Glamorgan Agriculture in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries


Brian Osborne. National Library of Wales journal. 1978, Winter Volume XX/4

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

This is a complete extract of this article - but with some Tables/Figures excluded (Gareth Hicks May 2003)


LITTLE is known of the specific usages and regional specialisms exhibited by Welsh agriculture prior to the nineteenth century. General impressions may be gained from the Tribal Laws which represented the traditional economy as being primarily pastoral but with a subdued arable component. 1 This is further corroborated by the twelfth century writings of Giraldus Cambrensis who observed that the Welsh people lived 'upon the produce of their herds with oats, milk, cheese and butter; eating flesh in larger proportion than bread'. 2  Similarly, some three centuries later, Leland cast a somewhat jaundiced eye upon the region and its peoples and concluded that 'Walschmen in tymes past, as they do almost yet, did study more to pasturage than Tylling as Favorers of their consuete idilness'. 3

While early descriptions of the agriculture of Glamorgan confirmed this general pattern, they also identified an apparent dichotomy between the lowland and upland areas of the county. Thus, Defoe visited Glamorgan in the early eighteenth century and while he had but little to say of the upland section of the county, he did emphasize the greater productivity of the Vale section:

The south part of this county is a pleasant and agreeable place, and is very populous; 'tis also a very good, fertile, and rich soil, and the low grounds are so well cover'd with grass, and stock'd with cattle, that they supply the city of Bristol with butter in very great quantities salted and barrell'd up, just as Suffolk does the city of London. 4

In a letter to the Gentleman's Magazine in 1755, another writer commented on the profusion of sheep and small black cattle throughout the upland section of the county and the restriction of crops to the few localities 'where cultivation has with difficulty penetrated', whereas, in the lowland section, 'The wheat is equal to the best in the kingdom'. 5   Similar differences were noted by John Fox in 1796 in his General View' of the Agriculture of the County of Glamorgan in which he described the coalfield plateau as being:

generally very barren ... yet it is capable of great improvement and interspersed with fruitful vallies, that afford tolerable pasture for cattle, sheep, and some few goats, as also small horses: while the southern parts, being more level, and a rich good soil, admits of being highly cultivated, and produces grass, turnips, rape, etc. 6

The Vale was represented as being 'partly cultivated, and partly divided into fine fertile pastures, ... affording large crops of corn, with abundance of hay, as well as exceeding rich pastures, to numerous flocks and herds of sheep and cattle, that .......

............... are bred and reared'. 7  Finally, Walter Davies's detailed survey of the general economy of the county again identified the difference between the actual and potential agricultural specialism of the two districts of Glamorgan:

In the uplands, rearing of stock is the main object, without neglecting the produce of the dairy; whilst they find convenience, though without profit, in a scanty and precarious tillage. In the lowlands, on moist loams ... grazing is considerable and generally recommended, as most profitable. But the steady increase of population, as steadily increasing consumption of food, and that in Wales consisting chiefly of bread, decides the controversy between speculative theorists, turns the balance of profit, by an advance in the price of grain, to the scales of tillage. 8

The period referred to by the above sources witnessed the overture to an eventual profound disruption and metamorphosis of the traditional rural society of Glamorgan. As with other areas of the country at this time, concern over the nation's agricultural productivity occasioned surveys of the state of agriculture and resulted in the increased exposure to, and dissemination of, tenets of improved agriculture. Moreover, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries also experienced the increasing industrialisation of Glamorgan with the proliferation of mineral extraction and manufacturing enterprises throughout the coalfield section of the county. The intent of this paper is to examine the traditional agricultural economy of this area before it experienced the full impact of the nineteenth century with its development of new agricultural specialisms and industrial functions. Attention will be focussed upon the agricultural economy of Glamorgan in general, with special reference being made to the constituent elements of the economy, the identification and explanation of any regional differences that may have existed, and the characteristic specialisms and usages of the individual farm units throughout the study area.


In attempting to reconstruct the broad dimensions and characteristics of Glamorgan agriculture during the period under study, three principal sources arc relied upon: contemporary descriptions and reports, the 1801 Returns, and probate material.

Firstly, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the phenomenon of the 'Grand Tour' with gentlemen travellers and natural scientists turning their attentions to the peripheral areas of the British isles as well as to more exotic locales. 9 Furthermore, the combined effects of improved agriculture, the industrialisation and urbanisation of society and the demands of the Napoleonic Wars, all served to generate a plethora of government surveys, agricultural journals and local reports of the state of the economy. While recognising the limitations of these qualitative descriptions of the society at this time, they cannot be ignored as they constitute valuable contemporary evaluations.

