Geraint welcomed another crowded room to the meeting.
Derek started by making a plug for a Community Council Public Meeting to be held at the Community Centre on 24th March at 7.30 p.m. to discuss the possible development a Play Area for the children and Climate Change. (This was subsequently cancelled due to the Covid 19 Virus)
Main Topic: Penybont Market
When Derek went to Powys Archives, he met Ginny Guy who is regularly involved in research. She said that she had been looking into Penybont Market and had found virtually nothing. With this ‘good start’, Derek knew that he had a challenge but luckily had had a Panel of learned people who had direct experience of the market. More of this later.
Derek said he would start by looking back to Cefnllys and give a background to the Market before handing over to the Panel.
The first Market in the District was the Market at Cefnllys which was chartered in 1297, a few years before it was given Town status in 1304. The Market Charter would have been given by the Marcher Lord, Roger Mortimer, some years after he was subject to a siege by Llewellyn in 1262. The Marcher Lords were given great powers over the Welsh population and could impose their own laws through a court system that they managed.
Interestingly the Market Charter came at the end of a period of prosperity. The 12th and 13th centuries the climate was very benign and good for agriculture, the population was well fed and this led to a boom in the population. The 14th century however was not so good and had many of the elements that we seem to have been struggling with in recent months. There were terrible rains leading to famine and this was accompanied by plague. The population went into serious decline.
The next big influence was the Drovers who came here from Strata Florida, via Rhayader, and on to Crossgates and Penybont. The significance of the Drovers cannot be under-estimated. They were not the ‘cowboys’ that they are often portrayed as, they had to be licenced to act as a Drover on behalf of the wealthy Landowners. They did business for the Landowners and they carried money. When Edward Price started a shop in Penybont he must have had an eye on the Drovers. The fact that his son John did so well financially must in part of been due to the Drovers. The land around Penybont is very poor and though he acquired lots of property by lending to farmers, John Price must also have made a part of his fortune by trading with the Drovers.
The next reference that I came across was in 1805 and referred to a farmer, Mr Mottsey, from Cwmbrith Farm who sold cattle at the ‘Fair’. That night he heard a disturbance downstairs in his house. When he came down he was confronted by burglars who shot him dead. His daughter had the presence of mind to throw the money from the sale in the ash bin and the burglars got away with nothing. They were subsequently caught and hanged at Presteigne.
In 1878 and 1890 there were references to the Radnorshire Agricultural Society Shows being held at Penybont.
Then again in 1894, 1906 and 1910 there were specific references to Penybont Fairs and to the sales of stock. In 1910 there was reference to ‘good stock fetching fair prices, and poor stock, little demand’.
By 1904 there were 4 Market Towns in Radnorshire. These were Presteigne, Radnor, Rhayader and Knighton. The arrival of the trains would have brought buyers to the County and it is clear that trading was going in informally in and around Penybont and District.
An amusing incident occurred in 1906 when Harold Williams of the Gwystre Inn was summoned to Penybont Petty Sessions for ‘allowing a goat to stray’. He pleaded ‘not guilty’ as he had been offered the goat as payment for a debt. He refused to accept the goat as payment and therefore was not responsible for the goat. He was found ‘not guilty’.
Intriguingly the Chief of Police for Radnorshire, himself a resident of Penybont, made a public statement in 1911 that Penybont should have a proper market. What prompted this statement is not known but it could be that informal sales arrangements led to disputes and challenges for the Police.
Planning for a Market in Penybont was clearly under way by 1918 as the Farmer’s Union declared that united action was needed over the question of a grading station. What is less clear is whether this had something to do with the grading that had been going on since 1914 or the market that would open in 1919.
R.P. Hamer was the prime mover is setting up the market. In Powys Archives I was able to see the Sales Books attributed to R.P. Hamer from 1925 to 1945. The sales figures showed a buoyant trade developing over the years for cattle and sheep.
Derek then turned to YouTube for a brief introduction to the Market showing the Penybont Christmas Fatstock Market in 1991.
As Miah Lewis appeared in screen Derek turned to him as one of the Panel members and also introduced Bev Watkins and Gareth Lewis. (John Bufton the fourth member of the Panel had given his apology as he was unwell.)
