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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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Some References to the Cattle Drovers and Carmarthen

by E. O. James, B.Sc.

Prior to the development of important industries, Wales' chief produce lay in the breeding of stock and large numbers of cattle in particular were annually driven along famous routes to the prominent English fairs, to be purchased by English farmers, and thereafter fattened either in yards and buildings in autumn and winter, or on good pastures during summer. West Wales produced an appreciable portion of these cattle and Carmarthen county, particularly the northern half, has noteworthy connections with the famous fairs at which stock were sold, and in the presence of many noted porthmyn or dealers who purchased the stock and drove them to their destination beyond Offa's Dyke.

O ffeiriau Sir Benfro da mawrion i gyd
A'u cyrnau gan mwyaf yn llathen o hyd
O Hwylffordd, Treletert a Narberth rhai braf
O Crymmych, Maenclochog a Thy-gwyn a'r Daf.
O Lanarth, o Lambed, Ffair Rhos a Thalsarn,
O Ledrod, Llandalis y delent yn garn.
O Ffeiriau Llanbyther, Penuwch a Chross Inn
Da duon, da gleision ac ambell un gwyn.
O Ffeiriau Caerfyrddin da perton ac ir
Ac ambell f'swynog o waelod y Sir.
Doi da Castell-Newydd a Chynwil i'r lan
At dda Dyffryn Tywi i gyd i'r un man.

The following figures for the counties of south and west Wales provide a good indication of the comparative production possibilities for the early years of the last century, when as many as 30,000 cattle were driven from the area along prominent routes, some of which in Carmarthenshire are still recorded.

County Farmers Farm Workers Total
Carmarthen 4817 5854 10671
Pembroke 5088 4457 9545
Glamorgan 2957 5058 8015
Cardigan 3072 3610 6682

Many a "Ridgeway" followed the tops of the lower hills and clumps of trees on these higher grounds, planted as landmarks or "signposts" for the dealers and their drover assistants still remain to mark the east-bound routes, or the vicinity of a night's resting place.

A large number of fairs were held at well-known centres throughout the county, thus facilitating the movement of stock to the fairground. Many interesting references, such as the following place names provide proof of the connections with English destinations: Piccadilly Square (Llanboidy) ; Charing Cross (Llandeilo) ; Llundain and Llundain Fach (Llanelly and Caio) ; Temple Bar (numerous) ; Rhiw Sais; Pont i'r Sais (Conwil Elfed); Smithfield (Llanybyther) ; Glanrhyd Saeson; Traveller's Rest; Half Way, as well as Bow Street, Chancery, Hyde Park, etc., within short distance of the county border.

Numerous inns bear names which provide proof of connection with the droving trade and appropriate names-many within the county-such as Drover's Arms, Drover's Halt, Drover's Rest, Jolly Drover, Black Ox are retained. One inn at Stockbridge in Hampshire is called "Drover's House" and bears the following inscription on the front wall:- `Gwair Tymherus, Porfa flasus, Cwrw da, Gwae Cysurus"-proof that these inns catered well for drover and stock.

The fairs were held from late summer to early autumn or during the late spring or early summer months. Llanddarog Fair, for instance, was called "Ffair Gwsberis"-and was held on the Monday nearest to May 23rd. Gooseberries are, at that time, in season, and the fair accordingly derived its name.

Cattle driven during the fall of the year were purchased by the arable farmers of the East and South East to be fattened indoors on the available arable crops, whilst those purchased in spring and early summer were mostly fattened on the best fattening pastures of the Midlands and South.

In the village of Cilycwm, one finds an above ground, cobbled, man-made water course, running along one side of the roadway, to provide water for the cattle collected on other side of the road on fair days when large numbers of local cattle were collected in the village.

Before commencing the long journey over rough and open roads the beasts that were not already shod prior to being used for farm tillage, were attended by competent blacksmiths. The animals were collected in fields or paddocks set for the purpose and names such as Cwmpedol, Y Bedolfa, Cae Pedoli, Alltygof, Pantyporthmon, etc., are reminders of such centres.

