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AgLab – our man of the land

Printed in the April 2005 journal #55 - The Welsh Connection

Laws    The Corn law of 1815      People    Hiring fairs    The Harvest    Education   
Markets    Societies   Farming words    Statistics    Sources

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 1815 
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 Sessions.

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 Zealand.   
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 in 1859.
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 of labourers.

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.
Hiring fairs

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 Harvest

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 Farm’)
MAKING HAY WHEN THE SUN SHONE    by Margaret Crittenden     

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 days.
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 re-considered.”

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 awarded to:
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 Rosset.
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, Marford Hill.
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 name Copyhold.
Harkye – The harvest supper.

 We thank Allan Penney for providing the following and include his comments.

‘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 contents.
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.

AGVAC of:    

Brecknock/Brecon 1794  Clark J:    Cardigan 1794        Lloyd T Carmarthen 1794     Hassall C:  Pembroke 1794    Hassall C
Radnor 1794    Clark J 
Monmouth 1794    Fox J    [Brentford] Monmouth 1812 Hassall C

AGVA of         North Wales 1794    Kay G    [Edinburgh]
Anglesey Caernarvon Denbigh Flint
Glamorgan Merioneth Montgomery
AGVA and Domestic Economy of North Wales 1810 Davies W (see summary below)
AGVA and Domestic Economy of South Wales 1814 Davies W (see summary below)

Specific Agricultural Areas
The Phillimore ATLAS and Index of Parish Registers, C Humphrey-Smith (Ed) 1984
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 agricultural regions;
    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 Jones
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
Farms and Stations of New Zealand, vol.1, vol. 2, vol 3.

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