Secondly, in the year 1801 , the Home Office attempted a nation-wide survey of the arable productivity of England and Wales at the parochial level. 10  Each incumbent was required to report his estimates of the acreage of land in his parish under wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, beans, peas, turnips, rape and rye while a section of 'General Remarks' commented upon local agricultural practices and usages. The utility of these returns is diminished to some extent by the occasional use of customary rather than statute acreages, the inaccuracy of individual estimates, the uniqueness of 1801, the incompleteness of the coverage, and the reporting of arable to the exclusion of other elements of the agricultural economy. Despite these deficiencies, insights may be gained into the extent of arable culture throughout the county and the relative importance of specific crops.

Thirdly, the system of making, recording and execution of wills generated a set of documents of much use to the student of past societies. Of particular significance for this study were the efforts of the three valuers who were required to 'appraise' the items of the household, barn, milkhouse and field. A typical will would, therefore, be accompanied by 'An Inventory of all and singular ye Goods, Chlls., and Credits' of the deceased with estimates of their prices and, oftentimes, an opinion of their condition. Thus, the will of Thomas Hopkin of the parish of Llanblethian, dated July 1674, included

... all and singular my p'snall estate as oxen, kine, horses, sheepe, and all kinde of graine as wheat oats barley and peaces whether growinge or in Reefe or in the barn and all hay and myrb and my wayne whith all my oxen tack as yoakes, plowes chaynes and bowes and all my household stuff ... 11

Where a sufficient number of wills and their accompanying inventories are still extant, detailed reconstructions of specific farm economies may add some detail to the more general and qualitative descriptions of the regional agriculture.

Two additional sources of some value to this study should also be recognised: manorial and tithe records. The Norman conquest imposed a manorial system and its attendant bureaucracy throughout much of Glamorgan. But while manorial surveys and rentals are more complete and more frequent for the lowland section than for the coalfield, they are usually more concerned with the quantity of various types of land use and questions of legal and customary usage rather than with the forms of the economy being practised. Similarly, the material interests of the established church also generated a set of documents relevant to this study. In particular, where the tithe regulations and the amount of annual tithe yielded are available for specific parishes, they also add some local detail to the general picture of the agricultural economy.

But, while the general descriptions, government reports and the 1801 returns all allow insights into the forms and usages of the contemporary agriculture, it is the probate material which allows a more precise reconstruction of the economic ..........

................specialisms of individual farm units. By analysing the inventories, it is possible to identify the relative importance of the various agricultural components of each farm unit's investment. Thus, a determination of the relative proportions of sheep, cattle, and arable, allows the assignation of a specific specialism to each farm unit. A fundamental problem in this approach is the reconciliation of stock units with crop acreages. But as has already been noted, the 'appraisors' of the inventory assigned monetary values to all items listed in the estate and by thus reducing both livestock and arable elements to this common financial denominator, a classification of farms according to their activities may be attempted.

The major components of the agricultural economy of each farm so identified may be plotted on the three sided graphs represented in Figure 3. These diagrams consist of equilateral triangles, the sides of which are calibrated to represent the percentage contribution of sheep, cattle and arable respectively to the total economy. Certain sectors of the diagram, therefore, represent particular agricultural associations; farms predominantly concerned with either arable, cattle or sheep will cluster at the appropriate apex; firms with a generally mixed economy will be located at the centre of the diagram; dual specialisms of cattle-sheep, cattle-arable or sheep-arable will be grouped at the appropriate corner sector of the diagram. In this way, a diagramatic representation of the variety of specialisations found within a parish in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries may be effected.

From these various sources, the major dimensions of the agriculture of the county may be identified. While it has been argued that pastoralism was the distinguishing feature of traditional Welsh agriculture, attention must be focussed on the raising of cattle, sheep and crops, the dominant elements of the agricultural triad in terms of both subsistence and commercial production throughout old Glamorgan.

Cattle Husbandry

A particularly detailed description of the cattle of Glamorgan reported them to be

of a very excellent kind. They are of a middling size, handsome in their make, and of a fine brown colour, occasionally presenting black and other varieties. Their milk is rich, and yielded in large quantities; and they readily fatten. This description applies principally to the lower grounds: --- in the hilly parts the breed is smaller, and more hardy. 12

Another early account of the agriculture of Glamorgan refers to the 'small black cattle' throughout the county and reports that

Glamorgans are generally a ruddy brown with white along the back and belly; they will not graze when young, and have too often sway backs and high rumps; they are very superior cattle to work, and the cows are kind milkers, averaging perhaps from sixteen to eighteen quarts per day. 13

Table 1

Not extracted. The heading is 'Probate Records: Parochial Ranges(a) and Means (b) of Livestock Prices (Values in pounds shillings and pence). Column headings are Parish; Sheep; Cattle; Oxen.