Derek then asked the Panel to introduce themselves and address the following ideas:
- Introduction and Earliest Memory
- Memories of RP Hamer
- The Market Days
- The War
- Getting Animals to market
- Most amusing Story
Miah understood that R.P. Hamer built the Market on what had been Common Land. He remembered them as powerful characters in those days who could make things happen.
Miah remembered the ‘grader’ and Bill Griffiths who had been the grader was present at the Meeting. During the War time there needed to be 2 graders, the old man George Griffiths, of Cellws, Noel Lewis of Rhayader was from the Butcher’s side. They would do the assessing. Prior to that Miah remembered his father at the Bryn at Nantmel farming in 1931. In 1933 he walked lambs from there to Penybont Market, he made 12s 6p a lamb. Collard of Rhayader, the butcher at Rhayader, bought them. His father then walked the 20 lambs back to the Bryn and after a fortnight Collard came to get them and gave him 1 lb of sausages for his trouble. There wasn’t much money passed in them days.
A big revolution was when the cattle market was going well and they used to walk the cattle to and from the station. When you think about it now, you could never walk a bunch of cattle on the roadway. The Market was a very important part of the community and it should never have been closed. At the end of the day it was a centre and it was bringing people together. Before the market we always had a drink just to give us an appetite, if we had a good trade we celebrated, and if it was bad we drowned our sorrows. Everything was sorted out at the Severn Arms and it was amazing what you learned, different ways and different angles. That is all gone. It really was the centre of the community, especially the farming community. It always disgusted me to think that a farmer was the chairman of Powys CC and even our own farmer County Councillors voted for it to be closed. So sad, it was foot and mouth, and most markets have recovered. It is easy to say, but finances come into it. Old RP Hamer when he started, he never said fifteen – he would say ‘pipteen’, and a shilling was a ‘shin’. I was trying to imitate him when I was selling the fruit and vegetables after the Harvest Thanksgiving at Rock Chapel, and I was going 1 shin, 1 shin, 1 shin, and then pipteen, pipteen, and Ray’s grandmother was in the front row and the tears were coming down her cheeks. Both the cattle and the sheep markets were so sad to go as the quality was first class.
Bev was only 7 or 8 when he first went to the Market. Father would come and our family would be involved in dealing in those days. Uncle Jack at Heartsease would buy a lot of cattle at Penybont and quite often I would have to walk the lambs home to Dolau, or they would be loaded on the train to go to Baxters in Birmingham. Dad would buy a lot of animals at the market. Dad would bring me to the Cattle Market. Dad and Uncle Jack Watkins, who were dealers, and would stand under the box. They would be alongside Bill Burgoyne who was a really big cattle dealer and when you were amongst them you could see that the dealers did not really like each other but they would tolerate each other. But then a cousin of Bev’s married a Burgoyne and that really set it off. They would buy 30 or 40 cattle and then walk them home to Dolau. This was before there were lorries to take the cattle. Reginald Knills was the first to have a lorry. He would take the cattle to Archie’s, the other side of Knighton, he would keep them for a while but then he would deal in them. Bev was not sure this was right but that was what used to happen. Sometimes they might make a lot of money but then again they might lose money. Bev did not remember walking sheep home as the lorries were then able to take them. Bev remembers after the war going to the different markets where his dad was dealing in lambs at Penybont, Rhayader and Builth. The worst thing about it was that they would buy these lambs but then have to keep them until Sunday morning, I was then never allowed to lie in on a Sunday morning, I would have to get up to move those bloody lambs. I did not like Penybont Market that much in those days. My dear wife was not very happy about it all. Then later when I was farming myself I would be with other farmers and we would be in constant debate with the graders like Ted Green over the weight of the lambs, ½ a kilo or there would make a difference. Some were easy to please but others were very awkward. In the end it boiled down to if you had a good trade you were all happy but if not, the graders would be blamed. My nice memories of Penybont Market were, as Miah said, the camaraderie. There were some people who were quite serious, others who could give a lot of cheek, they thought their lambs were better than yours and that sort of thing, but this was generally in good humour as some lambs were undoubted better than others. My more amusing stories were to do with arguing with the buyers. They would still want to sell our lambs but they would be arguing over maybe 10 or 15 pence. Mostly the lambs would sell.
