Next time you are walking along a wide, grassy, hedge-lined track or driving down a country lane with broad verges, consider the life of the drover, now a largely-forgotten rural occupation. These were the men who drove livestock to market: from farm to towns and cities, sometimes covering hundreds of miles, responsible for getting their animals to their destination in good health in order to secure the highest price. It was a tall order.
Leaving aside the vagaries of the British weather, the drover had to feed and care for his animals, keep them together and on the right road, protect them from theft and danger, look after their welfare – particularly their feet on long journeys – while finding food and drink, shelter and sleep for himself. There are many Drovers Inns across the country that provided a warm hearth and a welcome glass along these routes. On his return from selling the animals at market, the drover had to be vigilant against robbers keen to relieve him of his money.
Before the railways, driving live animals to market was the easiest way of transporting meat and by-products such as hides and wool to growing urban populations. Cattle and sheep were the most common animals taken to market in this way, but so were pigs, geese, and turkeys. Drovers were licensed and the Shrewsbury Chronicle reported in 1774 that:
‘In the act for regulating drovers in the streets of London, provision is to be made that all drovers shall have badges to be worn on some conspicuous part; that they shall not be allowed to have dogs, or flicks with goads in them, and are only to carry whips or switches.’
In what must have seemed a great irony, the Shrewsbury and Hereford railway offered free transport to stock intended for exhibition at the Ludlow Agricultural Show in September 1861, but the drovers responsible for them had to pay a third-class fare.Posted in Blog, Historical records Tagged archives, documentary records, drovers, house detective, house history, old documents, research, shows, shropshire