Table 2

Not Extracted. The heading is 'Probate Records: Analysis of Parachial Agricultural Investment (Values in pounds). The column headings are Parish; No. Wills; Total Invest.;Mean Invest.;Median Invest.; Modal Invest.

Table 3

Not extracted. The heading is 'Probate Records: Mean Values of Units Characterised by One Hundred Per Cent Investment in One Element Only'. (Values in pounds, shillings and pence). The column headings are Parish;Sheep;Cattle;Arable.

Despite an apparent disagreement regarding the specific hues of what must have been quite polychrome herds, it does appear that the native stock were multi-purpose, animals being raised for dairying, beef and even to 'work'.

The principal concern with the raising of livestock, however, was the provision of beef and dairy products. Reference has already been made to the favourable assessment of Glamorgan livestock as dairy animals. At a time when the market for fresh milk was confined to the local area, surpluses were required to be directed to the production of the traditional produce of isolated dairy regions, butter and cheese. These were more amenable to transport, sale and storage for domestic use. The emphasis in the raising of cattle for beef production was on rearing for fattening by graziers outside the region:

The steers or oxen, when four years old, are sold to the dealers or drovers to be fattened upon fine grazing pastures of that district, for the London market. If anything is to be fed off at home, it is generally some old cow which has become from age unfit for the purpose of dairy. 14

The occasional reference to 'fat cows' in the inventories probably fits into the above usage.

In a pre-industrial society, animals were the chief source of non-human energy on the farm and in Glamorganshire this function was performed principally by oxen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with horses gradually becoming more important. However, as late as the nineteenth century, it was noted that

It is traditionally said in some places in the mountains that of old they habituated their cattle, cows as well as oxen, to be a saddled, and to carry manure, etc., where wheel carriages could not go. 15

The same writer lamented that this practice had ever ceased and goes on to say that 'the practice of yoking cows as well as oxen to the plough is not quite forgotten'.   16  It was further claimed that animals had been used 'in Ploughs and Carts on the road' while their use in the fields continued as it was held that 'moderate employment will not hurt their growth'. 17 That the horse took long to displace oxen from Glamorganshire farms reflects the dual function of the latter with the contribution of beef at the end of a working life. It was the capability for draught as well as meat that resulted in oxen being the most highly valued item of the farm economy.

It has been established that it is difficult to accurately distinguish between the diverse functions performed by cattle in the agricultural economy, although some inventories differentiate between 'mulch kine', 'fat cows', and 'yoaks of oxen'. For the purposes of this study, therefore, cattle are grouped together with no differentiation as to dairy, beef and draught components. On examining the distribution of the investment of specific farm units throughout the study area as represented by probate inventories, it is the ubiquity and dominance of the investment in cattle which is the salient feature of the agricultural economy..........

Figure 1

1801 Acreage Returns: Parochial Acreages Under Crops


................. throughout all the sub-regions identified. All parishes studied reveal a concentration of farm units characterised by a dominance of investment in cattle, usually in excess of 60 per cent of the total farm investment in agricultural products. The differentiation in specialisations between regions is very much in terms of the presence of sheep or arable as the secondary element. Thus, whereas in the coalfield parishes cattle are more frequently accompanied by high investments in sheep and lower investments in arable, the lowland parishes are characterised by a greater frequency of cases in which arable is secondary to the dominant cattle investment. It is only in the limestone down parishes of St. Brides Major, Ewenny, Llanblethian, Newton Nottage, etc. that the total investment drops below 60 per cent as that in both sheep and arable increases. These parishes exhibit much more of a diversified agricultural economy.

Sheep Rearing

Sheep were ubiquitous in the agriculture of Glamorgan and in several sections of the county they constituted the private dimension of the investment. Prior to the introduction of improved breeds, it was reported that there were 'more varieties of sheep in Glamorgan, than is to be found in any other county of the same extent in Great Britain', 18   but the major differences were again attributed to the contrasts between the two main regions, the coalfield and the Vale. Thus, while it was reported that the upland animals produced between twelve and sixteen pounds per quarter, the lowland breeds yielded only nine to twelve pounds; similarly, while the upland sheep produced three to three and a half pounds of wool per fleece, the lowland breeds produced only two to two and a half pounds. 19

