A selective look at the who, what,
where and how of the agricultural labourers in our family history.
Agriculture – the art of practice of cultivating the land.
Agricultur(a)ist – someone skilled in agriculture.
Much of the farming in Wales throughout the mediaeval period was of
subsistence character, and arable farming was important only in certain
favoured regions, such as Monmouthshire, the Vale of Glamorgan, Gower,
and South Pembrokeshire. After the Union of England and Wales
(1536), these districts were sending their surplus produce – grain,
butter, cheese, and hides – to the English markets, some of it being
carried by coastal vessels to such towns Bristol and Bridgwater.
In the middle ages, the typical method of agriculture was the Open
Field System. The fields are called ‘open’ because there were no hedges
or fences between the various strips. Householders in the manor held
strips of land scattered among larger fields. They also held haymaking
and grazing rights in the meadowland and pasture in proportion to the
number of strips they held in the arable.
The bulk of all inclosures took place
between 1750 and 1850. (The legal process is often spelt
‘Inclosure’ and the physical process of partition ‘Enclosure’)It was
the development of industry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
century, which provided a market for farm produce and gave the
necessary impetus to improvement both in arable and in pastoral farming.
Under the stimulus of enlightened landowners and farmers, much
experimentation was taking place, but a knowledge of the new
agricultural methods spread slowly. At the end of the eighteenth
century agriculture in Cardiganshire was in a very bad way. With the
possible exception of some parts in the south of the county, where the
soil was more fertile and there were a few enterprising proprietors and
farmers, methods generally resorted to were as primitive as the
implements and tools that were commonly employed. In these
respects, the landlords were as unprogressive as their tenants.
The Corn law of
Although mentioned as early as the 12th century, the Corn Laws only
became significant 1815. After the Napoleonic wars, faced with
agricultural depression, the landed interests in Parliament used their
political power to prevent prices falling. The Corn Law of 1815
prevented the import of wheat unless the price of British grain rose to
£4 a quarter (2.91 hl/8 bushels).
To a degree, the law was a success. It did help to protect British
farming from foreign competition and to stabilize prices. As they were
receiving a high price, farmers were able to continue to introduce
improvements. However, the Corn Law pushed the price of bread too high,
causing distress to the poor. Business interests argued that, by
driving up prices, they also forced up wages and put British industry
at a disadvantage in world markets.
Lord King was never in a smaller
minority than he was on this occasion when he told his fellow landlords
that the only remedy for the public distress was the abolition of the
Corn Laws. Such a proposal stood no chance in the House of Lords or in
the House of Commons. Lord Grey declared that the abolition of
the Corn Laws would lead to the destruction of the country. The Corn
law was repealed in 1846. Welsh Nonconformity were vocal in their
support of the Anti-Corn-Law league and succeeded in persuading the
Welsh farmers that Free Trade was in their interests.
Corn mills are mentioned in a number of publications and can usually be
found adjacent to a supply of water. In Monkton, Pembroke there was a
medieval corn mill at the head of the northern tidal creek, and in 1906
was noted ‘a fine old mill still stands there’. A
corn-mill south of Westbury village where the Westbury brook flows into
the Severn was recorded as Garne Mill in 1255.
Despite the description of the Welsh mountain roads as ‘mere rocky
lanes, full of hugeous stones as big as one’s horse’, and Cardiganshire
was by far the worst conditioned county in the Principality,
agriculturalists were amongst the people who came trundling down from
London to visit Thomas Johnes of the Hafod Estate. They were astounded
by his cornfields.
Corndealers, were required to be licensed annually by the Quarter
AgLab – Before the Industrial Revolution, workers on the land
constituted the largest single class of the community, but also one
that left few records by virtue of their occupation. However all is not
lost, some places to seek the AgLab. Parish or nonconformist
registers for baptisms, marriages and burials. Land tax, manorial
records and the estate accounts of landowning families. Poor Relief
accounts, Quarter Sessions, trade and parochial apprenticeships. After
1837, civil registration occupation can be found – farm servant,
Agricultural labourer, farm labourer. Sometimes on the
registration certificates, the name of the farm is given, using an
ordnance map can help to place the farm. The statistics of the
1851 census returns, 1,200,000 men and 143,000 women were earning their
living on the land.
