A Contribution to the Commercial History of Glamorgan, 1666-1735


Moelwyn I Williams, National Library of Wales journal, Winter 1955 , Vol IX/2 pp188-215

This complete article was provided by Stephen Keates.

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



'Hitherto, no one seems to have attempted a systematic study of the various stages in the evolution of the commerce of the Principality of Wales.' These words were written over thirty years ago by E. A. Lewis, whose pioneer work in transcribing from the extant Welsh Port Books for the period 1556-1603, and his 'tentative effort . . . to supply a brief survey of Welsh trade as it appears in the returns of the extant Welsh Port Books for the year I688', 1  still remain the only attempts, as far as I am aware, at a systematic study of Welsh Commerce. It would seem, therefore, that a serious gap remains to be filled in the economic and commercial history of our country. Consequently, every small contribution that may supply fresh information on the Welsh maritime trade of former centuries will help to complete a story which is full of interest and romance.

The following notes are a modest attempt to throw some new light on the nature and extent of the seventeenth and eighteenth century coasting trade of the 'Vale of Glamorgan', or 'Bro Morgannwg', a small region which has figured prominently in the social and economic development of that county. 2  The major part of this work consists of the writer's own transcriptions from the Exchequer King's Remembrancer Port Books, Series P.R.O. E.190, and from certain manuscripts which were included in the collection of documents recently presented to the National Library of Wales by Mr. Job A. Williams. 3   The National Library of Wales manuscripts 4  are a valuable source of information for the local historian. They are probably the notes, records or memoranda that were kept by the local customs officer at Aberthaw, and contain particulars of the shipments of goods--- 'exported and imported Coquetts' as they were called--- out of and into the 'port' during various periods between the years 1693-1735. They give the names of the ships and their masters and also of the merchants who took part in the activities of the port. These manuscripts probably constitute the only extant record of the trade at Aberthaw during the years mentioned, for the official extant Port Books of that period do not--- as far as the writer has been able to establish--- account for the volume of trade recorded in them. Consequently, in view of the latter fact and also on account of the badly torn and fragile character of these papers, an immediate...............


  • 1  Lewis E. A.: 'Maritime Trade of Wales in Stuart Times. . .' in Times Trade and Engineering Supplement,6 December 1924, p. 28-29.
  • 2  For the many delimitations that have been assigned to the Vale of Glamorgan see the writer's unpublished M.A. thesis (Univ. of Wales) entitled 'A sociological and statistical study of the population of the Vale of Glamorgan. ..'  p. 1-7, and his article in the Glamorgan County Magazine, New Series, No. S, 1950, p. 18-19.
  • 3  N.L.W. Annual Report 1953-54, p. 34-5.
  • 4  I am indebted to Miss Rhiannon Francis Roberts, M.A., for drawing my attention to this and other relevant material contained in the Iolo A. Williams Collection.


..............transcription of their contents seemed desirable. These papers at one time probably formed part of a small crown octavo note book, seven and a quarter by five and a half inches, and unlined. But, as we shall see, it was not the official book in which the trade returns were to be recorded and sent to the Exchequer. 1

Before we proceed to analyse the data which are contained in the manuscripts and which have been tabulated for convenience at the end of these introductory remarks, it will be necessary to discuss very briefly the general background of the trading connections of the Vale of Glamorgan with the opposite English coast of Somerset and Devon. For this trade, which gradually declined as the 'works' in the Blaenau developed during the nineteenth century, influenced in no small measure the social and cultural life of the populous Vale, and contributed much to the economic prosperity of the county in pre-industrial days. Such a discussion will, it is hoped, serve to show that the trading activities of Aberthaw and its neighbouring creeks were not confined to the period covered by the tabulated data given below.


The natural division between 'The Hills' (Blaenau) and 'The Vale' (Bro) is the most striking physical feature of Glamorgan, and one which has been of permanent significance in the history of its people. 2   The Vale of Glamorgan was always a region of comparative peace and prosperity. It was well known for the fertility of its soil and for the abundance of its fruit, corn and vegetable crops. It was a region which possessed the advantages of numerous small 'ports' which dotted its coastal fringe, and it was through these that the Vale was once able to supply 'the City of Bristol with butter in very great quantities, salted and barrell'd up, just as Suffolk (supplied) the City of London'. 3  The general fecundity of the whole district earned for it the appellation 'The Garden of Wales' and led one observer to conclude that 'perhaps there is nothing richer to be met with in the kingdom, certainly nothing in the Principality that can at all be compared with it'. 4     A glance at the map will show how narrow is the strip of water which separates the Vale from the opposite coast of Somersetshire.

