Penybont and District Local History Group November 2016 Main Topic: History of Postal Services – Derek Turner


Geraint opened the meeting to another packed house to remind members of our next meeting which will be held at Penybont Hall. Richard Morgan has invited us and they will provide coffee for a 10.30 a.m. start. In a addition to a tour of the Hall we will try to cover ‘Extreme Weather Conditions’ – Please bring any photos or memories.

Also in the agenda is the Video evening in the Community Hall on Tuesday 15th November. There will be a £3 charge to cover costs. There will be 3 videos: 1990 Races; 1990 Fatstock Sale; 1990 Opening of the Community Centre.

Geraint, Mary and Derek will be meeting on Friday when they will try to bring together a programme for next year. Ideas and offers to take on a session would be more than welcome.

Jennifer brought to the attention of members a Radnorshire Society Meeting on Sat at 5.00 p.m. in the Metropole on the life and artistry of Thomas Jones of Pencerrig.

David gave a short introduction the work of the Repair Café that will this Saturday 12th where items that might need repairing will hopefully be fixed. Volunteers ‘experts’ are on hand to help with a wide variety of items. It is held at the Celf building on the way into Llandrindod. They also act as a collection site for ‘Tools for Self- Reliance’. Tools that are useful to the 3rd World are repaired and passed on to the countries that can make the best use of them. Tools that are not needed are sold to raise funds to keep the Charity running.

Jane also mentioned that the Peace Choir at the Pales will be giving a recital to celebrate their 7th birthday on Saturday 19th November at 3.30 p.m.

Geraint reminded members that it is Remembrance Sunday this coming Sunday and that a service will be held at the War Memorial at 10.00 a.m. The Hall Social Committee has very kindly lain on refreshments in the Hall for after the service.

Main Topic – History of the Post Office in the Area – Derek

National Developments

Derek started by recognising that there were people in the room who knew more about the Post Office than he would ever know. He is hoping that members will contribute to the talk and add to our collective knowledge.

The Royal Mail Heritage website has an excellent Timeline that guides own through the history from its inception as a service that was initially established to serve the King’s needs.

At that time it was King Henry VIII. Brian Tuke was appointed ‘Master if the Posts’ in 1512 and in 1517 he became ‘Governor of the Kind’s Post’.

In 1533 he made a pronouncement on behalf of the King that would underpin the importance of the service for generations to come. “In pain of life” the service was to be at a state of readiness to convey the mail expeditiously from town to town. Horses would be ready but of course this was not the only problem. Roads at this time were often not more than muddy tracks and subject to the vagaries of the weather.

It did however prove to be a successful venture and in 1635, in the reign of Charles1, Thomas Witherings built on the work of Brian Tuke and established the first Public Postal Service. The first ‘post house’ was created in London in 1637, and by 1637 John Taylor published his ‘Carriers Cosmography’. This gave details of the postal buildings, ships and other facilities that were already in place in England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Netherlands. The first mention of Wales is also included:

“The Carriers of Monmouth in Wales, and some parts of Monmouthshire; do lodge at the Saint Paul’s Head in Carter Lane. They do come to London on Fridays.”

The postal services evolved gradually over the years that followed and despite Civil Wars it became a Unified Service across England, Scotland and Wales, but it would be over 100 years before Penybont would see a service in the village. The first major reorganisation of the postal service took place at about the time Penybont was ready and able to open its doors, with horses at the ready. In 1782 a Theatre Proprietor from Bath, John Palmer, who had developed a system for moving theatre sets between different towns thought that he could radically change the method of managing the mail across the country. Up to this time the mail was taken by horse or cart across the country from town to town. At each stop the Postmaster would sort out their mail and it would be then sent on to the next postal town where the process would be repeated. Palmer introduced a system whereby the mail was pre-sorted and simply dropped off at post towns while the horses were changed. This change reduced the time that mail was taking to be delivered by up to a third. It in addition improved the relationship between the travelling public and the postal services as the carriages more practically carried passengers as well as the mail much more efficiently.

The safety of the mail on these hazardous journeys across country was of paramount importance. The Mail Coach Guard would sit alongside the driver with a duty to see the mail through. He would be heavily armed with two pistils and a blunderbuss to see off Highwaymen. He would sound his horn to give advance warning in the Post Towns that horses needed to be got ready for the onward journey, and most importantly when the coach was approaching the Turnpikes Gates. Stopping the coaches at these points could leave the mail vulnerable so the horn would be sounded to ensure that the gates were opened to allow the coaches through. Mail coaches were exempt from toll charges. The coaches must have been quite a sight going through the countryside but they could cause quite a bit of excitement in the towns. Sadie Cole in the Radnorshire Transactions of 2002 describes the scene in 1835 in Kington:

“Hours before the coach arrived for the first time on a Friday evening in May the streets were crowded and when at last the sound of the horn was heard in the distance children shrilled with delight. When the horses were detached at the Oxford Arms a group of brawny young men surged forward and hauled the coach to the Swan Coach Office to rapturous applause of the on-lookers.”


The bravery of the Mail Coach Guards was quickly recognised and volunteers from amongst their members were recruited into the Army. A specific regiment was established: Post Office Riffles 1816 – 1921. When they were disbanded they became the backbone of the Territorial Army in its early days.