Gareth remembered that a lot of people used to drive their cattle here. Miah would bring 200 cattle to each of the auctions. The March Auction, the August Auction would be the day before Penybont Races, then there would be the October Auction. There would be a serious amount of cattle at these auctions. When RP Hamer, sometimes known as Percy Hamer, brought his own cattle to market, they would be commission free, as when he sold the market to Campbell and Edwards he made a deal that meant he did not have to pay any commission.
John Edwards was the principal auctioneer after his father, who was Edwards of Cambell and Edwards. His mother had come from Scotland and settled at Gwernargllyth. They had brought all their stock and machinery by train from Scotland to Penybont. He then drove all the stock up into the Radnor Forest to Gwernargllyth. From Miah’s recollections of RP Hamer it was RP who started the Market and in 1947/8 he sold the Market to Campbell and Edwards. He had told Miah that he had inserted the clause into the agreement that he would not have to pay commission when he sold his cattle or sheep through the market. Campbell and Edwards had not anticipated RP going on to do business at the market for so many years. Some other farmers were annoyed about this arrangement, but it was just good business. Penybont missed RP when he stopped trading as he had always put a strong consignment of principally cattle in the centre of the market. This would attract the buyers to come from out of the area to get outlying animals, they would be out all winter. These were not available elsewhere and this attracted the Miss Kilverts and others from Hereford. This helped with all the sales. There would regularly be 800 head of cattle for the August sale. Many of the cattle would be walked in from Llanbister.
Miah then told us about the war period and how the Ministry would buy up the sheep and cattle. Two or three of the characters who had long sticks and while their sheep were on the scales they would flip their stick onto the scales to up the weight while they would be looking elsewhere to distract attention. Noted buy a few, but it was never spotted by the Ministry. A true story about RP Hamer was that quite often people would be helping RP Hamer but money never passed between them. When Mr Brick was at Dolswydd, he had three sons who would go and help RP. This however meant that there was no money coming in. The sons eventually persuaded their father to buy Stove Farm at Knighton and to break this tradition.
ohn Edwards, when he took over from his father, was, according to Bev, a tremendous character. When he was selling lambs he would always have a comment to make, whether you liked it or not. He was very witty. Some days it was not easy to sell lambs, he would keep it light-hearted and they would sell in the end. The rule was that the items would be sold under the hammer, but when John Edwards had finished, there would be bartering going on and there would be an attempt to buy and sell without commission – that is farmers, and that is farming. Miah added that John Edward’s sense of humour filtered through. He had been at school in Shrewsbury and was a contemporary of his was one of the top comedians of the day, William Rushton. Bill Brown was also in this group. John did a lot for the market and it broke his heart when they sold it.
The change from Campbell Edwards to Brightwells was essentially just a change in the name. John Edwards became a Director of Brightwells. Ironically, Brightwells sent a letter to all of the local farmers in 2001 asking them to support their local markets. It was only a few months later, when Foot and Mouth was over, that they announced the sale of Penybont Market.
The challenge on market day with lambs was to get them to the central ally in front of the auctioneer. You would have to be up very early to get the best spot. Bev remembers a queue of lambs stretching back to the Bank in Penybont. There could be as many as 2000 to 2500 lambs. On a Saturday, once a month in the winter time, there would be a market for older ewes. On this particular Saturday there were so many ewes that they were putting up pens in the car park and everywhere just to contain them. Norman Bagley started this market but it brought many farmers out from Bwlch Sarnau and Pant-y-dwr. It was always a good time with chicken and chips at the pub. David Evans would be sat at the clock-tower in Rhayader and some of the old boys would be bringing in just one ewe. They were going to go to Penybont Market come what may. The Saturday sale a Penybont started with Miah who had mentioned to Norman that he was taking old ewes to Welshpool as there was nowhere else to take them. That started the Market, and it became a big success, once a month. The publican would be able to tell you that it was rather a good day.