It is not possible to determine when the old coastal communications between the Vale and the opposite Bristol Channel ports were first established but it is fairly certain that they go back to an early date. 5  The natural havens of Penarth, Barry and Sully, Aberthaw, Col-hugh or Coytlou, 6  Ogmore and Newton, had been used in all probability before the Norman conquest of Glamorgan in 1099. In this connection, a letter addressed by Sir Edward Stradling (1529-1609) of..............


  • 1 lnfra, p.196.
  • 2 Freeman, T. W.: 'The Early Settlement of Glamorgan,' in Scottish Geographical Mag., January 1936, p.19
  • 3 Defoe, Daniel: A Tour through England and Wales, Vol. II, p.35
  • 4 Bell, James: A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales (1835), pt. IV, p. 277.
  • 5 Cf. Freeman, T.W., loc. cit.
  • 6 Corbett, J.S.: Glamorgan (1925), p. 90n.


...........St. Donat's to Lord St. John of Bletisoe regarding the ownership of the 'port' of Aberthaw is very significant:

'I and my ancestors, ever since the conquest of the com of Glamorgan lords of the manor of East Orchard, have bine the only lordes and possessioners of the whole haven of Aberthaw; and duringe the same tyme had the government and appointing of all passinge boates usinge the same haven, the grauntinge of all cockettes, and all other money for kyllage, shippe mony, and all customes, comodityes, and royaltyes whatsoever, rysinge, growinge, or happeninge in all places wthin the p'sincte of the same haven, as proper and only belonginge to mee and my sayd ancestors, lords of the same manor, wthout clayme or contradiction of any p'son or p'sones'. 1

From this it may be inferred, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the port of Aberthaw, which had probably been visited regularly by small trading vessels before the Conquest, had subsequently been considered a valuable source of income which accrued from the imposition of customs duties and other port charges; otherwise, apart from military reasons the continuous control of the haven by the Stradlngs would be difficult to explain.

It is fairly certain that there was once a small 'port' at the mouth of the river Col-hugh which forms a confluence with the river Od Nant below Llantwit Major at the head of Cwm Col-hugh. This 'port' probably provided an outlet for small shipments of surplus agricultural goods to be carried coastwise from the Manor of Llantwit Major, once the richest and most flourishing manor in Glamorgan. 2   In or around the year 1542 Leland in describing Col-hugh records that 'hither cummith sumtyme Bootes and Shippletes for socour' but does not refer to any trading activities there. It may have been that the 'port' was already deteriorating, for later in the century, about 1590, an undated letter which had been sent to Sir Edward Stradling on behalf of a number of individuals of that neighbourhood refers to the 'greate griefe' that was daily experienced 'by reason of the decaye and uter ruine of our pere and harbour'. 3  This reference may have been to the port of Colhugh. Indeed, the port must have occupied the attention of Sir E. Stradling at this time for in a letter to Camden in I594 4   he mentions the port at Col-hugh and the many old and trustworthy men he knew who remembered ships loaded with wheat being anchored there. Nearly two centuries later, however, there still...............


  • 1 Stradling Correspondence (Ed. J. M. Traherne), London, 1840, p. 122-3.
  • 2 Corbett, J.S.: op. cit., p. 90. Cf. Randall, H. J.: On the Study of Welsh Antiquities. No. 1. Glamorgan, in Arch. Camb, Vol. 15, 3rd Series, 1869, p. 192.
  • 3 It has been suggested too that the 'piers' at Colhugh may have been constructed by the Stradlings of St. Donat's for the convenience of their embarking and disembarking when they crossed the channel to their estates in Comb Hawey in Somersetshire, but that local farmers were allowed to use them for exporting their corn and other surplus agricultural produce. It may be noted in passing that Joan de Hawey of Comb-Hawey and St. Donat's married Sir Peter Stradling, the first of the name appearing in Glamorgan records. (Clark, G. T.; Genealogies of Glamorgan, p. 434).
  • 4 Stradling Correspondence, p. 319.