The next century saw the Post Office develop into the multi-faceted organisation that was eventually broken up in the second half of the twentieth century. Letter Carriers were given a uniform in 1793 as a way of ensuring that they did not loiter, frequent ale-houses, and interrupt the speedy delivery of the mail.

Payment for postal services was originally a tax on those people who received the post. This could vary depending on the route taken. The earliest service to Aberystwyth from London came via Montgomery but this was a 11d as opposed to the service that subsequently came via Kington and Penybont which was just 10d. In 1839 a uniform postage system was introduced based upon a penny rate. The following year the postal service took a major advance when Rowland Hill developed the first adhesive stamp – the penny black. In that year, 1840, 68 million stamps were purchased.

With the onus now on the sender to pay for postal services the introduction of pillar boxes in 1852 made the process much simpler and more efficient. The history of pillar boxes can be seen at:

The first sign of the Post Office services to come started with the Post Office Savings Bank where people were encouraged to save money in postal towns where there were few banks as yet. This was followed closely by an increase in personnel when three cats were recruited, on probation, to seek out mice in the Money Order Office. A budget of 1 shilling a week was put aside for this purpose.

Adjusting to technological advances the Post Office Telegraph service was established in 1870; Postal Orders were introduced in 1881 to support poor families who had no way of sending the small amounts of money that banks would not deal with; a parcel post in 1907; and the separate private phone services were brought together and nationalised at a cost of £12,515,264, as the National Phone Service, in 1912.

Penybont Postal Services

During this period of development the postal service in Penybont was initially catching up with the national picture, and more latterly running as part of a developed service.

There are suggestions that Penybont may have become a Postal Town as early as 1767 when John Price, of Thomas Shop and Penybont Hall fame, was asked by the newly formed Radnorshire Turnpike Trust to survey the road between New Radnor and Clewedog. The Turnpike Trusts were established to improve that state of the roads, as these roads, as we have seen, were extremely important to the smooth transfer of post between towns. It is probably unlikely that postal status was given to Penybont, or as in those days Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion, before Aberystwyth, which was given this status in 1769. The earliest date known that confirms that this status has been given to the village is 1784. (Welsh Post Towns – MA Scott) At that time the cost of mail to London was 4d with the mail being brought on horseback to the New Inn/Fleece Inn, owned by John Price, which was then on the other side of the river to the current Inn.

Mr D Davies is referred to as Postmaster and Innkeeper of the Fleece Inn at Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion in 1807. (The Squires of Penybont Hall – RCB Oliver) This association between Postmaster and Innkeeper at the Golden Fleece/Fleece/Severn Arms would endure until 1891. By the time J. Griffiths came into these titles (1818) the name of the Inn had changed to the Severn Arms (1814) and we begin to read of the village of Penybont rather than the older name Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion. Roads had been improved by the Turnpike Trustees and Post coaches arrived at Severn Arms at 11.a.m., to depart again with new horses at noon, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

By 1828 Mr Parton is Postmaster at the Severn Arms, still on the same site. JT Llewellyn Pritchard’s Cambria Balnea reports

“A ride or drive due north, and afterwards inclining easterly, for four miles leads to what may be considered a miracle in this district – a genteel village; for such Pen-y-bont most assuredly is, although on a confined scale. Through it runs the London Road, rendered lively by the daily passing of coaches; and across it, the River Ithon, remarkable for its picturesque meanderings, and the excellence of its numerous scaly inhabitants ……….. Looking suddenly to the right we are agreeably struck with a pleasing sight, the truly elegant mansion of JC Severn, Esq. ………. Lower down, on the left hand side of the road stands the Severn Arms Inn, and Post Office, a superior looking tenement, where the coaches change horses. It is kept by Mr. Parton, who by his attention, civility, and good accommodation gives the best assurance that he merits the good success of his business.”

The next Postmaster came in 1832 and oversaw a period of rapid change. In 1835 the Mail Coach would be introduced as a daily service between Kington and Aberystwyth, and in 1840 the Severn Arms moved to its current site on the other side of the River Ithon. Mr Stephens placed an advert in the Hereford Journal referring to;

“Post chaises, Flys and Gigs supplied on the shortest notice with steady horses and careful drivers. The London Mail daily via Cheltenham; also Sovereign Post Coach via Worcester, where it meets coaches the same evening for the Birmingham railway.”

The Sovereign Coach was a seasonal service and did not operate through the winter months. Postal charges at this time had risen to 10d. This period was not without its controversy however, Sadie Cole, as referred to above, recounts the concerns raised by Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Lewis, who lived at Harpton Court, New Radnor, to the Government Officer responsible for contracts relating to the horses. In a letter written on the 7th January 1835 he reported the contractor as being unfit as the service did not run with any degree of regularity and only at the whim of the operator when he might simply send a horse rather than the cart he was supposed to. The operator who was from Rhayader was in very derogatory terms described as a ‘Welsh Speaker’ as though that explained his lack of responsibility. So incensed was the MP that he wrote again one day later a reported that the operator was known to be a drunkard, ran his horses out of control, he did not treat the mail with any degree of security, and that he suffered from the ‘sin of the lower classes’. The operator lost the contract.