In both the coalfield and the Vale, however, sheep rearing relied upon the use of communal pastures to some considerable degree. In this way, large flocks of sheep could be maintained independently of the feeding capabilities of the home unit and the degree to which such communal pastures for sheep were integrated into the economics of sheep farming varied from region to region and from farm to farm. In particular, throughout much of the coalfield section of the county, apart from the use of communal grazing by commoners themselves, there is considerable evidence of the practice of farming out sheep to the 'keepinge' or 'custodye' of others who looked after them 'by the house'. Thus, a seventeenth century will for the parish of Gelligaer itemized sheep 'in the custodye and herding of Lewis Thomas at Blaen-canaid', 20 while in the seventeenth century, at least three farm units sent their stock to Pendugae, an isolated hill farm which possessed extensive grazing rights to Merthyr Common. 21 In other cases, however, there was a more complicated fractioning of stock and the 1728 inventory of one Gelligaer farmer referred to

all my sheep that are now grazing and depasturing upon the tenmt where I now live and the comon called Craig Vargoed ... all the sheep that I have grazing and depasturing with my brother David John ... all my sheep that are now under the care, custodye, and keeping of William Lewis Deo. 22

Figure 2

Not copied. Heading is 'Llandaff Probate Records 1600-1750: Location Map.

The 18 parishes shown are;

Gelligaer;  Merthyr Tydfil; Llanvabon; Eglwysilan; Rudry; St Andrews; Wenvoe; St Lythans; St Georges; St Nicholas; Bonvilston; Llantrithyd; St Hilary; Llanblethian; Wick; Ewenny; St Bride's Major; Newton Nottage.

There is a siting parish map linked from the main Glamorgan Genuki page.

In yet another example, a flock of ninety-eight sheep was lotted out to four different farms for the winter . 23

Three factors may be identified as accounting for this process of apportioning the flocks of sheep among several farms. Firstly, owners of sheep occasionally rented out animals to others who then derived all profits from them for a fixed term of years. A sixteenth century case in the Court of Chancery refers to the default of one, Meyryck ap Gwyllym, in paying five years rent to Thomas ap Thomas for the hire of twenty sheep at six shillings and eightpence per annum . 24  This practice was still prevalent in the seventeenth century and a Llanblethian will bequeathed 'twenty sheep which are in the hands of Morgan John ap Evan of..................

..................... St. Brides Major together with their yearly rents' . 25  Secondly, in other cases it represented an adjustment to the problem of winter grazing. Farms with common rights often neglected the tenets of 'levancy and couchancy' and grazed more animals than they could support on the home unit during the winter. Having others shepherd the flock surplus to the home unit's carrying capacity, therefore, was a precursor to the later common practice of 'taccing'. Finally, in other cases, a reverse movement of sheep from farms with no common grazing rights to farms with common rights represented the illegal use of their grazing rights by such farmers. Thus, several presentments were made in the manorial courts of Senghenydd against those who, 'contrary to the custome of this mannor', had taken

into their care several heads of Cattle and sheep to Graze on the Common of Blaen Rumney Called by the name of Eithin Mawr and mark of several Persons Residing in the County of Monmouth. 26

The church also took cognizance of this process and demanded that:

Where as several of the said Inhabitants having sheep in theyr custody to theyr children or servants, to outdwellers or strangers, the shepheard or keeper of such sheep is and yet to pay a fleece of wool for every the number of ten.  27

Throughout several sections of the Vale, the dependence upon common land was even more comprehensive with flocks being maintained on the common grazing lands for the entire year. In particular, the limestone downs of Ewenny, St. Lythans, St. Hilary, Newton Nottage and St. Brides were said to contain 'the oldest and sweetest pastures of the limestone tract' , 28 and such was their fertility that care had to be taken to 'prevent sheep from breaking into them from the enclosures, as their herbage is so sweet'. 29 A further incentive to the exclusive dependence upon the downs was a financial one in that

Cattle and stock grazed or kept on the Common or Waste solely are not liable to the payment of any tithe and the Common or Waste is by prescription not subject to any tithes. 30

The presence of sheep in significant numbers, especially in association with the ubiquitous cattle, is generally indicative of a more specialised pastoral economy. The degree of involvement in sheep rearing by individual farm units as revealed by the inventories, however, varies from parish to parish, as does its association with other elements. Thus, the coalfield parishes with their extensive plateau top grazing lands are featured by a high proportion of their farm units having more than 30 per cent of their total agricultural investment in sheep. These same parishes also contain several cases of farms involved solely in sheep which probably relate to a specialised shepherding section of the society. Finally, while the general size of flocks throughout the county was less than fifty head, these coalfield parishes were featured by several flocks in excess of one hundred head.

At this point in the original article appear a series of diagramatic charts, triangular and graph style, as referred to under Sources above as Figure 3 and below as Figure 4.    These are not copied

It is a group of parishes in the Vale, however, that exhibits the greatest frequency of farm units with significant investments in sheep. Thus, the parishes of Llanblethian, St. Hilary, Ewenny, St. Brides Major, and Newton Nottage all have approximately one third of their farm units with more than 30 per cent of the farm valuation being in sheep. As already pointed out, these parishes are all associated with extensive and much used communal grazings on the limestone downs. The latter did much to encourage investment in sheep and also ameleorated the problem of wintering as the limestone down commonlands supported the flock all the year round and the sheep were, therefore, completely independent of the actual farm unit itself.

