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On the Farm a Century Ago

by GWILYM EVANS, O.B.E., M.SC.

HEOLDDU farm lies at the side of the road leading from Porthyrhyd to Cefneithin, and near the hamlet of Foelgastell. A well born family, Lloyd lived here in the eighteenth century, and probably earlier. Two brothers of this Lloyd family lived here at the same time, hence the two separate dwelling houses. For many generations, however, only one family has occupied Heolddu. On the outside of the house lived in at present occurs the record P.L. 1743; on the stable P.L. 1758, on the barn 1766 and P.L. 1774 on the second house. The P.L. probably refers to Philip Lloyd. One Philip Lloyd of Heolddu donated land to build Capel Seion (1712) in Llanddarog parish for the Congregationalists, as Charles Lloyd of Maesllwch, Radnorshire, had done for building Maesyronnen (1696 c.) "the first chapel built by the Congregationalists in Wales". Philip Lloyd, "gentleman of Heolddu, Llanarthney" repaired the old chapel of ease (Llanlluan) nearby to accommodate one of the circulating schools of Griffith Jones (1736), and in 1745, at the request of Howel Harris, he made this chapel suitable for Daniel Rowland to hold regular communion services. Both William Williams and Peter Williams also conducted services there frequently. Peter Williams married (1748) Mary Jenkins, the daughter of John Jenkins of Gors near Llanlluan.

Towards the middle of the last century six children were brought up at Pantybedw, Llangunnor, and were known on the hearth as Pegi, Sian, Beto, Dafydd, Jaci and Twmi. Dafydd Davies came to farm Heolddu, together with Garnlwyd, having married Margaret, the daughter of John Stephens, Nantygleisiaid, a farmer and cabinet maker. She was the granddaughter of George and Frances Grier, both of Scottish descent, and associated with Middleton Hall.

At that time the countryside was largely self-supporting. Necessities from the shop were relatively few, and hardware was purchased for its enduring value, as well as for its fitness for purpose. Ample supplies of bread, meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit and wool for home-spun clothes were produced on the farm. Frugality governed the enjoyment of luxury; tea was locked in a substantial caddy.

Carmarthenshire climate favours grass production more than cereals, especially wheat, and during the third quarter of the nineteenth century, more wheat, barley and oats were grown than ever since. That was the time before the large increases in importations of cheap cereals from abroad had begun, with unhappy results for many farmers. Among the varieties were Hen Gymro and Red Lammas wheats, Ceirch-du-bach and Ceirch-gwyn-naill-ochr oats, and probably Hen Gymro barley. Even though these were the most reliable croppers, their straws were weak and likely to lodge during wet summers. Berwick wheat was also currently grown in Wales.

The wheat crop was expected to cover the rent, and the rates were met by the sales of geese. Wet summers could, however, be catastrophic, and even the straw might be lost so that the thatch had to be taken from the roofs of the outbuildings to maintain the farm stock over the winter. They threshed the corn with flails in the barn during rough weather, and winnowed the cyfagon1 from the grain.

Goading the Oxen
As there was considerable arable acreage at the two farms, Heolddu and Garnlwyd, three pairs of three year old oxen drew the harrows to cover the seed corn, while the horses drew the ploughs. The custom continued for the goad driving the oxen to sing home-spun verses. Here is an example from Heolddu in the form of question and answer:

Whit a Miri o ble doisti? O'r waun las tu draw i Dywi. Beth sydd yno'n well nac yma? Porfa fras yn eisiau'i fwyta.

About this time the late Robert Thomas of Doghill Farm, St. Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan when acting as goad for three pairs of oxen hitched to a plough would, at twelve years of age, sing tribannau such as the following:

Tri pheth sydd dda gan grotyn Yw gwraig y ty yn chwerthin A'r crochan bach yn berwi'n frwd A llond y cwd o bwdin.

Fe ges fy ngwadd i gino A'r pinclots wedi stiwo A bara haidd fel rhisgyl cod Ni ches eriod fath groeso.

