableness and liberality of this tenure,which is known to have been common in a number of south Pembrokeshire manors.

The second class of customary tenants includes those who from the early fourteenth century onwards, held land which had for some reason or other been in the lord's hand. This land might either be ancient demesne which the lord no longer desired to farm, or else the escheated holdings of coloni or other tenants. The censarii or censory tenants appear from the first to have been rent-paying tenants who held their land on a customary basis. They performed many of the services and rendered many of the dues required from husbandryhold tenants but were in a weaker tenurial position, for at best they held their land only for life,.....................

  • 1. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fos. 43ff
  • 2. It is noticeable that the husbandryhold tenants of the manor were not involved in quarrels with their landlords as the censory tenants were.

 ......................... so that by the late sixteenth century their successors had to pay constantly increasing entry fines. 1  Again the Manorbier survey of 1609 gives a lucid account of censory-hold tenure.

'Censorie hould is that by which the tenant doth hould any messuage lands or tenements of the lord of the mannor by the rod for terme of lief onely according to the custome of the mannor, and after the decease of the tenant it remayneth to the next of the kyn to take it of the lord of the mannor aforesaid, paying the ancient fine for the same, by the rents and services therefore due and of right accustomed according to the custom of the mannor. And all the censorie tenants do sute at the court of the mannor of Beere aforesaid twice in the yere viz at the corts houlden next after the feast of Easter or Saint Michall th' Archangell yerely. And there is a common amerciament likewise for every one missing iiid. And they do geve the best living beast for a heriot after the death of every tenant, and doe grinde at the lords mill'.

Soon afterwards Charles Bowen of Trefloyne, the farmer of the manor, sued Gilbert Thacker, the surveyor, and the jury for presenting fraudulently that censory lands were inheritable at certain fines:   2  in fact the fines of censory tenements were always fixed at the pleasure of the lord.

In Cemais the majority of customary tenants at the end of the sixteenth century held demesne lands, and George Owen took great care in his surveys to point out that they held only from year to year. 3    This is significant because, as Sir John Clapham points out, tenancies on a year to year basis were a novelty in the sixteenth century. 4  The advantages of such a tenure were, he states, that the landlord could claim his full rent up to the end of the agricultural year while the tenant had security throughout the whole agricultural year from Michaelmas to Michaelmas. It may be queried whether this type of tenure had any advantages from the tenant's point of view: it placed him almost completely at the mercy of the landlord in a land-hungry age of rising rents and bears out the impression derived from other sources that George Owen was one of the most exacting and vigorous landlords of his day, straining his 'feudal' rights as lord of Cemais to the full and introducing tenures which were novel even in England.

The censory tenants and tenants at will from year to year fall at the two extremes of this second group of customary tenants who lacked the security of husbandry-holders. Between them there was a range of customary tenants holding for a fixed number of years, often with unfixed rents or fines or with fines which would remain fixed for a period of years before being raised again, as in the lordship of Haverford, where the tenants of Camrose, Steynton and St. Ishmael's manors and of other holdings in Roose belonging directly to the Crown might always have to face the prospect of a fresh royal commission which would leave a trail of higher rents in its wake.

The nature of the evidence makes it difficult to come to any accurate conclusion concerning the proportion of husbandry holders among the customary tenants of ...................

  • 1. Owen's Penbrokskire, vol. 1, pp. 190-1.
  • 2. T. I. J. Jones (ed.), Cal. Ex. Proc. Equity, James I, (Wales), pp. 296-7.
  • 3. 'Memorandum that all the tenauntes aforesaid both in the lordshippe of Kemes, the manors of Castelbigh and Woodstocke & Ambleston wch are termid tenauntes at will are tenauntes at will from yeere to yeere according to the custome of the contrey ...' ( Vairdre Book, Bronwydd MS. 3, fo. 136a).
  • 4. Sir J. Clapham: A concise economic history of Britain, p. 209.

......................Pembrokeshire. In the hundred of Castlemartin, husbandry holders probably outnumbered other customary tenants, and this may also have been the case in the lordships of Narberth. In Roose they seem to have been almost non-existent, the majority of customary tenants holding for periods of years, while they are unknown in Cemais, Dewsland and Cilgerran. Only where husbandry-holders were in the majority can it be stated with any confidence that most tenants enjoyed security of tenure : the majority of customary tenants however must have regarded with envy the absolute security enjoyed by freehold tenants.

It is unfortunate that a number of attempts to calculate the number of freeholders in Elizabethan Pembrokeshire have been based upon the list copied by George Owen into The Taylors Cussion, 1  for the list was taken down by him from the books of the sheriff 's tourn which were compiled for the special purpose of enumerating those who were substantial enough to serve as jurymen in the county court or Great Sessions. This is especially so in north Pembrokeshire, where there were many small freeholders, few of whom were included in his totals.   2 Only an analysis of surviving extents and surveys can provide data for a rough estimate of the proportion of freeholders in different parts of the shire.

In some manors freeholders seem to have predominated. Rinaston was exceptional for a south Pembrokeshire manor, for all its nine tenants in 1592 were freeholders. Otherwise the customary tenants were clearly in a majority in the Englishry of the shire. Tenurial conditions in the north, however, present a sharp contrast. At Moylgrove in 1583, fifty-nine of the sixty-six tenants were freeholders, 3 and so were thirty out of fifty-eight at Eglwyswrw, 4  eleven out of fifteen at Newcastle and Redwalls, 5 twenty out of thirty-five in Cemais Supra, 6   and seventy out of seventy-two in Cemais Infra 7 : moreover, as previously pointed out, the fact that the sixteenth-century tenants at will in Cemais held land which was specified as demesne indicates the likelihood that most of the medieval peasants of Cemais were freeholders. 8 George Owen claimed that all the freeholders of these Cemais manors 'hold all by knights service that is to saie by homage fealtye and escuage and suyte of coorte and the lord hath tyme out of mynde had the wardes and maredges of such as are & were wth'in age', 9  but it is doubtful whether the Welsh freemen of Cemais in the late thirteenth century held by knight's service. The very fact that record exists of some of their predial services being commuted to money rents casts doubt on his claims. 10  Evidence from the Black Book of St. David's indicates that the Welsh freemen of Dewsland, at any rate, held their land per antiquam tenuram---in accordance with cyfraith Hywel Dda. 11

  • 1. The Taylors Cussion, part I, fos. 53-53d.
  • 2. Compare, for example, the 59 freeholders of Moelgrove ( Vairdre Book, Bronwydd 3, fos. 254-5) with the 7 given by the list in The Taylors Cussion.
  • 3. Vairdre Book (Bronwydd 3), fos. 254-5.        
  • 4. Ibid., fos. 247-8d.
  • 5. Ibid., fos. 245d-6.   
  • 6. Ibid., fos. 241-2.    
  • 7. Ibid., fos. 243-4.
  • 8. This finding is confirmed by the medieval documents of the Bronwydd collection.
  • 9. Vairdre Book (Bronwydd 3), fo. 177.
  • 10. Baronia de Kemeys, pp. 51-2.
  • 11. Black Book of St. David's, pp. 88, 96-102,

The freemen of Villa Camerarium held their lands in co-parceny and had certain obligations to fulfil. They were liable to pay relief at the rate of 15d. per bovate, and gave collection of sheep at the rate of one sheep from each carucate. They owed suit of court each fifteen days, and also owed suit to the lord's mill. In addition they had to guard the church when wrongdoers had taken refuge there, to follow the lord and his host in time of war, which also involved following the relics of St. David in procession to the most easterly extremity of Pebidiog at Caratwiney, and to assemble when warned to do so by the blowing of a horn in order to guard wrecks along the coast. 1  It is likely that the Welsh freemen of Cemais held by a similar tenure in the early fourteenth century: George Owen preferred to regard the freemen of Cemais in his day as tenants by knight's service so that he could claim a substantial though fluctuating income from his rights of wardship and marriage, which were often sold at a high price to purchasers who made what they could out of them.  2

In Roose, Deugleddy, Castlemartin and that part of Narberth hundred which lay outside the old lordship of Narberth, the majority of free tenants held by knight's service. From the economic point of view they may be divided into those whose holdings were important enough to be organised as manors, and those who held lesser units of land which were rarely much smaller than half a carucate in size. In Roose, for instance, Haroldston St. Issell's, Langum, Talbenny, Keeston, Nolton and Robeston West all furnish examples of knights' fees or half fees which were organised as manors during the sixteenth century. Large freehold farms like Bicton and Little and Great Hoaten in St. Ishmael's parish were, as one might expect, much more common.