Elsewhere throughout the county, the probate inventories suggest that sheep were essentially subdued secondary and tertiary elements of the farm economy. In parishes such as Rudry, St. Georges, Wenvoe and St. Andrews, all flocks were fewer than fifty head and no farms had an investment in sheep in excess of 30 per cent. These too were parishes with access to common grazing lands but they were generally smaller and not conducive to the support of several large flocks of sheep. Where there were no common lands, any sheep raised had to be fully integrated into the home farm grazing capacity. It is these parishes with less dependence upon communal grazings which have the most references to 'fatt sheep', 'store sheep and mulch ewes'.

The relative importance of sheep in the agricultural economy, therefore, was very much related to the absence or presence of communal pastures. Not only did the latter encourage participation in sheep rearing, but also produced specific breeds and unique patterns of flock management. While sheep were relatively ubiquitous elements of the agricultural economy throughout Glamorgan, their greatest relative significance was in the region of limestone downs and coalfield moorland pastures. It would appear that throughout both the Vale and coalfield, heavy reliance upon commonland grazing resulted in large flocks and a relatively greater preoccupation with sheep raising. Where commonlands were not available for this function or, where present, were not used in these ways, the numbers of sheep kept reflected the carrying capacity of the independent farm unit itself.


Whereas pastoralism constituted the most characteristic speciality of Glamorgan agriculture, arable activities were more localised with a clear distinction between the coalfield and Vale areas of the county:

the usual crops grown in this county are Wheat, Barley, and Oats. The cultivation of Buckwheat has of late years been partially introduced. Most of the small farmers in the interior, and more mountainous parts, pursue the destructive practice of successive white crops, which are continued as long as the ground will yield any return above the seed: but in the lower lands, a more enlightened system has long prevailed, and is................

............daily extending. In the rotation of crops no particular system is followed, each farmer pursuing that which best suits his own views and convenience. The most general green crops are Beans, Turnips, Vetches, and Pease. 31

The 1801 Returns represents the dominant crops of the Vale as being wheat, oats, barley, rye, peas and beans in order of importance. (see Fig 1). With regard to regional distributions, barley was predominant in both the Gower peninsula and the area between Aberavon and St. Brides Major. Elsewhere in the Vale, wheat was dominant in the southern parishes with oats becoming prominent only in those parishes bordering on the coalfield. One Vale parish reported that 'oats are not so productive as wheat and barley and, therefore, seldom sown'. 32  Potatoes, beans and peas were generally absent throughout the lowland parishes although they were reported by Rhosili and Loughor in the west.

If the agricultural pattern of the lowlands revealed a considerable investment in arable activities, that of the coalfield section of the county continued to be dominated by pastoralism. The relative insignificance of crop production may be inferred from the limited value of crops and arable interests in the inventories, and the absence of many coalfield parishes in the 1801 Returns of crop acreages. The arable which was present was concerned with the limited demands of both family and stock. Thus, a Gelligaer will of 1668 stated that

all catell shall be maintained on the crops and fodir until Maii next and that all Corne and graine within and wthout shall be towards theire maintenance until Maii next and the remainder of corne and graine then I doe appoint it to be towards their maintenance wthout any ptinge. 33

What grain was grown was dominated by oats for livestock feed and also for human consumption. It was noted that while in the lowlands of Glamorgan oatmeal was but little used, 'in the hilly parts, however, it chiefly constituted the bread of the inhabitants'. 34

But in both the Vale and the coalfield alike, the arable component of the economy was considered to be poorly developed and lacked the progressiveness of other parts of the county. The particular deficiency of the agriculture of the county was that

The farmers in this part of South Wales are unavailing to leave The old Track. Notwithstanding the Advantages of Turnip Husbandry, they have not in an instance followed it. 35

Or again, as in the parish of Ilston, the agriculture was considered to be

very capable of Improvement could the farmers be prevailed upon to leave their old method and pursue the mode of Improvement by sowing Turnips and feeding them with sheep. 36

A 1788 survey of the Aubrey Estate in the Vale of Glamorgan noted that the farmers there

manage their Tillage Land very bad they Crop it as long as it will bear Corn and then let it lie for 2 or 3 years often without sowing Clover or Grass Seeds thereon and if they do it is so very foul and Poor withall as to prevent the Clover from thriving. 37

The recommended panacea was a four year rotation involving the sowing of clover and turnips. If turnips can be taken as indicators of improvement, therefore, the 1801 Returns do suggest that certain parishes were more progressive than others. Gileston, Nash, Llysworney and Llanmihangel had sixteen, twenty eight, thirteen and twelve per cent of their arable acreages under this crop. Furthermore, while not a major field crop, turnips, potatoes, peas and beans were elsewhere very plentiful, but we cannot ascertain their Measure as they are in Gardens and in Corners of Fields and Headlands'. 38  In such areas, however, they were not fully integrated into the cropping system and were merely relegated to the few areas of land left uncultivated after the allocation of lands to the dominant grain crops had been met.