...........could be seen at the mouth of the Colhugh vestiges of an ancient port chiefly consisting of some piles of oak on the beach called the 'Black men', an outwork of a pier. 1

Further east, at Penarth, 2   was another point on the coast of the Vale that facilitated trading relations with Minehead. Sully, too, was, as Leland described it, 'a praty Havenet or Socour for Shippes'. 3  This 'Havenet' was again referred to at the beginning of the eighteenth century as 'a very good Harbour for trade especially from Swanbury (Swanbridge) to Uphill, Bristol and elsewhere with Cattle, sheep and Hoggs'. 4   Further west (perhaps a little beyond the geographical delimitation of the Vale) at Newton (Nottage) about the year 1542 there was a 'Station or Haven for Shippes', 5   and three hundred years later there was still a port 'whence ships of small burthen carry on a coasting trade with Bristol and other parts of England'. 6   It was only after the developments which later led to Porthcawl becoming a harbour for exporting coal from the Llynfi Valley that Newton declined in importance as a centre of coastal trading.

The most important 'port' along the whole coastline between Neath and Cardiff in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was Aberthaw (Aberddawen or Aberddaw) which has long since passed into desuetude. Here indeed was an ancient anchorage with a long maritime history, most of which is as yet unwritten. In 1650 there was at this port 'a concourse of shipping' and it is on record that 'the trading and re-trading of goods' which was carried on here brought 'great yearly benefit' to the National Customs.

The boats which traded from Aberthaw at this time were generally small, of from twenty to thirty tons burthen, and (what should be emphasised) carried passengers 7   as well as goods to Bristol and Minehead. One vessel, the Great Thomas, of Aberthaw, was over one hundred tons burthen, and with others used 'to traffique into Ireland, France and Spain'. The water in the port, however, was too shallow for these large vessels to anchor and therefore upon their return from foreign tradings, had to 'touch at the port of Mynehead and there unloade parte of their burdens and with the rest arrive at Aberthaw where there was great occasion and use for barques and other vessels to fetch home such goods as are often left at Mynehead'. 8    It is recorded, too, that during the time of Charles I (1625-1649).....................


  • 1 N.L.W. MS. 13114B, p. 38; Cliffe, C. F.: The Book of South Wales (1854), p. 116. Cf. Leland, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 545.
  • 2 It is said that after the defeat of Rhys ap Tewdwr on Penrhys, the mercenaries who assisted Iestyn ap Gwrgan after 'the Sallary was paid were attended to the Waterside viz, to Penarth . . .' (Merrick, Rice: Morganiae Archaeographia, p. 12).
  • 3 Leland, John: The Itinerary, 3rd ed. (1768), Vol. IV, p. 43.
  • 4 Lhuyd, Edward: 'Parochialia' in Arch. Camb. (1909-11), pt. III, p. 45.
  • 5 Leland, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 49.
  • 6 Rees, Thomas: Beauties of England and Wales, Vol. XVIII, p. 698. See also Swansea Cambrian, 29 May 1824.
  • 7 It is interesting to recall that John Wesley occasionally made use of this route when visiting his friend Robert Jones of Fonmon Castle, situated about two miles from Aberthaw. (Vide The Journal of John Wesley, vol. iii, p. 533,195).
  • 8 Cardiff Library MS. 2,111 (4/11).


.....................there were two large vessels employed by two merchants of Aberthaw--- 'Spencer of March house, and Merchant Nichols, one of the Nichols of Ham'--- on the West India trade. At that time cargoes were brought up from these 'by lighters to the Booth Cellars or Warehouses and to March House' and it was a very common thing to take £100 of a morning for sugar and other West Indian produce'. 1

In former times many of the inhabitants of the port and neighbourhood of Aberthaw combined seafaring with an agricultural life, and over the years had earned for themselves the reputation of being good seamen 'fit for H.M. service'. In the early seventeenth century over twenty families are said to have 'procured the greatest part of their sustenance and maintenance by means of the open and free trade of the harbour of Aberthaw'. 2

Some degree of shipbuilding, too, was carried on near Aberthaw---at the Booth and March House--- where timber was cheap and plentiful. The building of the ships was mainly in the hands of the local merchants, the most notable of whom were the Hollands, Cottons, Powels and Walters of West Aberthaw, and the Batsleys and the Spencers, 3   one of whom, Thomas Spencer, was reputed to have been a tobacco planter at St. Kitts. 4

Aberthaw may truly be called the 'port of the Vale' and its former activities, when studied in relation to the better known port of Cardiff, certainly justify that appellation. It has been shown elsewhere how the natural features of the Vale of Glamorgan, which favoured early cultural associations, were in Roman and Norman times exploited for political and economic domination. 5   Of these natural features, the proximity of the coastal regions of the Vale to the coast of Somerset was by no means the least important. The fact which Leland observed that 'from Minehead to Aber Thawen in Glamorgan, the nearest Traject there into Wales, a 18 miles' 6   is not without significance, for the trading link between Aberthaw and Minehead had been strongly forged over many years.