A major draw card in the 19th century, was the free passage offered to
agricultural labourers to settle in the Colonies of Australia and New
Some of the Welsh born who came to farm in New Zealand.
Mr. R. M. Roberts of Riverside, Culverden. Mr Roberts was born at
Daventry, England, and was descended from a yeoman family of long
standing in the parish of Dwygyfylchi, Caernarvonshire.
Mr Thomas Kay, of Brockworth, Little
Akaroa, Banks Peninsula. Mr Kay arrived in Lyttelton from Wales
J.H. Crutchley of Sunset Farm, Kyeburn River, Ranfurly, Kakanui
Range. Mr Crutchely came from Wales in 1880 and called his farm
Wainaclare, after the county (sic) of Wales in which was his parents’
home, Sunset House.
When Thomas Johnes of Hafod Estate in the County of Cardiganshire,
visited his remote property in 1780, the dwellings gave him much
concern. “At the best a two-roomed cottage with a loft
accommodated a farmer and his entire family – devoid of air and light
and roofed with a rotting thatch of oaten straw” Thomas Johnes
went onto re-house his tenants, provide a school on the estate for the
girls and small boys and free medical attention and medicaments were
available for everyone. He was rewarded with friendly smiles
which had taken the place of the old scowls. His energy and enthusiasm
had not perceptibly infected the natives who worked as slowly and
indifferently as ever, and it was necessary to employ double the number
On the 25th January 1763, on old woman aged about 90 yrs, of Lanedern’s
farm was buried. She never went to church, a dissenter. Yet the most
charitable woman in our county. Many she filled and especially
the hard winter it made this time 23 yrs past. She gave a quart
of corn to every one that came by ye house and not few came……..
February 9th 1775 – a vessel bounden
from South Carolina for Bristol, with wheat and floor (sic) etc.,
foundered and was cast against the Benricks near ye Sound Sully.
By the 10th day, the country folks broke to it and continued to steal
away the floor by force of arms. During the night of the 12th
day, some broke the ropes that kept the vessel at stand and left her
go, and next 4 following days, the tide cast up the wheat and the
people by hundreds gathered it, farmers as well as others and some
sells what they gathered for 4 s. the bushel.
Cardiganshire c.1837 – The young women are well formed and not inferior
in good looks to their English neighbours, their prepossing appearances
are however soon changed in the country by the agricultural employments
the females have to perform and the women grow up short with thick
legs, strong muscular and coarse vulgar features. Those who are
more fortunate and procure situations in General families as domestic
servants preserve their natural comeliness.
Dick Thornton was one of the best-tempered and most good-natured
lads in all Cornbury parish. At half-past four in the morning, by the
old church clock, Dick tumbled out of bed, dressed and was soon on his
way to Farmer Gibbons’ fields, armed with his badge of office, the
strong, rough-voiced and always ready rattle.
To scare away the birds from sunrise to sunset for threepence a day was
poor Dick’s work, and to do him justice, he was a right capital scarer,
but – now and then, when the sun was very hot, and the air very still,
Dick occasionally had a quite snooze – only ‘forty winks’. But, the
birds tell a different tale. Oh the hours they have been eagerly
waiting and watching for Dick’s noontide slumber. At last the noisy
rattle is silent. So when the scarer sleeps the winged one
reaps. Those ‘forty winks’ mean perhaps forty ears of corn
damaged by forty vigorous beaks.
Wake Up - "there can be no mistake
Dick is in the land of Nod"
Memories of Annie Rhiannon MORGAN – 1909-1993. She recalls her
childhood in Ystumtuen….remember the days of planting and digging
potatoes. Up again at the crack of dawn, this was an exciting
time for children. Going with my mother to a field on a farm in
the Spring and return in the Autumn to dig them up again.