Apart from the general backwardness of agriculture throughout the county, the growth of mining and metallurgical activities had a profound impact upon the agricultural activities. While the agricultural economy of the upland section of Glamorgan continued to exhibit many of the characteristics of the traditional pastoral economy, it was this area which also experienced the direct impact of industrialisation. From the mid-eighteenth century, that arable area which did exist throughout the coalfield along the valley floors and lower slopes, was disappearing before 'the monstrous Krakens of commerce'.   39 Others argued, however, that the shortages of foodstuffs were due more to the increase in local population and that, in fact, there had been a stimulation of arable productivity by the development of industry:

Glamorgan used annually to export a considerable quantity of corn to Bristol before the erection of the furnaces etc at Merthyr, Neath, etc., etc. At present it does not grow corn sufficient for its own consumption: and, still, I have been informed by very old men, that there is four times the quantity of land in arable state in this county above what there was fifty years ago. 40

That this expansion of the arable took place in the coalfield area is not clear, however, and it is probable that the development of industry and its attendant population served to emphasize the pastoral component of the economy with the increased demand for both meat and dairy products. Moreover, this region of pastoral valleysides and plateau tops witnessed those limited areas of arable and meadows that did exist along the valley floors being replaced by industry and urbanisation. While the early mines and metallurgical works were located with regard to the minerals, fuels, land and water available throughout the extensive ..................

............... upland manorial wastes, much of the residential and transport development was along the valley floors and, therefore, at the expense of the arable areas located there.

The analysis of the arable activities at the level of the individual farm unit using probate records corroborates the general findings of the analysis of the 1801 Returns. In all units where details of crops are reported, wheat and barley contended for the position of dominance with oats usually being relegated to the position of tertiary importance. Few of the probate records give details of actual acreages under crops, however, and it is difficult to identify the frequency of specific rotational patterns and crop associations. In those cases where acreages were reported, they ranged between 3 and 12 acres for Llanblethian, 2 and 30 acres for St. Georges, 1 and 16 for St. Hilary, and 6 and 19 for Bonvilston. Little can be determined with regard to yields although a contemporary source reports that 'An average crop of wheat in this county is about twenty five bushels per acre'. 41 While the Vale parishes in general had a larger proportion of their farms participating in arable activities, the parishes of Newton Nottage, Ewenny and St. Brides Major were characterised by several farms in which the arable component constituted the primary component of the economy with sheep and cattle being either secondary or tertiary elements. More generally, however, these Vale parishes reveal a strengthening of the arable component in the framework of a more mixed agricultural investment. The greater involvement in arable being a function of both the more amenable physical environment as well as the freeing of land for arable activities by dependence upon common grazing for all-year round support of livestock in general and sheep in particular.

With regard to the coalfield parishes, if the absence of the 1801 Returns implies the relative unimportance of crops in the economy of this area, so does the infrequency with which the inventories refer to crops. Thus, in the parishes of Merthyr Tudful and Gelligaer, less than 40 per cent of the farm units had references made to crops, and only  a very few did crops make a signficant contribution. While Eglwysilan and Llanfabon did not approach this degree of specialism in pastoral activities, all four of these coalfield parishes were characterised by a predominance of farm units with less than 30 per cent of their investment in crops. The few farms in these coalfield parishes which do exhibit a significant investment in crops were probably located along the valley floors of the Taff and Bargoed rivers and the more lowlying basins in the Nelson-Gelligaer and Caerphilly areas in Llanfabon and Eglwysilan respectively. The most southerly and lowlying of the coalfield parishes, Rudry, reveals the greatest frequency of arable as a secondary activity. Thus, out of 31 farm units studied, 28 were involved in arable to some degree or other while in 21 cases it was second only to cattle and, therefore, more important than the sheep component.

Investment and Prices

Since the financial evaluations made by the appraisors constitute the basis for the comparative analysis of the various parish economies, variations in prices must .................