One of the earliest references to the existence of a 'port' at Minehead that has yet been found is in 4  Richard II (1380-81), at which time weirage duties were regularly collected from the maintenance of the port and harbour. 7   It is difficult to establish when trading relations between it and Aberthaw first started, but in a petition which was sent to Elizabeth I on her accession to the throne by the inhabitants of Minehead, it was urged that unless financial aid was forthcoming for the repair of the 'Pier', which had fallen into disrepair, serious losses would follow, including 'the decay of an ancient and daily passage from the partys of Glamorgan in Wales to your saide Piere, by mene of which the fairs and markets of your Countie aforesaid have ever been furnished with no small number of cattle, shepe, woole,...................


  • 1 N.L.W. MS. 13147A p.439.
  • 2 Cardiff Library MS. 2.111 (4/11)
  • 3 N.L.W. MS. 13147A p.457
  • 4 Cardiff Library MS. 2.111 (4/11)
  • 5 Freeman, T.W.: 'Early Settlement of Glamorgan' in Scottish Geog. Mag., January 1936, p. 31; Prothero, R. M.: 'The Bristol Channel Coastlands: early cultural contacts', Scottish Geog. Mag., April 1949 p. 44-53.
  • 6 Leland, op. cit., Vol. II, p.102.
  • 7 Hancock F.: Minehead: A History of the Parish, Manor and Port (Taunton), 1903, p.231

..............yarne, clothe, butter, stone, coal, oysteres, salmon and other sundrie kindes of fish and flesh to the losses of Your Majesty's Customs there...' 1    In view of its proximity to Minehead it is reasonable to argue that a considerable portion of the Glamorgan trade at this period would pass through Aberthaw from its rich and extensive agricultural hinterland. In this connection it is a noteworthy fact that a table of duties or weirage, 'Beinge alle written oute of a certaine table which did hange in the Common Hall at Mynehead to be seen of all that list' 2 --- contained only one item which related to duties on boats from Wales, namely:

'Keelis of every bote of Aberthar (Aberthaw) ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 2d

Again, in an account of the 'way dutyes' received in the port of Minehead from 25 December 1646 to 25 March 1647 the following entries appear for Welsh ships:

  • Jan. 11th. Ye Gifte of Swanzey, John Progmore ... 1d
  • Jan. 14th. Old Thomas of Aberthaw for one Kilderkin of butter and 2 bags of wooll ... ... 5d
  • Feb. 5th. Ye Old Thomas of Aberthaw, 4 horses ... ... ... ... ---d

In assessing the importance of Aberthaw as a former maritime centre it is of interest to note the following extract from a list of 'English ships in the reign of James I (1603-I625)'. 3   The ports, to which the ships referred to in this list belonged, numbered about two hundred, and the number of ships' names is about one thousand. The number of ships given as belonging to Glamorgan ports in the period examined is given as:


  • Aberthawe 5 Ships
  • Barry 2 Ships
  • Carleon 1 Ships
  • Cardiff 3 Ships
  • Neath 1 Ships
  • Newport 5 Ships
  • Penarth 1 Ships

Although this information may not be altogether reliable, it does at least point to the fact that the port of Aberthaw enjoyed a recognised status.


What was the legal or official status of the 'port' of Aberthaw? A Commission which was set up in 1685 to define 'the Extents, Bounds and Limits of the Port of Cardiff ' did  'declare and Appoint Chepstow, Penarth, Newport, Barry, Sully......................


  • 1 Hancock, F. op. cit., p.242
  • 2 Hancock, F. op. cit., p.252-3
  • 3 Marsden, R. G.: 'English ships in the reign of James I (1603-I 625)' in Trans. Royal Hist. Soc., New Series, Vol. 19, p. 336.


...................and Aberthaw to be within the sd head port of Cardiff '. 1   Aberthaw thus became one of the sub-ports, or member ports, of Cardiff; but the meaning of these terms is somewhat ambiguous, more especially when the terms 'creek' and 'sub-ports' were sometimes used almost synonymously.

It should be borne in mind that from about 1275 onwards the word 'port' became more and more removed from its early meaning of haven, and in time came to signify a defined length of coastline which came under the supervision of a particular port, usually the most important at the time within the delimited region. By the time of Charles II (1660-1685), the distinction between ports, members and creeks was a sharp one with a system of graded dependence from the chief port down through the members to the creeks. 2   But the division into 'head-ports', 'member-ports' and 'creeks' was, in the last analysis, a purely administrative measure, and had reference to the status of the principal officers --- Customer (or Collector), Controller and Searcher. One authority on the subject has put it thus:

'The Member is distinguished by a subordination to and dependence upon the Head-Port, in respect to the Three patent Officers.., but except in this subjection it is wholly independent of and in no way different from the 'Head Port'. 3   That is to say, although Aberthaw was a sub-port (or creek) and came officially under the administrative supervision of the principal Customs Officers at the Head port of Cardiff, in all other respects it was absolutely independent of it; indeed at times its trade may have been greater than that of Cardiff.

