oxen

This page includes:

  • Introduction
  • General references to oxen
  • References to oxen used as draught animals

Agriculture

INTRODUCTION
Several tourists and those who wrote about the state of agriculture in Wales around 1800 mentioned the use of oxen. None of them explicitly stated that oxen were no longer used in England at this time but the fact that they noted them suggests that they were not used to seeing them elsewhere.

There are a few references to oxen being roasted for special events such as celebrating the coming of age of the eldest son of a large estate, or occasionally to mark a Royal event. Few tourists would have witnessed these, but newspapers would have reported such events in detail.

Ox (and cattle) horns were used for different purposes and some old examples of these became quite well known.

It seems that oxen were bred in at least parts of Wales and were sent in droves to England. For the journey they were fitted with iron shoes in two parts (for their cloven hooves), known as cues, (cws in Welsh) very few of which survive. Edward Pugh observed the process of hoeing them shortly before 1816 (below).

GENERAL REFERENCES

10.8.1748, Caernarfon
I left Caernarvon at five. I found the boat just going off [to Anglesey], full of unruly oxen. I waited an hour for its return
Wesley, Charles, (1707-1788), The Journal of the Rev. Charles Wesley, vol. 2, (1849), p. 17

1752 Radnor
[I] Could not get men to drive the oxen and sheep.
Millward, John, Letters from John Millward [Verney’s agent?] to Lord Verney 
Verney, M.M., Verney Letters of the Eighteenth Century from MSS at Claydon House, [Buckinghamshire] (1930), p. 250

1799, Pen-y-bont, Radnorshire
Here I saw, for the first time, a herd of Welch oxen feeding.
Lipscomb, George, Journey into South Wales…in the year 1799, (London, 1802), p. 110

1803 north Pembrokeshire
The manner in which they drive their oxen, or sometimes two horses and two oxen, four in hand, sitting in their empty carts, is singular, and at times rather alarming. They go at the rate of six or seven miles an hour; and the oxen consider themselves as at liberty to change their side of the road as often as they please. When there are four oxen they consider a rein as either superfluous or unavailing.
Malkin, B.H., Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of South Wales, from materials collected during two excursions in the year 1803. (London 1804), p. 456

1805
Monmouthshire
Oxen are much used in agriculture. … In employing Oxen, however, the Monmouthshire farmers deserve more than common praise; but they yoke them in a manner that must not only be painful to the animal, but render half it strength useless.
Breconshire
Mr Ewer’s farm at Hardwicke. This gentleman had gained much distinction for his oxen.
Breconshire
Here we noticed three yoke of oxen, and a horse for their leader, drawing a sing plough over light wheat fallows
Mavor, William Fordyce, (1758-1837), A tour in Wales, and through several counties of England: including both the universities; performed in the summer of 1805, (London, 1806), pp. 33, 35, 41
Also in Collection of Modern and Contemporary Voyages and Travels, vol. 1, ([London], 1810) with same pagination.

1809-1811 Lwynon, near Llandegai
Linseed mill – oil cake serves to feed the oxen
Hall, Edmund Hyde, A Description of Caernarvonshire (1809-1811)
University College of North Wales, Bangor, Penrhyn add. ms. 2942
Jones, E Gwynne, (ed.), ‘A Description of Caernarvonshire’, Transaction of the Caernarfonshire Historical Society, (1952) (UCNW 1952) p. 23

1811 Margam
oxen
Oxen formerly shod, now never.
Davies, Walter, Notes on South Wales, NLW ms 1659B, p. 79
The shoes were known as cues

1813 Hafod, Cardiganshire
Oxen of the Dutch breed, very ugly – as hunch backed as camels – and lean withal, they appeared frightful – They are however docile and strong. Rearing these breeds at Hafod cannot be profitable [,] they require better keep than this County can produce.
Davies, Walter, NLW MS 1755Bii, notebook 7, Diary 1813 continued from dated Nov 22 1812 including a journal to S Wales 24th May1813, p. 25

1816, Maentrog
Autumn being the time of the year for transporting horned cattle from the principality to England, it is customary at a convenient place to shoe the animals, to enable them the better to perform so long a journey: here I had the pleasure of ascertaining with greater precision the mode of performing this annual task. A man takes hold of the animal’s nostrils with his left hand, and with his other grasps the right horn; at the same time placing his right heel tight round the animal’s right fore-leg; thus, being ready for the throw, he summons up all his strength, and while he presses the horn downwards, forces the muzzle upwards ; and, keeping his heel close, with one great and sudden effort, brings down the animal on his right side; in the fall, the horn generally enters the ground, in which situation the beast is kept, by the man lying upon his neck. The blacksmith is now engaged in tying all his legs together; after this, a pole six or seven feet long is placed between his feet and belly; one end fixed in the ground, the other resting on the animal’s side, and held tight by a third person; the operation of shoeing is then began, which is done by affixing two small plates of iron to each hoof. Throwing an ox is reckoned among the rustics of Wales, as a feat that requires courage, strength, and activity; those who are expert at this business are not a little proud of their abilities; and the man who can best, or, as they term it, cleanest throw his beast, assumes no little consequence on the occasion. Those men who undertake to overturn oxen, are mostly low in stature, stout, well made, and active.
Pugh, Edward, (1761-1813), Cambria Depicta: A Tour Through North Wales illustrated with Picturesque Views, By a Native Artist, (London: 1816), p. 405