Two years later  on 22nd June 1837  in the Parliamentary Select Committee Papers the Rt Hon TF Lewis reported his concerns about the state of the roads in Radnorshire, the limitations on the capacity of the Turnpike Trust to raise sufficient revenue, and on the very high charges on rural businessmen in traveling from New Radnor to Hereford:

“As far as I know and believe, no money has been raised in the County of Radnor under the Highway Act. The reason I conceive to be this, all important lines of road are included in the Turnpike Act; there are no by-roads sufficiently important to make people think it worthwhile to raise money for the purpose of repairing them, and we are prevented by a clause in the Highway Act from laying out the parish money on turnpike-roads, which are the only roads of any great or essential use to us.

Would it be possible, by raising the tolls to provide money sufficient to repair the turnpike-roads, so as to prevent the necessity of calling upon the parishes for any additional assistance? – The tolls are already extremely high; we pay 6d on every horse drawing, and 1½d on every horse ridden; it should be remembered that many of our horses are very small, and draw but little weight. In the rugged roads of our mountainous districts, broad wheels cannot well be used, and in these districts narrow-wheeled waggons are in general use…. My residence is 24 mile from Hereford; a waggon with five horses, would pay 12s 6d toll for travelling that distance; ……. my persuasion, therefore, is, that the tolls are already such in amount, that it would be of serious injury to the commerce of the county to increase them……

What would be the effect of postponing this Act to another Session? – We have already been 2 years in Radnorshire without means of applying any money to the roads, which, as I have already described, are the most important roads in the County; they are already very much gone out of repair, and I apprehend, if we are left for a third year in the position in which we have been placed for the last two years, that the mail-coach which has been established between London and Aberystwyth, in Cardiganshire, and for the establishment of which a private subscription exceeding 600l. has been already subscribed and expended, must cease to go; I verily believe that the road could not be kept another year in such condition as to enable this coach to pass during the winter; and that, I am informed, would be deemed a most serious injury to Cardiganshire, Radnorshire and Herefordshire.”

The next major change to the services provided by Penybont occurred with the coming of the trains in 1864. As the mail started to arrive on the trains and the role of the Postmaster became incompatible with that of the Severn Arms. In 1891 the Post Office opened and mail was sorted into rounds and delivered to the people of the locality.

Penybont Post Office as a Sorting Office continued until 1950 when the responsibility for managing the service moved to Llandrindod and Penybont became a Sub-Post Office.

  •                   Mr and Mrs William Boulter

1926 – 1941                 Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton

1941 – 1954                 Mr and Mrs A.N. Edwards

1954 – 1965                 Mr Stan and Mrs Millie Price

1965 – 1999                 Mr Ray and Mrs Sylvia Price

& Lynda Price

1999 – 2003                 Mr Ian and Mrs Sandra Langstaff

2003 – 2004                  Mr Peter and Mrs Amanda Jones

Derek had interviewed Ray Price and the following are the notes taken from that meeting. There is more information about Ray and Sylvia’s time at the Post Office in Rev Geraint Hughes – Penybont, A Village History.

Ray and Sylvia Price – Penybont Post Office 1965 – 1999

Ray was born in Llanddewi but moved with his family to Ludlow on Penybont Common very early in life. He married Sylvia in 1963. Sylvia was at that time working for Radnor District Council and had a good steady job. Ray by contrast had been a versatile agricultural worker who, like the agricultural workers described by Shirley in our last meeting, could turn his hand to most things. While he had plenty of work, on top of his small-holding at Ludlow, he did not have the stable income that a young man with responsibilities might aspire to, so when Dillwyn Powell, who was then manager for Fosters the Seed Merchants where Ray’s brother Ken worked, offered him a job as a driver he took the job, albeit he had never had a driving job before.

Having to walk past the Post Office every day he became aware quite early on that Stan and Millie Price wanted to retire. They had come to Penybont, from Builth, a few years earlier to take on the Post Office as a sort of retirement ‘hobby’, but they now needed to move on. This attracted Ray and after convincing himself that this was a serious opportunity he put it to Sylvia that they should buy the Post Office. Initially Sylvia thought he was mad, however Ray remained convinced, and they continued to talk about it, and eventually Sylvia came round to the idea, mainly because their respective work commitments meant that they were able to spend very little time together.

Ray made an offer based on what he thought he and Sylvia could afford but Stan turned it down as he had had a better offer. It was Gwynn Hughes the Manager at the Bank in Penybont that made all the difference. He looked at Ray’s resources and gave him a figure and told him that he must not go higher. So when Stan asked Ray if he was still interested Ray was able to tell him exactly what he could afford and a deal was struck there and then over a hand-shake. A few steps away was the bank and Ray was able to confirm the deal with Gwynn Hughes and he and Sylvia became proud owners of the Post Office. Sylvia became the Sub-Postmistress and for a few years Ray continued to work for Fosters until he sold Ludlow. During this time Dillwyn was a great help to Ray as he helped him to manage the transition from Small-holder/Driver to being full-time, and working alongside Sylvia in the Post Office.

