Farming in Regency Mumbles
by Carol Powell MA
extracts from the book
Nine years of Village Life, 1811-1820
Parish of Oystermouth, 1818W. Glamorgan Archive
February 2011 marked two hundred years since the start of the era, which has become known to us as 'The Regency'. Although only of nine years' duration, lasting from February until January 1820, it is perceived by many of us to be one of flamboyance, opulence, extravagance and extreme ostentation for some, especially the Regent himself, contrasting sharply with the hard lives and poverty of the many.
This period also saw the births of some of our greatest authors, such as sisters Charlotte, Emily and Ann Bronte, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens. It was the time of the threat of invasion by Napoléon, great battles such as Waterloo, a sharp rise in food prices, industrial unrest and agitation for Parliamentary reform. In 1812, the Prime Minister, Spencer Percival was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons and in early 1817, there was an attempt on the Regent's life. In November 1817, the tragic news was broken that the popular Princess Charlotte, the Regent's daughter and heir had died giving birth to a still-born son.
But what was happening locally in our tiny fishing village of Mumbles, the isolated hamlets of Newton, Norton and Blackpill and the outlying farms of the parish of Oystermouth, nestling on the edge of South Wales?
The language of the Gower people is English, the dialect rather broad
and coarse, so that a traveller might fancy himself in the West of England.'An anonymous tourist, early 1800s in F.V. Emery Gower V
Regency Mumbles and its surroundings was tiny by today's standards, with a scattering of cottages, one or two larger properties and several public houses strung out along the shore; the Horsepool, a natural harbour which gave shelter to the oysterboats, a small damp church, a castle, which back in 1650 had already been described as, 'an old decayed castle . . . near unto the sea side . . .' the stones of which many of the locals had carried away to use in building; the Mumbles Railway, which had begun as a mineral line in 1804 to transport limestone from the quarries at Mumbles to Swansea, was also from 1807 carrying passengers in horse-drawn 'dandies,' interspersed with the mineral waggons; there were two 'dissenting' chapels; the Mumbles Battery, which was in existence on the hill overlooking the twin islands of the Mumbles Head by 1804 -- and the lighthouse, a landmark of the area even then, having been built in 1794 on the outer island to safeguard and hopefully prevent further tragedies to ships passing by the dangerous Cherrystone Rocks and the Mixen sand-bank, a one mile long and half a mile wide hazard, situated off Broadslade (Bracelet) Bay.
This project has quoted from W. Davies and his reports entitled The General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, vols I, 1814 and vol. II, 1815 as well as other primary sources
W. Davies, in his report vol. II, 1815, p 219 wrote that
'Glamorgan (including Gower) seems to have been enclosed from remote times' and 'is a county in good order, a place of great note abounding in corn and hay.' Also in the 1814 report that 'The Gowerians have well-built houses of stone'
Of the 2,500 acres of Oystermouth parish, 740 were arable, 728 meadow and pastureland, 282 woodland and 750 commonland, thus farmland bordered Mumbles village and surrounded the outlying hamlets of Newton, Norton and Blackpill.
At Mumbles there were farms next door to the Church, where the Church Park fields reached down to the shore, others up at Thistleboon on the hill and at fields bordering the castle.
Nottage farmhouse Newton
Newton had seven holdings, each having less than fifty acres, with long narrow fields formed from the enclosed strips of an earlier medieval open field settlement and included those at Nottage, built 1630 and demolished in the 1960s and a new farmhouse at New Hill built in 1776 (still there today) but which had been the site of a farm since the thirteenth century, One Richard Fawkener rented two meadows near Newton for 7 Guineas a year.
Hill Top Farm
Norton, nestling amidst five farms, Coltshill, Gower Cross, Hill Top, Upper, Middle and Lower Boarspit, was an assortment of cottages, pubs and small quarries.
Blackpill situated near 'Woodlands' had numerous farms, including those at Llwynderw and Grange, a scattering of cottages; a winnowing bank and the medieval 'Roman' bridge.. Various millers including Luke Bell, James Grove and Charles Edward worked the mill which dated back to the medieval period for which the rent to the Duke of Beaufort was £23..1s per year.
In 1837, in evidence to the House of Lords Committee on the State of Agriculture it was recorded that the cost of running a farm in Glamorganshire had doubled between 1792 and 1813, due to the war with France, the implementation of the Corn Laws and the consequent high inflation of the time. By 1814, farms in the Mumbles area on limestone-rich land were being let for £3, £3. 10s and £4 per acre with the Duke of Beaufort granting 'leases for three lives' which were 'esteemed here as the best preservatives of land as the farmer finds a warmer interest in the soil.' Meaning that with a long lease, farmers might realise the long-term benefits of looking after the soil and the old adage 'Man doth sand for himself, lyme for his son and marl for his grand childe' would be common practice among this class. Another observation was that 'Persons of property will lime as they please, but the tenancy (often on shorter leases and with less money) must lime as they can.' Lime cost 1½d to 2½d per bushel and ideally there should be 60 bushels per acre, although it was often sold by ¼ of a bushel, which was known as a stack.
