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Wales-New Zealand Family History Society

a.k.a.    WANZ


Published in The Welsh Connection  -  July 2004  #52

The English countryside was filled with noise of ironshod cattle trudging along the roads, and the familiar cry 'Haiptrw ho!" was heard.

Economy and payment
Our man the Drover
Moving along
For the comfort of man and beast
Bringing the human side in
Advice to the dealer or drover
Weather and conversations

Economy and payment

"Drovers were the oil that lubricated the Welsh Economy"  From the 16th century onwards, trade in store cattle became very important and they became important features of Welsh life. Records of cattle sent from the royal lands of South Wales for the King's household can be traced back to the fourteenth century, and in the later Middle Ages, Welsh cattle were killed in London, the meat salted and sent to the troops in France.  In the time of Queen Elizabeth, oxen appear to have been worth from £1 to £5 per head.  Not only were the dealers the channel along which passed innumerable messages and commissions, but they were even entrusted with considerable sums of money by persons who had bills to meet in London or a place on the way.  They thus became the earliest bankers in the countryside, for to avoid accident or robbery they took to leaving at home the moneys to be transferred, and paying the bills themselves from the proceeds of the sale of the beasts.  They formed well known country banks at Llandovery, Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and other places in the eighteenth century, and their notes, usually engraved with the heads of sheep or oxen, were thought better than Bank of England notes among the farmers of the hills.

The Welsh were by no means unique in using cattle as a form of money.  Glyn Davies in his History of Money, discusses what we can learn about this, from the study of primitive forms of money such as cattle, on which he has three pages.  He describes cattle as mankind's "first working capital asset".  The origins of several English words provide evidence for the importance of cattle in this connection.  The author points out that the words "capital", "chattels" and "cattle" have a common root.  Similarly "pecuniary" comes from the Latin word for cattle "pecus". Glyn Davies also notes that in Welsh the word 'da' used as an adjective means "good" but used as a noun means both "cattle" and "goods".

The drovers carried out communications between relatives on business and family matters; William Bulkeley, sent money to his prodigal son in London by 'Thomas Lewis of Trefeibion, Meyrig the Drover' the latter was an Anglesey drover who had gained great wealth.

"8d a day for Dai Edwards to take cattle and sheep to Buscot"  (18th century entry in the Gogerddan farm accounts)

The Welsh cattle trade was indeed considered so important, that on 1 July 1645, the House of Commons ordered that "Mr. Speaker shall have Power to grant Passes to such Persons as he shall think fit, that shall desire to trade for the buying of Cattle in Wales and to drive and bring them to London"


Our man the Drover

The ordinary Welsh drovers, had little English - one of them is supposed to have said that 200 words were sufficient if business was good, but a few more were necessary if a hard bargain had to be driven.
The symbol of the trade was the Drover, the romantic figure who journeyed eastward and westward at regular seasons, following the ancient roads with his huge herds of beasts to the fairs of Essex, Kent and Surrey.
Under the laws made during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, all drovers had to be householders, married men of at least 30 years of age, and they were required to hold licences, issued annually by the Quarter Sessions of the County in which they had lived for three years. That they might be free from penalties attached to the practices of "forestalling and engrossing," and also in order that they should not be confused with vagabonds, of whom it was recorded in Tudor days "that most that walke about be Welchemen". In those days he was a cattle dealer and often a man of some substance; more than once a drover was suggested as sheriff for a Welsh county, but there was usually some opposition to the nomination.  The proceeds of the sales of cattle were of vital importance to the country people; the drovers were not always honest, but they took great risks of loss, and they were sufficiently successful to win the confidence of the farmer.  It was not the custom to pay farmers when the cattle were collected.  'The practice of giving credit to the English drovers who purchase the cattle is very general through all North Wales, by which means the farmer seldom gets the money he bargains for, for when the drover returns perhaps in a month or two, he always pretends to have made a bad bargain, or has met with a dull market for the cattle   Drovers were not universally popular, they were accused of malpractice's as is seen from the following extract from a letter to Sir Robert Williams, the Seventh Viscount Bulkeley's half brother"  "I am really very sorry to find that a number of your tenants have been defrauded of a considerable sum of money for cattle by a set of men, who called themselves 'Drovers'. but who by the way are in general complete swindlers"

