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Spotlight on Carmarthen

The Drovers

We had a most interesting talk on May 22nd when we welcomed Mr Bruce Smith to talk about the Welsh Drovers and the routes they took to reach their destinations in England, and many of the present day roads follow these routes. These were large undertakings and in 1800 for example, one and a half million sheep were taken to Smithfield.

Before departure the animals, Welsh black cattle and sheep had to be shod, and geese were prepared by walking through tar mixed with sand. Shoeing the cattle was undertaken by “Fellers” who grappled with the cattle and turned them on their back, so that their legs could be tied before shoeing. 

The journey might take several weeks, travelling 12-15 miles a day. The drover would be accompanied by dogs, and helpers with 1 person for every 60 cattle. The animals had to be fed and watered, with cattle requiring 8-10 gallons of water each day. The drover would need to know where there would be streams for the cattle, and pubs (Drovers Arms) for overnight stops where the animals would be confined to a field where the helpers would guard the animals to prevent theft. Large pine trees were also used as way-markers and to indicate the location of pubs.

The farmers had to trust the drovers that they would be paid for the animals when the drover returned. This meant that the drovers carried money for the outward journey to pay for food and shelter in the pubs and much more money on the return journey having sold the animals. They were therefore targets for highwaymen and other thieves.

In 1799 David Jones of Llandovery founded Banc yr Eidion Du, the Black Ox Bank, which meant that the drovers did not need to carry as much money as previously.

The Welsh drovers have left their mark in England where there are several roads named Welsh Road or Welsh Lane. Welsh House is the finest building in Northampton Market Square and has an impressive decoration with the words “Heb Dyw. Heb Dym. Dyw a Digon”   “Without God nothing, with God plenty” but with archaic spellings of Duw and Dim.

Much more information about drovers can be found on Bruce Smith’s excellent website: www.localdroveroads.co.uk

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