Listening to the women having a real old chat and of course tea and
sandwiches at the end of a perfect day. In the Autumn a repeat of
the spring, but this time digging the harvest, and the farmer bringing
the sack loads of potatoes to the different homes, and they were the
best potatoes you could think of. These potatoes were the main
source of food for the families in the months to follow, and a good
proportion of them were kept in during the winter months, for the
feeding of the pigs and cows.
Such fairs were generally held
annually, but in the corn-growing Vale of Clwyd in North Wales, daily
or weekly hiring fairs were held in the villages and market towns. For
the purpose to enable employers to find employees and vice versa.
At one time labourers offered their services to farmers by sporting a
wheat-ear in their caps. Masters and servants would be attracted
to the fairs from places miles away, and this is one cause of the
mobility of families. Then we have the scenario of: servant meets a
local lass, they marry and settle down, the servant is now say 30 miles
from his place of birth. This makes the use of maps very
important – using them to draw a radius from the known parish of
marriage to search the registers for a possible place of birth /
baptism. Keeping in mind the topography of the land. The servants were
hired for a year, but sometimes the practice of hiring for fifty one
weeks only meant that the ‘immigrant’ did not meet the requirements for
settlement. To obtain settlement (1691), there were four
ways: 1. by paying the parish taxes; 2. by executing a public annual
office in the parish; 3. by serving an apprenticeship in the parish; 4.
by being hired for a year’s service in the parish (this however, only
applied to the unmarried).
The corn harvest created a seasonal
demand for extra help on the fields. At this time those seeking work,
assembled between four and six o’clock in the morning during the
month-long harvest season if they were seeking employment that
day. The supper served to the reapers after the corn harvest
generally consisted of roast lamb and vegetables, together with a
special dish, whipod, served as pudding.
Rossett Parish Magazine – October 1883. The Harvest
Festival. This was obliged to be postponed from the 27th of
last month, and will be held on Tuesday, October 2nd. The
Thank-offerings will be given to the Funds of the Chester Infirmary.
Gifts of Corn, Flowers and Fruit for the Decoration of the Church, will
be gratefully accepted.
To the majority of tenant farmers the
study of agriculture, which in the middle of the eighteenth century,
had become a fashionable pursuit among the gentry, was considered
irrelevant. In 1877, the University College of Wales, accepted a gift
of £200 annually for a three-year period to be used for the
promotion of scientific agriculture. A series of twenty lectures
on ’Scientific Agriculture’ were proposed, delivered to teachers
holding Science Certificates. The translation of Henry Tanner’s
(Professor at the Royal Agricultural College and Examiner in the
Government Department of Science) ‘First Principles of Agriculture’
into Welsh were distributed to 20,000 farmers. Tanner become
disillusioned by the apparent lack of interest and he left Aberystwyth
in 1879. Extra-mural lectures were widely advertised both in the
newspapers and on locally distributed handbills. In the year 1892-3 in
the counties of Carmarthen, Cardigan, Pembroke, Montgomery, Merioneth,
Radnor, and Brecon, a total of 175 lectures were given then numbers
declined to just 32 in the 1901-2 period and they were 24 in Carmarthen
and 8 in Cardigan. Of the three lecturers Thomas Parry only spoke Welsh
and attendance at his lectures are considerably more than for James
Wilson or Alan Murray. September 1904, ‘The College and Counties
Farm’ 180 acres was secured on a 21 year lease at Tanygraig, south of
the Ystwyth Valley. The contribution of D.D. Williams both to the
College and to Welsh agriculture is acknowledged. He occupied a
prominent position in the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society, he
was a co-founder of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, a founder of
the Agricultural Society of the College and author of the influential
book ‘Agriculture for Welsh Farmers’, published in 1904. (we
thank Mrs Joy Amos for the extended loan of the publication Man’s
Proper Study by Richard J. Colyer. Joy, was ‘one time of Frongoch
MAKING HAY WHEN THE SUN SHONE by
When I look back over my childhood
days, in the late Forties and through the Fifties, it is the time spent
out of doors on the farm that is most vivid in my memory. And haymaking
in the summer was best of all. The farm was a small-holding really, a
cluster of fields on the lower slopes of y Mynydd Du - the Black
Mountain. It had been a hard struggle for my grandparents to claim it
from the mountainside - to dig drainage ditches, to eradicate the
all-pervasive reeds and gorse. But in the end, they “reaped their
harvest” - large pasture fields on which grazed a small herd of
Ayrshires and four hay fields which produced the sweetest, tastiest
fodder a cow could wish for in the depths of winter! We farmed in the
traditional way - what would now be called organically - with equipment
which was old-fashioned even then and with labour-intensive methods.