Alnwick, Northumberland - BUSBY Thomas, Butcher and drover
                                           HINDMARCH Matthew, Butcher and drover
Ambleside, Westmoreland - GILL John, Drover
Brecknock, Brecknochshire - WALLERS David, Pig Drover


Moving along

Drove - a cattle road or track.  It comes from the Middle English drove a past tense of drive.
The drovers also attended the cattle fairs - the most important being at Newborough and Aberffraw; William Bulkeley, noted that in August 1735, they formed 'a ring' at the former fair.
'The Drovers today ..... played a cunning party, joyning all together as it were not to buy any cattle till 2 or 3 in the evening when everyone were turning their cattle home, at which time they bought a good number from 6 to 9 pound a pair.'
But drovers from England were welcomed at the fairs, as Bulkeley noted in June 1749 - 'Bangor Fair today proved a very good one, and a great many English drovers in it.'
In 1704 an application had been made to change the date of the Newborough fairs as the drovers found it difficult to arrive in time at the southern England fairs;  "The lord Bulkeley and the gentlemen of Anglesey petitioned the queen's majesty that the fayre att new Burrough might be kept upon the 10th of August and that another fayre att new Borough might be kept upon the 11 of September as it was heretofore kept on the 14th of September.  The alteration of the fayre is intended for the advantage of drovers who alwaise complained there [their] time too short to drive there [their] cattle from the 10th August to London fayre on the 24th August and the like to 11th of September."

The drovers' roads of the Midlands were particularly important, for it was along these that the great traffic in cattle from Wales to London and the Midland markets found its leisurely way.  The Welsh Road, which occurs here and there on the map of Midlands, refers to this cross-country traffic.  One can trace the route vaguely from the Welsh border into the Midlands.  Many different routes were taken and wherever possible the turnpike roads were avoided, for the average toll of one shilling per beast could amount to a considerable sum.

Black cattle provided the bulk of the herds, but mountain sheep and ponies were also seen in great droves, and the clamour of their journeyings could be heard afar, the men making a peculiar calling cry as they urged the animals along; this noise was indeed a boon to the farmers near the roads, for they straightway rushed their own cattle out of the way to prevent them mingling with the herds.  Sheep, as well as cattle and pigs, were moved by the Drovers into England and locally even geese were driven after their webbed feet had been hardened by a mixture of tar and sand so that they could stand the journey.  The drovers went far afield to find their markets, and they came home with exciting tales of Smithfield and Barnet, and the great fairs of the Midlands.
'It fortunately happened that several herds of black cattle that had been reared in Anglesey, were then crossing the Menai strait, on their road to Abergeley 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 shoutings 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 about a hundred and fifty yards of the landing place, when, meeting with a 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 loud bellowing of those that are landed, and are shaking their wet sides.  Notwithstanding the great number of cattle that annually pass the strait, and instance seldom, if ever, occurs of any being lost, though they are frequently carried to the very entrance of the Menai in Beaumaris Bay."

There are records of cattle going from various ports in south Wales, by sea to Somerset, Cardiff and Aberthaw and shipped to Bristol and Minehead, or to Sully from where they were conveyed by boat to Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare, and then driven overland to Bristol, Bath, Exeter and sometimes as far south as Plymouth and Portsmouth.  By sea from Tenby and Haverfordwest to Watchet and Minehead.

At Barnet, Hertfordshire - fairs were held on October 18th and 19th for English, Welch and Scotch cattle.
Bishops Castle, Shropshire - its market on Friday is noted for cattle and all sorts of commodities and much frequented by the Welch, as are its fairs.
Brecknock, Brecknochshire - send yearly great herds of black cattle to England, and which are known to fill our fairs and markets, even that of Smithfield itself.
Crawley, Suffolk - it has fairs annual for  Welch cattle and toys.  The first the 8th of May, the last the 9th of September.
Chepstow, Monmouthshire - monthly fair or market for cattle and swine, on the last Monday of every month, great quantities of which are taken over the old and new passages to Bristol, Bath and other parts of England.


