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 Cattle drovers

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"The Welsh Cattle Drovers " by Richard J Colyer, 1976  is a very readable book on the subject, probably 'the book' to read .

There is an online index to the names and places contained in it and there is an introduction with chapter headings  here

[Gareth Hicks 22.5.2000 D/G]

Trade with the South West of England

Welsh cattle for sale in the South Western counties of Glos, Wilts, Somerset and Devon passed through Llandovery and Brecon to cross the Severn via the Aust Ferry which was reached by way of the Crickhowell-Abergavenny road.

In 1797, Warner's [ he of the book "A Walk through Wales"] progress was " frequently retarded by numerous droves of black cattle from Pem and Cmn travelling towards the Passage to be transported across the Severn and driven towards the markets of Bristol and the other large towns of Somerset, Glos and Wilts."

[Based on The Welsh Cattle Drovers by Richard Colyer 1976 Gareth Hicks ]

Drovers' route Glamorgan-Brecon Fair/Tywi valley

In Archaeologia Cambrensis of 1869, "HLJ" indicated that a track over the mountain above Ystradgynlais and Cwmtwrch formed part of an ancient route by which cattle were driven from Glamorgan to the Tywi Vale. Perhaps this approximated to the direction taken by the existing road across the Black Mountain from Brynamman to Llangadog. Certainly, the numerous "pedol" [animal shoe] type names in the Brynamman area indicate a link with the droving trade. Hence Nant Pedol, Cwm Pedol, Blaen Pedol, Foel deg ar bedol, and Bryn Pedol, all occur on the hills to the north east of Brynamman. At Pontarllechau on the Brynamman-Llangadog road , the Tithe map indicates a track heading in an easterly direction past the Drovers Arms above Llanddeusant across the open mountain to Trecastle and Brecon via Pont-ar-Hydfer. It is generally thought in the Llanddeusant area that this was one of the principal drove routes along which cattle and sheep were driven from Glamorgan and the Gower Peninsula for sale at Brecon Fair.

[Based on The Welsh Cattle Drovers by Richard Colyer 1976. Gareth Hicks]

What goes round comes around......

A lady from Elstree involved in a community project on farming just asked me for a lookup from "The Welsh Cattle Drovers" by Richard Colyer, 1976. She was curious as to what the "Welsh connection " with Elstree could be, she'd spotted the name in the online index.

The subject turned out to be so topical that I thought I would share my response with you .

The Elstree reference arises in a fairly long section of the book headed "Cattle disease and its effects upon the cattle trade", which is about as topical as you can get for a year 2001 project on farming ! He says with feeling as someone who lives within the Dartmoor National Park :-(

I will extract enough quotes to give you the general picture.

The actual lines below are in a section relating to the 1865 cattle plague;

"The outbreak of cattle plague in 1865, which was eventually to wreak such havoc among herds throughout the length and breadth of the country, prompted Robert Curtis to write to the Plague Commissioners of Tenterden in Kent, suggesting that the droving of cattle be banned for the duration of the epidemic. He considered ' that the case of the Welshmen that lost nearly all their cattle.....will be sufficient to prove how hazardous the droving of cattle must be '.

The case to which he referred was that of Simon Williams and John Jones, two North Wales drovers who had driven diseased animals to Barnet fair..."

"...........John Jones had 'secretly' driven a number of diseased cattle from Barnet to Elstree, thereby further facilitating the spread of the plague..."

"As Dale [a Veterinary inspector from Barnet] complained to the Privy Council ;-'this part of my district, Elstree, was entirely free from the plague, but in consequence of this drove, every herd of cattle belonging to gentlemen and farmers adjoining have been affected by the disease.' "

" Prohibition of the movement of cattle by a series of Orders in Council of 1866, and by the Cattle Diseases Prevention Act of the same year, substantially reduced the activities of drovers and dealers at the markets and fairs in England."