An indication of the once limited resources of Cardiff as a Head Port is to be found in the following extract from a report submitted by the Glamorgan justices when, in 1626, the Council of State had ordered them to provide a vessel of thirty tons burthen:

'Some of us went to the Chief Porte of Cardiff. Others of us sent special persons of truste to the severall Harbours and creeks w'thin this Countie, And we doe assure yo'r Lo'pps upon o'r credits... that there is not at this time ... w'thin the saide Port of Cardiff, nor w'thin any of the creeks thereto belonging... any Barke or Vessell of the burthen of xxx tuns or upwards, fit for his Ma't's said service, but only fewe passing boats of xx or xxiiij tuns for carriage of Catell and sheep and for trading into England, not fit for the seas..' 4

It has been indicated that the distinction between the head port of Cardiff and its 'creek', Aberthaw, was not always clear, especially as the latter during one period of its history carried on some degree of foreign trade, a distinction which was later reserved for the head-port and member-port.


  • 1 Cardiff Records, Vol II, p. 376; Chappell, Edgar L.: History of the Port of Cardiff (1939), p. 27.
  • 2 Gras, N. S. B.: Early English Customs System (1918), p.105.
  • 3 Hoon, E. E.: The Organisation of the English Customs System 1696-1786 (1938), p. 167; Jarvis, Rupert C.:'The Head Port of Chester: and Liverpool its Creek and Member' in Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. & Cheshire, Vol 102, 1951, p. 77, quoting the Commission Appointed to Examine State and Take the Public Accounts of the United Kingdom (1787); Fifteenth Report, p. 176.
  • 4 Quoted by Jones, W. H.: History of the Port of Swansea (1922) p. 272.

However, the administrative authority which the Customs Officer at Cardiff once exercised over the creek of Aberthaw is mirrored in a letter dated the 26th April, 1793, sent by Mr. P. Price of Cardiff to Mr. George Morgan, 'Officer of the Customs' at Aberthaw, reminding him that:

'I sent to you last week for the Corn Acct. for the week ended the 13 of this month---but I find you have not regarded it.
I therefore once more desire you wd send it me as soon as possible and also for (the) week ended the 20 inst. and to be punctual in sending them in weekly. You'll also send in the culm entries as soon as possible'. 1

The nature of the customs administration at Aberthaw is not clear. If for official purposes it was designated a creek, then by the time of Charles II the old Crown officers of customer, controller and searcher 'were obliged to make provision for the transaction of their business either, by themselves or their deputies when ever any member, creek, or place should be appointed by virtue of Exchequer commission' 2   but normally, as the creeks were confined to coastal business, only deputies of the customer and controller were stationed there.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century there appears to have been an officer stationed at Aberthaw who styled himself a customer. 3   He was probably only a deputy customer. In 1693 a certain David Lucas, described as a deputy customer, was sworn to be true, etc., 'att Aberthaw. A Creeke of the Port of Cardiffe'.' The officer whose signature or initials appear most frequently in the Aberthaw trade records which the writer has recently examined is William Roberts of St. Athan, but he was neither a deputy customer nor a deputy controller. One set of manuscripts found in the Iolo  A. Williams collection is bound in a piece of parchment which, although its edges have been cut, can still be identified as the official document certifying the appointment of the said William Roberts to be Meter, Weigher and Measurer in the port of Aberthaw.

There was also another customs officer at Aberthaw whose designation was that of a tide-waiter, an office which, in 1781, carried with it an annual income of about £30. The illustrious Iolo Morganwg was at one time interested in one of these posts, as the following extract from a letter written in Iolo's own hand shows. The letter, dated 28 February 1781, is addressed to the Reverend Gervase Powell and reads:

'Dear Sir,

I have presumed to trouble you with this address and humbly hope you will pardon me for it. Mr. Bassett, the Custom-house Officer or tide waiter at the Port of Aberthaw lies ill of a putrid fever and deem'd by his physicians past all hopes of recovery. This place is worth about thirty pounds per annum;............