By the sixteenth century most tenants holding by knight's service paid only nominal rents payable at Michaelmas only. When the royal surveyors of Haverford lordship discovered in 1577 that Mathias Morse claimed to hold a carucate and a half of land by knight's service paying a rent due at the Annunciation and Michaelmas in equal portions, they were at once suspicious. Of the rent they noted 'also this is paiable at two feastes where free rentes are commonly paid but once a year' : only customary tenants paid their rents twice yearly. Most freeholders also owed suit to the courts baron of their manors, though probably the freeholders of Haverfordwest were not alone in preferring to 'make fyne at the stewardes pleasure' to attending them. 3  When a free tenant died a relief or succession duty was demanded when the heir came into possession of his inheritance. Throughout most of Pembrokeshire this was based upon the acreage of land held by the tenant, the standard rate being a penny per acre. If the heir was a minor, he would become the ward of the lord. The magnificent vellum roll of wards of William and George Owen testifies to the importance of wardship in the sixteenth century, 4  and the shameless profiteering which surrounded the institution .....................

  • 1.  Black Book of Saint David's, p. 88.
  • 2. F. Jones: 'The roll of wards of the lords marcher of Kemes', B.B.C.S., vol. X, part I, 1939, pp. 83-93.
  • 3. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/238 fo. 2od.
  • 4. F. Jones: 'The roll of wards of the lords marcher of Kemes', B.B.C.S., vol. X, part 1, 1939, p. 83.

..................... often caused great damage to the heir's estate although it was a recognised rule that the estate should be returned to the heir in as good condition as when it was received. It could be disastrous for an estate to descend through a succession of young heirs.

In south Pembrokeshire, apart from Narberth lordship, a small number of socage tenants are to be found, generally holding small units of land per fidelitatem et sectam. In the lordship of Haverford they are generally found holding small closes in 1577, though the social status of these tenants makes it clear that socage tenants were not necessarily small peasants: the occurrence of the names of John Vaughan, John Wogan, Thomas Bowen and Francis Laugharne as socage tenants indicates this clearly enough, though this is not surprising when it is remembered that from the thirteenth century onwards the exceptional freedom of socage tenure had made it attractive to even the greatest landowners. In Pembrokeshire, as elsewhere, in addition to paying their rents the socage tenants of the sixteenth century still continued to pay 'the old recognitions of dependent tenure such as a gillyflower, a red rose, a pound of pepper, or a pound of cummin'.   1

In the Englishry of Narberth, an individual type of freehold tenure existed. 2  In this area of late colonisation the tenements were termed burgages, each being eight customary acres in size. Upon the decease of a tenant or the alienation of a burgage, a sum of 12d. was payable to the lord. Predial services were attached to each holding, but they were extremely light, being limited to one harrowing service in spring and one reaping service in autumn. On the other hand these burgagers had to serve as reeves, officers who were normally chosen from among the customary tenants. In Narberth lordship both free and unfree tenants had to pay 'kilth corn' and 'kilth money', which was assessed at the rate of three dozen sheaves of corn (a dozen each of wheat, barley and oats) and 11d. on each ploughland annually evidently a relic of the earlier Welsh cylch system; these renders were payable at the feast of All Saints. The township of Molleston and the commote of Wilfrey together made up the Welshry of Narberth, within which the freeholders held by the rod. 3  It is possible that Wilfrey was divided into two gwelyau by the late thirteenth century, for at that time half the commote was held by heredes Govgany Fawr and the other half by heredes Elydyr ap Rathlan, each stock rendering 4s. in cash annually and one cow every second year to the lord. 4 These Welsh freemen paid a relief and alienation fine of 7s. 6d. and were liable to payment of leyrwite. 5

Leaseholders were much more numerous in sixteenth and seventeenth century Pembrokeshire than the manorial surveys of the period would suggest. The latter only mention those leaseholders who held their tenements directly of the manorial........

  • 1. R. F. Tawney: The agrarian problem in the sixteenth century, p. 29.
  • 2. Apart from the lordship of Narberth, burgage tenure was not found in the countryside except in decayed boroughs like Rosemarket.
  • 3. Slebech MS. 3224.
  • 4. Slebech MS. 97; Pembrokeshire records, part II, p. 74.
  • 5. Slebech MS. 3224; Pembrokeshire records, part II, p. 146. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. I, pp. 172-4, 183-9.

....................lord, whilst in fact many freeholders and substantial customary tenants often made considerable profits through leasing out part or the whole of their lands. This was the normal method by which freehold tenants paying small cash rents exploited their lands in Tudor and Stuart Pembrokeshire. It need not be believed that customary tenants such as John Barlow, squire of Slebech, who held extensive customary lands at Lamphey, cultivated those lands directly themselves : they were sublet, usually for fairly short terms. Pembrokeshire leases for term of years go back at least as far as the early fourteenth century, 1   and probably further, and by the sixteenth century leases for two or three lives were also common. There was a tendency for landlords to convert customary tenancies into leaseholds, though this could be done generally only with their permission. In 1577 the royal surveyors of Haverford lordship reported that they 'conferred with the particular tenantes first aperte, then openlie, to bring them to like to take leases at iii yeres rente which thei alledged generallie thei are not able to compasse but are humble petitioners to have them at ii yeres rent . . .' 2   Burghley and Walter Mildmay, who evidently scrutinised the survey, conceded these reduced fines in 1579, and the transfer in tenure was effected soon afterwards.

Landlords favoured the extension of leasehold tenure because it gave them a tighter control over lands owned by them in a period of rapidly rising prices, a period when leaseholds could be rack-rented more effectively than customary holdings because they reverted to the lord's hands more frequently. Short-term leaseholds became the general rule in the sixteenth century, the usual period of time being twenty-one years. Only the lands of gable tenants who held from year to year---and they were leaseholders to all intents and purposes---were more easily rackrented than leasehold properties. Nevertheless, over large areas of the county the ancient customary tenures succeeded in holding their own despite squirearchal blandishments and threats, and in most manors substantial tracts of customary land were still in existence in the early twentieth century.

Housing Conditions

Probably the majority of dwellings in the Pembrokeshire villages of the early seventeenth century were the cottages of labourers and small craftsmen. The appearance of the traditional cottage type of the Pembrokeshire countryside---a basic form which was common to both English and Welsh parts of the shire---is perhaps best understood from Royal Commission reports of the nineteenth century, 3  when it was being replaced by stone-walled, slate-roofed cottages. The older type of cottage has been described fully, and enough of them are still standing to verify reports about them. In 1867 the Rev. William Owen wrote to a commissioner ..................

  • 1. Bronwydd MS. 809 and Slebech MS. 288 are two early examples.
  • 2. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/238, fo. 35.
  • 3.  Report of the Royal Commission on the employment of children, young persons, and women in agriculture (1867), (London, 1870). (The Rev. William Owen's account is from p. 47 and the Commissioner's description is on p. 48. See also the Report of the Royal Commission on labour-the agricultural labourer, vol. II, Wales (London 1893) pp. 63-4.

...............that 'the state of the labourers' cottages is very bad; badly constructed; one floor and one room on that floor, partly divided by some article of furniture; damp walls; earth floors ; smoky chimnies ; a small window or two, often no more than a square foot, and never opened; no out-offices, or any accommodation whatever'. The commissioner who quoted his evidence went into greater detail.  'The ordinary form of a cottage in South Wales is a rectangular building about 20 feet by 12 (inside measurement) with walls of mud (clay and straw mixed) or stone about 8 feet high. The mud cottage is almost always covered with straw thatch. In the middle of the front wall is the door with a small window on each side. Running back from each side of the door for 6 or 8 feet, and almost as high as the door are partitions, often formed by the back of a box bed or chest of drawers, by means of which partitions the inside space is divided into two small rooms, in one of which is a wide fireplace surmounted by a conical chimney. The whole interior is open to the roof, except where boards or wattled hurdles are stuck across the heads of the walls to support childrens' beds. The floor is usually of mud or puddled clay. The only outside office is the pigsty, generally built against the end of the cottage. Such is a description of probably four-fifths of the labourers' cottages in the districts I visited'.