Running a Post Office was not a soft option. They worked very long hours in the Post Office (initially from 7.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. and then later from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 a.m.) and then had a considerable amount of administration and stock control to attend to. Ray describes it as ‘hard’ but clearly he and Sylvia quickly developed a close bond with the community they both grew up with, and they enjoyed the contact with the people they knew and loved. Lynda was born in 1967 and it was not too long before she became an important part of the staff team.

From the beginning they felt supported by the community and they took their opportunities to go the extra mile. Geraint told a story last month of how Ray and Sylvia had an ‘emergency’ request for Epsom salts, as a farmer had a cow that had a swelling that made it seem the animal might ‘explode’. They were able to find in stock the Epsom salts that saved the day and the cow. The farmer concerned was a regular customer for years and years after that. This exemplifies their approach to the business. They were there to provide a service, and because people recognised this, the business prospered.

Another example of this and how to turn adversity into service provision, and hence profit, was during the ‘great’ snow storm of 1981.  In those days they got their bread from Hereford.  It was a Friday and he had about 30 to 40 bread orders to fulfil and the bread delivery van had got to the Forest Inn and could not move in any direction. The week-end was a challenge for everyone and they even closed the Post Office on the Saturday morning. During Sunday the road  via Witton was unblocked and Ray set off for the Forest Inn on the Monday morning. Getting there Ray decided to take not just his own order but as much of the bread in the delivery van as he could fit in. Returning to the Post Office, not only was he able to meet the needs of all his regular customers but he was sold our very quickly. Ray ws then to to get a delivery from Oswestry, but when the van arrived the driver explained that he had been unable to deliver to other shops including Dolau and he had a full van. Ray decided to take all that he had, and once again he was sold out very quickly, and he gained customers long term who were so grateful that Ray and Sylvia kept their shop open.

Then there was the year of the ‘great sugar shortage’. A van driver arrived at the Post Office with an order for Mr Jones! Ray had been expecting an order for 40 parcels so he assumed the order was for him and they simply had the name wrong. So he took the order! The next day another driver arrived with the 40 parcels of sugar for the Post Office. By this stage there was no sugar to be had anywhere and Ray had 80 parcels of sugar. Well it was bonanza time. People came from everywhere to buy sugar. They were soon sold out. A gentleman from Llanbister  bought some sugar and was so pleased he placed his order with Ray and Sylvia every week.

As part of a side line to the Post Office Ray has developed a particular interest in old postcards. Sylvia and Ray had previously developed within the Post Office a set of post cards with scenes in and around the village. He told me of a remarkable story that involved Richard Davies. Many years ago Richard visited Penybont with Mary and while he was there he bought from the Post Office a postcard to send to his grandmother in West Wales. The completed card was franked in Penybont and duly sent. Many, many years later Ray received from a friend in London who was also a ‘collector’ a card that had a Penybont frank on it. The card was the very same card that Richard had sent to his grandmother. Ray has been able to return the card to Richard.

Ray referred to the range of businesses in the village, other than the farming community, that all had a connection with the Post Office. There was an Ironmonger (in Glen Ellen); the Blacksmith with Tom Price and his father before him; Tom ‘Cash’ Stephens sweet shop, in Suzanna’s House; a Sadler behind the Post Office; Midland Bank; Market; Severn Arms; Police Station; 2 houses did Teas including Brynithon; and Fosters the Seed Merchants.

Fosters was a significant business in the village, having been for a time in the wooden building at the Thomas Shop it moved to the yard where the Council depot is today. There were 8 people working in the yard, they had three lorries taking orders out, three Reps were based at the yard. The business was very busy covering over to Aberystwyth and Leominster.

Ray would say that the secret of their success at the Post Office, over and above hard work, was proving a service to the local community and having a trusting relationship with his customers. He is rightly proud that when they left the Post Office all those people who had ‘accounts’ with him cleared their debts. He did almost however run into difficulty with the Post Office by extending his service beyond the official times of opening to accommodate a group of people who wanted to manage their football coupons as a syndicate and came in very early to get them sent off. While he was in the middle of helping them the Postmaster from Llandrindod came into the Post Office. Fortunately he turned a ‘blind eye’ and nothing was said. It was considered quite a serious breach to open out of hours in those days.

After the Post Office closed in 2004 an attempt was made to open a facility within the Thomas Shop Museum in 2005. A connection was made by the Post Office managers with Sarah Mason who ran the Post Office in Newbridge and they administered a service for a short time. The Opening was attended by Kirsty Williams AM and a limited service was provided over the next year.

Llandegley Post Office

Derek admitted that he had not managed to find out any information that was not already in Geraint’s Book. A Post Office operated in Llandegley, out of Primrose Cottage, from 1817. In 1871 Evan Evans ws the Postmaster and working for him was a Post Messenger – Charles Jenkins. When Penybont became the Sorting Office there is only John Evans, described as Postman, working out of Primrose Cottage.

Derek hoped that the members present could add to what is already known.

Crossgates Post Office

Derek confessed that he had been unable to find any information in what has been an important service in the area and he hoped that information would be forthcoming now that he had finished his presentation.