After all, what better use to put a large, extended family to? When the
men of the family finished their shift at the local colliery they too
would join our labours - part of the dual-economy of the area in those
The most important part of all was played, however, by Chess, our Welsh
cob who worked untiringly and goodnaturedly. She drew the harrow that
prepared the fields in Spring, then hauled the haycutting machine and
finally pulled the hay cart with its towering load. I loved Chess.
Loved watching her muscular body rippling as she moved along, her rich
chestnut brown coat shining. When she paused for a rest, I would run up
to her, looking into her huge, soft brown eyes, being nuzzled by her
finely-proportioned head. She was part of my childhood, part of me,
seemingly eternal, indestructible…
As soon as the grass reached a good height, we all anxiously listened
to the weather forecast on the wireless - in absolute silence at Dad’s
command. A promise of a few fine, sunny days sent the whole family into
a paroxysm of activity. Then the cutting would begin with my youngest
uncle, Llew, perched on the iron seat. For long hours, Chess plodded in
straight lines, up and down field after field until the waving fronds
lay in gleaming, smooth symmetrical lines. The rest of us would
follow behind, unclogging, with our wooden rakes, the thick green
clumps of moist grass when necessary. With us trotted our Welsh, black
and white collie dogs, Prince and Juno. They were in their element,
seeking out lurking frogs disturbed by all the activity and pouncing on
them with great leaps and yelps! I would break off from working to go
and inspect their latest find - and distract the dogs so that the
quivering green creatures could slip away. It is difficult to decide
who enjoyed these interludes most - me or the dogs.
Then came the hours of the hay drying in the fresh mountain air and
warm rays of the sun. The grass had to be turned at regular intervals
so that the undersides also lost their moisture. Like the workers in
the pastoral scenes in old paintings and those in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex
novels, we worked our way with rhythmic strokes, flipping the grass
over, hour after hour. As the youngest, I found this very hard and
frequent rests were necessary, until Mam’s voice urged me back into
line, blisters or no blisters!
We were allowed periods of respite, however. Then, flinging down my
rake, I would collapse like the rest of the family onto a soft fragrant
cushion of hay. Out from the willow baskets would come dark flagons of
sparkling “diod fain” - a marvellously refreshing concoction of
dandelions and stinging nettles from my Aunt Ivy’s collection of
home-made wines! I would sit there contentedly munching my favourite
H.P.sauce sandwiches and sipping the (slightly alcoholic) nectar.
Simple pleasures with not a bottle of Coke or packet of crisps in
sight; pure bliss until the call to arms rang out once more.
When the hay was judged ready, we pushed it with our rakes up the lines
to form large tumps. Nothing was left ungathered. These heaps of hay
provided excellent opportunities for jumping games with visiting young
friends and cousins - until the adults stepped in. I can feel even now
the crisp texture of the cut stalks, smell the sweetness, see the
dried, wild flowers. And always, it seems, there was the call of the
curlew high above cutting through our childlike cries of delight.