............... be taken into consideration. The mean price and range of price for each parish are represented in Table 1. Both intra and inter parish variations in prices are apparent. Differences between parishes may be attributed to the physical environment, the respective stage in agricultural advancement, proximity to local markets, etc. Intra-parish differences may be related to differences in quality of the product, but also to such considerations as the time of the year, the age of the stock and whether the animals were raised for store, fattening or dairying purposes. Similarly, stock in gestation demanded higher prices while grain in ground, field, rick or barn valued differently. It is to be further questioned whether or not considerations of caprice, favouritism or malice influenced the assessments made by the 'appraisors'. Despite such limitations, variations in prices may be interpreted as reflecting, to some degree, differences in the productivity of the various farm units studied.

Figure 4 represents the distribution of parochial agricultural investments as represented by the probate inventories for the individual farm units. Total value of the investment in livestock and crops may be taken as being indicative of relative productivity. It will be seen that these investments range from a few pounds to a few exceeding one hundred pounds, with the majority of the estates being under fifty pounds in value. While the large regional property holders and the destitute peasant are generally excluded from this sample, the inventories do refer to a considerable range of investment for these holding property in one diocese. While several parishes reveal agricultural investments in excess of 100 pounds with some ranging as high as 400 pounds, the majority of the farm units studied had less than fifty pounds invested in agricultural products. The highest mean investment is associated with the parishes of Llantrythyd, St. Lythans and St. Georges but with the coalfield parishes of Eglwysilan and Rudry being not very different. Gelligaer and Merthyr Tudful have values similar to those of several of the limestone down parishes with the exception of St. Brides Major which is remarkable for its low mean value. The relatively low mean and medial values reflects the large proportion of units clustered at the lower limits of the range of distribution. In nearly all parishes, the largest group of farm units were characterised by less than  10 pounds investment, with only Eglwysilan, Rudry and St. Lythans having a modal group of 10-20 and Wick with 20-30. Where the farms investment was totally in either sheep, cattle or arable, the valuation rarely exceeded  10 pounds. Such specialisms were generally small scale and were particularly valued low in the case of sheep.

With regard to regional differences in commodity prices, three associations occur. Firstly, Wick, St. Lythans, and Llantrythyd appear in the upper quartile in all three commodities. Conversely, the coalfield parishes of Merthyr Tudful, Gelligaer, Llanfabon, Eglwysilan and Rudry are primarily associated with the lowest quartile. Between these two extremes are clustered the remainder of the Vale parishes with no significant association other than the consistency with which Newton Nottage trends to the lowest values of the Vale parishes.


Contemporary descriptions of the agricultural economy of Glamorgan in the nineteenth century placed much emphasis upon the differences exhibited by the coalfield and Vale section of the county. In the opinion of these observers, the agricultural economy of Glamorgan at the opening of the nineteenth century reveals a significant regional difference in emphasis. The upland section of Glamorgan, 'Blaenau Morgannwg', exhibited a pastoral economy with both stock rearing and dairying but with little arable production. In the lowland section of the county, 'Bro Morgannwg', there existed a more mixed agricultural association with the breeding of livestock for dairying, rearing and fattening being accompanied also by a significant involvement in crop production. In this, the more fertile and less isolated section of the county, it would appear that both the pastoral and arable components of the agricultural economy were more intensive and efficient than in the neighbouring area to the north.

On the other hand, it would appear from the analysis of the individual farm units in each of these areas, however, that what differences there were, were differences of degree rather than of kind, and that the farms of both areas had much in common. Pastoralism was dominant in all areas because of the ubiquity and magnitude of cattle husbandry. Any differentiation in the agricultural economy depends, therefore, upon variations in involvement in the arable and sheep sectors of the economy. Since there was no fundamental diversity between the upland and lowland areas of Glamorgan, and since differences occur between members of the same broad regional division, and since similarities occur between members of the two principal regions of the county, factors other than the physical and cultural background were influential. Thus, consideration of very local environmental potential for agriculture, access to markets, relative progressiveness or backwardness of the agriculture of specific estates and the absence or presence of certain traditional agricultural land uses all appear to bear some relation to the diverse agricultural patterns which emerged.


Kingston, Canada



1 See Vinogradof, P., The Growth of the Manor, London 1932, pp. 16-17; Lewis, T., Bibliography of the Laws of Hywel Dda, Aberystwyth Studies, X, 1928.

2 Giraldus Cambrensis, Itinerary Through Wales and a Description of the Welsh People, London, 1908, p. 166.

3 Leland, John, Itinerary, London, 1540, Vol. IV, p. 37.

4 Defoe, Daniel, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, London, 1962, Vol. II, p. 55.

5 Anon; 'A Letter to Mr. Urban', Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 55, pt. 2, 1785, p. 604.

6 Fox, J., A General View of the Agriculture of the County of Glamorgan, London, 1796, p. 15.

7  ibid.