Wedi'r ffair mi welaf dyrfa
O fystechi mewn cae porfa
Ger Pont Twrch, ac i'w pedoli
At y gwaith yr eir o ddifri.
Deio Hendy Cwrdd 'Sgerdawe
Ydyw'r cyntaf un i ddechre.
Cydio wna ynghorn y bustach,
A rhed ganddo gam ymhellach
Fe rydd dro i'r corn yn sydyn
A'r anifael syrth fel plentyn.
Gyda rhaff daw arall atto,
I glymu'r pedwar coes rhag cicio.
Naw'r mae off y gof a'r offer
Yn pedoli ar ei gyfer
A chyn hir y bustach ola
Sydd a'i bedol yn y borfa.

The smiths made a large number of light "Cues" and nails which were at hand for immediate use on the beasts, which were fallen and held on the ground by the specialist strong men or "cwympwyr" and the usual fee was 10d per beast for a complete set of fixed shoes.

Records show a wide range of prices for the three to four year old beasts, varying from as low as 3 to a reasonable figure of 11 per head. The prices depended on the quality of beast, the number available and particularly on the probable supply of fodder and grass in the fattening areas. If grass was poor or in short supply due to climatic conditions, the prices paid by the English farmers were naturally low.

At Abergwili Fair in October, 1843, the following prices were recorded:-

s d
2 Beasts-Jones, Penrallt 8 17 0
3 Beasts-Davies, Derlwyn 12 15 0
3 Beasts-Williams, Tyllwyd 14 0 0
1 Beast-Johns, Coedhirion 5 15 6
2 Beasts-Bowen, Llanblewog 10 10 0
7 Beasts - Hafodwen 32 11 6

The two breeds available were the native Welsh Black or Castlemartins and the White Faced Cattle from the Breconshire Borders, which of course were the forerunners of the present day Hereford.

"Gwartheg du a choch a brithion
A chroen crin a phennau gwynion".

The herd, numbering anything up to 150 or more, was driven an average of 12-15 miles each day over the open countryside or in long files where enclosures had made the roadway narrow. Coachroads were avoided as much as possible owing to the danger of loosening shoes and the inevitable tolls demanded at frequent gateways. Carmarthenshire has much to record in the events that led to the eventual removal of these tollgates.

Prominent rivers were forded at suitable places, and names such as Hereford (Henffordd), Oxford (Rhydychen), Walford (Welsh Ford), Cowbridge, Haverfordwest, Glanrhydsaeson, etc., are appropriate references to such fording spots. The night was spent at well-known inns or taverns, to which reference has previously been made, the cattle congregated into a suitable paddock under the vigilance of the drovers, whilst the porthmyn or dealers slept in the hostelry.

The porthmon was a capitalist in a small way, and handled what, in his day, was a large sum of money. His business was large and his capital requirements for purchases and driving correspondingly extensive. The transactions were a feature of droving life and eventually led to the establishment of drovers' banks to facilitate payment. Two of the most prominent in the county were Banc y Ddafad Ddu (The Black Sheep Bank) prominent as the Aberystwyth and Tregaron Bank and the more noted Bank yr Eidon Du-the Black Ox Bank founded by Dafydd Jones y Black Ox in Llandovery. This was taken over early in this century by Messrs Lloyds Bank, and until the last war their cheques for the area from Llandovery to Ammanford bore the once familiar Black Ox print on the top left corner. Now discarded, may this again be reinstated to commemorate the early banking pioneers in that district.

The drovers were usually paid 3s. daily and a bonus of 6s given them after the cattle were sold at the famous fairs, at Smithfield, Barnet, Harley Bush etc. Many young lads, prior to making terms for service on farms, made it a recognised demand that they be allowed to make one journey with the drovers to "see the world" and also to enhance their meagre payments. In many instances women acted as drovers, or through their agency, found occupation in London and elsewhere. A plaque on the vestry wall in Pumpsaint records such a person, Jane Evans, Tyn-y-Waun, Caio, who eventually accompanied Florence Nightingale on her wonderful work during the Crimean War.