Geraint thanked Derek for the presentation and for illustrating our local service within the development of the national picture, and the floor was opened for members to contribute.

A story emerged in relation to Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton, Mrs Bufton, Auntie Beatty was a teacher at Llanddewi School but it was their Cob that was remembered with by several members. Maureen was aware that Mr Bufton was important in the Trotting scene and had become important in this sphere from 1921. The Cob was appropriately called ‘Post Boy’ and Mary had remembered him as a source of great envy. The family had moved to Sunnyside on the Common and the Post Boy would bring the children of the household into the village and to the shop. Mary would have loved to be one of these highly privileged children.

Mr Edwards, in addition to taking on the Post Office was also a coal merchant. Mary remembers some concern that the Post Office was now selling groceries and provided some competition to the Thomas Shop.

Stan and Millie Price had a reputation for serving the children sweets and 5 Woodbine would be a common purchase.

In the last few minutes a number of references were made that need to be followed up that mainly related to Crossgates:

Una’s Mother-in-law

Trewern Villa

Frankie Jones and Ted – the Waltons

Millie and Edgar Morgan

There was a reference to the van in the photo taken outside the Crossgates Post Office – Bread being delivered from Henry Quarterman Coates from Llandrindod

Tony and Lynne Eckleston were at Crossgates. Tony is now living in Howey.

Lynne and Rod Hill also at Crossgates

There was a memory of Mr Edwards at the Post Office in Penybont supplying ‘black market’ sweets that were meant to be on ration.

Geraint reminded us of the range of things that have been lost in recent history:

  • Blacksmith
  • Cattle and sheep market
  • Tennis Courts
  • Water Mills
  • The Station that serviced the engines on their way through
  • Police Station and cells
  • Friendly Society (In its day the largest in the whole area
  • The Post Office itself was more than just a facility, it was a social centre and meeting place

David is living in the ‘Old Post Office’ in Llanbister. There is clearly a long history associated with this facility. He would welcome any information and anecdotes associated with the Post Office.

Geraint mentioned that there was a problem for pensioners similar to the trouble we all have with pin numbers and passwords. In Penybont the problem was resolved by having a list of all the Pension Pin Numbers pinned to the wall behind the counter!

In another memory of Steve the Postman who would pick up mail along his route and if someone had no stamps he would take them anyway and stamp the letters himself.

John A., who was unfortunately not with us to add to the memories, had previously told us of how the Christmas mail was delivered on Christmas Day. He was challenged to get through his round as he was invited in to enjoy the ‘hospitality’ of each home.

The next meeting will be at Penybont Hall at 10.30 a.m. on the 5th December. A new programme for next year will be sent out as soon as possible.



Notes of 3rd October 2016 Meeting Main Topic – The Lives of Agricultural Workers Shirley Morgan

Geraint opened the meeting to another full house and welcomed , in particular the ‘throng’ from New Radnor – Marion’s Team of Jennifer, Robin and Susan. Rachel, who came from Kerry, is new to the area and to the group. Geraint also pointed out that Elizabeth had: ‘brought her husband along’! Peter. Peter mentioned that they were settling in to the Old Rectory in Dolau and that they were still setting up their Book-selling business’, Castle Books.  Reference was made to the ‘Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire’ which is available at the Thomas Shop.

Geraint indicated that it is time to draw members attention next year’s diary. He, Mary and Derek, are looking for suggestions.  The next meeting will feature Derek who will be talking about the history of the Post Office.  The Meeting on the 5th December will be at Penybont Hall when there will be a focus on ‘extreme weather conditions’.

Mary confessed that she and Richard have ‘retired’ from the village and they are currently staying in a Bed and Breakfast facility in Llandrindod before moving into their new house as soon as it is ready for occupation.

Geraint has been talking to Frank Morgan about showing some of his ‘movies’ of Penybont alongside some of the new slides that Geraint has had given to him over the last year. This will be an additional session on  15th November .

Lynda has opened a Facebook page for PenybontRadnorshire, and it is hoped that this will provide a better way of managing the numerous pictures that are now in Geraint’s collection.

Main Topic – “The Lives of Agricultural Labourers” – Shirley Morgan

Most of us have an Ag Lab as an ancestor. Who were they and where did they originate. Shirley wondered whether we looked back at a ‘romantic age’ and mourned the loss of a rural cultural identity as in the books of Thomas Hardy.

They emerged with the Enclosures, where cottagers with land and common rights were powerless to prevent exploitation by wealthy landowners. Up to that point there was a culture of co-production on the common land that was managed by the community in strips that were prone to disease and were not as productive as farm management systems that were coming in.  After the Enclosures Act of 1801, families who had lived for generations on their small-holdings with commoner’s rights were deprived of their holdings and forced to become a landless working class employed by the landowners who created large farms. The Agricultural Revolution saw the rise of capitalist farmers who adopted better farming processes – drainage, crop rotation, animal husbandry, machinery, increased production of winter fodder – (turnips), leguminous plants: based on the principles developed by Jethro Tull in the early 18th century. All these needed labour, so that by the time Victoria came to the throne farming had in many places had become a business instead of a means of subsistence. Villages came to have a hierarchy – squire, tenant farmer, and the landless labourer, who was at the bottom of the social scale.