For the comfort of man and beast
The travellers had their regular calling places (there are 'Drovers Arms' inns near Ruthin, Llandrindod, Merthyr Tydfil and in Brecon to-day), but they kept off the main roads to prevent the payment of tolls.
The cattle trade that developed so strongly from the sixteenth century onwards, moved along existing green lanes and track ways.  The Anchor Inn, on the border of Wales and England, high up on the far western side of Clun Forest, was the great point of assembly for drovers coming out of Wales.  The old drove-roads made their own contribution to the landscape in the way-side inns that grew up to cater specially for drovers in lonely stretches of country, and in the 'stances' beside them where the cattle were shut up and rested for the night.
On the outside wall of a private house in Stockbridge, Hampshire, formerly the 'Drovers Inn' is the following Welsh inscription: 'Gwair-tymherus-porfa-flasus-cwrw-da-a-gwal-cysurus' (seasoned hay, tasty pasture, good beer and a comfortable bed).
The Drovers Arms Hotel, Maesmynis, Eppynt Mountains, situated in a very remote spot high up alongside the road Upper Chapel to Garth.  The occupants had to move from the area at the outbreak of WWII.  The military cleared the mountain community of Mynydd Epynt in 1940.

In 1864, the railroad came to town "Machynlleth" and the account submitted by David Jonathan tracks the movement of the cattle.  Mr. Jonathan is moving the animals from south to north through Cardiganshire, passing, as usual through Llanbadarn Fawr, where he and his assistants stopped for a meal at the Black lion.  After the meal he pushes on on foot, to Machynlleth where, he and the herd entrain for part of the journey as far as Welshpool

  • Tavern charges:  Newcastle Emlyn, Llanbadarn, Treddol, Machynlleth: £9.03.0
  • Gate charges: Aberystwyth, Carreg, Machynlleth: £0.9.02
  • Drive beasts to Ffwrneithin: £0.05.0
  • Train beasts to Machynlleth-Welshpool: £11.03.0
  • Train myself: £0.03.01
  • Payment to Stephen Davies, Capel:  £0.08.0
When the animals reached the more important roads, their feet suffered from the harder surfaces, and it became necessary to shoe the cattle.  Oxen for ploughing were probably always shod, at least on the forefeet, but the shoeing of so many head of cattle at once called for great skill and strength; the animals were roped around the legs and thrown, various methods being practiced for this; the feet were then trimmed and the shoes nailed on.  Tregaron, Pumpsaint, Rhydspence and Painscastle were shoeing centres for South Wales cattle; the herds from Anglesey were sum across the Menai Straits at low tide, and shod at Abergele, whence they journeyed up the Vale of Clwyd to join the Old Chester Road.
"The little shoeing field" Cae Bach Pedoli - the southern exit road out of Llanbadarn.  The rates for throwing and shoeing varied from 9d to 1s per beast.  In 1841, John, at Radnor is paid £1.1.0 for shoeing, (1 item from the expense accounts for driving 58 beasts from mid-Wales to Chelmsford, October 1841).  The actual shoeing was frequently the work of specialist shoers, and dealers buying cattle ensured that their cattle were shod by their own smiths, who frequently attend the Fairs with the dealers and travelled with the herds.  The smiths carrying spare cues and nails, which were usually smeared in butter to prevent them from rusting.  The shoes for cattle consisted of two half moon shaped plates, two for each cloven hook, these were called 'cues'.  Pigs were given little woollen sock with leather soles, these were frequently made by a cobbler. The normal distance for a drove of cattle to walk was fourteen to sixteen miles a day, at two miles an hour.  A drover who travelled with hogs, succeeded in covering only six miles in a day.  From the Welsh coast to Northamptonshire took fifteen to twenty days; to Essex, three to four weeks.  The head drover, rode before the drove arranging for their comfort during the week-end, and what was astonishing, the droves that were rested on a Sunday, took three days less to the journey than the animals which had not rested.  Great care was taken so that the cattle were in good condition when offered for sale.


Bringing the human side in

The dealers came from both sides of the border; they did valuable work in marketing the Welshman's beasts, and their romantic travels brought the spirit of the outside world into the isolated valleys of Wales.  Their life touched the imagination of poets, and bards have sung of the misfortunes and difficulties of the road.
A history of Llanbadarn - 1851, David Jonathan, received a bill from Evan Killin, proprietor of the Black Lion Inn, Llanbadarn and it includes on November 25th, oats for lean pig £0.02.0 In George Borrow book, Wild Wales - he overtook a man driving five or six very large hogs.  They were going to the fair at Llangollen. "What do you fatten your hogs upon?" said I, "Oatmeal," said the man.  "And why not on barley-meal?"  "Oatmeal is the best," said the man; "the gents from Wolverhampton prefer them fattened on oatmeal .... they buy them to sell again; and they like hogs fed on oatmeal best, because they are the fattest.'  "But the pork is not the best" said I; "all hog-flesh raised on oatmeal is bitter and wiry"