The oxen in Glamorgan had only one daily stint with the plough, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thus also for horses on distant fields, but near the homestead there were two stints for horses, with a mid-day break. After the harrowing was completed, the three year old oxen at Heolddu were sold at the Llanddarog May fair, as other pairs were being reared to replace them. The custom of sowing a field to French gorse (Ulex europaeus) for animal fodder had persisted. Crops of two years' growth were cut and chaffed as finely as possible to provide green fodder for cattle and horses over the winter in addition to hay, straw and corn. Where no chaff-cutting machine was available, the gorse was bruised with a special type of edged iron mallet, hence the term eithin pwno in Pembrokeshire, but eithin malu in Carmarthenshire.

HeolDdu.thumb..jpg The second dwelling house had been adapted for farm use, including a granary to store home-grown corn, and a kiln to dry the grain. Its large kitchen accommodated three fires, the large fire, the fire for the large cauldron (pair) for animal food, and the kiln fire. The kiln on the floor above was fitted with perforated tiles to allow the warm air to pass through the grain, which had to be turned regularly. Dried grain milled better, and the resulting flour retained its sweet condition longer. Bread from undried local grain is apt to develop a strong taste (hwno). No bread has as good a flavour as that from flour newly produced from a country mill. Ideally, bread should be made from stone-ground flour, and baked within the hour. Barley and oats locally milled a hundred years ago were required for making barley bread, oatmeal cakes, porridge and gruel.

The large kitchen had two ovens, the one heated by burning logs inside (ffwrn goed), and the other a small one with the fire outside it. Three loaves of barley bread were baked daily; this was the main bread, but a slice of wheat bread was given to finish a meal, and of course, a wheaten loaf appeared on the table on Sundays. On some farms barley bread was kept until it was "as hard as nails" lest the servants should eat it excessively. Quality bread came from the large oven heated with logs; the crust had a biscuit texture. After clearing the hot ashes out, fifteen loaves were put in together, to make one baking.

Corn harvests were busy times for the women; the kitchen was in full use with large scale cooking. They took hot dinners to the harvest fields; besides cawl, meat and vegetables, everyone was eager for the whipod, the harvest pudding. This was made in a large pan of thick brass an heirloom for many generations. Rice, currants, milk, and a few basinfuls of white flour went into the pan to boil on the large kitchen fire. For the field they doled the pudding into creaming pans, sufficient for four in each pan so that everyone had his fill. Tasty meals in ample quantities were important, seeing that wages were low. Harvesters received two shillings per day and their food, half a crown for hay mowing; ninepence for women haymaking, and sixpence for hoeing swedes.

Gleaning had survived; a needy widow would gather wheat ears, thresh them with a flail, carry the bag of grain on her head to the mill, and return with flour for her children's bread.

Towards autumn came the kill, and the preservation of the annual supply of meat for the family, including the 'tylwyth', as the servants were collectively called at Heolddu. A fat beast, two sows, and a pig were salted. Lamb and chicken were also available for the table.

Custom of Sharing
Although a women's branch of the True Iforites Society flourished in the district, a little charity was acceptable to the poor of the parish. Come festive days, the mistress of Heolddu would observe the custom of sharing, mindful of the psalmist, according to the version of William Morgan, "Rhannodd (a) rhoddodd i'r tlodion", and of early free verse, "Rhaid ytt rannu ar dy tylawd, yr yd, y blawd a'r dillad". Margaret Davies would hake buns to fill a Large butter marketing basket. Each suppliant would hold her apron to receive a bun for each member of her family. This alms-giving was known as rhanna. At another time, each housewife would receive wheat, barley and oat flours, a basinful of each. The recipient would give a curtsey (cwrtshi) for each basinful. These flours were kept conveniently in circular containers made of straw ropes which were bound together with green thongs peeled from bramble stems, to make appropriate vessels, similar to beehives, but taller.