The general social unrest of the 1830’s was felt among agricultural workers. The harsh workhouses instituted by the Poor Law had a marked effect in the country areas and combined with low wages and fear of increased mechanisation, riots and rick burning, and the destruction of threshing machines broke out in many areas. 1834 saw the protest by the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who founded ‘The Friendly Society of Labourers’. Their sentence of transportation was reprieved and their courageous actions  helped pave the way for the creation of trade unions and the protection of labourer’s rights.

As the century progressed agriculture saw increasing prosperity. The period up to 1870 has been described as the ‘golden age’ of Agriculture. The Crimean War and the increase in the number of urban dwellers caused the price of agricultural goods to rise sharply. The development of the railways provided quick transportation. The Great Exhibition of 1851 showcased the wide variety of machinery, wages rose and social unrest declined.

However, it was short-lived as from 1873 inwards the long depression in agriculture set in. Animal diseases and wet summers took their toll, but it was the cheap imports of American wheat caused the price of wheat to fall. Refrigeration ships brought Argentinian beef and Australian lamb and canning processes improved. Labourers suffered, many left to work in urban jobs, and again there was an attempt to form unions .Joseph Arch, a farm labourer, founded the National Agricultural Labourers Union which encouraged striking. He visited Presteigne in September 1874 and spoke

He was the first labourer to be elected an MP in the election of 1885. He visited Presteigne in September 1874 and spoke for an hour to a crowd of 5000. The demands for higher wages were considered outrageous by the farmers, but public opinion forced them to make concessions and wages rose by one to two shillings. Emigration was very high among agricultural labourers, in Radnorshire in 1869 a liver fluke epidemic caused wholesale destruction of the sheep flocks so there followed a wave of emigration to the USA.

The beginning of the new century saw moderate prosperity for farmers with the introduction of new breeds of cattle – Friesian, Shorthorn; and new grass strains, but this meant nothing to the labourer.

The landslide victory of the Liberals in 1906 brought a large number of changes, Old Age Pensions took away the fear of the Workhouse for agricultural labourers who had made up a large proportion of the elderly occupants. It was the threat of the Incremental Value and Underdeveloped Land Bill of 1909 which caused the massive changes to the way of life in the countryside. It started a flood of sales of the larger estates. Many land-owners, including the Severn’s and Ormathwaite’s, saw their land as poor investment so they unburdened themselves of their vast estates. In many cases it was tenants who bought a farm; often employing family members and perhaps one or two hands. Shirley’s Great Grandfather was one such farmer who took  advantage of ‘cheap’ farm land prices but had to raise a mortgage of £900 – equivalent to £1,000,000 at today’s prices!

The 1901 Census shows that within 10 years 50% if farm labourers had left the industry. Move to the increasing opportunities in towns and cities was one factor, but education was undoubtedly another. There were the adults of working age who benefitted from the 1870 Education Act. Indeed some critics blamed education for destroying country life. One farmer lamented that ‘boys kept at school to 13 years of age became accustomed to a warm room and dry feet and showed no liking for a cold north east wind with sleet and rain, and mud all over his boot-tops carrying turnips to the sheep.

In the eve of the Great War Britain was only producing a fraction of the nation’s food – 4 out of 5 slices of bread were made of imported wheat, and 3 out of 5 spread with imported butter. One of the first things that happened was the establishment of War Agricultural Committees. The drain of young men to the forces has been well documented and must be one of the saddest things to impact on farm labourers.  Civilians from all walks of life were drafted in to the industry – farmers complained about having chocolate makers and piano tuners, etc.; prisoners were also used for agricultural work; but the Women’s Land Army made its first appearance, sometimes romanticised they were useful in the land.  The War Years are remembered for the first appearance of farm tractors, many of them home produced, but their influence was limited due to the lack of operating and maintenance skills.

Farm workers experienced a decline in wages during the War, returning soldiers were reluctant to return to the land. For some there was no alternative and possibly  with new confidence they returned optimistically thinking that the new found strength of the unions would enhance their prospects. Unions experienced a revival possibly because of the radical attitude among returning soldiers, but fragmentation of workers and bonds between employer and worker calmed it down. The 1921 Census shows a huge reduction in the number of agricultural labourers. There was mourning for the passing of a way of life and a realisation of how precious and skilled agricultural workers had been. – Thomas Hardy.

The thirties saw the fastest decline in the labour force than in any other decade. Wages were lower, there was little job security, hours were long and holidays were rare.

At the outbreak of the 2nd World War, Britain found herself again relying on foreign imports, but this time she was more prepared in other areas. – War Agricultural Committees were in place, there was a reserve of fertiliser  and machinery and targets were set. Experienced farm workers  were exempt from conscription and industry was prohibited  from employing agricultural workers.  Three months before the outbreak of war the Women’s Land Army was rushed into existence and by 1943 it had reached 100,000. They had distinctive uniforms and received 28 shillings a week. We must not overlook the part played by prisoners of war who in 1946 formed one sixth of the labour force.

How Did Agricultural Labourers Find A Job?

