The Drovers: Who they were and How they went: an Epic of the English Countryside.


Compiled by Gareth Hicks (Nov 2004)


From the book's dust jacket;

For three centuries, from the growth of London and the other great cities at the end of the sixteenth century until about a hundred years ago, the beef to feed the British town-dweller was brought to him on the hoof.

This was a vast operation and, at its peak, more than 2000 animals were being driven through the streets of London to market every day.

This book tells of the life of the drovers who brought the cattle and the sheep hundreds of miles, often along ancient grassy drove roads, how they lived, what sort of men they were, how they made their money, the kinds of cattle - also sheep, geese, turkeys, pigs and donkeys - that they drove.


  • 1. The Beginnings of Droving
  • 2. The Scottish and the English Drover
  • 3. The Welsh Droving Trade
  • 4. The Beasts and Birds they drove
  • 5. Shoes and Shoeing
  • 6. Turnpikes, Tolls, Tallies and Enclosures
  • 7. Finance and Economics of Droving
  • 8. Murrain, Cattle Plague and other Afflictions
  • 9. Salt and Scurvy
  • 10. The Drover, in Ballad, Song and Verse
  • 11. Fairs and Markets
  • 12. Drove Roads from the Scottish Border
  • 13. Drove Roads through Yorkshire
  • 14. The Hambleton Drove Road
  • 15. Drove Roads from the Welsh Border
  • 16. East Anglia and the Drovers
  • 17. The Last Stage
  • 18. The End of an Epoch
  • Appendixes
    • Evidence from Old Milestones, Maps and Road Books on the Approach to London
    • 'Swearing in the Horns', Horn Fairs and Other Ceremonies
    • The Pennine Way
  • Bibliography

Photographs and Maps


  • Drovers' routes from the Scottish Border
  • Drovers' Routes through Yorkshire
  • Hambleton Drove Road
  • Drovers' Routes from the Welsh Border
  • Drovers' Routes through east Anglia to London

List of Plates

  • 1. The 'Welsh Road' near Chipping Warden, Northamptonshire (J K St Joseph, Cambridge)
  • 2. Cow hooves and iron shoe (Keighley Art Gallery and Museum: photograph C H Jones)
  • 3. Misericord in Beverley Minster (photograph J E Wright)
  • 4 a,b,c. Drovers' routes into London (from Paterson's British Itinerary, vol 11, 1785)
  • 5. The Smithfield Drover (from W H Pyne's The Costume of Great Britain, 1805: Trustees of the British Museum)
  • 6. Shoeing an ox in the Dordogne (sketch by Clifford Lees based on a photograph in P Oyler's The Generous Earth)
  • 7. The Slaughterman (same source, Trustees of the Brt Museum)
  • 8. The dividing of the routes at Alconbury Hill (from M J Armstrong's Great Post-Roads between London and Edinburgh, 1776)
  • 9. Routes into London through Highgate (from the same source)
  • 10. Bird's-eye view of Smithfield Market (The Guildhall Library)
  • 11. Drovers and their flocks in the north of England (from T S Cooper's Thirty-four Subjects of Cattle, 1837: Tstees of the Brt Museum)
  • 12. The Hambleton Drove Road near Osmotherley (photograph author)
  • 13. Limekiln House (photograph by D B Clayson)
  • 14. Newby Head (photograph author)
  • 15. Mastiles Lane (photograph D B Clayson)
  • 16. The Roman Road from Bainbridge to Ribblehead (photograph D B Clayson)
  • 17. Toll House near Gainsborough (photograph author)
  • 18. Milestone at Thirsk (photograph P H Wyon)
  • 19. 'Swearing on the Horns' at Highgate (Tstees of Brt Museum)
  • 20. Cartoon commemorating the moving of the livestock market from Smithfield in 1855 (Tstees of the Brt Museum)
  • 21. The Tyburn turnpike (from an old print)
  • 22. Highgate Archway (from a print in the possession of Mrs C M Leese)


Quotations from other sources relating to Welsh drovers

These quotations appear in this book but are from other sources.

Wild Wales. George Borrow, 1862

This relates to Borrow's stay at an inn near Llanfair (Anglesey) when he met Mr Bos, a drover.

He was a man seemingly about forty years of age with a broad red face, with certain somethings looking very much like  incipient carbuncles, here and there upon it. His eyes were grey and looked rather as if they squinted; his mouth was very wide, and when it was opened displayed a set of strong, white, uneven teeth. He was dressed in a pepper-and-salt coat of the Newmarket cut, breeches of corduroy and brown top boots, and had on his head a broad, black, coarse, low-crowned hat. In his left hand he held a heavy whale-bone whip with a brass head.

Borrow describing the market at Wrexham, the Northern Gateway of Wales.

There were some Welsh cattle, small of course, and the purchasers of these seemed to be Englishmen, tall, burly, fellows in general, far exceeding the Welsh in height and size ... Now and then a big fellow made an offer and held out his hand for the little Pictish grazier to give it a slap - a cattle bargain being concluded by a slap of the hand.

Twm o'r Nant (Thomas Edwards, bard

He wrote in 1875 in 'Cerdd Y Celfyddydau' ( Wales and the Drover by P.G Hughes 1943)

The old drover sleeps, his term completed;
Throughout his wasted life he cheated.
His world is now a narrow bed -
Fie ! Let him cheat there instead.

Journal of a Tour through North Wales and Part of Shropshire, 1797 by A Aikin.

This quotation relates to Aikin's journey between Amlwch and Bangor.

it fortunately happened that several herds of black cattle that had been reared in Anglesey were then crossing the strait, on their road to Abergelly fair, where they are bought up by drovers and disposed of at Barnet fair to the farmers in the neighbourhood, who fatten them for the London market. We were much amused with seeing a large herd driven over. They are urged in a body by loud shouting and blows into the water, and as they swim well and fast, usually make their way for the opposite shore. The whole troop proceeds pretty regularly till it arrives within an hundred and fifty yards of the landing place, where, meeting with a very rapid current formed by the tide, eddying and rushing with great violence between the rocks that encroach far into the channel, the herd is thrown into the utmost confusion. Some of the boldest and strongest push directly across and presently reach the land; the more timorous immediately turn round and endeavour to gain the place from which they set off; but the greater part, borne down by the force of the stream, are carried towards Beaumaris bay and frequently float to a great distance before they are able to reach the Caernarvonshire shore. To prevent accidents a number of boats well manned attend, who row after the stragglers to force them to join the main body; and if they are very obstinate, the boatmen throw ropes about their horns, and fairly tow them to the shore, which resounds with the loud bellowing of those that are landed and are shaking their wet sides. Notwithstanding the great number of cattle that annually pass the strait, an instance seldom, if ever, occurs, of any being lost, though they are frequently carried to the very entrance of the Menai in Beaumaris bay.

Rural Economy of Southern Counties, W Marshall, 1798

 Maidstone and Romney Marsh in Kent were important destinations for  Welsh drovers, as Marshall wrote

no district in the Island, perhaps of equal extent and fertility, breeds fewer cattle.... Its entire stock, may, with little licence, be said to be Welch, or of Welch origin; although it is situated at an extreme point of the Island, some hundred miles distant from the source of the breed .... The Welch cattle are mostly brought in, by drovers of Wales, while young; as one, two, or three years old. They are bred in different parts of the principality. But the Heifers, which are brought in for milk, are mostly of the Pembrokeshire mould ... several thousands, of different description, are annually brought into the country. In the month of October, the roads are everywhere full of them; some going to the upland districts, others to the marshes.