8 Davies, Walter, A General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, London, 1814, Vol. 1, p. 161.

9  A standard reference to these travel accounts is Cox, Edward G., A Reference Guide to the Literature of Travel: Including Voyages, Geographical Descriptions, Adventures, Shipwrecks and Expeditions, 3 Vols. Seattle, 1935.

10 See Thomas, D., Agriculture in Wales during the Napoleonic Wars, Cardiff, 1963, pp. 17-36; see also, Minchinton, W.E., 'The Agricultural Returns of 1800 for Wales', Bull. Bd. Celtic Studies, Vol. XXI, Nov., 1964, pp. 74-93.

11 National Library of Wales, Probate Records of the Diocese of Llandaff, will and inventory of T. Hopkin, Llanblethian, July 1674; for other studies using probate records for Glamorgan see Emery, F. V., 'West Glamorgan Farming', 1580-1620, Nat. Lib. Wales Jl., Vol. IX, No. 4, 1956, pp. 392-400; Vol. X, No. 1, 1957, pp. 17-32; Williams, M. I., 'A Contribution to the Commercial History of Glamorgan', Nat. Lib. Wales Jl., Vol. IX, 1955-56, pp. 185-215; Vol. XI, 1960, pp. 330-360; Vol. XII, 1961-62, pp. 52-80, 265-287, 353-369.

12 Rees, T., The Beauties of Englaud and Wales: or Original Delineation, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive of Each County, London, 1815, Vol. XVII, p. 599.

13 Read, C. S., 'On the Farming of South Wales', Jl. Agric. Soc., Vol. 10, 1849, pp. 122-165.

14 ibid.

15 'Glamorgan Notes', Arch. Camb., Vol. 12, 1881, p. 152.

16 ibid.

17 A Welsh Farmer, 'On the Working of Oxen', Farmer's Mag., Vol. II, 1801, pp. 45-47. The 1801 Return for Port Eynon referred to the local practice of ploughing with 'four or six oxen and two horses' Arrangements such as these must have been transitional to the final displacement of oxen by horses as the primary source of draught power. W. Davies noted that while both horses and oxen were kept in the coalfield, there was a preference for horses in the lowland as 'being obliged to keep horses for road labour, they are best used for all purposes'.

18 Anon, 'A Letter from a Farmer in Wales', Farmer's Magazine, Vol. IV, 1803, p. 370.

19 N.L.W., Ms. 1760A, Walter Davies' Notes, 1811. There is some evidence that originally the coalfield sheep were sheared in both May and December and the Gelligaer tithes referred to payments for 'Michaelmas wooll, though it not be shorne in whole fleeces by all such owners thereof as the May wooll'.

20 N.L.W., Llandaff Probate Records, will of W. Jenkin, Gelligaer, June, 1685.

21 ibid., E. David, Merthyr Tudful, Jan., 1683.

22 ibid., J. John, Gelligaer, Feb. 1728/29.

23 ibid., J. Williams, Llanfabon, Dec., 1708. Frequently, payments for supporting the stock was made by selecting a specified number of sheep 'out of those that he had in his keepings the last winter' or 'two of the best of ye said sheep together with their lambs if any be' or to 'five ewes and lambs if they be alive at May'.

24 Public Record Office, Early Chancery proceedings, E.C.P. 934/935, 1533-38.

25 N.L.W., Llandaff  Probate Records, Margaret Thomas, Llanblethian, Dec., 1664.

26 N.L.W. Bute Collection, Box 91, Pcl. H., Paper 2.

27 N.L.W. Ms. 5211E., Vol. IV, Clark Papers. See also tithe documents in Gelligaer parish records.

28 Davies, W., op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 25.

29 ibid., Vol. 2, p. 84.

30 Nottage Court Collection, 'Lamphey Down Dispute', 1606.

31 Rees, T., op. cit., Vol. XVIII, p. 597.

32 P.R.O., H.O. 67/13, Gileston, Glamorgan.

33 N.L.W., Llandaff Probate Records, M. Thomas, Gelligaer, Dec., 1668. The provision of winter feed was of great import to the stock-raising economy. References in wills to 'ye grass of a cow yearly' and 'the grassing, wintering, or foddering of two cows yearly' underscore the importance of this element. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, animals not accompanied by sufficient winter fodder were considerably underpriced by the valuers.

34 Quoted in Minchinton, op. cit., p. 91.

35 P.R.O., Home Office Papers 67/22, Penmaen, Glamorgan.

36 ibid., Ilston, Glamorgan.

37 Glamorgan Record Office, Aubrey Collection, D/DAu 32, Survey Book, 1788.

38 P R.O., op. cit., St. Nicholas, Glamorgan.

39 P.R.O., H.O. 67/22, Ystradgynlais, Glamorgan.

40 Quoted in Minchinton, op. cit.

41 ibid.