The garden stood for the countryman's "chemist shop" in those days. A high wall surrounded the garden at Heolddu, and a variety of vegetables, greens and fruit were grown to keep the family healthy, as well as alive. Ample quantities of leeks, parsley, cabbage, swedes, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and nuts lasted over the winter. Supplies of different varieties of apples were as important as vegetables and bush fruit. David Davies himself stored the apples on the shelves of the apple house, and kept the door locked. Chief among the apples was Morgan Nicholas; its fruit kept well until May when the gooseberry crop came for making pies. This tree, with its erect branches, grew strongly in the shelter of the stable. A Morgan Nicholas was seen growing at the same spot in 1947. "No," said the occupier of Heolddu, "that was not the tree of the Davieses, but a branch from the old tree was planted to grow on its own roots." Although an apple tree growing on its own roots may not come into flower for twelve years, its longevity is proverbial. Here is an example of two ages of Morgan Nicholas extending well over a 100 years. The apple varieties Jac Gruffydd, Twm-y-Crydd (two early apples), Coch-bach, Marigold and Leathercots (Russet) were also grown. Within the garden wall grew a row of walnut trees (cnau Ffrengig), but their life came to an end some time after 1871, and there was no re-planting.

An occasional black lamb would appear among the flock of sheep. Just as a black breed of cattle throws a fortuitous red calf, so a black lamb (recessive character) may be born to white sheep. Black wool was welcomed to make homespun suits in natural colour. This would not be a deep black, for grey fibres would be interspersed throughout. Homespun, however, did not completely satisfy a thriving farmer; special occasions such as a wedding demanded a morning suit of fine cloth. Heolddu employed a needlewoman for several months of the year to make clothes and other articles for the household.

Prayers after Breakfast
The influence of the Methodist Revival had continued in the district so that home life at Heolddu showed a puritan and Calvinistic pattern. No one could avoid attending the services regularly at Llanlluan the new chapel built in 1830. Reading and prayer followed breakfast, although no doubt they would avoid Psalm 119 at sowing and harvest time. In some homes meal times were regarded as sacraments: conversation was proscribed at the table, but the Davieses did not carry their piety to this extreme.

The small parlour was reserved for the master and mistress, the children and servants being given the freedom of the kitchen at evening. This family was notable for its hospitality; ministers of the gospel being particularly favoured. William Prytherch made this home his centre whilst he attended to preaching engagements in all directions on his pony.

Let us not forget other aspects of rural life at this period of time. Beer, home-brewed in a cottage, would help to supply the wherewithal for many a needy widow. During the Cwrw-bath in the cottage, ballads would be sung, and no doubt some of the satire would distress the faithful. Expressions such as these would be heard: "Os ces fy achub cyn fy ngeni, wedi fy achub wedi meddwi", and "Virgin Mary Mother of God please give me husband Tommy Dodd". A poor woman keeping bees would make mead (medd) instead of beer for her patrons, and provide opportunity for many a cy-fedd-ach (carousal) to the sorrow of the devout. Few farmers continued the custom of brewing their own beer for celebrating occasions such as weddings.

The Davies children were fortunate in having a National School within reach at Llanddarog, although they were subjected there to the indignity of carrying the "Welsh Not". Welsh prevailed on the hearth, and later on the hearths of each of the children. Having passed through Llanddarog school, the boys and girls of Heolddu would benefit from periods of tuition at private schools in Carmarthen and Swansea. Those privileged to be at Alcwyn Evans's school enjoyed benefits beyond learning to acquire copperplate hand-writing.2 One of the daughters had schooling at Kidwelly and as far as Northampton.

This was a period when the Tonic Solfa of John Curwen, the Independent minister, became popularised in the district; the Heolddu children received private tuition in this method of reading music. They, in due course, brought certificates home to prove their proficiency. The voice of the youngest daughter could fill a chapel. She could be relied on to pitch the right note to begin a hymn tune, and when the family moved to live at Plas Mawr, Llanedi, she had the opportunity to sing solo parts in choral singing.

(This article is based on information gleaned from the author's mother Margaret Evans (nee Davies) (1856-1945), born at Heolddu).
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