[Based on The Welsh Cattle Drovers by Richard Colyer 1976. Gareth Hicks 24 March 2001 G/D/C/P]


The snippets  that follow are from  'Wales and the Drovers; the historical background of an epoch'

By P G Hughes, Foyles Welsh Co Ltd, London 1944  

Here is an Index  

Source book details are included for further reading.

The Roast Beef of Old England

"He caused a cold round of beef to be placed before the Scot in the butler's pantry, together with a foaming tankard of ale"
Sir Walter Scott; ' The Two Drovers'.

The Englishman throughout the ages has regarded beef as the staple article of diet. Celebrated in verse and song, and having attributed to it many of the Anglo-Saxon virtues, it has always been the general standby of national nutrition.

In the Middle Ages, beef played an important part in the domestic economy of the Great Houses of England.

In a feast provided in 1467 by Archbishop Neville of York a total of 104 oxen were consumed [Warner; Antiquitates Culinariae].

William Brooke [ The True causes of our Present Distress for Provisions, 1800] estimated that in 1798 a total of 600 million pounds of beef were consumed in England.

" I stayed at the Mitre" wrote Samuel Pepys in his Diary, "whither I had invited all my old acquaintance of the Exchequer to a good chine of beef."

According to Emrys ap Iwan [1851-1906], Methodist minister and  outspoken Welsh patriot, " Beer and beef were the food of the Englishman"

Up to the end of the C19, Welsh cattle breeders provided one of the main sources for the English markets and fairs. This trade went back at least as far as the Middle Ages.  [Prof. Skeel; The Cattle Trade between England and Wales in the C15 to C18, 1926]  

[Gareth ---- all lists 12 Dec 2001]

Evidence of cattle trade in the Middle Ages

Although there is no systematic account available of the extent of cross border cattle trade between Wales and England, there is evidence of its existence in the Middle Ages from the toll charges of Montford Bridge on the route to Shrewsbury and of the old Wye Bridge at Hereford. [Richards; Cymru'r Oesau Canol, 1933].

In the C14 the Royal Household, as well as the great houses of the nobility, were supplied with cattle from Wales. In the Shrewsbury Borough MSS for 1525-1627 there is ample evidence of established trade with the Principality. [Skeel, ibid].

Later statistics

By the C18 the trade was flourishing, 30,000 black cattle from the summer and autumn fairs of Wales went, every year, in huge herds through Herefordshire towards south-east England.[Sidney Webb; English Local Government, 1913]

One estimate gives 20,000 as the number of cattle sold to drovers at the Cardigan cattle fair at the end of the C18.[Rev J Evans; Letters written...through South Wales, 1804].

Cattle coming from Anglesea were made to swim the Menai Straits, a sight that impressed the traveller Aiken, and this branch of the trade was estimated by Walter Davies [Gwallter Mechain] at 1500 yearlings and 4500 two year olds as the annual 'export'. [Rev W Davies ; Report (North Wales) 1810].

According to Pennant [ Tours], some 3000 head of cattle were sold from the Lleyn district of Carnarvonshire.

[Gareth ]

Some non-droving exports too

Cattle were exported from Cardiff and its creeks to Bristol, and also to Ireland [A E Lewis; The Welsh Port Books]. These supplies would be drawn from the pasture lands of the vale of Glamorgan [Edgar Chappell; History of the Port of Cardiff, 1940].

Leland writing in 1540 observed that the district around Aberpergwm in the northern hill region of the county also had a plentiful stock of oxen, as well as red deer, goats and sheep. Sully, too, was a port for such cross channel trade as far back as 1697. "Here is a very good Harbour for trade, especially from Swansbury to Uphill [Somerset], Bristoll, and elsewhere with cattle sheep and Hoggs." [Llwyd ; Parochialia (1697) in Arch.Camb.,1900-11]. This branch of the trade was the cause of greivance to the managers of the local fairs in 1739, who complained that a ban on the export of stock had deterred English drovers coming to Glamorgan thus injuring local trade. [Chappell, ibid].