Neil perked up and asked if the panel remembered Aly. Neil would take the lambs up for Aly as he had to answer to his three wives!
The characters according to Miah were the Drovers. He went back to a time during the war when it was really quite sad. His particular memory was of a Drover called Archie. Archie the Drover had a dog with him and he was a professional footballer with Aston Villa. Drink unfortunately got the better of him and he was turned out by Aston Villa. He came to this area and became a notorious character. This was a period when families also turned out people who became tramps. They came to this area and they slept rough in the buildings. Miah’s family had a tramp who, if you will excuse the expression, was known as ‘camphor balls’. This was because he sold camphor to keep clothes moth free. He would go to the River Ithon every morning to have his wash. They were characters but they were also well-read characters. It was a shame, they were just people who took to the drink. Jim Bush Lewis was remembered by Bev, he was a local chap. He would be really helpful at the market with tending to the cattle. He would pen them and look after them for you. He would get 10 bob for doing it. He was marvellous, but a hard-tough man. Neil remembered taking him home in the back of a stock box. He liked his drink as well, but he was a bloody good chap.
Geraint asked about the system of ‘grading’ which he has never quite understood. Bill was an expert grader but unfortunately due to a stroke he was unable to tell about his skill, he was however able to reinforce what others might say with a nod of the head and an endearing smile. Miah told us that grading was the ‘confirmation of the animal’. It was all done by feel. He would check the loin and pass judgement on the quality of the animal. There was no use arguing with him when he said the lamb might be too thin. They were graded by number but one of the tasks would be to identify lambs that might be 30 kilos being sold alongside 40 kilo lambs. Bill would not allow that. He would try to get the average weight right and also the ‘confirmation’. He would check the shoulder and the ribs and if he could feel the rib then he knew the lamb was not very fat. It was quite a skill. If it was not a quality animal, he would not let it through. Bill was a very fair grader, but lambs that were turned down might appear again the next week and the discussion would go on. Better lambs would sell for more per kilo. If the lambs were not in good condition, they would be sold a store lambs and they would be bought by people ‘down country’ to feed them up. Bill worked for the Ministry. Geraint then mentioned that during the War there was a Ministry Grader, and a Farmer’s Grader, and they had to agree or disagree on the quality! The Government would guarantee a price. If they made 80d a kilo and the guarantee was a £1, the Government would make it up. The Graders had a lot of responsibility. They could not let rubbish go through, it had to be done right. Grading still goes on today and it is still done in the same way. Rhayader and Knighton have their graders. Geraint was sure that it would never go to ‘artificial intelligence’.
Other things were sold at the market. There would be a Harvest Festival Sale, there were furniture sales, house property sales, and some of these were done at the Market. There were charity sales with the Churches involved in persuading the Markets to support the Church. Bev remembered a sale to help with the famine in Ethiopia. A huge amount of money was raised at Penybont with farmers giving lambs. During the War they had a collection at the Market for the Royal Legion. Mentioning no names, Miah remembered that one wealthy farmer gave an ‘old ewe’, Miah’s father was involved in tending to the ewes for this sale, and he remembered that the old ewe died in the pen. The wealthy farmer said: “The old ewe was not that bad when she came from home.” He was not reimbursed! There were some tight-fisted characters around in those days.
Bev remembered the connection between the Hiring Fairs and the Market that his father would tell him about. The Market would be the day before the Fair when men and women would be hired for the coming year. He remembered it as a ‘wonderful old system’ for manging the Farms.
Miah remembered Penybont Fair very fondly with Noah’s Ark and all the rest of it. There were different characters on different rides, but he always remembers Reg Knill and Ivor Swydd, both with bowler hats on, pretending to race each other on the dodgems and everyone loved it. All unrehearsed humour. A tremendous number of people used to come to it. A lot of these things have just passed by. Penybont still has a sense of community but these things brought a number of other people from the wider community that made it even bigger. Bev loved Penybont Market. He has to be honest in saying that they sold 90% of their stock here. Rhayader has now taken off again
Miah remembered an old character up on the golf links called Charlie Emrowshow, Penrow Frank was the place, and he walked a cow all the way from there to the Market. John Edwards was selling and Charlie was biding to push the price up. John Edwards turned to Charlie and said: “Do you want the beast back or not?” Charlie did not sell it. Charlie said: “I will walk her back home, but say what you like, I brought you a good cow”. Nobody bothered in them days, wasn’t it funny.