  • 1 N.L.W. MS. in Iolo A. Williams Collection.
  • 2 Hoon E. E.: op. cit., p.12
  • 3 lnfra, p. 197.
  • 4 Cardiff Records, Vol II, p. 372.


...................could I hope to obtain it, neither my few wants, or humble wishes would require or aspire to more---- May I beg the favour of your interfering for me for this place, with Mr. Edwin or any other...' 1     (a similar letter was sent to Sir H. Mackworth.)

Fate, however, had decreed otherwise. Iolo was not destined to fill this 'place' for apparently 'Mr. Bassett' did not succumb to the 'putrid-fever' to which he fell victim, and it was not until six years later that 'It was thought absolutely necessary on the Death of Charles Bassett to put a Person at Aberthaw immediately; for if that place had been left open it would have been fill'd with Smugglers'. 2



A word must now be said about the official customs records as embodied in the so-called Port Books in order to bring into clearer relief the significance of the National Library of Wales records which form the main subject of these notes.

In 1565 the English customs administration was drastically overhauled, and one immediate result was that the Exchequer issued annually to all ports blank parchment-books which were uniform in their size and appearance and which became known later as the Port Books. 3  The reorganisation of the English customs administration probably gave rise to the Welsh Port Books which were delivered to the Head ports of Wales as in England. For example, the head port of Cardiff received three separate series of books namely, for Chepstow, Cardiff, Swansea and Neath. 4   It should be remembered that it was only in these books that the customs officials were allowed to make their entries for the purposes of the Exchequer. There was, apparently, no official customs book for the 'creeks' of Aberthaw, Sully, Barry and Newton. It is on that account that the trade returns for those 'creeks' are to be found either in the Cardiff Port Books series or the Swansea and Neath Port Book series. When examining the Welsh Port Books at the Public Record Office the writer found that up to about the year 1660, the trade returns for Aberthaw are to be found in the Cardiff Port Books, and thereafter they appear generally in the Swansea and Neath Port Book series.

The question that arises here is how were the returns for the Welsh creeks kept, and by what means were they entered in the appropriate Port Books?

It appears from the terms of the instructions issued to the officers concerned that it was expected they should make their entries in the parchment-books direct from the 'cockets' and similar documents. The term 'cocket' or 'coquet' comes from the phrase quo quietus est, which meant 'by which he is quit' or 'by which it is cleared', or 'by which he is discharged'. This was the verbal formula adopted by the medieval customs to 'write off ' or discharge any particular items. In time.................


  • 1 N.L.W. Ms. Iolo A. Williams Collection.
  • 2 Cardiff Records, Vol. II, p. 388.
  • 3 Friis, Astrid: Alderman Cockyne's Project and the Cloth Trade. (Copenhagen, 1927), p. 440.
  • 4 Lewis, E. A.: Welsh Port Books, p. ix.


................. quo quietus est was contracted to quo qu 'et and became further corrupted to 'coquet', a word which came to denote the instrument upon which the certificate of clearance was given. 1  So that in practice the 'cocket' (or 'coquet') was the small parchment receipt for the payment of export duties 'so called because it was sealed with the cocket seal'. 2   The parchment receipts were affixed to the certificates stating that the goods had been landed at the designated port, which upon presentation released the bonds. The official expectation was that the merchant's declaration as to the goods he intended to send coastwise would be made on a form of 'entry' and that this would be independently checked by the officer who would issue the cocket or clearance. The 'port books' would then be made up from these primary documents. But in practice there were probably many deviations from the official instructions or expectation, and it may be concluded, therefore, that the documents which have come to light relating to the outbound shipments from Aberthaw are the notes or daily ledgers which were kept by local customs officials and which were intended finally for inclusion in the Port Books 3   of either Cardiff or Swansea and Neath.

The meaning given to the term 'cockett' at the turn of the sixteenth century may be deduced from the following extract from a letter written to Sir Edward Stradling by the 'customer' at Aberthaw, one Na. Morgan, who, upon hearing of an irregular arrival of 'a bote' of salt at Abertbaw, questioned the master and merchant concerned and reported: '. . . I found by their owne confession that ther bote was neyther entered before anye custom[er], ... neyther before anye officer of Yo worshipp... neyther had they any certificatt from anye customer that the custome ther upon due hathe bene paid, neither any cockett from anye officer for the transporting therof '. 4   Most of the goods exported from Aberthaw went by 'coquett', for although such goods were only shipped from port to port it was necessary to prevent such cargoes from being surreptitiously sent to foreign ports. The 'coquett' therefore was essential to the ship's master as proof that his cargo had been 'duly customed'.