Loading the cart with hay was a skilled job as stability was essential,
especially on the steeper slopes and during the swaying, jolting
progress back down to the farm buildings. The hay had to be packed down
firmly around the tall, wooden corner poles to provide a firm base. As
soon as I was considered heavy - and sensible - enough (aged about
ten), I became the one to stand on the cart, stamping down the hay,
moving rapidly the whole width and length of the cart - and making sure
that I avoided the pitchforks which, metal spikes glinting in the
sunlight, tossed the clumps of hay at me. The level of the load grew
higher and higher until it rose above the wooden poles. To a young
girl, it looked a long way down to the ground… Eventually, the
load was complete and I would throw myself down onto the hay on my
stomach and clutch the tops of the poles as firmly as I could. Then
would begin the ride back to the rick over rough grassland with the
cart lurching from side to side as the wheels hit a pothole. I would
cling on for dear life, the cut grass etching red patterns into my
skin, only lifting my head occasionally to try to catch a glimpse of
the safe haven ahead. The hayrick was a magical place for me -
dark and enclosed with weak sunlight filtering through gaps in the
wooden sides like pale searchlights, their beams dancing with the dust
of dried hay. I helped strew the hay across its base, the level rising
nearer and nearer to the roof until, for the last few loads, a ladder
had to be perched against the outside wall of hay to allow access
through the small hatch at the top. As I was the smallest and nimblest,
I was the one who clambered up and into the increasingly small and
claustrophobic space to bed down the last few cartloads. It
was a strange, dark, dislocated world up there. The heat of the mass of
new hay produced almost tropical temperatures and the soft, springy hay
made moving around physically exhausting. All I could see was an
increasingly narrow ribbon of sky and mountain top until, at last,
there was nothing left at all. Then I would squeeze out through the
hatch and nervously dangle my legs in mid-air until they found the top
rung of the ladder which would lead me down to the ordinary world
again. Eventually, inevitably, Chess, our faithful old
servant and dear friend, was retired and we moved somewhat belatedly
into a more mechanised, modern world. We bought a secondhand Massey
Ferguson tractor and, well under the legal age, I learnt to drive it,
revelling in the power and relative speed of the gaudy, red monster.
But it was less reliable than Chess had been, more expensive to
maintain and more dangerous on steep slopes, we were to discover.
The first step had been taken, however, and soon a baler churned out
neat, rectangular packages of compressed hay. Like some gigantic
child’s building blocks, these were stacked onto the wagon and into the
rick. A way of life was even then disintegrating before my
uncomprehending eyes. Today, there is no haymaking at all on the
slopes of the Amman Valley. All the well-husbanded, little
small-holdings have more or less been returned to the mountain, have
disappeared as completely as that community of farmer-colliers itself.
Large tracts of open-cast mining cover the north-facing slopes, a
municipal golf-course has swallowed up land once grazed by sheep and
cattle. Few of the original, Welsh-speaking families have survived,
except in isolated, ageing pockets. Only the backdrop of mountains -
and the ghosts of the past remain, silently hanging up their wooden
rakes after the last of the hay had been gathered in.
(Our thanks to Gwen Wells for arranging permission for us to
publish this article)
“Trouble in the Llanelly Market 1874,
the hucksters from Swansea and elsewhere enter the market and buy off
all the best produce brought there from the country. They hustle
everyone along and sidle into every part of the market with their large
baskets on their arms. This ought not to be allowed.”
Agricultural Societies arose in many
districts to help forward the good work. The first of such
societies in Wales was the Breconshire Agricultural Society,
established in 1755.
In the Llanelli Chronicle – 10th July
1902, “Mr C W Mansel Lewis, at the luncheon in connection with the
Agricultural Show, made an important speech relative to the use
of Stradey park for athletic purposes. About 25 – 30 years
earlier he allowed people the use of the grounds with a view to
encouraging football, cricket and sport generally. At a sporting
event nowadays it was not unusual to see 10,000 people on the grounds.
Stradey Park was not a public park and use of the Park will have to be
The Rossett, Gresford, Pulford &
Dodleston Cottagers’ Horticultural Society
“The eighth Exhibition was held on Wednesday (September 1883) in
Trevalyn Park. The weather was very cold and stormy. The
Rosset Church Choir Band, under the able leadership of Mr. C.A.
Stevenson, played selections of music during the afternoon and for
dancing in the evening. The Countess Grosvenor distributed the
prizes to the successful exhibitors at 4:30pm, notwithstanding that the
rain was falling heavily. “
(The prize list is extensive and will be published on the Welsh
Interest Group web page).
For the Neatest, best arranged and best cropped Garden prizes were
Parish of Rosset – 1, H. WILLIAMS, 2, . BENNION, 3. P. FINCHETT.