....... though nationally not as well known as Molly Mogg, Molly Millar is better known locally for the Lane which bears her name.  Who this lady was, however, is something of a mystery.  One theory says the lane was named by the Welsh Drovers who passed this way with their sheep in the 18th century and got to know Molly, an old woman who lived by the wayside.  Local legend says more: she was not just any old lady but the town witch"


Advice to the Dealer or Drover

If thou'rt a Dealer, honest be each act,
And fairly pay for what to thee is sold:
Be to thy promise and they word exact:
Credit is better oft than hoards of gold.

Take heed that thou dost not they chapmen cheat,
God will a sentence pass on all deceit:
And tho' thou shou'dst beyond the seas retreat,
Sure vengeance will be on thy transgression wait.

Of drunken-ness beware, what'er thou dost:
For drunken-ness will make the wealthiest poor,
And when a trader's oft in liquor lost,
In wine and ale he soon will spend his store.


Weather and conversations
24 June 1762  -  A fair in Cowbridge, one of the greatest fairs usually in our parts for selling cattle, when no more than about 40 fat cattle were sold.  Of whom Mr. Less the cattle drover bought from 26 to 30.  Anybody did ask the price of store cattle for no grass of the dryness of the earth to be had.  The hay, no more than common grass these few years past the corn in and about Denis Powis and in all this ground, and on stony clay, burn up by patches by dryness which makes me say yet this is the curse of God on mankind especially on farmers and renters, for few of who shall have much profit from their land these years.  But blessed  by God choice wheat and barley on fat moist low ground.

Summer of 1854 - After a visit to Llanfair, George Borrow, returned to spend the night at the hostelry of Mr. Pritchard at Pentraeth Coch.  "The customer instantly arrested my attention.  He was a man seemingly about forty years of age, with a broad red face, with certain something's, 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 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 tow boots, and had on his head a broad, black, coarse, low-crowned hat.  In his left hand he held a heavy white whale-bone whip with a brass head.  A discussion followed about Black Robin, Gronow Owen and Owen Tudor.  George Borrow comments "you know a great deal of history" To which Mr. Bos replies "O, I wasn't at school at Blewmaris for six months for nothing; and I haven't been in Northampton, and in every town in England without learning something of history."  "In what capacity have you travelled all over England" asks George Borrows of Mr. Bos.  "As a drover, to be sure" said Mr. Bos, "and I may say that there are not many in Anglesey better known In England than myself - at any rate, I may say that there is not a public-house between here and Worcester at which I am not known"   "Pray, excuse me" said George Borrows, "but is not droving rather a low-lifed occupation?"  ...... "When I asked you that question about droving, I merely did so because on Ellis Wynn, in a book he wrote, gives the drovers a very bad character and puts them in Hell for their mal-practices."   "O, does he" said Mr. Bos, "well the next time I meet him at Corwen, I'll crack his head for saying so.  Mal-practices - he had better look at his own, for he is a pig-jobber too.  Written a book has he" then I suppose he has been left a legacy, and gone to school in middle-age, for when I last saw him, which is four years ago, he could neither read nor write."  I was about to tell Mr. Bos, that the Ellis Wynn that I referred to was not more a pig-jobber than myself, but a respectable clergyman, who had been dead considerably upwards of a hundred years.

The Land of Wales, Eiluned & Peter Lewis
Portraits of an Island - Eighteenth Century Anglesey, Helen Ramage
The Making of English Landscape, W.G. Hoskins
The making of the South Wales Landscape
Drovers and Hill Farms
Drovers' Roads of Wales, Fay Godwin and Shirley Toulson
1791 British Directory
Wales and the Drovers; the historical background of an Epoch, P.G. Hughes
Indexed by Gareth Hicks, Dec 2001.  Index of names, places, events, sundry - available on
Welsh Drovers, Richard Colyer, 1976.  Indexed by Catherine Davies-Shiel, 1999.  Index of fairs, inns, names, places, shoeing centres, tollgates - available on
Diary of William Thomas 1762-1795


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