There was, however, another class of cargo which required the issue of transires or 'let passes' signifying a kind of safe passage or direction to any customs officer not to stop the carriage 5   or a protection for the coasting trader from being compelled to pay a customs duty by the official at the port of unloading. The commodities affected in this class were those brought from abroad on which a duty had been paid and which were allowed to go from port to port without payment of further duties. 8   The information contained in Appendix A shows that such outgoing cargoes as those of wool went by Cocket ('Coqts') and incoming shipments of salt and corn by 'let pass'.


  • 1 The writer wishes to acknowledge here the information given to him on this subject by Mr. R. C. Jarvis, F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S., of the Customs House Library, London.
  • 2 Gras, N. S. B., op. cit., p. 144
  • 3 First Report of the Royal Commission on Public Records (1912), Vol. I, pt. I, P. 47.
  • 4 Stradling Correspondence, p. 324-5.
  • 5 Hoon, E. E., op. cit., P. 267.
  • 6 Gras, N. S. B., op. cit., p. 145, 707; Willan, T. S., op. cit., P. 2.


What then do we gather from the evidence which has been tabulated below?

First of all it is evident that behind the regular sailings of ships out of and into Aberthaw were different classes of men who together formed an integral part of an organisation which served a rich agricultural and pastoral hinterland. For example, there were the men who built the boats 1    and the men who owned them; there were the masters with their small crews--- often not more than two or three--- who sailed in them. There were also the merchants who bought and collected wool and other goods which they sold for profit in the Bristol markets and elsewhere. Many of the masters at Aberthaw were also merchants and vice-versa. For example, when the Blessing of Aberthaw left for 'Minehead' on 10 January 1694 with nineteen bags of wool, Arthur Spencer was the master and William David the merchant. On 17 January 1694 when the Elizabeth of Aberthaw sailed for Minehead with 'two thousand, wait of tallow etc.' Arthur Spencer was both master and merchant. But when the Elizabeth of Aberthaw sailed for Minehead on 28 February with '19 bags and 1 pocket of wool', Joseph Spencer was the master and Arthur Spencer the merchant. There were numerous instances of a master carrying a cargo for himself on one voyage and for someone else on the next. This is borne out by an analysis of the list [Appendix C] giving the names of the several masters and merchants who participated in the out-bound shipments of goods from Aberthaw between 1693 and 1721. Of the forty-five individuals who participated, twenty-two were masters and merchants, eighteen (including one woman) were merchants only, and five were masters only. This ratio of masters to merchants shows that there was but little concentration of the trade in the hands of individuals. And in passing we must not forget the ordinary people of the Vale whose demands in food, drink and clothing are well reflected in the variety of commodities included in the incoming shipments from Bristol (see Appendix D).

Secondly, the evidence we now have shows that the commercial activities of the eastern part of Glamorgan between 1666 and 1721 were very similar to what they had been in Elizabethan times. This was in sharp contrast to the state of commerce in the rest of Wales at this time. It has been estimated that 'of the total outward sailings from Welsh ports in the year 1688, both on the coasting and foreign sides on a general average about 90 per cent were coalshipments'. 2    If then the 'pre-eminence of Welsh coal' was the 'chief raison d'etre' of Welsh maritime activity in 1688, this was certainly not true of that part of Glamorgan which came under the administration of the head port of Cardiff. The general picture we draw is that of Bristol and other centres in Somerset and Devon continuing to import a large quota of agricultural products from Aberthaw and its neighbouring creeks and in return exporting home manufactured goods and some foreign goods [see Appendices D and E]. Further, the large numbers of bullocks which were shipped.....................


  • 1 See Appendix B for a list of ships trading from Aberthaw between 1666 and 1735. It is not suggested, however, that all these ships were built in or near Aberthaw.
  • 2 Lewis, E. A.: 'Maritime Trade of Wales in Stuart Times. ..' in Times Trade and Engineering Supplement, 6 December 1924.