Not only were the cattle exported for the meat market, but "they were an indispensable source of raw material to the many tanners, whitamers, pouchmakers, pointmakers, girdlers, glovers, corvisters and curriers, who did a thriving business in Bristol, shipping much of their products abroad"[Power/Poston; English Trade in the  C15, 1933]

Hides were exported in large quantities from Milford Haven, Tenby, Haverfordwest, Laugharne, Llanstephan and Kidwelly.

It is interesting to note that in the C15 goat skins were exported from Wales to be made into 'Shamoys' [Saltzman; Medieval English History, 1923]

Swansea carried on a Bristol Channel trade in cattle. There is [1807] a very considerable trade for cattle and corn between this place and the coast of Somerset; indeed this was a principal branch of its commerce before the establishment of the copper works. [Walker; Scenery, Biology and Antiquity of S Wales, 1807].


Sheep and pigs too

There was also an important market in England for Welsh sheep. A high place in English culinary values was given to Welsh mutton. According to Young [ On the Husbandry of Three Celebrated British farmers, 1811], this was the chief branch of the livestock movement from Wales to England in the C18.

A Herefordshire farmer declares that huge numbers were, in his time, brought every year to Essex to fatten on the salt-marshes. [Ellis; The Modern Husbandman, 1750].

The trade in pigs was considerable, Somerset dairymen buying "vast numbers of these pigs from the Welsh drovers at Bristol market for fattening".[Fussell/Goodman ; Eighteenth century traffic in livestock, Economic History, 1934-7].

Cardigan pigs found their way to the Bristol market [Billinghsley; Somerset, 1798], while Anglesea, Flint, and Merioneth were also concerned in the pig trade.[Lloyd/Turner; Cardigan, 1794].

The sheep and pigs on their way to the English markets and fairs followed much the same routes as those taken by the herds of cattle.[Fussell/Goodman, ibid].


For economic reasons the bulk of the cattle trade went by road, and the number of cattle exported from the Bristol Channel ports was probably small compared with the overland trade.

As Adam Smith observed [ Wealth of Nations];

" Live cattle are perhaps the only commodity of which transportation is more expensive by sea than by land. By land, they carry themselves to market. By sea, not only the cattle but their food and water too must be carried at no small expense and inconvenience."


Types of cattle

To quote Adam Smith again;

"The mountains of Scotland, Wales and Northumberland, indeed, are not capable of much improvement, and seem destined by nature to be the breeding grounds of Great Britain."

In the C17/C18 the majority of the cattle sent from North and Mid Wales were black, or speckled, while those of the Glamorgan variety were red with white faces. Pembrokeshire had its breed of black cattle with long drooping horns known as Castle Martin, although no longer existing as a distinct breed , they have been merged in the breed officially described as Welsh Black.[Skeel, ibid].

The quality and types of cattle from various districts have been extolled in popular rhyme. One ballad, for example, describes the beasts of Anglesea as " large, black oxen, for height the best in Wales", while Montgomery oxen excelled all others for their appearance. Those from Glamorgan were large, red or speckled with short hair and round heads. Merioneth and Carnarvon also had large herds. The Vale of Clwyd was renowned for its clean herds of meaty cattle.

Compared to present day standards, the Welsh cattle were of small stature, and were known as 'runts'. Efforts towards improvement of breeds of stock were not made until the late C18, the dead hand of tradition stayed any experiment or progress. [R T Jenkins, Hanes Cymru yn y Ddeunawfed Ganrif].Put another way, the Dark Age in agriculture persisted until the late C18.


Scanty Welsh larders

While the fatness of Wales went to fill the English larders, so far from the Welsh people themselves indulging in orgies of beef-eating, the scanty larders of the Welsh peasantry and small farmers scarcely knew the flavour of it. Pepys and his companions enjoyed their chine of beef but coarse bread and the various native concoctions of oatmeal foods were the main daily fare of Welsh folk.

It is recorded of a Pembrokeshire farm-labourer who asked to say grace before meat, delivered himself thus;

"Arglwydd annwyl ! Dyma Fwyd

Cawl sur a bara llwyd."