Another account, written in 1814, fills out the picture with a few extra details, describing these squalid cottages as having 'a mud walling of about 5 feet high, a hipped end, low roofing of straw with a wattle and daub chimney, kept together with hay rope bandages, and frequently from its inclined posture making a very obtuse angle with the gable end over which it hangs'. 1  How close this type of structure was to the cottages of Tudor Pembrokeshire may be inferred from a description of similar buildings in Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall  'walles of earth, low thatched roofes, few partitions, no planchings or glasse windowes, and scarcely any chimnies other than a hole in the wall to let out the smoke : their bed, straw and a blanket: as for sheets, so much linen cloth had not yet stepped over the narrow channels between them and Brittaine ... but now most of these fashions are universally banished'. 2  Happy and progressive Cornwall ! These conditions were to persist in South Wales for at least another two hundred years, and when change came it was usually in the direction of stone walling, the insertion of one or two tiny unopenable windows, and the provision of privies. Despite the heartbreaking squalor of these cottages where, incidentally, there was  'no ventilation except what enters through the doorway and passed out through the chimney', the women of the countryside were so conscientious that the commissioner added that 'except in the north of England and in Scotland, I never saw such a general endeavour to make a poor building look its best'---and this despite the fact that many women worked in the fields throughout the day. 3

  • 1.  Report of the Royal Commission on labour: the agricultural labourer, Vol. II, Wales, (London, 1893), p. 63.
  • 2. Carew, Richard: The survey of Cornwall, ed. F. E. Halliday (London, 1953), P. 138.
  • 3. Report of the Royal Commission on the employment of children, young persons, and women in agriculture (1867), (London, 1870), p. 48.

This was the type of building in which the majority of late Tudor and early Stuart labourers, craftsmen and small husbandmen were living. Information about the furnishing of these mean dwellings is provided by probate inventories which, from the year 1582 onwards, give details of the personal estate of the men dwelling in the countryside and the small towns of early modern Pembrokeshire. The prevailing impression, after examining several hundred wills, 1  is that these cottages were usually so barely furnished that little comfort could have existed in them. David Jenkin of Begelly, for instance, who died in 1601, had no furniture in his cottage apart from two old coffers and an ancient 'boorde'. No bed is referred to in his inventory, though he possessed two blankets and a coverlet: probably he slept on a pile of straw in a corner, as so many poorer Elizabethans did. Apart from this, his household goods consisted of eight pieces of pewter, four 'treene' dishes and six trenchers, a pan, a crock, a brandiron, a stand, and a kinderkin: the barest essentials, in fact. The home of Philip Aulen of Hubbeston, a husbandman, was equally ill-furnished. He too owned no bed, like Jenkins, and he had two blankets and a coverlet to warm him by night. His furniture consisted simply of a cupboard and chest, though within his cottage there were also two barrels, a kive, a 'boorde' cloth---but no 'boorde',--- a pan, a cauldron, and four pewter dishes. William Griffith of Brawdy was also a husbandman, a smallholder who in addition to growing a little corn kept two cows, an ox, a mare, eleven sheep, four goats, and a couple of pigs. Once again no bed is mentioned, though his nights were solaced by the use of 'one sheete of canvas', a bolster, and a coverlet; on the other hand, he owned no blankets. The only real items of furniture in his cottage were a 'skewe' or wooden settle, a hutch, and a stand. Apart from these his household possessions were restricted to three pewter dishes and a candlestick, a pan, a brass pot, a bucket, a stand, and two 'treen' dishes, while in the hearth there stood a brandiron. The presence of a 'tourne' or spinning wheel indicates that, like so many other farmers of the age, he processed enough of his own wool to cater for family requirements. The houses of most labourers must have been even more meagrely furnished, and in one or two extreme instances no household goods worth listing were recorded on the probate inventory.

As one might expect, the farmhouses of the larger husbandmen and yeomen were more substantial structures than the squalid dwellings of the labourers, and the survival of several solidly-built medieval farmhouses such as Carswell and Whitewell in Penally indicates that the more substantial medieval farmers of the county often had large, stone-built 'halls'. 2 Nevertheless in Pembrokeshire, as in so many parts of southern Britain, the later sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries saw the complete rebuilding of many old houses, the reconstruction and enlargement of others, and also the erection of many houses on completely new sites. There was in general a tendency to transform the old medieval halls into houses containing a number of rooms, thus giving a greater degree of privacy, and many of these rooms were ceiled over to create lofts.

  • 1. These fall between the years 1582 and 1640. They are housed in the National Library of Wales.
  • 2. The word 'hall' had two meanings in Elizabethan Pembrokeshire: it was used sometimes in the sense of farmhouse, and it was also used to describe the largest room in the farmhouse.

The older farmhouses of Pembrokeshire seem to fall into two main categories according to the position of the chimney within them, and it is fortunate that good examples of each type have been described by prominent students of domestic architecture. The first group consists of gable-chimneyed houses, a group of which, situated in Castlemartin, have been examined by Sir Cyril Fox 1  : standing in marked contrast to these are those farmhouses in which the fireplace forms part of a side-aisle. Some of the most notable of these were described by Romilly Allen in an important and beautifully-illustrated article published in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1902, entitled 'Old farm-houses with round chimnies near St. David's'. 2 Other types may be discovered upon a more detailed examination of the domestic architecture of Pembrokeshire, but at present this classification, which takes cognizance of what appear to have been distinct cultural traditions, provides a basis for future enquiry.

Sir Cyril Fox divided the small gable-chimneyed farmhouses into two sub-types, one having the hearth inside the gable while in the second the hearth was situated outside it. The former, in which a stone chimney is built onto the inner face of the gable wall, as at Old Trenorgan, probably represents a translation into stone of the wooden hood and flue which was in widespread use throughout medieval Britain. The external hearth, Fox suggests, arose as a means of isolating the fire and flue from contact with the gable of the building, either to obviate the technical difficulties of preventing leaks when a chimney stack pierces a roof, or to meet the demand for fireplaces at the gables of wooden buildings. The retention of this second sub-type, which is well represented by the sixteenth-century farmhouse of Slade, was, he considers, due only to the conservatism of local builders. It is interesting to note that in these gable-chimneyed houses, the widespread presence of three offsets on one side of the chimney stack, and of one on the other, to give an asymmetrical elevation which prevents rain from falling directly onto the fire, indicates the diffusion of this highly individual style from a single source which may well be located precisely as the study of domestic architecture becomes more intensive in Britain.

Slade farmhouse, which on archaeological grounds has been assigned to the sixteenth century by Sir Cyril Fox, is in some ways typical of the new type of farm building which was going up in the period c. 1550 - c.1610. Here is no oak-framed house such as is known to have characterised medieval building in Monmouthshire and large parts of western England: it is a solid stone structure, with the ground floors ceiled over after 1652 to provide upper rooms or attics. A close link with local building of an earlier age is apparent, for the building has what Sir Cyril Fox describes as a 'Gothic flavour'. The walling is massive, the chimney shaft is placed eccentrically in relation to the gable, and the peak of the gable stands free. Between the shaft and the house wall is a slo(p)ing stone gutter, shaped like an inverted V. These features, like the widespread use of round stone chimneys in Pembrokeshire, indicate the adaption of building techniques derived from castle building to the requirements of domestic structures.

  • 1. Sir C. Fox: 'Some south Pembrokeshire cottages', Antiquity, no. XVI, 1942, pp. 307ff.
  • 2. R. Allen: 'Old farm-houses with round chimnies near St. David's, Arch. Camb., Sixth series, vol. II, 1902, pp. 1-24.

Fortunately, the probate inventory of Henry Leach of Slade, who died in September 1652, has survived to give a detailed picture of the farmstead within a century or so of its erection. The portion relating to the farmhouse and outbuildings is here quoted in full.

' In the stable. It. one rack and manger 1-6d. It. of pickes & rakes 3-4d. It. of tallet timber to put straw on 2-6d. In the oxe house. It. 4 pigges £2. It. of tallette timber & other small timber 5s. In the out chamber. It. one bedsteede wth bed & bouster 15s. It. two mattockes 1s. It. one bettax 6d. It. 3 spades 1s. It. one old sive 6d. It. one little chest 6d. It. in boords & other smale peeces of timber 5s. It. in coales 6-8d. It. one pair of stock cards 1s. It. in flax, hoops, & other small things there 1-6d. It. two shovells 1-6d. It. in the roome by the sheepcott. It. 5 plowes wth its iron £1. It. in timber for the plow & other smale timber for other uses there 10s. It. two smale pigges feedinge there 10s. In the carthouse. It. fower pair of wheeles bound wth iron £5. It. three longe boddies 10s. It. 3 tumbrells 10s. It. 3 pair of harrowes wth its furniture 8s. It. one dragge furnished 3-4d. It. 4 iron teemes & youkes & a pair of trayes 10s. It. 4 pair of cart ropes 2s. It. 3 yeevills & two dung crookes 6d. It. one slidd 4d. It. of furze, turf, & other fuell £1. In the hale. It. one table boord, one forme, & 4 joynt stooles 10s. It. one chayre 1s. It. one cupboard 10s. It. two skewes 5s. It. flower chestes 6-8d. It. one bedsteede £1-10-1. In the kichen. It. 3 brasse potts £2. It. two caldrons £1-6-8d. It. 4 brasse pannes 16s. It. one skillett 1s. It. one brasse candlestick 6d. It. six dishes of pewter, one flaggon, one one (sic) salt & six pewter spoones 10s. It. two bruing kives, six barells, 4 kinterkins, six bucketts & other smale vessells 16s. It. one fryinge pan, two broches, & two fire irons 6-8d. It. six earthen pannes & 6 earthen potts 6d. It. 12 wooden dishes & 12 trenchers 8d. It. two longe formes & one sittinge furme 2s. It. two pair of hand cards 6d. It. one cheese payes 8d. It. 6 cheese vates 1s. It. 15 reape hookes 1s. It. two hachetts, one bone axe & one stone hammer 1-4d. It. one iron barr 1-6d. It. one pair of hemp combes 3d. It. 10 sackes for to carry corne in 10s. It. 3 winnowinge sheetes 12s. It. 2 bearinge sheetes 1s. It. 12 yeards of sackings 6s. Its 18 yeards of course canvas 9s. It. two table cloathes 5s. It. 12 table napkins 6s. It. three pair of blankett 10s. It. 4 pair of sheetes 16s. It. 2 coverlett 5s. It. two pillowes 1s. lt. 7 seeves & two serges 1-4d. It. one leather bottle & one wodden bottle 8d. It. one iron grate 6d. It. one strike of hemp seede 2-6d. It. one strike of linseed 2-6d. It. in hempe 1s. It. 5 store trowes 2s. It. 6 stores of cheese 10s. It. one kinterkin of butter £1-4-0. It. one buz of mault 3-4d. It. one buz of old pease 3-4d. It. one table bord, two old chests wth shelfes, trestles, & other small thinges about the house prized at 10s.'