George III Shilling
This coin was handed down in my familyCarol Powell
In 1815, a Corn Law was passed which banned the import of wheat until the price of British wheat reached 80s per quarter. This was designed to protect farmers, but did not have the desired outcome, keeping the price of bread high, which was bad for the poorer people
Male Farm labourers' wages generally in Glamorgan in 1815 (although they could vary from farm to farm) could amount to 8/- to 10/- a week in winter and 9/- to 12/- a week in summer, 'excepting harvest time when they work till night if wanted, which could bring in anything from 2/6d to 4/- a day with food.'
Their tied cottages were similar to the farmhouses, but smaller, single-storeyed and thatch-roofed. The earth floors would be sprinkled with sand and the rooms simply furnished with a settle, a bench and maybe a cupboard bed. Fuel for the hearth was a mixture of gathered sticks, driftwood or culm (small coal), over which was a spit and trivet and above them a charnel where hams might be hung. Lighting was by means of rushlights or oyster-shells, which had been filled with fish oil or fat, with a twist of rag as a wick. Cottagers often kept a pig and had a 'tater' patch.
As life was inherently tied to the weather, there was much attention paid to weather-lore. Such as, 'if a rainbow be seen in the morning, small rain will follow; if at noon, settled and heavy rains'; or 'If the grass do grow in Janiveer, it grows the worse for it all the year. 'The weather on Candlemas Day, 2nd February was eagerly awaited, for as the old adage went, 'If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight, but if Candlemas day be clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.' It was also the day when the family hoped to be able to eat their tea without using candles, as the day should have lengthened sufficiently and 'a dry February was neither good for grass or grain'. 'A cold May and windy, a full barn will find ye' confirmed by 'a swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay' and if 24th August be fair and clear, then 'hope for a prosperous autumn that year.'
The effects of adverse weather were aptly illustrated when 1816, which became known as 'the year without summer' was followed by a long hard winter and many families' supplies became seriously diminished. Peat which they had gathered had not dried out well enough to burn and the ground was so wet they could not plant their potatoes early to obtain an early supply of food. The pasture was poor resulting in the cattle suffering, giving less milk and consequently less possibility of making butter. Many had to sell their animals at reduced prices and the income from meat and dairy produce slumped. Thus the failure of the harvest soon affected the whole community and rent arrears grew.
Ploughmen go whistling to their toils
And yoke again the rested plough
The Shepherd's Calendar, John Clare
Many years' experience had taught the farmers the best time to sow and reap, with geography, climate and the state of the soil all playing their parts.
Broadcasting method of sowing, unchanged since biblical times.
In February ploughing was carried out with a wooden plough known as a zul. and perhaps an ox team. The sowing season would begin sometime in March, that 'month of many weathers', when the farmer or labourer wearing an elliptical-shaped lipe made of straw over a frame of bramble, hanging from his shoulder would scatter the grain by hand, which would require a good deal of practice and experience to obtain an even speed. The wheat or corn was first, followed by the oats and the barley. The Greek historian, Heroditus, described in Volume Two of his work how 'the husbandman . . sows his plot of ground and after sowing turns his swine into it --the swine to tread in the corn'. This practice was still being carried out by sheep in Gower, but according to Kate Bosse Griffiths in her article, 'Corn Treading' for the GowerJournal volume III, was not known anywhere else. April was the month to concentrate on planting the potatoes.
Hay is still cut with scythes, by the labour of men
W.Davies, General View of the Ag and Dom Econ of South Wales, volume I , 1814, p 562
July was the time for cutting the hay, maybe with tools made by the local blacksmiths, John David or George Clement or the carpenters/joiners, James Prickett or Edward Jenkin.
The farmers and labourers used scythes (zives in Mumbles dialect), which were worked from an upright position, the implements being sharpened with wooden sticks called a riffs, on which was pasted a mixture of mort and gravel to enhance the sharpening. A wooden hay rake, ideal in small fields was used to gather the hay into piles with a skimming-like action, which would then be laid open (tedded) for the night to facilitate drying, then on the second day would be put into small cocks, then tedded and put into larger cocks on the third day, followed by spreading and gathering into stacks on the fourth day, weather permitting. If there was enough labour available, a more efficent way was for cutting and stacking to take place in different parts of the field at the same time, They also had to take care that the stack did not generate too much heat and ignite, as its natural process was liable to do.