The Hiring Fairs were very common in Radnorshire, and were generally held in May. Farm servants who lived in were generally hired in this way. Girls wore aprons and the boys and men wore smocks or had an emblem of their trade; e.g. cow hair or sheep’. The agreement was clinched with a shilling known as ‘earnest money’. Hiring Fairs continued to be held in Rhayader, Knighton, Builth  and Penybont well into the 1940’s. Newspapers and word of mouth also played a part in advertising a vacancy.

Wages have always been a cause for contention. Children put out to work on farms sometime got nothing for their first year and £1 for their second.  In 1868, a strong capable girl could be had for £3 per year. Servants were completely at the mercy of their ‘masters’, their terms of employment had to be completed. Until 1875 absconders were punished with heavy fines or imprisonment. Very often it is hard to calculate a labourer’s wage as perks were often included; e.g. buttermilk, potatoes, or meals at the farmhouse in busy times. If a cottage was provided it would probably be cramped and basic. The idyllic view of a farm labourer returning home to a picturesquely furnished house and glowing log fire was false.

Sime idea of the wages paid by a farmer is shown by the diary of John Stephens who kept a pocket book covering 1895 -1905. No record of wages for his housekeeper Evangeline Jones. John Williams was recorded as receiving £41 per year; but other Agricultural workers got just £14 and Lizzie only got £6.

Food was basic – potatoes, bread and flummery were staples. Beef and mutton didn’t appear on the labourer’s table.

Clothes saw smocks disappearing throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Men’s clothes had to be serviceable in all weather. Moleskin, corduroy and Derby tweed were used for trousers and waistcoats with collarless flannel shirts. Waterproof clothing was invented in the 1820’s and wellingtons in the 1850’s, but they didn’t become affordable or generally available until the 1940’s. George Lewis says that the common wet weather coat was a Gopsil Brown sacking slung around the neck and fastened with a piece of wire called a ‘bad uck’. Rubber wellies were preceded by hob-nailed boots and gaiters or trousers simply tied with a bit of string. Boots would have to be checked regularly and repaired at home.

Jobs were many and varied. A general farm workers life would be characterised by  hardship and lack of opportunity. Young boys  known as ‘lumpers’  were expected to assist  in  the whole range of tasks, lifting and carrying, and all the time learning until they were able to do all the labours of a man. The trademark of a good labourer was versatility, he would sow seeds, hoe, weed, mow, make hurdles, cut chaff spread dung, thresh, hedge, ditch, and mend roads.

Horsemen (waggoners) were expected to take a pride in their animals. Their day would begin at 5 a.m. when they had to feed and harness the horses  for work by 7.00 a.m. Work would vary with the seasons – ploughing, harrowing, muck spreading, general carting, and harvesting.  They would be expected to feed and bed down the horses after the long day’s work. Chaff had to be cut the night before and soaked to make it more digestible. The coming of mechanisation meant that this lovely partnership of horses and men rapidly became a thing of the past. Scenes remain poignant.

Cowmen had an early start. Milking was dine inside and outside. Calving had to be supervised  so this meant long unsociable hours were worked. Foddering, watering, and mexing had to be done whatever the day.

The Shepherd’s role was often romanticised by artists, but it was a hard one. Lambing was done out of doors and lambs often needed help to survive. Sheep washing, dipping, and shearing were hard work.

Harvest was a hard time for labourers.

The hay harvest moved from being wholly manual to mechanised – one of these could do the work of 4 labourers with scythes. It was turned by hand or horse rake, put into cocks and loaded onto a gambo. The years after the war saw the gradual mechanisation of hay making – balers.

Oats were harvested mostly in the area. Again it was cut by scythe and hand tying of sheaves before the introduction of reaper binders after WW1. The building of ricks for hay or straw was a skilled one which died out with the advent of French barns in the 50’s. Again a precious labourer’s skill was lost.

Local Agricultural Labourers

In the Penybont / Llandegley area the only farms independent from the estate were those owned by the Duggan and Watkins families. These employed several labourers that might include: Waggoner; Agricultural Labourer; Sheppard; Servants – Often about 8 people.

Most of the farms in the area were small and rented from the Penybont Estate and these employed at least one or two  farm servants. But as we have seen  the 1909 Land Valuation Act which heralded the break-up of the Ormathwaite Estate. Tenants were given the opportunity to buy their farms  and so tenants became owners. If there were no family members to work the farm then help was employed.  This was often a young boy – lumper, who lived in and was paid minimal wages with keep provided. The lot of these young people varied greatly depending on the generosity of the farmers and their wives. The social position of these farmers  was no higher than their servants. Lots of evidence to suggest there was a happy, respectful, co-existence between  the boss and the labourer. Refer to George Lewis  being taught to read by the waggoner, Emrys and Emlyn living as part of the family in the Elan Valley. However there are stories of harsh treatment – Nantmel and another labourer now nearly ninety who started work at the age of 15 years in 1943, earned £50 a year and never ate with the family.

We are going to look at the lives of some local labourers, obviously I have not been able to talk to anyone older than ninety. Hopefully this will reflect some of what has gone before.