The second type of farmhouse, in which the spacious partly-projecting fireplace forms part of the aisle, is an individual type which appears to have evolved in Pembrokeshire and is not encountered in any other part of Wales. Well-built and sturdy, with massive round chimneys, it is best represented today by farmhouses in Dewsland such as Rhoson, Pwllcaerog, Clegyr Foea, Hendre Einon, Croftufty and Tref Elydr. Generally these houses have a central passage about four feet wide with a front door at one end and a back door at the other. On each side a door leads into the two principal rooms on the ground floor, while sometimes smaller rooms open out of the big ones. The area of the ground floor is increased without making necessary a roof of extremely wide span by the presence of side-aisles or pent houses, which are frequently used as bedrooms and storehouses. The main roof was generally thatched, while the penthouses were usually roofed with large slate slabs. This type of building seems to be in essentials a direct translation into stone of the old Welsh aisled house with a central passage running between opposite doors, though the influence of the Anglo-Norman castle builders ...........

............is again apparent in the thick walls, the arched doorways, the massive round chimneys, and the stone staircases and benches. The fireplace is usually adjacent to the entrance.   1

It is now necessary to see to what extent this evidence, derived from the study of existing structures, tallies with and is supplemented by data culled from documents of the late Tudor and early Stuart periods. Some idea of the housing conditions of some twenty-one tenant farmers holding lands from the Crown in 1624-5 is conveyed by a survey of that regnal year 2 : seven of them lived in Camrose, seven at St. Ishmael's, two at Roch, and five in Steynton. All of them held between twenty-four and ninety-six acres of Crown land, and sixteen occupied holdings varying from thirty-two to sixty-four acres in size i.e., between half a carucate and a carucate in extent. Four of these holdings were exactly one carucate in size and seven were half-carucate tenements.

In turning from the holdings to the farm buildings, certain features at once strike the eye. The number of ground-floor rooms in the farmhouses varies between two and six, the average farmhouse containing three or four. Thus by 1624-5, it is safe to say, the 'social movement towards privacy' which characterised building in the sub-medieval period had percolated down to the level of the yeoman farmer in Pembrokeshire.

There was, it would appear, a tendency for building patterns to be repeated within narrowly constricted localities. Two of the five houses at Steynton had four rooms on the ground level and a loft, and they both contained eleven couples. Moreover both farmsteads had barns of six couples, bakehouses, with chambers adjoining of eight couples, and sheepcots of six couples. They seem to have been virtually identical in design. Three of the seven houses at St. Ishmael's had six couples, and the outhouses of two were identical, for they each had a barn of three couples, a sheepcot of five, and an outhouse of four. Moreover, two of the remaining farmhouses there had twelve couples. At Camrose, four of the seven farmhouses had three rooms and twelve couples apiece. Within small localities therefore, there would seem to have been a tendency for standard patterns to evolve and be repeated : it must be remembered that the medieval parishes of St. Ishmael's and Steynton were only a mile and a half apart at the nearest point, and yet the house patterns found in them were distinct. Another interesting point is that whereas none of the farmhouses of Roch, Camrose and St. Michael's had lofts, at Steynton they appear to have been fashionable, for they had been inserted in all the farmhouses there. Loft-building in domestic buildings was one of the characteristic innovations of the age : perhaps Steynton was a comparatively progressive parish.

Two of the farmhouses are described in greater detail than the others. At Deplesmore, in Steynton, Henry Codd possessed 'a hall, a barn, and a sheepcott cont. xx coples, all under one roofe, covered wth thatch, and one howse adioyninge to the hall and builte crosse uppon it devided into two roomes by a lofte conteyning......................

  • 1. I. Peate: The Welsh House, 3rd edn. (London, 1946), pp. 139-44.
  • 2. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fos. 13-38.

................. iiii coples and covered wth thatch'. It looks as if this building was a 'long house' with a small building added at one end to give a T-shaped structure. The other house to be described in some detail was that of Jenkin Renish of North Camrose: 'the dwelling house, viz the hall, being V coples, an outstall cont. ii copels, an inner roome and lofte over it con. iiii coples, a roome belowe the hall doore cont iii coples, all beinge uppon one floore and covered wth thatch'. The term 'outstall' may have been a synonym for 'outshut' in which case the second building would appear to have been broadly similar to the farmhouses described by Romilly Allen.

Apart from the outbuildings which are to be found on most farms today, including barns, stables, cowsheds, carthouses, sheepcots, and pigcots, these sixteenth and early seventeenth-century farmhouses were flanked by a number of ancillary structures which merit individual consideration. All the farmsteads at Steynton and three of those at St. Ishmael's had external bakehouses or kitchens in the farmhouses of the two more northerly parishes, cooking seems to have been done in the farmhouses, probably in the halls in most cases, though larger farmhouses would tend to have separate kitchens. Seven of the twenty-one farmsteads had external chambers built away from the main farmhouses which probably acted both as bedrooms and as storage houses. Moreover at St. Ishmael's two of the farms had cottages attached to them which were described in each case as being 'somewhat remoate from the dwellinge howse'. It is not unreasonable to suspect that these may have been early examples of bound cottages.

Some additional information about the rooms and outbuildings one might expect to find in a fairly large farm is furnished by 'The survay of a farme', a short didactic model for surveyors which occurs in The Taylors Cussion. 1  The farmstead which Owen describes contained 'a hall, three chambers, a kytchin, a stable, a barne, a garner, two out houses for lodgins, a quadrant or coorte, a woodyarde, a poultry yarde, a garden and orcharde, all together conteyninge iii acres'. George Owen also comes to the rescue in confirming suspicions that by the early seventeenth century, stone was the most common building material for houses belonging to members of the yeoman-farmer class. 2  By this time there was something of a timber shortage in the shire, while there was good building stone available in most parts of the county, so that the majority of parishes had at least one quarry from which workable stone could be hewed. In 1609, for instance, the jury of presentment in the royal manor of St. Florence declared that 'in some parts of o'r land we have quarreys of lymestone for the buylding of our houses and manuring of our lands out of which nor profits doth or may arise to his Ma'tie'   3 : possibly all residents within the manor were entitled to free building stone for their houses. With glass becoming cheap---in Harrison's time it had 'come to be so plentiful and within a very little time so good cheap' 4   that it was commonly found in yeomen's ..........

  • 1. The Taylors Cussion, part I, fo. 25.
  • 2. 'But now and hence forward they must contynue the former maner of buildinges with lyme and stonne for want of wood' (Owen's Penbrokshire, part I, p. 76).
  • 3. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fo. 231.
  • 4. J. D. Wilson: Life in Shakespeare's England (London, 1951), p. 267.

................... houses---and the custom of whitewashing the Pembrokeshire cottages and farmsteads already established, the external appearance of the domestic buildings of early seventeenth-century Pembrokeshire had already assumed a recognisable form.