[Good Lord ! What a spread- Sour broth and mouldy bread]

It was left to many a mother to nurture her children on the poor fare known as 'Potas maip' [a thin soup, the chief  and often only ingredient of which was turnips]

It must have come as a great surprise to George Borrow [ Wild Wales] to be informed by Mrs Pritchard that she had no fresh meat to offer and to learn that "sometimes a fortnight passes without any being killed in this neighbourhood".

[Gareth All lists 20 Dec 2001]

Droving --- the end of the road

The long distance drover disappeared from the roads with the advent of the train, with drovers initially accompanying the cattle on the cattle trains but cattle dealers gradually taking over. Droving was still a local activity --- driving herds from fair to railway depot.

So the familiar cry of "Heiptrw Ho" no longer resounded through the quiet countryside.

However, some Welsh cattle farmers crossed the border and settled down among the green pastures of the Midland Counties. Obtaining their cattle from Wales they now became their own graziers and supplied the meat directly. Some experienced and enterprising Welsh cattle farmers settled in Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Once a year in the town of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where there was once a cattle market, they and their families had a reunion which took the form of two preaching services  entirely in Welsh. The little chapel was  filled to capacity with preachers from all denominations having travelled from Wales to preach.

The strong strain of Welsh Puritanism still persisted in spite of a generation or more of exile. Passers-by paused to hear the hymns of Anne Griffiths and Williams Pantycelyn wafting through the air, and perhaps one by Dafydd Jones of Cayo while he drives his phantom drove along the Welsh Road to the distant grazing lands of Essex.

[Gareth --- all lists  8 Feb 2002]

What sort of people were the Welsh Drovers ?

Like the knight's shield in the fable, one side is gold, and the other not so. We will assemble the evidence in literature to assist in a balanced judgement.

Opinion with regard to the character of the drovers is somewhat contrary, perhaps the middle ground is best contained in the statement that 'they were not distinguished for their grace, although there were many notable exceptions amongst them' [ Y Beirniad, 1879].

Vicar Pritchard deemed them in need of admonition [ Canwyll y Cymru], he includes an exhortation to sobriety.

George Borrow  in Wild Wales characterised the drover Bos who boasted that there was not a public house between Pentraeth and Worcester at which he was not well known ---apparently for his inordinate thirst. It has to be admitted that many drovers were not renowned for their sobriety [ Bywyd Cymdeithasol Cymru, R W Jones]. Like Jack Bint, the drover in Miss Mitford's Our Village, they 'were not averse to a pot of good double X' and perhaps like him had a partiality for gin.

This side of the drover's character did not escape the satirical whip of Thomas Edwards [ Twm o'r Nant] where the drover went from one inn to another, with little thought for the welfare of the cattle entrusted to him, singing to the harp and with an eye on loose women.
" Ond o dafarn i dafarn roedd yr hen borthman diofal,
Heb fawr edrych at na thir na chattal,
Ond canu efo 'r tanne, ac ymlid puteinied"

J H Jones,  author of Moelystota,  visited the Llangollen pageant of 1929 and among his impressions is a portrayal of life in Llangollen in the year 1660. The scene, laid out in the yard of the Nag's Head, opened by the appearance of a 'crowd of brawling, swearing, drink-besotted drovers'.

The virtuousness of the drovers has been formidably assailed, and for their lack of grace, they bore a bardic rebuke administered by Twm o'r Nant, who seems to have regarded them as charlatans and mountebanks. In an epitaph, he has set down the Drover's reputation, for posterity, the translation runs;

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"

Elsewhere he classifies the drovers with bailiffs, constables, jailers and hangmen --- some knaves and others thieves.[Twm o'r Nant; Cerdd y Celfyddydau]

Another writer claims that small farmers were frequently swindled by dishonest and crafty drovers [RW Jones,   ibid], one of the pleas for failure to pay, according to this writer, being that the drover had been waylaid by highwaymen. Another strategem was for the drover to declare himself bankrupt on his return and thus effect only partial settlement of his liabilities, a custom which the doggerel-monger, Elis Roberts[Elis y Cowper] poured forth his contempt;

Oes yma 'r un o'r Porthmyn Broken, chwils
Fu 'n gwerthu Cow heels 'n Llouger
Darfu iddun ddal wager rwi 'n ame
Pwy fedra dori ore;
Nis gwn i etto pwu eiff a'r maen i'r wal
Nid oes run yn dal yn unlle."

