For centuries, Welsh drovers had been herding animals from the wild west of Wales to the greener pastures over the border in England. In the seventeenth century, Bishop Williams from Bangor emphasised the importance of drovers to the Welsh economy calling them ‘the Spanish fleet of Wales that bring in whatever gold and silver we have.’ Therefore, for centuries cattle were herded from Wales to faraway places such as London to feed the populations of the new industrial towns in Britain.
These drovers brought back more than just money from the English capital, they also brought new trends, the latest musical sounds, the most current agricultural ideas and even the English language! It was a common sight to see cattle, sheep, horses and sometimes even geese on their way to markets in England. But with the expansion of the railways across the country during the Victorian era, the tradition of ‘walking’ animals over great distances began coming to an end. By the 1930’s, the increase in traffic made the task of walking animals even less popular. The advent of large lorries proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the drovers as it took away most of their traditional customers.
Today, it could be argued that hauliers are the new generation of drovers. In the series “Y Porthmon”, we look at the final days of this important tradition. Dafydd Isaac from Mynydd Bach in Ceredigion was one of the last working drovers in Wales, taking hundreds of sheep on a trip of almost a hundred miles from Machynlleth to Brecon for twenty weeks a year over a period of twenty years. Over hills and dales, come rain or shine, Dafydd and his flock of sheep would trek the long journey through three counties. As luck would have it, records were kept by Dr Richard Phillips from Llangwyryfon, chronicling the details of the journey as well as the clothes Dafydd wore, the food he ate, the places in which he stayed and the money he received. The Sabbath was sacrosanct for the drovers, but these rugged men were also known for working hard and playing hard! We are so lucky that stories about the drovers have not been forgotten and will remain evermore.