Yeomen and Husbandmen

The larger farmsteads were usually the homes of yeomen, though a degree of caution is necessary in claiming this because it is difficult to draw any satisfactory line of demarcation between them and the husbandmen, for the two classes merged imperceptibly into one another. In general, setting aside a large marginal group who might claim to be either husbandmen or yeomen, it may be stated that the yeomen were the wealthiest farmers of Tudor and Stuart Pembrokeshire apart from the gentry, and that their greater wealth was, by the early seventeenth century, reflected not only in the wider scale of their farming activities, but by considerable domestic comfort and even a mild degree of ostentation : they were, in short, generally land-entrepreneurs rather than subsistence farmers. Many of them held farms which had grown out of the carucate and half-carucate freehold tenements of medieval Pembrokeshire, though it is clear that they were poorer on the average than the yeomen of midland England, who were sometimes capable of buying out some of the squirearchy lock, stock, and barrel. Dr. W. G. Hoskins has shown that the median inventory of the husbandmen of Leicestershire who died in 1570 amounted to £46-1-6, while that of the dozen yeomen who died in the same year came to £95-£100.   l   It is certainly unsafe to apply these figures to Pembrokeshire : to get some idea of their Pembrokeshire equivalents thirty or forty years later, after a period of steadily rising prices, it would perhaps be necessary to reduce these figures by a third, though there were some notable exceptions. In many parts of the country if a rich yeoman cared to change his way of life, spend more on personal display, and perhaps buy up some manorial rights, he could enter the ranks of the squirearchy. But this did not happen in Pembrokeshire, at any rate before the social revolution which accompanied the Civil Wars. More often the rich yeomen of the shire branched out into trade and bought town houses at Haverfordwest or Tenby.

The social and economic importance of the yeomen is perhaps understood most clearly after considering a number of them individually. John Gibbon of St. Florence was a small yeoman, the farmer of a customary-hold tenement for which he paid an annual rent of £2-2-4d.: upon his death in May, 1605, his son William inherited it in accordance with the custom of the manor. When William's lands were surveyed by Gilbert Thacker in 1609,   3  he was listed as holding two ...................

  • 1. W. G. Hoskins: Essays in Leicestershire history (Liverpool, 1950), p. 159.
  • 2. After the Civil Wars certain families like the Leaches of Slade and the Llewelyns of Portclew, which had been gaining in prosperity for several generations, finally crossed out of the yeoman class into the lower ranks of the gentry.
  • 3. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fos. 236-7.

................... dwelling houses and farm outbuildings, together with four small garden plots, while his farmland consisted of sixteen acres of arable land-mostly intermixed parcels lying within closes which had only recently been carved out of the open fields just over eight acres of pasture, and twenty-seven acres of barren and moorish pasture including fourteen acres of 'barren ground of furze and heath on the hill by Ridge Waie'. Apparently he had reduced the acreage of his arable land since his father's death, for in 1605 John Gibbon had had nineteen and a half acres under crops---six acres of wheat, six acres of oats, six acres of barley, and one and a half acres of peas and beans. When the latter's inventory was drawn up soon after his death by his brother William Gibbon the elder, Robert Smith, another wealthy farmer, and David Philip, the parson of the parish, it was recorded that his livestock included 2 oxen, 11 milch kine, 10 other cattle, 6 calves, 68 sheep and lambs, 4 horses and a colt, and 11 'swine greate and little'. Moreover he had a useful range of agricultural implements and tools,---two 'iron bound carts wth theire furniture', two 'payer of wheeles wthout iron', ploughs and harrows, 'evells' or forks, mattocks, a pickaxe, and a shovel. His home had an air of modest comfort about it too, for he sported two feather beds besides three other bedsteads and four bolsters, apart from possessing six pairs of blankets and two coverlets, two cupboards, three coffers, two 'table boords', a 'skewe', two chairs, four forms, and a wide array of household utensils among which his six silver spoons 1   and sixteen pewter dishes call for special mention.

In the adjoining parish of Carew, Thomas Sidwell was a man of similar wealth, though less fortunate in the tenure of his land, for he was a tenant at will holding two tenements which gave him a farming unit containing thirty acres of arable land, five acres of pasture, and sixteen acres of 'mountayne land'   2  : for this he paid an annual rent of £3-5-8d. When he died in 1610, leaving six children, his personal estate was valued at £56-12-0, but unlike Gibbon he owned no feather beds and his house was much more barely furnished, for over a third of his wealth was tied up in the lease of his holding---prised by the assessors at £20,---which had another sixteen years to run. Thus although his personal estate was nominally some nine pounds greater than that of Gibbon, he can hardly have been considered a yeoman in view of his restricted farming activities and the austerity of his home life. His example illustrates clearly how leaseholders and copyholders for terms of years were sometimes crippled by the necessity of tying up a large proportion of their personal wealth in the renewal of leases.

There were some important yeomen in the county whose lands consisted solely of leasehold property. Peter Cheare of Syke was one. He died in October 1601 worth £93 in personal estate, and was the most substantial tenant in the manor of Walwyn's Castle. In 1592 he is found holding the 'maunor place' of Syke---the principal demesne farm of the medieval barons of Walwyn's Castle---by lease for twenty-one years from Sir John Perrot at an annual rent of 40s., four capons, and a bushel of oats. In addition he held another tenement in the same manor at a .......................

  • 1. Pembrokeshire yeomen seem to have attached some importance to their possession of a set of six silver spoons.
  • 2. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/260, fo. 37. Sidwell's farm lay in West Williamston.

..................rent of 13-4d. and two hens yearly, and paid an annual rent of 40s for the possession of Syke mill. 1  His inventory reveals so clearly the ample scale of living which distinguishes the yeomen as a class that it deserves to be quoted in full.

'Imprimis eighteen kine and a boll xiiiili vs; Itm. mor thirteene kine ixli xvs; Itm more five kine iiili xvs; Itm. fower scor sheep and twenti lames viiili vis viii d;   Itm mor fower scor sheep viili; Itm mor eleven yong cattell iiili xviiis 4d; Itm. five swine vs; Itm. two geess xiid; Itm. on cow mor xvs; Itm. ii fether beeds xxxxs; Itm. ii cadows xxxxs; Itm. ii payer of sheets xs; Itm. tow blankets iiiili; Itm. ii bowlsteres, ii pilowes iiiis; Itm. i standinge bedsteed xs; Itm. i cobord xs; Itm. on ould bord xiid; Itm. on cheyer xiid; Itm on trunk xs; Itm i ould chest iiiid; Itm. in truckell beed iis; Itm. i carpett for a round table iis; Itm. ii table cothes for a round table and on for a longe table vs; Itm. i longe table bord wth a frame vs; Itm. i owld skewe iis; Itm. tow formes xiid; Itm. vi brass pannes, i cawldrone xxxxs; Itm. iii crokes of brasse xiid; Itm. iii hockeds, i pipe, ii kive, i kindekin xs; Itm. ii winnen sheet, ii sacks iiiis; Itm. i pewter sault seler vid; Itm. ii brandirons xiid; Itm. on broch, i fringe pan iis; Itm. fower silver spoones xiis; Itm. on litell bedsteed vid; Itm. i lantorn, iiii stone trowes iiiis; Itm. on irone grat iis; Itm. i chorne xiid; Itm. on bockett iiid; Itm. i coke of hay xs; Itm. on cloke xxxxs; Itm. on pewter chambr pot xiid'.

The possession of such a considerable quantity of household stuff indicates the attainment of a mode of living beyond the reach of husbandmen, and a comparison of this inventory with the short lists of goods belonging to most husbandmen indicates the difference in breadth of economic activity and in domestic comfort which led contemporaries to differentiate between the two classes. Another important leasehold-yeoman was John Hillen of Penally, who died in October 1613 worth £86-8-4d. He leased the large consolidated farm of Whitwell with its massive, stone-built medieval farmhouse set in the midst of a large tract of the best farmland in the parish from Owen John Thomas, who held it from the lord of the manor as a freehold property for which he paid the nominal rent of 5d. a year. Hillen's extremely lengthy inventory betrays a standard of domestic comfort similar to that enjoyed by Peter Cheare, for he possessed, besides other pieces of furniture, two bedsteads with feather beds, bolsters, and 'pilobears', a table 'borde', two cupboards, a 'skewe', six coffers, two trestle tables and two forms, and a chair. Another sign of prosperity was his unusually fine show of textiles including bedsheets, coverlets, blankets, winnowing sheets, tablecloths, towels, table napkins---a rarely encountered luxury among the farmers of Pembrokeshire---seven yards of white cloth, seven yards of linen cloth, and a quantity of linen yarn, while in addition his wife was able to deploy an impressive quantity of cooking utensils and tablewear. This generous style of living was paralleled by Hillen's farming activities, for apart from having six acres of wheat and eight acres of peas and oats in the ground in 1612, he employed four horses and six oxen and possessed twenty-three cattle (eleven of them milch kine), eighty-one sheep and lambs, and thirteen pigs.

Nevertheless, despite these examples, the estates of the majority of yeomen were built mainly around freehold land or copyholds of inheritance. One of the most prosperous freehold yeomen in the county was David Symyns of Ambleston,.......