The call, 'ale-be-leezur' would signal that a light meal, known as nummit (noon meat) was being brought to the harvesters at lunchtime
Stooks in a field
Advert- Sale of Hay at ThistleboonCambrian 27 June 1812
The wheat/corn harvest followed usually starting around 1st August, Lammas Day (loaf mass day) when by tradition, the first loaf made from the new harvest could be made. Harvesting took place using a short-handled sickle, which required a crouching position, involving grasping a handful of stalks in one hand and cutting them with the sickle in the other hand. The stalks would then be laid on some straw to be bound into a sheaf once sufficient had been gathered, followed by standing several sheafs together in stooks, which could be then left on the ground for a week or so (nine dews to fall on the corn). An expert could cut 1½ acres a day.
Next came the threshing of the stalks to separate the grain, the edible part from the chaff, the inedible part. This was a time-consuming task which entailed two threshers/flailers beating the sheafs in a paved area, with tools called flails (drashels) often made from holly wood. This would be followed by a process known locally as wimbling (winnowing) which involved throwing the mixture into the air, perhaps in a large flat winnowing basket (zemmit), so that the wind could blow the lighter chaff away while the heavier grain fell back down. This would then be gathered in a carthen, a winnowing sheet.The grain was measured by volume with a 'peck' being one quarter of a 'bushel', which was itself approximately eight gallons.
And once the harvest was over, two or three weeks of gleaning could begin when, as was the long-held custom, women and children would swarm over the stubble picking up the zongals (ears of grain) which the rake had missed. However, new more efficient rakes had been introduced by this time, which became known to the ordinary labourer as 'hell rakes' because 'they devilishly rob the poor of their customary perquisite of gleaning' by harvesting the fields more thoroughly.
Advert- For a Threshing MachineCambrian 18 September 1813
The hand reapers of Glamorgan . . .
perform their mode of cutting grain with dexterity
W. Davies, General View of the Ag. and Dom. Econ. of S. Wales, vol. I, 1814, p 183
However, it is not known if any of our local farmers were able to afford one of these 'new-fangled' machines.
Nothing was wasted as straw was used for bedding for the animals or for thatching, and bracken would be burnt into ashes which could be exported for use in soap making. Fat from the cows or sheep would be used to make candles, the smell of which was most unpleasant due to the glycerine they contained and which made their manufacture a disagreeable task, but for the ordinary folk there were rushlights or oyster-shell lamps. More expensive candles, perhaps made by chandlers, John or William Jenkin, for the church or the wealthier households were often made from beeswax, which had a far less unpleasant smell.
Historically, each year two fields should have been cultivated and the third left fallow-- a period when lime, manure or seaweed would be used to fertilize the land, varying this year by year as 'changes in manure will quicken and incite the soil to a vigour of action'. In the eighteenth century, turnips had been introduced in many places, which could be planted instead of leaving the field lie fallow, as they would restore the soil quickly with the double benefit of being able to be stored as winter food for the animals. However, Walter Davies's 1815 survey found that when the Mumbles farmers were asked 'Why don't you use turnips?' They replied that they could not afford them as '. . . Landlords will seldom permit old pasture to be broken and our arable land is so scanty that we cannot be without a field for a year for turnips . . . we must have as much corn as will supply our families . . . Corn in the market brings in immediate money . . . Turnips would deprive us of a quarter part of our corn land' Mr. Davies believed that if 'they were able and willing to give credit to turnips, they would soon be able furnish the market with as much corn and themselves with more money than by their present practice'.
This practice would gradually change the pattern of livestock farming, as until then most livestock had been slaughtered at the beginning of winter because farmers could not grow or store enough food to feed them.
Lower Boarspit Farm, Glen Road, Norton
The 1815 Report also stated that 'The red cattle of Gower are good milchers (known locally as colley cows) and fatten sooner than the browns of the Vale. They are suitable for local markets as well as for walking to distant parts.' . . . 'The cattle are found to be more healthy foddered in open fields than those in houses or yards'.
He remarked that Glamorgan Down sheep of Gower are a beautiful and excellent small breed, usually 'poled' (de-horned) feeding on the oldest and sweetest pastures of the limestone tract. It was common for the ewes (yaus) to be put into enclosures (sheppans) and milked twice a day for cheese from 1 May to 20th August and once a day until 20 September. Farmers were of the opinion that the milk from five of them equalled that from one cow as far as profit was concerned. Butter and butter-milk cheese was also made, the profit from these going to the farmers' wives.
The hardy sheep ranged over the Mumbles Hill, the commons and cliffs and survived winters outdoors. The 'rot', the most destructive disease affecting sheep was 'unknown on these limestone tracts'. Mr Davies observed that 'They generally weigh 14 to 18 lbs and their mutton is superior in quality. Their wool is of the short-clothing kind and fine, selling at double the price of the Vale long wool at 24 to 26 shillings per stone of 15lbs. Shearing, a social event, takes place twice a year when the flock is sufficiently dry . . . an active man can shear fifty a day. The first in spring time is suitable for 'working better' and the Michaelmas one is better for felting'.
