Cardiganshire History (page 4)

Cardiganshire Arable Land

The quantity of ARABLE land is of difficult estimation: every farm has a certain proportion, varying according to its soil and aspect. The courses of crops are various; but grain is frequently taken in succession until the land is totally exhausted, and the last crop is scarcely equal to the seed which was sown to produce it: the most common crops are wheat, barley, and black oats. On the best soils the produce of wheat averages about twenty-five bushels; that grown in the Vale of Ystwith is remarkably heavy, seldom weighing less than sixty-four lb. per Winchester bushel, and sometimes as much as sixtyseven. The produce of barley, owing to its being sown repeatedly without the intervention of any other crop, is not generally large. Oats are cultivated very extensively. One kind, which greatly resembles the avena fatua (bearded oat-grass, or haver), is cultivated on the uplands, to which it is peculiar; it is called blewgeirch, or “hairy oats,” and its only excellence consists in its producing a moderate crop in elevated situations, where no other grain can be expected to flourish. The black oat, however, is the most common of all crops on the uplands; its produce is usually small. Wheat is cut with the reaping-hook, and oats and barley with cradled scythes. In the more northern parts of the county a considerable quantity of rye is grown, in the uplands by itself, but in the neighbourhood of Aberystwith frequently with a mixture of wheat: this mixture makes good bread, sweeter and moister than that of wheat alone, and preferred to any other by those accustomed to eat it. The green crops commonly cultivated are peas, beans, and turnips. The kind of pea usually grown is a small, inferior, claycoloured pea, called pŷs llwydion bâch, not at all remarkable for productiveness, and which, though sown early in February, seldom ripens until late in September. On a poor soil, however, the success of its cultivation is more certain than that of the large grey peas, which are sometimes grown in the vales, as are also white boiling peas in a few of the most favourable situations. The clay-coloured peas are used by the peasantry for soup, and are sometimes threshed for hogs; but their general use is, to be given unthreshed to horses: they are occasionally sown with the hairy oat, and both cut in July for dry fodder. Beans and potatoes are not unfrequently grown together; and buck-wheat is sometimes cultivated. Turnips are not generally grown by the ordinary class of farmers. Hemp is occasionally cultivated in small patches: a singular method is sometimes practised of fermenting the heads, to facilitate the separation of the seed, by burying the tops in the ground, in circular holes several feet in diameter, the stems being inverted and bound together by straw bands, &c.: straw is also laid about the heads of the bundles, to keep them free from the mould. A few small hop-yards were planted in the valley of the Aëron about forty years ago.

The artificial grasses are of the ordinary kinds. Although the arable lands of Cardiganshire are subject, like all others in South Wales, to be overrun with natural grasses, yet they are much more easily kept clean than those of the adjoining counties of Carmarthen and Pembroke. The meadows of the vales naturally abound with the sweeter species of grasses; and even those of an inferior quality, when manured with the shelly sea-sand found upon the coast, produce the most nutritious herbage that grows in the county. In some parts the meadows are occasionally fogged, that is, the aftermath is left unconsumed on the ground from the Midsummer of one year to the early spring of the next, which the mildness of the winter admits of being done, without detriment to the grass, which in the spring is of great value: this practice also increases the fertility of the land.

Irrigation is practised along the course of most streams, except those which, descending from among the lead-mines, bring with them mineral particles detrimental to vegetation of every kind. Besides the manures from the farm-yard, lime is the principal used in the county, to the shores of which it is brought by sea from Pembrokeshire: at different places along the coast the farmers buy the stone in its natural state, together with culm from Milford, and burn it themselves. The distance, however, from which these materials are brought renders lime a dear article of manure to the farmers of Cardiganshire, so that they use it very sparingly. It is usual to leave it scattered in small heaps on the land during the whole summer, after which it is spread and ploughed in. A few farmers in the south-western parts of the county apply the marl found there to their lands. Sea-weed, or wrack, in Welsh called gwymmon, is found in great quantities on the coast after gales: as many as 2000 cart-loads have been in one night deposited near New-Quay, all of which was carried away by the farmers of the neighbourhood in the course of a fortnight. It is applied in different states, sometimes intermixed with other manures, to both arable and grass lands. Sea-sand, deposited by the tide in the creeks and at the mouths of the rivers, and which utterly destroys all weeds, is also abundantly used: on the barley tract it forms the chief manure, in perpetual alternation with the sea-weed. Peat-ashes are sometimes employed.

The plough in common use is of the most awkward and clumsy construction, being of the oldest kind known in Wales. The cradle, with the share, the latter of which is ill-made and blunt, is at least five feet long, while the mould-board is only a round stake, about seven inches in circumference, fastened from the right heel of the share to the hind part of the plough. In working, not half the cradle rests upon the ground, the hinder parts of it being constantly held up by short awkward handles. The fields ploughed with this implement have generally a very rough appearance. The harrows are also for the most part very ill-constructed; but both ploughs and harrows of improved kinds have been introduced by some of the more opulent farmers. The carts, which are the most common agricultural vehicles, are in general very small, and are drawn either by two oxen yoked to a pole or beam, led by two horses abreast; or by three horses.