Parish of Gresford – 1, T. JONES, 2. E. EVISON, 3. J. CLUBB.
Parish of Pulford – 1. T. WYNNE, 2, S. LLOYD, 3, W. MERCER.
Parish of Dodleston – 1. D. NIELD, 2, T. CUNNAH.
The best in the four parishes, 5s. extra – H. WILLIAMS of the parish of
Special Prizes – offered by Mrs. Potts, Horseley Hall. For the best
specimen of darned stockings.
1. M. POWELL, 2, A. POWELL, Burton, 3, M. JONES,
Some words which
relate to farming in general.
Field – Arable land, as distinct from
meadow and pasture
Detinue, Writ of – a writ issued for the recover of a specific chattel,
such as a plough, wrongfully detained.
Copyhold – A form of tenure for land held of a lord of a manor in
return, originally, for agricultural services. Each admission was
recorded in the Court Rolls and copy of the entry given to the new
tenant, for whom it fulfilled the function of a title deed; hence the
Harkye – The harvest supper.
We thank Allan Penney for providing the following and include his
‘None of the Welsh reports appear to be held in New Zealand
Allan has not seen these Welsh reports and has no idea of their
However, it might be a source worth asking for on a Genealogical visit
to the U.K.”
Board of Agriculture. Source: Kerridge, Eric; The
Agricultural Revolution, George Allen and Unwin, 1967. Entries
for England and Wales in his Select Bibliography, pages 362-386.
AGVA = A general View of the Agriculture AGVAC = A general View of the
Agriculture of the County.
1794 Lloyd T
|| Pembroke 1794
| Monmouth 1794
Fox J [Brentford]
||Monmouth 1812 Hassall C
AGVA of North Wales
1794 Kay G [Edinburgh]
AGVA and Domestic Economy of North Wales 1810 Davies W (see summary
AGVA and Domestic Economy of South Wales 1814 Davies W (see summary
Specific Agricultural Areas
The Phillimore ATLAS and Index of Parish Registers, C Humphrey-Smith
Breaks Wales into three regions
North Wales Anglesey, Caernarvon, Denbigh, Flint;
Central Wales Cardigan, Merioneth, Montgomery, Radnor;
South Wales Brecon, Carmarthen, Glamorgan, Pembroke;
Some reports listed above were not based on Counties, but on specific
North Wales 1794 Probably
Anglesey, Caernarvon, Denbigh, Flint
Updated Summary Reports seem to only cover two regions, but do they
include the Counties of Central Wales? They were
North Wales 1810 and South Wales 1814
Summary: Walter Davies (1761-1849) appears to have condensed (and
updated?) the Welsh Reports.
In the Dictionary of National Biography is written: He also wrote a
“General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of North Wales
and South Wales”, 3 vols., 1810, 1813 and 1816, 8vo, published by order
of the board of Agriculture; Note that this has 3 volumes, whereas
Kerridge listed two.
An Historical Atlas of Wales – From early to modern times, William REES.
The Dictionary of Genealogy, 5th edition – Terrick V H FitzHugh
The Town Labourer (1760-1832) Vol 1 – J.L and Barbara Hamond
The Village Labourer (1760-1832) - J.L and Barbara Hamond
Rosset Parish Magazine 1883
Customs and Cooking from Wales – Sian Llewellyn
A History of Wales – John Davies
The Customs and Traditions of Wales – Trefor M. Owen
Man’s Proper Study – Richard J Colyer
Peacocks in Paradise (Hafod Estate Cardiganshire) – Elizabeth Inglis
Maps in Wales – Margaret Davies
I’m a stranger here myself, The Story of a Welsh Farm – John Seymour
The Victoria History of the County of Gloucester, Volume X.
A Llanelli Chronicle – compiled by Gareth Hughes
The Cambrian- Glynden Trollope
Diary of William Thomas 1762-1795 (microfiche)
Gathering the Jewels http://www.gtj.org.uk
Farms and Stations of New Zealand, vol.1, vol. 2, vol 3.