Dyeing could take place either when the wool was still a fleece, or when it was ready for weaving, perhaps by local weaver, John Hullin, or afterwards when it had become cloth. Children were sometimes sent out to gather lichen for use in the dyeing process. Also, Madder, found in hedgerows, alkanet from borage and other plants such as nettles, dock leaves, blackberries, dandelions or gorse would give reds, blues or purples and mixed with urine (zig) would help in the dyeing process. Some publicans would even keep a barrel in their pub where the locals could 'deposit' their contributions! The processed wool, according to its quality, could then be used to make clothes, stockings, blankets or quilts.
There was a thriving trade in livestock, which was transported from Mumbles to Devon and Cornwall and vice versa, the animals being lifted from the shore by a block and tackle arrangement with the boat-owner paying a duty of 4d keelage to land. The duty to be paid on exported animals was a farthing per sheep, a ha'penny per hog and 2d per horse.
Near our present-day Infants' School was the village 'Pound' where strayed or impounded animals were enclosed until claimed.
Children were often involved in the yearly cycle of farming jobs. They were employed to pick up stones in the newly-ploughed fields and the smaller boys were often introduced to life on the farm by being given the extremely tedious job of bird scarer, during which they had to walk up and down the fields waving a noisy 'clapper' to deter birds from eating the new emerging plants. For this they might receive a meagre 4d to 6d a day. They might be employed as foddering boys seeing to the feeding of the animals out in the fields. In the autumn, came the potato harvest, where the young boys helped by picking and with the root crop, which once chopped up and mixed with oats, was feed for the horses and for fattening sheep. Fodder was food given to the animals rather than that which they foraged for themselves.
This poem gives an impression of what life could be like then for a child doing this job on a winter's day.
The foddering boy along the crumping snows
With straw-band-belted legs and folded arms
Hastens on the blast that keenly blows
Oft turns for breath and beats his fingers warm
and shakes the lodging snows from off his clothes
Buttoning his doublet closer from the storm
And slouching his brown beaver o'er his nose.John Clare, 1793-1864
Winter was the season for jobs such as hedging with quick-growing, prickly hawthorn, juniper or whitebeam, which would require minimal maintenance every few years and which was suitable for limestone soils. They were essential to provide efficient barriers to keep animals from wandering and important too, was the clearing out of ditches around fields to maintain effective drainage. The word 'meer' or 'mear' was an old dialect word for a 'boundary', which could take the form of a hedge usually on an earthbank, separating furlong from furlong or property from property. In between two of these was often a narrow 'green lane,' such as the one which today still winds from Marepool Cottage (a corruption of Mearpool) to Ginny's Gut on the coast near Limeslade.
In this extract from my book, Regency Mumbles, nine years of village life 1811-1820, I have tried to recreate the sights, smells and sounds of the lives of those, ancestors to some of us, who dwelled in our village and the surrounding area during the Regency, a short but distinct period of our national history when life for the few was frivolous, but for the many who had to endure upheavals caused by the Napoleonic War, inclement weather, bad harvests and the increase in food prices, circumstances were vastly different.
Nevertheless in many respects, life in Mumbles at that time, continued to be lived much as before, with the main emphasis for most on keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and worshipping on Sundays. The working practices of the day may sound idyllic and the pace of life slow, but most people's lives were invariably made up of long, back-breaking days out of doors in all weathers. Now by 1820, they were on the threshold of momentous changes, which the future was destined to bring. The oyster and quarrying enterprises were expanding, a fledgling tourism industry getting underway and nonconformism and education taking hold, but parish life appears to have been largely untouched by the events two hundred miles away in London.
Opulence, ostentation and decadence? No. Hard work? Yes.
1811 and 1821 censuses
The Cromwellian Survey of Gower, 1650. WGA, cat. no. D/D MG1
All Saints' Church Parish Registers
Davies, W., General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, vol. I, 1814 and vol. II, 1815
The Cambrian, published every Friday by Thomas Jenkins in Wind Street
29 April 1809, 30 June 1810, 8 June 1811, 22 June 1811, 29 June 1811, 11 April 1812, 9 May 1812, 16 May 1812, 27 June 1812, 13 March 1813, 3 April 1813, 18 September 1813, 16 September 1815, 17 May 1817, 21 June 1817, 9 August 1817, 15 November 1817, 10 April 1819, 24 July 1819, 25 December 1819
Thanks to Ronald Austin and Brian Hixson for photos of the Farms.
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