The porthmyn in the majority of instances were trustworthy individuals, although an occasional less honest one prompted satirical poems from Twm o'r Nant, and likewise Vicar Pritchard to thus write in his "Canwyll y Cymru":

Os 'd'wyt borthmon delia'n onest
Tal yn gywir am a gefaist.
Cadw d'air, na thor d'addewid
Gwell nag aur mewn cod yw credid.

On the other hand it is known that some losses of stock were suffered by the drovers. Names such as Cwm Lladron and Ffordd y Lladron within the county reflect on dangers and losses that might be incurred.

The trade in geese was also interesting. These were purchased and prepared for their long journeys by first walking them over pitch or tar and then over fine sand. When the feet became dry and hard they were then ready to be driven without injury over the considerable distance to their destination in the Midlands and the Eastern counties. A field called "Maesgwyddau" near Llanllwni was thus used. Large flocks could be seen in late summer and early autumn along the usual routes feeding on the grass and stubble through which they passed. "Gurnos" is a reference to "Gyry ar hyd y nos" for they were often driven by night as well as during the day.

One of the main streets in Carmarthen was once called Heol y Gwyddau (Goose Lane) and likewise other towns on the route towards the Black Mountains have streets similarly named. The lower part of the township of Laugharne is known as Gosport, and quite near the Quay in Carmarthen are the ruins of a house similarly named Gosport. These are really a mis-spelling of Goose-port, and are reminders of the sea-faring trade from Laugharne and Carmarthen when loads were shipped to the West and South of England, in many cases to be unloaded in the Gosport harbour of Hampshire. Again, famous fairs at places such as Nottingham and elsewhere are still known as "Goose Fair".

One cannot end without reference to another noted Dafydd Jones who commenced his livelihood as a drover. Dafydd Jones of Caio, after many years in this worthy trade, became a noted preacher and hymn writer and it is noteworthy that many of his hymns contain a reference to his droving journeys. For example:-

"Fe'm dwg i'r lleodd da,
Lle tyf y porfa Nefol."
"Arglwydd, arwain fi'n dy law
Na ad fi grwydro yma a thraw".
"Os af o'm ffordd yn ffol
Efe yn ol a'm geilw".
"Pererin wyf i ar fy nhaith
"A'm ffordd yn faith a phell".

He settled in a small farm which he named Llundain Fach near Esgerdawe, and named the brook alongside "Y Tafwys" (The Thames).

When railways became available during the latter half of the last century, the need for driving herds to their ultimate destinations then came to an end and with their advent, there ceased an interesting and important era, for the drovers were responsible for far more than mere trade in stock. They brought news and purchases to South Wales. Travellers accompanied them in safety and their return to the homeland brought about meetings and "Noson Lawen" when events were discussed and described in poem and song. They first brought fruit trees to Wales and their effect on everyday life was noteworthy and important.

They were the Crusaders of old, and pioneers like:
"Dic Shon Dafydd aeth i Lundain
A'i drwyn o fewn llathen i gynfFon llo."

Many settled in large Midland farms and there is, even today, a distinct Welsh community in many English areas as a result.

But modern transport ended their interesting connections:
"Cyn i'r tren wareiddio'r dyffryn
Nac i'w sgrech ddeffroi y cwm,
Cyn i'r gwthio, gwaeddi, a churo'r
Anifeiliaid wrth eu trucio,
Dyna'r adeg magwyd porthmyn
Ffel eu bri yn Ffaldybrenin,
Plwyf Llancrwys ac hefyd Cayo,
I redeg iddynt 'radeg honno".

His task was then accomplished. His travels were not wanted any more and thus:

" 'Nol blino treiglo pob tref
Teg edrych tuag adref".
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