1827 Caerphilly
June 14th, fair with horses and oxen
Judith Beecroft, Excursion to North Wales, Cardiff Central Library, MS2.325     

1836 Machynlleth
A great cattle fair held in the town on the following morning … large droves of oxen, … they were very small and black with long horns,
Anon (A Pedestrian) Hints to Pedestrians, or How to Enjoy a Three-Weeks Ramble through North and South Wales [1836], (Joseph Onwhyn, 1837), p. 37

OXEN USED AS DRAUGHT ANIMALS

1772-1773 Milford Haven
The roads very narrow so much so that the husbandmen are obliged to blow horns before them ???? the ??? ?????? ?????? which are generally drawn by a pair of oxen and horses.
Anon, tour, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire Record Office, HDX/81/4, p. 6

1772 Denbigh
They have two teams of eight oxen which fetch stones from their quarry
Jinny Jenks, [Tour of Wales], National Library of Wales, NLW 22753B, p. 25

1775 Abergavenny
In ploughing with oxen … a boy drives them with a remarkably long stick singing all the while a dismal tune.
Grose, Francis, [Journey to South Wales, 1775], British Library, Add. MS. 17398, p. 83

16.9.1779 Pembrokeshire
The carts used here are all drawn by 2 oxen with a yoke and a pole and 2 horses abreast, carry about a ton or less.
Beaufort, Daniel Augustus, Rev (1739-1821), Journals, Trinity College, Dublin, MS4026 McGarvie, M., ‘An Irishman in Wales: Daniel Beaufort’s Journals for 1766 and 1779’, [Transcription with commentary] Transactions of the Ancient Monument Society 29 (1985)

1785, Newton, Glamorganshire
Oxen are very large and being used in teams, their beef is remarkably tender …
Anon, [Williams, Edward, Iolo Morganwg)] ‘Particulars relative to the Natural History of the Village of Newton in Glamorgan’, Gentleman’s Magazine, vol 55, (1785), p. 603 (4.8.1785)

1791 south Pembrokeshire
The women join more in the labours of the field than in England, a man holds the plough drawn by four horses, but oftener by six oxen, and a girl drives them, sometimes riding upon one of them
Lady Sykes, Diary of a tour of Wales, University of Hull, DDSY(3)/10/11, typescript, p. 151

1791 Pembrokeshire
Saw several carts drawn by two oxen yoked and two horses before.
Coals a cart-load drawn by oxen and horses four shillings & eight pence.
Sophia Ward (1766 – 1861), Tour from London to South Wales and S. W. England, National Library of Wales, ms 19758A, 30 August, 1791; 3 September 1791

1791 Cardigan
the Farmers draw more oxen than horses.Anon [Wilson family?], Journal of a tour through Wales, 1791, NLW MS 23976B, f. 24 1793 PembrokeshireThe carts in Pembrokeshire have a pole to which two small oxen are yoked abreast and two small horses abreast before them. The driver generally stands up upon the pole and drives with a cord fastened to the leading horses.
Cooke, Bryan, Tour into South Wales, NLW MS 24143, f. 14r

1794 Carmarthenshire
Since the introduction of turnpike roads, the husbandmen of this county prefer using horses instead of oxen in their carts for going long distances, which they think answers better, and seems to be an improvement in the rural occonomy of this district; the old method of working two oxen and two horses in a team, still prevails in most parts of the district, more or less; and in all strong work upon a farm, or near home, the ox seems to be an useful draught beast.
The oxen work in a yoke in pairs, and the horses abreast before them. Some gentlemen work their oxen lengthways in harness, which is said to answer very well; but the expence of equiping an ox team in this manner, seem to bar its being brought soon into general practice.
Hassell, Charles, A General view of the Agriculture of the County of Carmarthen …  (1794), p. 18

1794
South Cardiganshire
The carts have long and narrow bodies on low wheels, with a beam to which two oxen are yoked, preceded by two horses abreast.
North Cardiganshire
A ley [cart] is a full draught for four of our beasts, a yoke of oxen, and a pair of horses, each abreast. … The buck [cart] … is drawn by two oxen and two horses abreast. … Oxen are less used than formerly. In the neighbourhood of Aberystwyth horse-carts are very common.
A General view of the Agriculture of the County of Cardigan drawn up from the Communications of Thomas Lloyd Esq and of Rev Mr Turnor for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture and General Improvement, (London, 1794), p. 12, 28

1796 Glamorganshire
Oxen used in Ploughs and carts
Anon, A Tour from York into Wales in the year 1796, NLW MS 4489, p. 15