....................from Aberthaw to Minehead show clearly that the cattle trade from Wales to England was not carried on entirely by land. Reference has been made by Miss Skeel 1   to the conveyance of cattle from Tenby across to Bridgwater, Watchet and Minehead. It was also noted in the same source that 'in 1670 a considerable number of bullocks (over 206) were shipped during January---June from Aberthawe to Minehead'. In fact over four hundred and fifty bullocks were shipped from Aberthaw to Minehead during the period Michaelmas 1669 to Michaelmas 1670. 2 Moreover, these circumstances show clearly that Aberthaw was not the centre of an independent area but that it formed the nucleus of a district which was linked up with Bristol and the West of England, which areas in turn were linked up with other districts, domestic and foreign. 3   It has been stated that during the early years of the eighteenth century 'for most of the people of S. Wales, the economic life of the area moved around two pivots, the local fairs and markets.., and the great September fair at Bristol'. And although it is true that 'by these fairs and markets South Wales was bound to the economic life of the remainder of the country, 4   the coastal traffic with Bristol, 'the metropolis of the West', 5  was no less effective in bringing South Wales into gear with contemporary national economic developments, and it probably exerted an important influence in determining the pattern of local economy especially in an agricultural and pastoral region like the Vale of Glamorgan. It can be shown that at a later period the development of the 'works' exerted a similar moulding influence on the economic life of the Vale. But while it continued, the ramifications of the coastal trade of Glamorgan went far beyond the small ports or creeks and its influences on native culture have yet to be examined.

It may be suggested that in this record of maritime relations with Somersetshire and Bristol can be seen an explanation for the early decline of the native language of the Vale. For it must be remembered that the ships which plied between Aberthaw and Somersetshire carried passengers as well as agricultural produce. In other words, the long-established trading relations between the coastal area of the Vale and Somersetshire were human as well as economic. For instance in describing the state of the Welsh language in 1700 in the parish of Llangrallo; (near Bridgend), situated about six miles from the nearest 'port' of Ogmore and Newton and about eleven miles from Aberthaw, Edward Lhuyd's informant stated 'ye language is p'tly English, p'tly Welsh, our trading being for ye moste parte with Summer and Devonshires wch spoiles our Welsh'. 6   Again in 1798 Richard Warner observed that 'the appearance and language' of the inhabitants around Llantwit...............


  • 1 Skeel, Caroline: 'The Cattle trade between Wales and England from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries', Trans. Royal Hist. Soc., Vol. IX, 1926, p. 149.
  • 2 Bullocks exported from Aberthaw during the two previous years 1667 and 1669 numbered over 700 and 850 respectively.
  • 3 Cf. Willan, T. S.: The English Coasting Trade 1600-1750 (1938), p.192.
  • 4 John A. H.: The Industrial Development of South Wales, 1750-1850. (1950), p.10.
  • 5 Minchinton, W. E.: 'Bristol-Metropolis of the West in the Eighteenth Century', in Trans. Royal Hist. Soc., Vol. 4, 1954, p. 69-89.
  • 6 Lhuyd, Edward, op. cit., p. 14-5.


........................Major did not resemble the Welsh in either point and 'there (was) not a trace of the Celtic tongue amongst them: their dialect approaching nearer to a broad Somersetshire than to any other'. 1

Neither must we lose sight of the unrecorded weekly visits of farmers and others from the Vale to the Bristol markets and the Dunster markets near Minehead; nor the seasonal visits of workers from Somerset and Devon to help with the hay and corn harvests. At one time, for instance, 'hardy miners and fishermen of Cornwall were in the habit of crossing in open boats to reap the grain which ripened earlier on the southern coasts of Glamorgan than in the glens and on the moorsides of their own land, returning in time for their own harvests, carrying back with them a welcome addition to their usual toil'. 2

Finally, the fact that the entries for the shipments of goods from and into Aberthaw for the years 1693-1721 cannot be traced in the appropriate Port Books perhaps serves as a further warning that the 'official' records must be used with extreme caution as they do not always reflect a true picture. A contemporary authority has stated that 'In the absence of strong arguments to the contrary it must be held that, in the late eighteenth century, the Port Books formed very imperfect records; nor have we at present any idea from what distance in the past this state of things existed'. 3   Further research into the trade of East Anglian ports in the late sixteenth century has led another writer to question the worth of his transcripts from Port Books and to suggest that 'if a series of regional surveys of trade in this period was undertaken... perhaps something of the overriding dominance of London will disappear'.' And similarly it may be argued that a further systematic investigation into the commercial records of South Wales ports would possibly reveal new facts that would modify our present views on the relative importance of local fairs and markets, and would help us to view the coastal trade with the West of England ports before 1750 in its true perspective.




  • 1 Warner, Richard: A Second Walk through Wales, 4th ed., 1801, p. 66-7.
  • 2 Journ. Bath and West of England Agric. Soc., Vol. VIII, 1860, p. 47.
  • 3 Clark, G. N.: Guide to English Commercial Statistics 1696-1782, (1938), p. 54.
  • 4 Williams, N.J.: 'Francis Shaxton and the Elizabethan Port Books' in English Hist. Rev., Vol. 66,1951, p. 389.