Geraint said it was now impossible to imagine driving cattle along this main road. Gareth remembered driving Cattle down from Larch Grove where Neil lives. Les Morris told Bev that they used to drive all their cattle from Linddu, some very big cattle. There was no other way of getting them to market.
John Edwards would go to Chepstow selling race horses. He had a picture in his house selling through-bred race horses.
Derek asked about the Pattern of Markets
In the early days there were 2 in the month. There was a market every Tuesday when there was a big supply of sheep ready. They might close the market for a month or two if the business was slow. Then they would start about June until the middle of February. Farming changed and people kept their animals longer and then the market needed to be open a bit longer. The better months would depend on the trade. If you could sell them in June you would have a good trade. You try to sell them in the middle of October you might have a hell of a job getting rid of them. October/November were the poorest months and this related to supply and demand.
Did you sell many poultry asked Elizabeth? She asked the question as she had some nice pedigree ducks, some years ago, which were ready for breeding but before this happened the Mallard had his way. The ducklings came out very nice with unusual colourings. They were lilac and when the lifted their wings they were lemon underneath. These ducks disappeared one night and that seemed to be the end of that. However, a fortnight later they crossed the road in front of her. She asked the farmer about them and he said he had bought them for his wife at Penybont market on Saturday!? There was no explanation for this amongst the panel.
Geraint then remembered an incident when Miah had bought a duck at Penybont Market. Miah remembered it well. It was very comical – Miah happened to go into the Severn for a few tots and while he was in there the duck disappeared. Somebody had come to have a look at the duck and didn’t shut the door properly and the duck escaped. The duck was rescued in a culvert up by the Garden Centre. The duck was Geraint’s and there had been an auction in aid of the Church. Geraint had no lambs to sell so he put the duck into the auction. Miah bought the duck and took it into the Severn Arms for a drink. (Me and the duck said Miah). The duck escaped and went up the road to try and get home and went into a culvert under the road. Geraint was passing the next day and saw his duck by the edge of the field. He tried to catch it but the duck nipped back into the culvert. Basil Griffiths came along, he said he knew how to get the duck out. He had been a Major in the Commandos! He made a little float and put some paper on it and pushed it into the culvert to see if it would push the duck out. You could hear this duck coughing away there but she was not going to come out. Geraint went back home and got the drake and penned the drake at the entrance to the culvert. He wound a piece of string around its leg and pegged it so that he would not disappear as well. RP Hamer came by and saw this old drake tied up and he thought “There is Miah’s duck!” He went and took the drake and took it to Sheila, who said “Why on earth have you bought this old drake!” Eventually Miah did get the duck back.
Miah then told a story that told of a time when people looked after each other more so than perhaps they do today. Father rented the Carnau Hill down near Llandegley, off a Mrs Mills who he was friendly with. Mr Brick at Stow asked Mrs Mills if he could rent the Hill because it would keep his only son out of the Army. It was true and Father gave it up – and Miah has often felt that you would not see that happen today.
Geraint then mentioned that the market, as it came across, was a great leveller. You might go to the market thinking you were the best in the world but you would meet people and realise that there were other people in this world. Bev remembered how you would meet people who were sharper than you, meaning they had good ideas, but some were also capable of giving a bit of cheek. There was a farmer who always made out that his lambs were better than mine. He refused to agree with me, but I always won.
Christmas Fatstock, according to Miah, was always brilliant. That was another very social event. He always remembers the time when he had the prize for the speckled lambs. I was naturally quite pleased. This gentleman came up to me and he said “I don’t think you deserved it.” No, perhaps not replied Miah, the judge decided. Miah asked “Where are your lambs?” He was 2nd, and we went round and had a look at his lambs. So, I said I don’t understand the judge, yours are much better. So then this gentleman began to argue the other way. He went on the convince me that I should have had the prize. There was often a lot of controversy over the judging but it was all in good humour.