1796 Bangor Ferry
Near the ferry we met a team of twelve or fourteen fine oxen dragging a large mast from the water’s edge. Their broad thick shoulders and neck, and strong short legs, adapt them admirably ably for beasts of burden, but their slowness and awkwardness entirely unfit them for any work where the least skill in driving is required; we saw these attempting to turn out of the high road through a gate, and when, after being ten times longer in turning than horses would have been, they attempted to draw the loaded wain through the gate, some stood still others pulled in different directions, so as to drive the mast against a stone buttress on which the gate was hung, with such force as to matter and almost overthrow it.
The town of Abergele is a place of considerable resort on account of its large cattle fairs, where the Anglesey oxen are for the most part disposed of to the English graziers:
Aikin, Arthur, (1773-1854), Journal of a Tour through North Wales and a part of Shropshire with observations of Mineralogy and other branches of natural History, (London, 1797), pp. 152-153, 160 following

1801, south Pembrokeshire
a great number of coal carts, drawn by two horses abreast in front and 2 Oxen behind
Martyn, Thomas, A Tour of South Wales, [1801], NLW MS 1340C, p. 96

1802 Cardigan
Carts have long narrow bodies on low wheels, with a beam to which two oxen are yoked before these two horses abreast. Miscellaneous enquiries, 1802 from WD [Walter Davies],
Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) Miscellaneous material on agricultural matters plus notes on three journeys Journey 1, Cardiganshire/Pembrokeshire border then along the Pembroke/Cardigan border towards Carmarthen. NLW MS 13156A, p. 284

1804, south Ceredigion
The Farmer generally ploughs with two oxen and two small horses, and that Small carts, with a central pole, are used here for all the purposes of a carriage: they are drawn by two oxen, yoked, and one small horse as a leader:
Evans, John, Letters written during a tour through South Wales, in the year 1803, and at other times, (1804), pp. 325-326

1811 Pembroke
The usual carriage of the county is a two wheeled cart, drawn by two small oxen, and two middle sized horses, the wheels seemed to be so placed as to run perpendicular, without being dished out as it is called.
Cullum, Rev. Sir Thomas Gery (1777 – 1855), [Visit to Tenby] NLW 5446B, Transcript, p. 77

1811
Montgomeryshire
Oxen are also used; but, from the long carriage, they do not answer so well as horses, and, therefore, are more seldom used.
Merionethshire
THE ploughs, carts, harrows, &c. are the same in Merionethshire as those generally used in North Wales, and both horses and oxen are employed, and very badly managed.
Lester, William, A History of British Implements and Machinery Applicable to Agriculture with Observations on their Improvement, (London, 1811), pp. 86, 88, 91
[Much of this was derived from earlier published reports on the state of Agriculture in Britain. It outlines some of the advantages of using oxen as draught animals, partly because, when no longer fit to pull carts and ploughs, they can be fattened for meat, unlike horses.] see https://books.google.co.uk/books?pg=PA18&dq=The+carts+have+long+and+narrow+bodies+on+low+wheels&id=bKwQAAAAIAAJ#v=onepage&q=oxen&f=false

1817-1821 south Wales
The Welsh cart, Mr Hassall says, is a bad one; but owing to the general narrowness of the bye roads, they are confined in the length of the axle tree. This cart carries about 16 bushels, and is drawn by two oxen, and two horses a-breast.
Evans, Thomas, Walks through Wales: containing a topographical and statistical description of the Principality: to which is prefixed, a copious travelling guide, exhibiting the direct and principal cross roads, inns, distances of stages, and noblemen and Gentlemen’s seats. South Wales. (London, between 1817 and 1821), p. 55

1819-1823
The number of draught oxen on the Gogerddan demesne farm [near Aberystwyth] declined from 12 in 1819 to none in 1823
Colyer, R.J., The Gogerddan Demesne Farm, 1818-1922, Ceredigion, vol. 7, (1973), p. 175

1837 Tavernspite Pembrokshire
we saw oxen yoked together drawing carts with horses before them.
Kenyon, Louise Charlotte, Journal of a tour in South Wales
Shropshire Records and Archive Centre, 549/285, Monday 14th.  

1862 Wales
In some parts of Wales where the land admits of arable cultivation, it is not uncommon to see oxen yoked to the plough, and one of the rural sounds in that country which mingles at noon with the hum of insects and the song of birds, is the voice of the plough-boy chanting a rude carol to the slow motion of his horned team. Whether the ear of the ox is musical or not I am unable to say, but his Welsh driver thinks it as necessary a part of his duty to sing as to wield the long goad which he plies at intervals to quicken the time. The yoke used is probably the same in construction as that of the most ancient times. It consists of a rather heavy transverse beam resting on the neck of the oxen, from which are dependent the semi-circular wooden collars that pass under the throat and press against the shoulders of the beast; the chain of draught being attached to the middle of the beam and running between the pair, or more technically, the ” yoke of oxen.”
Bigg, William, The ten day tourist, or Sniffs of the mountain breeze: comprising, Ten days in North Wales, (1862), pp. 13-14

1889
The last ox team in Wales was thought to be working in Glamorgan in 1889.
Moore-Colyer, R.J., ‘Crop husbandry in Wales before the onset of mechanisation’, Folk Life, vol. 21, (1983), p. 60