Norah Morgan

Norah was born in Salford, Manchester in 1926 and cane down to Crossgates with the Women’s Land Army. Based at the hostel she worked on numerous farms around the area. She recalls never having seen a cow or sheep and remembers a farmer putting her on a , and after she had fallen off, he slapped its backside and off she went. As the war progressed she learned to drive a tractor, plough, and do the work that men could do. She even sang with a band in Rock Park. A parade pf the Land Army young ladies caused quite a stir.

Richards Family

Evan, born 1915, went into service around the Clungunford area when he left school, and as you will hear worked with horses. His parents, our grandparents,  bought Baileyshonllwyd just before the war and he spent his working life  there before retiring to Baileymawr in 1986. We listened to a tape of Evan speaking of his life as an Agricultural Worker. Starting in 1936 he worked with sheep, cattle, and poultry. They made milk and butter.

Evan was able to tell us that he worked for a cousin who farmed at Cornhill. The work included sheep, cattle and poultry. They were also involved in milk and butter. Work over the years also included ploughing and growing mangels; cutting turf for the winter. He worked a lot with horses – this involved very long hours from 5.30 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., for pay that was just 10s per week. He did manage to save up the buy a car for £3 which was equivalent to 3 heifers and a calf. The farm was 85 acres. When he moved to Bailey Mawr this was just 14 acres and not enough to provide a loving. One of Evans favourite duties was to break-in horses at about 18 months old. Horses were generally bought at Newbridge or Radnor sales in October and November. Evan lived well, keeping busy and taking his luck until he was 95 years.

Tom born 1928 worked Old Castle, but later worked for the Davies Swydd and he received his long service medal from the Queen. Tom is Carol’s Dad, he lived on the Common, here in Penybont, where he kept sheep dogs. Tom enjoyed telling people that he had a hand that shook hands with the Queen!

Ann and Les Davies

Les started work for Lord Ormathwaite in 1950 and after their marriage in 1950 they moved to the newly built Waindu Cottage. Lord Ormathwaite had just inherited the title of Vl Baron Ormathwaite and what remained of the once large estate. Ann think that he had been involved in the aircraft business in Bristol. In 1973 Les was promoted to Farm Manager when the moved to Waindu. She recalls work as being hard with irregular hours, but fondly remembers Lord Ormathwaite as being a kind and thoughtful employer who treated them as though they were his own family. Lord Ormathwaite was Godfather to their youngest son, Clive on the condition that he didn’t have to make a speech! Les received his long service medal on 1986 from Cledwyn Hughes and retired in 1993. His catch phrase was: “What are we going to do today?” Hours were long but he found the work to be very rewarding.

John Abberley (Unfortuantely John was not with us today to add to his already colourful picture)

Born at the Ffaldau to Bill and Margaret, they rented the farm and they concentrated on milk production. Milking, bottling, and delivery were all done by the family. John did deliveries on his bike. John worked at home but found that neighbouring farms needed help occasionally, so be became an itinerant farm labourer at 10 shillings a day. It became evident that there was no future for him at the Ffaldau as it was rented, so he took employment at Pritchard’s Garage. This was the time when the farm labourer was becoming a thing of the past. John’s working life is a good example of how so many far

John Bufton

One of a rare breed as he spend his whole life on the one farm. He started work in 1957 moving between Dolau Farm, Tyddu Farm, and Tanhouse Farm. He lived in as one of the family even though his home was nearby. Wages were £1 10s a week plus his keep. He worked there for 10 years and wages rose to £9 10s. The day would begin at 7.30 a.m. and would go on as long as was necessary. One perk was that he could sometimes go home on Saturday and they didn’t believe in working on Sundays.

A Year on the Farm with John

Jan             Hedging – he learned to hedge with YFC

Feb            Laying Roads

Mar             Lambing

April            Lambing and sowing oats and mangolds

May            Spreading manure and slag, turn cattle out and washing sheep

June                    Shearing, harvest

July            Dipping

August                 Sheep sales

Sept           Knighton Sheep sales, sheep taken by train

Nov            Cattle in

Dec            Cattle cleaned by hand

1966 married Carol and took a job in a Herefordshire Farm. Life was a bit different here, the farm produced potatoes, milk, beef, corn, sheep, and he drove the trailer with loads of apples into the city for Bulners. Here, Carol and John had a house and 2 weeks holiday. But he cannot h explain why he came back! By the took a job with a house in Llanbadarn Fynydd and there he stayed for 38 years, John received his long service medal in 2007.

Geraint thanked Shirley for her talk and insight into the changing rile of Agriculture and the lives of Farm Labourers.

Gwen was able to give us additional insights as she grew up a farmer’s daughter and was expected, and did, much the same work as her brothers.  She had a hand in milking, making butter, salting bacon, picking fruit, making pickles, cutting corn, making sheaves. Then binders came on and she took a hand in this too.

As a Land Girl and mother she had to make ditches by hand – a dreadful job.

Tom was a waggoner and cowman late into the 50’s.

There was discussion of the practice on Sundays  – Particularly at harvest time. Crops could be ruined if they did not work on a Sunday. Some did and some didn’t. Some, as Jennifer had found out, gave the appearance of not working, but did work where they could not be seen from the road.

In another family ‘Father’ would not work on Sunday until the Vicar came to tea and declared when asked: “Why not!”