  • 1. Rentals and Surveys, general series, 12/I8/11, fos. 45d-46.
  • 2. Misc, Books, Land Revenue, 2/206, fo. 47.

..................... who held a carucate and a half called 'Symyns and Warlos land', together with another tenement and six acres appurtenant to it at Tristleton. 1  For this large free holding he paid a rent of 3d. a year to Sir John Perrot until the latter's attainder in 1592, and the unearned increments resulting from the security of low fixed rents in a time of rising prices for agricultural products enabled him to build up a personal estate worth £78-10-0d. by his death early in January, 1603. His household furnishings and utensils were very similar to those of any other substantial yeoman of the period, though he kept an unusually good store of provisions including a stone trough full of butter, thirty cheeses 'or more', 'one bieffe in saulte', and four flitches of bacon : for him, at any rate, it was an age of 'rough plenty'.

His bequests, too, are typical. After commending his soul to Almighty God and his body to be buried in the parish church of Ambleston, he left 4d. towards the repairing of St. David's cathedral and 20s. for the repairing of his own parish church, adding to his gift a wether for the vicar, 'Sir Rees ap Harry, clerke'. Before demising his tenements to his son James and his nephew Thomas Symyns, he made a number of smaller bequests---a pair of oxen to his nephew Philip Symyns, parson of Begelly and probably also a hardworking farmer; 2 kine, 3 year-old heiffers and 40 sheep and lambs to be shared between the five daughters of his nephew Thomas; 12 lambs, 4 two-year old sheep and 2 heiffers to his four grand-daughters; and 4 lambs to a servant girl named Jeanett. No money was left and no ready money was mentioned in the inventory. Ready money is rarely mentioned in these early farmers' wills, and the general scarcity of it in the countryside sometimes made it difficult for men to conduct their everyday affairs. 2

This accounts for the tremendous amount of small scale borrowing and lending which went on in the countryside. When John Davies of Lamphey drew up his will on January, 1613, three months before his death, he reviewed his financial position : 'Debts due upon the testator. Imp. due to Wm Bollen by bill xxxiiis iiiid, whereof it is agreed between them at this p'sent if the said John Davids doe at this tyme & sicknes decease, that then in full paymt of the said debt the said Wm Bollen shall accept of the some of xs'. It was not altogether an uncharitable age. He went on, 'Itm, to Richard Harbert three kyne. Itm, to the said Richard Harbert in money iiiili Itm. to Henry Lee vs'. Afterwards he reviewed what was owing to him 'Uppon John Scurfield of the Dawes XIXs. Uppon Mathew Jermyn for the stock of a peece xiid. Uppon John Barrett of Tynby for a loade of hey xiiis iiiid. Uppon Steven Jevan for rente of his house for one whole yeare at Mich'as nexte viid. Uppon Francis Jones for one whole yeares rente due at Mich'as nexte xxs.' Small transactions of this sort were general throughout the countryside.

One interesting feature closely related to this is the emergence of a small group of wealthy yeomen who appear to have made a widespread practice of moneylending, men like John Meyrick of Alleston near Pembroke, and Jevan Thomas of Robeston Wathen, one of the most prominent yeomen in the shire. When the ......................

  • 1. Vairdre Book (Bronwydd MS. 3), fo. 146a.
  • 2. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. I, p. 141, and vol. III, pp. 83-4.

................. latter died in 1601 no less than thirty-three men, including prominent squires like Hugh Butler of Johnston and John Adams of Pill Priory, owed him varying sums of money amounting in all to £39-8-5d. One may suspect from the nature of some of these debts that he was a largescale cattle dealer, though the evidence is not conclusive. That he had wide interests is indicated, too, by the bequest to his nephew Rice Thomas of 'halfe the boate that is betwixte me and Francis Laugharne wth all the thinges belongynge therunto', and to a second nephew of a quarter share in a boat of which a certain Mr. Jones was also co-owner. These boats were probably used for trading purposes, though in coastal parts of the county farmers often owned small vessels and carried on fishing as a side-line, like Morgan David of Llanwnda, in whose inventory was listed a half share in a boat, a hundred fathoms of herring net, and two hundred fathoms of 'butlers' and fishing hooks.

The lower ranks of the yeomen and the upper ranks of husbandmen merge untidily, for the difference between the two groups was perhaps basically a matter of personal wealth and of the popular appraisal of a man's way of living more than anything else. The term 'husbandman' was one of generous breadth, applicable to Harry Saunders of Carew, whose goods were valued only at £2-10-6d. when he died soon after making his will in August, 1608, as well as to Richard Froyen of Pembroke, whose inventory totalled £28-14-8d. Indeed, men were not likely to call themselves yeomen until they held personal estate to the tune perhaps of about £50, and then they would become part of a fairly small minority in the countryside which was made up of the natural leaders of the village communities in which they lived. It is likely that the majority of sixteenth-century husbandmen were the descendants of medieval coloni and censory tenants, though this is difficult to prove. One thing is certain, that the peasant population of the late medieval villages of Pembrokeshire were fairly mobile, so that names of tenants who occupied holdings in a particular village or manor in the fourteenth century, for example, rarely occur in sixteenth-century surveys. On the other hand they often reappear in neighbouring manors, hinting that in practice they had a good deal of freedom to change their homes.

Frequently poorer husbandmen lived perilously close to the subsistence level, so that a bad harvest or an outbreak of murrain would push them to the brink of disaster. The hardship and poverty of their lives filters clearly through their probate inventories. The estate of William Griffith of Brawdy, who died in February, 1603, was valued by his neighbours at £6-5-8d., of which only £1-2-0d. was represented by household goods. The corn in his haggard and on his land was assessed at £1-9-0d. and most of the rest of his money was accounted for by his two cows, an ox, a mare, eleven sheep, four goats, and two pigs. The only pieces of furniture in his cottage were a hutch and a 'skewe'. Lewis Stock of St. Elvis, who had died exactly a year earlier, left slightly more, his personal wealth amounting to £6-15-0d. The same general picture emerges from his will: he had twenty-six sheep and lambs, and six cattle, worth some £4 in all, but his cottage was graced only by a cupboard and two coffers.

There was a considerable gap in wealth between these men and Philip Aulen of Hubberston, who died in January, 1603, leaving property worth £16-14-1d. to his heirs. Nevertheless he enjoyed no greater comfort than Griffith or Stock, apart probably from improved food and clothing, for his cottage was furnished only by a cupboard and a chest, and his extra wealth was almost entirely invested in livestock. More substantial than any of these was Richard Froyen of Pembroke, whose inventory totalled £28-14-8d., and whose greater wealth brought him improved conditions, for his three cupboards, three old coffers, table 'boord' and two forms, 'skewe', chair and bedstead all speak of a wider scale of living than was enjoyed by the husbandmen who have been considered hitherto. The very fact that he owned a bed meant something, and his possession of two silver spoons may indicate a measure of social pride: the average yeoman owned six. Apart, too, from his greater range of household goods and agricultural implements, the listing of eighteen pieces of pewter, two table cloths, and a pair of sheets on his inventory all point towards a moderate degree of prosperity. Unlike the majority of husbandmen he owned a cart 'wth a longe and a shorte bodie' : it seems as if the majority of small husbandmen did not even possess primitive sleds. It becomes easier to visualise the necessity for a communal system of open-field agriculture in medieval times when the meagre resources of most early seventeenth century peasants are borne in mind.

In the case of a small number of seventeenth-century husbandmen, information about tenements has survived in addition to details of personal estates as given in probate assessments. While this enables the researcher to penetrate closer to the economic basis of their lives, it is still often difficult to see these men in true perspective. For instance, Harry Saunders of Carew Newton, who died in the autumn of 1608 leaving a widow and two children, was the tenant of a smallholding made up of eleven acres of arable and five acres of 'mountaine' or rough pasture land   1: one is left wondering whether his farming activities had been curtailed drastically for some time prior to his death, for when he died he had only a stang and a half of wheat in the ground, together with two little butts, one of barley and one of oats, and he left no livestock apart from four small pigs. Nevertheless, this possession of a milk churn, a plough, three harrows and a 'teeme' argues that he had owned livestock at one stage. Moreover, although his personal goods were valued only at £2-10-6d., his cottage was furnished better than those of many wealthier men, for he left a cupboard, two coffers, a table and a form, and owned three linen sheets and a tablecloth as well as 'one pewter dishe and one peece of a pewter dish'. Possibly his resources had gradually been frittered away during his last illness.

The majority of cases are more straightforward, like that of Henry Adams of Jameston, who farmed thirty-five acres of arable and a dozen acres of furze and heath land  2  and died in 1603 worth £6-1-8d. The fact that his farm was a copyhold of inheritance serves to warn that small farmers were not necessarily prosperous because they held by a favourable tenure. Unless he was sub-letting much .....................

