Southam and the Welsh Drovers

Droving in Southam, 1935. Cattle being herded down the middle of the road.
Photo courtesy of the photographic archive held in the Southam Heritage Collection.

Welsh Road East and Welsh Road West are so called because they are the route of the old drovers’ road through Southam that dates from way back before the Elizabethan era. There was a time when men spent all summer on the roads driving cattle from Wales to the Midlands and to the cities of Southern England for fattening and for butchering.

As more people left the countryside to work in towns, the demand for fresh meat increased and drovers from Wales brought herds as large as 300 to fulfil these demands. With six to twelve men per herd, and only the foreman on horseback, they herded animals with the help of corgi dogs. They covered about ten miles a day, taking up to three weeks to reach London. Then there was the long walk back home.

Wider than usual

Drover’s roads were wider than usual with broad verges to accommodate the large number of animals. In later years the routes wound across the countryside to avoid toll gates which would reduce the dealer’s profits. The men drove their cattle from Wales via Shrewsbury or Hereford and on to Southam and Daventry, before going south to London and Smithfield.

Drovers were paid a couple of shillings a day. In October 1836, David Johnathon’s drovers spent 18 shillings in the Southam taverns, Southam being one of nineteen overnight stops on their way. Some drovers never made it home again. In Southam churchyard there are the graves of several Welsh drovers, including Robert Lloyd of Dduallt in the county of Merionith (Snowdonia) who was buried here on August 31st 1773. He is recorded as having died through ‘drinking small beer when hot’ at the King’s Head (Craven Arms) when on his way to London.

The article is one of the Cardall’s Corner articles written by the Southam Heritage Collection and was originally published in the Southam Advertiser in November 2014.

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