The cattle of the county are black, and for the most part small, but hardy and well made: those of Cardigan Lower, that is, of such parts of the county as lie southward of the Vale of Aëron, are of the black Pembrokeshire breed, which are hardy, work well, and fatten readily. All the farmers keep cows for the purposes of breeding, and making butter and skimmed-milk cheese: the butter is salted, packed in casks containing each about eighty lb., and exported to Bristol, or taken by higglers to the ironworks of Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. Cardiganshire, more particularly the northern and eastern parts of it, has long been noted for its profitable stock of small mountain sheep, numbers of which are purchased to be fed in other counties of the principality. They are very small, the hind-quarters seldom weighing more than seven or eight lb., and their wool is coarse and short: the average weight of each fleece is two lb. These sheep are so wild that it is impossible to confine them by any ordinary fences, on which account the rearing of them is discouraged by many landlords. The South Down, Leicester, and Dorset breeds have been introduced, and in some instances intermingled with the native sheep. In the higher districts the sheep are shorn once, generally towards the end of June. In the vales, and southward of the Aëron, they undergo two shearings, the first about the end of May, the second about the 10th of October; but at neither of these periods is the body completely stripped of wool, a circumstance which gives the animal an unsightly appearance: the fleece of the first shearing weighs from half a pound to two pounds, and that of the second from three-fourths of a pound to a pound. The horses are small, but strong and hardy, and much attention has of late years been paid to their improvement, both for draught and for the saddle. The rearing of hogs is an important part of the business of the farmer: they are, for the most part, fed on the refuse of the great quantities of potatoes that are grown on the fallows; their weight is various, and vast numbers are sold to be exported, chiefly to Bristol.

The gardens produce an abundance of the ordinary kitchen vegetables, but are not distinguished, like those of the eastern parts of South Wales, for their pleasing neatness. Although orchards are not numerous in Western Wales, the richer valleys of this county, being well sheltered, are highly favourable to the production of fruit; and orchards are more particularly flourishing in the valley of the Teivy, from Lampeter down to the sea. The woods are of comparatively very small extent. The common trees of native growth are oak, ash, and alder; but various others are frequently seen. The most extensive plantations in South Wales were made on the estate of Havod, by the late Thomas Johnes, Esq., to whom the county is much indebted for improvements, dictated by a refined taste, both in its arboriculture and agriculture: they are of various kinds of trees, but chiefly of larch and oak. There are several nurseries, which afford a supply of almost all kinds of young forest-trees. The districts at present most distinguished for the luxuriant appearance of their woods are, the Vale of Teivy, from Llangoedmore upwards, by Llêchrhŷd, NewcastleEmlyn, Dôl Haidd, Llŷs Newydd, and Llandyssil; the Vale of Aëron, which has its slopes finely decorated with groves, chiefly of oak; the banks of the Ystwith, in the vicinity of Havod, the plantations around which seat occupy no less than fourteen hundred acres, and adjoin the extensive coppices of Crosswood; and, in the northern part of the county, the estate of Gogerddan. Almost every rivulet is, besides, engulphed in a deep ravine, whose sides are clothed with oak, either protected and thriving, or neglected and consisting only of brushwood.

The waste lands are of vast extent, and, including the tracts only partially cultivated or inclosed, have been computed to occupy nearly half the surface of the county: the greater part of them are, however, claimed as private property. In the lower parts of the county most of the commons, and the lands which were formerly cultivated in their open state, are now inclosed; but in the more elevated regions are extensive tracts, which will probably be left for ever in their native wildness, to be depastured by the small hardy mountain sheep and cattle. All the wastes are included in Cardigan Upper, north of the river Aëron, except an elevated range of table land, extending from that river southward to within five miles of Newcastle-Emlyn, on the river Teivy. The fen of Cors Vochno, at the northern extremity of the county, before its inclosure under an act obtained in 1813, contained 3000 acres of sound salt marshes, bordering on the Dovey, 3000 acres of peat or moss, and 3500 acres of sands. The fuel in most extensive use is peat, of which the best in the principality is said to be obtained from the great bog of Cors Gôch, where it is in many places of unknown depth, and has been dug as deep as twenty feet. The peat in Cors Vochno is also of excellent quality and great depth: when well got in, it kindles readily, and gives a greater external heat than most kinds of coal; and its ashes, like those of all the best kinds of peat, are small in quantity and very light. Some coal is obtained by sea from the mines in other parts of Wales. The “Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Industry in the County of Cardigan” was established in the year 1784: in its transactions the county is regarded to be under the two distinct divisions of Upper and Lower, the boundary between which is formed by the river Aëron.