  • 1. Misc. Books, Land Revenue, 2/260, fo. 36d.
  • 2. In his will he left it to his son John Adam, junior, who was holding it in 1609. (Misc, Books, Land Revenue 2/206, fos. 46ff.)

............... of his land---and there is no mention in his will that this was the case,---one must face the conclusion that his land was understocked. Only three acres were under crops, two acres of oats, three stangs of wheat and a stang of peas, and he had only two cows, an ox and a steer, two heiffers, a mare and a colt, and eight sheep of his own so far as livestock went. Probably lack of capital prevented him from investing more money in livestock. One should also bear in mind the possibility that he, like so many other small farmers at this date, was hiring or borrowing livestock. When animals were rented the usual rates in 1597 for a year's loan were 5s. per head for cows and 6d. per head for sheep. 1  Sometimes animals were rented together with the holdings. In 1601 Philip Devereux, a yeoman of Lambston, leased a messuage in Llandissilio parish to Morris ap Rees ap Morgan of St. Issell's, husbandman, together with two cows, four plough beasts (two horses and two oxen), and a hundred and fifty sheep. 2  As rent the husbandman had to pay annually two stones of good cheese and four gallons of butter per cow, a quarter-share of the wool, a quarter-share of the lambs, half of the calves, and half of the corn grown on the land. The fixing of rent in kind ensured the lessor against a decline in the real value of the rent due to him in a period of rapidly rising prices. Sometimes these transactions broke down as in 1612, when Owen John David found himself forced to sue Griffith ap Ievan Gall in the town court of Newport. 3  The latter had demised thirty-five sheep to the plaintiff, permitting him to enjoy their milk and half their wool, but had afterwards driven them off again to his own homestead. The system at least had the merit of enabling small men without much capital to farm land well which may otherwise have been understocked, and it survived well into the nineteenth century in the Narberth district . 4

Just as it is necessary to be wary in assuming that copyholders by inheritance were prospering greatly on account of their tenurial security, fixed rents, and fixed entry fines, so it is misleading to visualise censoryholders and leaseholders as a group which was being pauperised by the exactions of rack-renting landlords. Some undoubtedly were. In 1582 a witness at Manorbier deposed that John Andrew, a censory tenant, had relinquished his farm 'and the cause of his goeinge away was ...  that he was not willinge to compounde for his tenemt wth the said ladie Gamadge none and her farmor, and for that he was a poore man not liable to componde for it or to hold the same'.   5  No doubt it was the smaller tenants without much capital who suffered, and the men who paid high rents for short leases were those who had the resources to make farming pay. David Philip of Manorbier, for instance, was a censory tenant who farmed twenty acres of arable and forty acres of 'pasture being full of furres and heath', and he died early in 1613 worth £26-7-2d. and able to sport three silver spoons among his possessions. A typical ....................

  • 1. The Taylors Cussion, part 1, fos. 34d-35d.
  • 2. F. Green: 'Pembrokeshire in bygone days', W.W.H.R., vol. IX, 1923, p. 123.
  • 3. B. G. Charles: 'The records of the borough of Newport', N. L. W. Journal, Vol. VII, p. 45.
  • 4. Report of the Royal Commission on Labour: The agricultural Labourer, vol. II, Wales (London, 1893), p. 64.
  • 5. Depositions of witnesses in an Exchequer suit between Dame Joyce Gamage and her tenants from an unnumbered document in the Picton Castle collection, dated 9 June 1582

.................. small farmer practising the mixed farming which characterised the agricultural land of the shire, he owned seven cattle, two horses and a colt, forty-three sheep and four pigs, and had three and a half acres of winter wheat in the ground. Later on, to judge by the corn he had stored, he would sow much more barley and oats. In a period of favourable market conditions, the farmers who could afford to cater for the market were probably capable of paying increased rents.

The lowest orders

At the bottom of the social scale in the countryside came the landless labourers, who probably outnumbered the yeomen and husbandmen together by the early seventeenth century. 1  Their life was harsh and Owen speaks of them as weatherbeaten and tanned like Moors through spending their lives in the fields, for from their youth onwards they were 'held in such contynuall labore in tillinge of the lande, burnenge of lyme, digginge of coles and other slaveryes and estreame toyles' that their physique was adversely affected. 2  Women as well as men were employed on the land, a practice which died hard. As late as 1867 a commissioner reported that 'they are employed in all kinds of work, except such as is connected with horses', 3  and observed at Carew that  'all the women who are not nursing infants are employed in field work'. 4  Children, too, were employed from an early age. Owen estimated that some three thousand young people were employed in the 'idell education' of herding cattle and suggested that instead each village should employ one or two common herds as was the common practice in England, thus freeing the children  'to be instructed in learninge or some manuall or mechanicall arte'. 5

The traditional working day in the countryside has always been from dawn until dusk both in summer and in winter, with a break of an hour or so at noon. In the Welsh parts of the shire there was a custom whereby between May Day and the corn harvest, labourers were allowed a two-hour sleep between noon and two o'clock, after which they would eat their meal and continue until sunset. This siesta was locally called a 'nooning'. 6  In the late sixteenth century there were, apart from Sundays, twenty-seven 'holydays' in the year, distributed as follows: 7

January 1           New Year's Day.

January 6           Twelfth Day or Ephiphany.

February 2         Purification of Our Lady, or Candlemas.

February 24        St. Mathias's Day.

March 25           Annunciation, or Lady Day.

April 25             St. Mark's Day.

May 1                May Day.

June 11              St. Barnabas's Day.

June 24             The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, or Midsummer Day

July 6                Octaves of Peter.

July 25              St. James's Day.

August 24          St. Bartholomew's Day.

September 21    St. Mathew's Day.

September 29    St. Michael's Day, or Michaelmas.

October 18        St. Luke's Day.

October 28       St. Simon's and St. Jude's Day.

November 1      All Saints' Day or All Hallows.

November 30    St. Andrew's Day.

December 21    St. Thomas's Day.

December 25    Christmas Day.

December 26    St. Stephen's Day.

December 27    St. John's Day.

December 28    Juvente, or Holy Innocents, or Childermas

  • 1. A high proportion of landless labourers was often found on manors where large-scale demesne farming was practised. See Sir J. Clapham: A concise economic history of Britain, p. 210.
  • 2. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. I, pp. 42-3.
  • 3. Report of the Royal Commission on the employment of children, young persons, and women in agriculture (1867), (London, 1870), p. 41.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 109.
  • 5. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. 1, p. 42.
  • 6. Hassall, p. 26.
  • 7. The Taylors Cussion, part I, p. 10.

In addition, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday were also kept as holidays. Only four of these holidays occurred between Midsummer and Michaelmas, the busiest time in the farmer's year, and the greatest holiday time of all was Christmas. Most of these holidays were Christian festivals, but others had a significance lost in pagan times or were of special importance in the farming calendar like Michaelmas, the end of the old farming year and the start of a new one, or All Hallows Day, by which time winter corn should be sown and the cattle driven into the byres for the winter. Candlemas was the date on which tillage was traditionally resumed after the winter, and the cattle driven from the spring corn field, which was generally under seed by Lady Day. The cattle were put out to pasture again by May Day, and between then and Midsummer Day the sheep would be dipped, the latter date, on which bonfires were lit in some parts of the country, being regarded as the traditional start of the hay harvest.

By the end of the sixteenth century Pembrokeshire labourers were getting about 6d. a day in wages, and 7d. at harvest time. 1 The real value of their wages in terms of food and other necessaries is not easy to establish for several reasons. It is, in the first place, uncertain when the majority of them could raise much of their own food from small parcels of land or gardens. Moreover, it is not known how a labourer's income at this period would be spent, while the eating habits of the labouring classes of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages have not been investigated fully. One thing is relatively certain, that the labourer who in 1326 was getting 1 1/2 d. a day could buy more with his daily wage than the labourer of 1615...........

  • 1. The information about wages in this chapter has been derived, in the main, from the mayoral and bailiffs' accounts of the period in the Haverfordwest corporation records. See B. G, Charles: 'Haverfordwest accounts 1563-1620', N.L.W. Journal, vol. IX, no. 2, 1955, p. 157.