This malpractice must have been of more than occasional occurrence for in the reign of Queen Anne an Act was passed by which they were not entitled to be deemed bankrupt, thus making it impossible for them to escape the discharge of their obligations by this unworthy device.

Vicar Pritchard warned that drovers absconding to Ireland to escape their liabilities 'do not place themselves beyond the operation of Divine Judgement' [ Canwyll y Cymru].

An enactment made the practice of droving conditional upon the granting of a licence by Quarter Sessions, only married men who were householders and above thirty years of age were eligible to follow the calling.

Drovers, other than of cattle, were afoot in the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, namely able bodied beggars, "the most of whom be Welchmen" [Tawney and Power (ed), Tudor Economic Documents, vol 3] and it was necessary for the drover to carry his licence to escape punishment at the stocks or pillory [or even worse] as a vagrant. The charge that most vagabonds were Welsh is an obvious fantastic overstatement.

The mythological association of Wales with vagrancy went back as far at least as 1401[Owen Glyndwr] when an oppressive ordinace was passed providing, inter alia, that " the minstrels, bards, rhymers, wasters and other vagabond Welsh in North Wales, be not suffered henceforth to overrun the country as has been done before; but let them be entirely forbidden on apin of a year's inprisonment" [ Faedera, III, quoted by Thomas Wright in ' History of Ludlow and its Neighbourhood'].

The  'rebel' Welsh, among whom the spirit of freedom could not be quenched [T Gwynn Jones, Gwlad y Bryniau] declined to sit comfortably under the English 'New Order', and hence, because they were "ageyn the gode purpos and commune profyte of the reiaulme" [Henry IV], they must be classed as vagabonds.

Sufficient has been said of the shady side of droving although as a class they were not held generally in high esteem. An example is the case of Evan Davies, of Radnorshire, whose nomination as High Sheriff of his county was objected to on the grounds that he was a drover [ Shropshire Arch & Nat History Society Trans, 1925; Welsh Shrievalty]. If this unsavoury reputation was common to all drovers, it is small wonder that Twm o'r Nant [ Gwaith]should have desired their common extermination at the hands of the hangman.

"Llwyr wfft i borthman am dwyllo'r byd;
O ! na byddent i gyd yn grogedig"

Now for the other side of the picture !

Drovers were frequently entrusted with important financial transactions of a kind that would hardly be likely, or possible, if drovers as a class were soley represented by knaves and cheats.

Dr.R T Jenkins, in a lecture to the Aberdare members of the Guild of Graduates of the University of Wales[19410], instanced the case of David Lloyd, for forty years the favourite drover of Sir Watcyn Williams Wynne of Wynnstay, who on one occasion paid a bill of no less than £400 in London. Many drovers acted as government agents for the transmission to London of Ship Money collected in Wales by the officials of Charles I. That for Denbighshire, for instance, was carried by drovers to London in 1636 [ Arch Camb 4th series, 1875].

The money was rarely carried in cash, because of the dangers of highwaymen, but the commissions were discharged from the proceeds of the sale of the cattle at markets and fairs. This practice represented what became an important function of the modern banking system. Occasionally, a drover in a large way, would be paid a bill on some London house such as Child's, and this a neighbouring squire might be glad to purchase when he was next in town [A H Dodd, The Beginnings of Banking in North Wales; Economica, 1926].

The stewards of the estates in Wales transmitted the rents collected from the tenantry to the landlords in London in the safe custody of a drover [Ben Bowen Thomas, Braslun o Hanes Economaidd Cymru, 1941].