Unfortunately on the night of the Fatstock and my son Howard was to take part in the concert as part of the Festival and representing the school. Miah celebrated out of someone else’s cup and when he got home he had to go to bed. As a result he did not go to see Howard’s first concert.- and the wife has never forgotten it. Miah was not too proud of that to be honest.
There would be times when in the 90s a lot of exporting went on to Italy and Spain. They wanted lean lambs, Bev had this year a lot of lambs that were not the best, but we took a fair number and Bill did not like them a lot at the grading, and they, on that particular day, made a lot more money than the good lambs. Bev could hardly face his fellow farmers in the pub afterwards. They gave Bev quite a hard time. The next week they were all bringing them!
Miah remembers bringing lambs to market in the mid-fifties, on a trailer, with lambs from Church Farm, Mr Griffiths, and nobody wanted them. His Father often reminded Miah that in the 30’s ‘it was good to have a customer’. The price was almost irrelevant. Bev said that was why his family started buying lambs for a Company, Baxter in Birmingham. Some farms had to sell direct to the buyers from out of County and then it crept into the Market as well.
Miah’s family have always dealt with the Market until quite recently when his farm became organic. Since then he cannot sell in a livestock market. This was a bit of a shock to people, but it only applied to sheep. Cattle can strangely, and Miah does not understand why, he has never been given an explanation. He has to take the sheep direct to the abattoir, for Waitrose, at Llanidloes but he would rather bring them to Penybont. Bev said it would be Rhayader but he would never forgive Brightwells for closing Penybont. Miah said that the compensation was that with organic lamb you do not need mint sauce. Bev said he would not be able to argue about this.
To a question about the buyers and where did they come from, Miah mentioned a Mike Rowlands, from Llangerreg, who was a splendid man, but there were not many in the 1950’s. Mike would come whatever the conditions. Then there were the Edges brothers from Llanfair Caereinon. They are still going today. Peter Badger came from Ross, who would buy for the abattoirs. There could be 7 or 8 buyers at a market who would be buying for different firms. Bev said that at one time there would be just one buyer at Rhayader but now there could be six.
Mary raised a concern about the lambs being stressed and she had been told they could lose weight. Most do go straight to the abattoir. Miah mentioned that the bigger concern was live exports. Miah mentioned that this was a big issue with a lot of people. It is however only 26 miles across the Channel whereas no-one complains about lambs being taken from Scotland to an abattoir in South Wales or even Cornwall. Bev said that the modern lorries have water for the lambs and they only allow so many in a pen. There can be 4 or 500 in a lorry but they all have to be unloaded when they get to the continent. The French like to have live lambs as they then go the French abattoirs giving the work to their facilities. The market on the continent has become much smaller than it was. Everyone declined to discuss the impact of Brexit.
Mary then told a story about her Aunt Freda who met a man at the hospital and he told her that his job was to open and close all the gates in the way to Penybont Market. As he came into the village one day, Polly Lewis would be making tea at Brynithon by the Iron Room, now the Community Centre. Polly Lewis’s gate was open, which caused him some concern until he looked up and saw a cow looking at him out of the window. He went in to get the cow out, but what amazed him was that there was carpet on the floor – he had never seen carpet before! A reminder of how poor this area had been for some of the local people.
Bev remembered walking sheep back from Llanbadarn to Dolau when he was not very old, 8 or 9 years. When he got to Llanbister he was walking in front of the sheep, and round the corner came this van full of rabbits. When the driver saw Bev and the sheep in the middle of the road he went straight over the hedge. This frightened Bev to death and he ran like hell for home.
The first stock lorry that came into Radnorshire was Miah’s namesake from Llanyre, Miah Francis. He went to Builth and there on the side of the Lorry was MJF. One of the farmers spotted this and said “I did not think you were a very bright lot from Llanyre, you cannot even spell”. Why? You have not spelt your name right”. If you look in the Bible it is Niah Miah John Francis.
Graham Middleton was a great buyer. He had 1000s of lambs out of Penybont. He was from Penybont originally. Knills had several stock lorries. Mary remembered on one occasion Knills had an elephant in the back of a stock lorry.