...............with his daily wage of 6d. 1 The following table illustrates this in terms of corn and sheep prices:

                                                                                       1326           1615

No. of days wages needed to buy 1 bushel of barley      2 1/2 - 3          12

No. of days wages needed to buy 1 bushel of oats              2                8

No. of days wages needed to buy 1 bushel of wheat           6              20

No. of days wages needed to buy one sheep                       8              12

The disparity is obvious, but perhaps it should not be pressed too far as an interpretation of the real value of a labourer's wages, especially as it is uncertain whether a considerable proportion of a labourer's wages would be spent on these commodities. It is clear however that the accelerated rise in food prices from  1600 to 1620 in a period when wages were static locally meant a considerable reduction in the real value of wages. The price of corn fluctuated, not only from year to year, but from month to month within any one year. Generally it was cheapest soon after the corn harvest and dearest in the months before the crops had ripened. The following table, which indicates the prices of corn in Pembrokeshire from 1600 to 1615 inclusive, has been based on corn prices in probate inventories. Where more than one price has been given they represent the maximum and minimum prices which have been discovered. The bushel in use in Pembrokeshire was the double Winchester.  2


Wheat per bushel

Barley per bushel

Oats per bushel


























































5s.-3 1/2d.---6s.-8d.







An assessment of the significance of this price rise can only be made in the light of an examination of the eating habits of the labouring classes, a subject about which little information is available. In the early nineteenth century the food of the peasantry of Pembrokeshire consisted largely of porage and broth, with barley......................

  • 1. Pembrokeshire Records, part III, p. 124.
  • 2. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. I, p. 137.

............... bread and cheese as supplementary foodstuffs: a good deal of oatmeal was consumed also, especially in the north of the county. 1  To judge by a calculation entered by George Owen in The Taylors Cussion, 2  a farmworker at the end of the sixteenth century was expected to consume about six and a half bushels of oats, a bushel of oat malt for ale, three quarters of a Cardigan stone of cheese, a gallon and a half of butter, and 1-8d. worth of meat annually. This is the only approximation to a standard diet which can be found for the whole of Pembrokeshire at this period: whether it was representative of the whole shire it is difficult to say. These data were culled from computations relating to a farmstead in the north of the county. Perhaps less oatmeal and more barley would be consumed in the south, though everywhere oats was the dominant crop.

At this rate a labourer's food in 1615 might cost roughly about £2-0-0d. per annum or eighty days wages. It is significant that Owen only allowed his farmworkers 1-8d. each annually 'for providinge of fleshe against certen feastes in the yere' : this tallies with Hassall's observation almost two centuries later that the 'labouring poor live almost entirely upon bread and cheese, milk and vegetables except when herrings are plentiful on the coast, or in the spring of the year, when poor veal is to be got at a low rate'. 3  The poor could have eaten little meat, apart perhaps from salted bacon. Owen's evidence also makes it clear that when milk was available in the months between May and November, it was an important item of food : in winter there was 'no store of milke to be hadd', and so he provided oaten malt for the brewing of ale. If one assumes that vegetables like leeks, cabbage, onions, peas and beans were grown in cottage gardens, as undoubtedly they were, then it is likely that the basic diet of the poorer husbandmen and labourers varied little between the late sixteenth and the early nineteenth centuries.

The single labourers or gweision who 'lived in' on the farm usually ate with the rest of the farmer's family at the 'long boord' which features in so many wills, and slept on straw either in the bodies of carts or else in lofts above the stable or cowhouse, ancient practices which lingered on until very recently. 4  These servants would often be taken on for the year at one of the 'hiring fairs' of the countryside which were held in October, the last one of the year, which was held at Little Haven on November the 1st, being known significantly as the 'runaway fair'. 5

After the passing of the Statute of Artificers of 1562-3, qualified craftsmen could be forced to work at their crafts and men without a trade could be compelled to work on the land until they reached the age of sixty. 6  Moreover their wages were assessed by J.P.s who were theoretically empowered to vary them according .................

  • 1. Report of the Royal Commission on the employment of children, young persons, and women in agriculture (1867). (London, 1870), p. 39.
  • 2. The Taylors Cussion, part I, fos. 33d, 34.
  • 3. Hassall, p. 43
  • 4. Farm labourers often slept in the stables and cowhouses because they were warmer than other outbuildings. The inventory of John Gibbon of Lamphey, which was compiled on 14 October 1695, lists 'one bed in ye stable for ye servants 6-8d'.
  • 5. Report of the Royal Commission on labour: The agricultural labourer, vol. II, Wales (London, 1893), p. 61.
  • 6. Sir J. Clapham: A concise economic history of Britain, p. 213.

....................... to the cost of living, though in practice they kept them as low as possible despite the constant rise in prices. In Elizabethan Pembrokeshire it was customary for a group of J.P.s to send warrants annually to the high constables for convoking a 'seisions for labourers'. The high constable was to appear at the meeting with a list containing the names of 'all daye labourers, artificers & masterless servants and all cotagers such as have not sufficient lande belonginge to their howses, farmes, and tenements to employe their laboure about tilling & working thereof'. Those who had given or received excessive wages were also warned to be present, and also those who wished to hire or retain servants for the ensuing year, as well as masters who had complaints to make against servants, the J.P.s of the limit, and the petty constables of each parish. To enquire whether the Statute of Artificers was being observed properly, a jury of twenty-four substantial freeholders was empannelled. The whole arrangement kept the landless classes in a perpetually semi-servile condition.

Periodically the constables would be ordered to

'attache all such persons that depart from one toune hundred or sheere to another without a testimoniall of his departure thence, and all persons that retayne any such person into service so departing without license, & all persons retayned in building or other work and that departeth before the worke finished, and also all artificers, craftsmen, labourers & other persons that giveth or receiveth excessive wages or hire more than is laid downe in the acte for the same, and all persons assalttinge his mr, mrs, or overseer of the worke and all artificers craftsmen & men of occupation that setteth up any of the same artes sithence the vth yeare of her majesties rayne excepte he hath ben seven yeares prentise to the same occupation, and also that they doe likewyse attache all persons betweene the age of X yeares & xviii yeares which are compellable & yet refuse to be bound prentise in husbandry and all persons under the age of xxi yeares yt refuseth to be bownd apprentice in any arte mystery or occupation as also all those yt take any aprentis contrary to the said statute ...' 1

Penalties were also provided by the act for masters who thrust their servants out of hire without giving a quarter's warning and for those who retained a servant for less than a full year, but cases of this type were rarely reported.

If an apprentice or servant ran away to another county before his period of service had expired, two J.P.s could together issue a capias for his recall. Fugitive servants were hunted down ruthlessly. When Thomas Rees, a miller of Moylgrove parish, hired a servant maid from Cardiganshire, he was reported to the local J.P.s., the girl was sent for, and it was directed that she was 'to be sent to Penbrin in Cardigansheere', 2  presumably to face the master from whom she had fled. On the 16th of April, 1631, George Bowen and Thomas Warren, two of the J.P.s of Cemais, sent a warrant to the petty constables of Nevern requiring them 'to make diligent search and enquiry for the body of William John of youre sayd parish, late covenant servant to John Thomas of Llanychllwydog, and him to attach and apprehend, and immediately upon his apprehension to bring him before us to Melindre Marchog ...' 3  A man walking abroad to find work was likely .........

  • 1. The Taylors Cussion, part I, fos. 87 and 87d.
  • 2. Bronwydd MS. 339.
  • 3. Bronwydd MS. 339.

................ to be taken for a wilful vagrant, an underminer of the social order. The mobility of labour was restricted as much as possible, especially as a labourer or artisan had to prove his fitness to undertake the work he sought, and had to produce a licence from his last employer.

It is clear that in Pembrokeshire the operation of the Statute of Labourers had a close administrative connexion with the working of the Poor Law by the early seventeenth century. Insufficient local evidence has survived to make possible a detailed study of the problem of pauperism at any period prior to this. Certain assumptions may, however, be made with confidence. Throughout the sixteenth century the number of landless men and paupers seems to have increased, mainly because in a period of increasing population the land was being concentrated into the hands of fewer men as a result of the consolidation and aggrandizement of holdings. At the same time, the emphasis on livestock farming in Pembrokeshire meant that fewer farm labourers were required than in districts where arable farming was more important. The three towns of Pembroke, Tenby and Haverfordwest had possessed 'mawdlens' or almshouses for the aged poor since medieval times 1 ---things were always better organised in the towns---but there is little to indicate how rural paupers fared in the middle ages. Undoubtedly the Church led the way in works of charity until the Reformation. Monastic houses, friaries, hospitia and parish churches were all, to some extent, centres of poor relief, though the importance of the part they played in combating the distress of paupers has been questioned . 2   Begging, too, was condoned until the state began to interfere in poor relief, and private charity was encouraged. In one way or another the poor contrived to scrape by, but it was not until the end of Elizabeth's reign that a systematic attempt was made, after half a century of indecisive experiment, to grapple seriously with the problem.


  • 1. Owen's Penbrokshire, vol. III, p. 351. Medieval hospitia often catered for the infirm, the aged, and travellers.
  • 2. G. C. Coulton: The medieval village (Cambridge, 1926), pp. 304, 357.