Many drovers were men of substance, of high business reputation, and of unassailable integrity. "Some of them managed to collect a good deal of gold for themselves---on the whole they must have been trustworthy or they would not have been so generally trusted." [B Dew Roberts, Mr Bulkeley and the Pirate, 1936].

These transactions assumed considerable proportions and led to the establishment of drovers' banks to facilitate the process. With Pitt's Act for the 'limitation of cash payments', travellers came to carry less gold about their persons.  One of these banks, Ban y Ddafad Ddu, was established at Aberystwyth, and another, Banc yr Eidion Ddu, at Llandovery [R T Jenkins, Y Ffordd Yng Nghymru].

The obvious conclusion from all this is that among the drovers was a considerable number who were esteemed for their honesty and whose good name contributed to an important economic function. Picturesquely , Lord Keeper Williams, the Archbishop of York---the Welsh Wolsey, wrote in a letter to Prince Rupert that they were " the Spanish fleet of North Wales which brings hither that little gold and silver we have " [Tawney and Power, ibid].

To counter the satirical attacks of such as Twm o'r Nant, we have references to particular men of high qualities who were drovers, (here is a small selection from the book)

One ballad poem refers to "Davies of Llwyn" and his namesake of the 'The Farmers', both having "long purses and gentle manners". Likewise the Morris' and the Lewis' were names widely esteemed, while William Edwards was fair minded and scrupulously honest [Ardwyn; Yr Hen amser Gynt, Cymru , 1912].

Benjamin Evans, a farmer-drover of Pembrokeshire, described as respected, wise and well read, became in 1769 the pastor of one of Wales' most historical nonconformist places of worship, Yr Hen Gapel, Llanuwchlyn, a name revered in the annals of Welsh nonconformity.[RT Jenkins, Hanes Gynulleidfa Hen gapel LLanuwchlyn, 1937].

Two drovers attained great literary eminence in their day.

The first was Edward Morus, Perthi Llwydion, Denbighshire, regarded as the foremost bard of his day and drove between Wales and Essex, where he died and was buried in 1689.

The second, was Dafydd Jones of Caio, one of Wales' foremost hymn writers. he was noted as a drover who regularly visited Maidstone and Barnet fairs, as well as other towns. He will always occupy a high place in the history of Welsh hymnology, partly as the translator of the hymns of Isaac Watts. His conversion to christianity is reminiscent of Saint Paul for its dramatic element. He was returning from one of his droves when , about 6 miles from the village of Llanfairmuallt, where stood the chapel of Troedrhiwdalar, his attention was caught by the sounds of the hymn-singing coming from the chapel , and it was the Sabbath. He was prompted to enter the chapel, a circumstance that became the turning point of his life. From that moment he became an ardent  and devout convert to the Christian Faith.

Evidence of a unique kind regarding the drovers' standing in society is provided by the reference that among the original subscribers who made possible the publication of Rhys Jones' Gorchestion Beirdd Cymru [Wales' Golden Treasury]---- occur the following names, keeping company with those of Mr Justice Barrington, Dr Samuel Johnson and other eminent personages;  Hugh Jones, of Bala, drover ; Thomas Roberts, of Llwyn Cwm, drover; Thomas Jones, Ty Isaf, drover; Hugh Parry, Penmorfa, drover; John Thomas, Bala, drover.

So, it can be seen that Twm o'r Nant's version was that side that was not gold.

One possible explanation of this contradiction has been provided by Miss Skeel [Prof. Skeel; The Cattle Trade between England and Wales in the C15 to C18, 1926]. She observes that in the C17, the term drover seems often to have been applied in the sense of 'cattle-dealer', and further confusion may have been created by the loose usage of the terms porthman [drover] and gyrrwr--a subordinate hired assistant who was the herdsman who followed behind the drove; the latter would probably be people of less social standing.

To conclude, no doubt there must have been scroundrels amongst the Welsh drovers, but there were also among them a great many men of the highest integrity who played an important part in the economic life of their time.

[Gareth ]