Page images

Of green crops (except potatoes can be so called) he has not the slightest idea, and if he takes no more than three grain crops off the land in succession, he thinks he does very well; five being not uncommon. The first and principal crop is wheat, on which he bestows all the manure he can muster, with a good quantity of lime. He thus gets a pretty good crop. The next year he gets a crop of barley without any manure whatever, and after that a crop of oats, unmanured. He then leaves the field fallow till the others have been treated in the same manner, and then returns to serve it thus cruelly again; first, however, getting his potato crop before his wheat. Some, after the third crop (oats), manure the land as well as they can, and sow barley with clover, which they mow and feed off the second year, and then let it remain as pasture for some time ; others, again, have three crops of oats in succession after the wheat and barley, and thus render the land utterly useless for many years.

In this manner the best crops of wheat they can get with abundance of manure, on land above the average quality, is about twenty bushels per acre-ten bushels is, however, more general, and sometimes only seven or eight are obtained.

The rough pastures on which the cattle get their living and waste their manure a great part of the time consist chiefly of various species of rushes and sedges, a few coarse grasses, and gorse and fern on the drier parts. They are frequently, too, covered with brambles, dwarf willows, and alders.

The “short-hay meadows," as they are called, are a class of lands entirely unknown in most parts of England; I shall, therefore, endeavour to describe them.

They consist of large undulating tracts of lands on the lower slopes of the mountains, covered during autumn, winter, and spring with a very short brownish yellow wet turf. In May, June, and July the various plants forming this turf spring up, and at the end of summer are mown, and form "short-hay"; and well it deserves the name, for it is frequently almost impossible to take it up with a hayfork, in which case is raked up and gathered by armfuls into the cars. The produce varies from two to six hundredweight per acre; four may be about the average, or five acres of land to produce a ton of hay. During the rest of the year it is almost good for nothing. It is astonishing how such stuff can be worth the labour of mowing and making into hay. An English farmer would certainly not do it, but the poor Welshman has no choice ; he must either cut his short-hay or have no food for his cattle in the winter ; so he sets to, and sweeps away with his scythe a breadth which would astonish an English mower.

The soil which produces these meadows is a poor yellow clay resting on the rock ; on the surface of the clay is a stratum of peaty vegetable matter, sometimes of considerable thickness though more generally only a few inches, which collects and retains the moisture in a most remarkable manner, so that though the ground should have a very steep slope the water seems to saturate and cling to it like a sponge, so much so that after a considerable period of dry weather, when, from the burnt appearance of the surface, you would imagine it to be perfectly free from moisture, if you venture to kneel or lie down upon it you will almost instantly be wetted to the skin.

The plants which compose these barren slopes are a few grasses, among which are the sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and the crested hair grass (Keleria cristata), several Cyperaceae-species of carex or sedge which form a large proportion, and the feathery cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum). The toad-rush (Juncus bufonius) is frequently very plentiful, and many other plants of the same kind. Several rare or interesting British plants are here found often in great profusion. The Lancashire asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) often covers acres with its delicate yellow and red blossoms. The spotted orchis (O. maculata) is almost universally present. The butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) is also found here, and the beautiful little pimpernel (Anagallis tenella). The louseworts (Pendicularis sylvatica and P. palustris), the melancholy thistle (Cincus heterophyllus), and the beautiful blue milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), and many others, are generally exceedingly plentiful, and afford much gratification to the botanist and lover of nature.

The number of sheep kept on these farms is about one to each acre of mountain, where they live the greater part of the year, being only brought down to the pastures in the winter, and again turned on the mountain with their lambs in the spring. One hundred acres of pasture and "shorthay meadow” will support from thirty to forty cattle, ten or a dozen calves and oxen being sold each year.

The farmers are almost invariably yearly tenants, consequently little improvement is made even in parts which could be much bettered by draining. The landlord likes to buy more land with his spare capital (if he has any) rather than improve these miserable farms, and the tenant is too poor to lay out money, or if he has it will not risk his being obliged to leave the farm or pay higher rent in return for his permanently improving another person's land.

The hedges and gates are seldom in sufficiently good repair to keep out cattle, and can hardly be made to keep out mountain sheep, who set them completely at defiance, nothing less than a six-foot stone wall, and not always that, serving to confine them. The farmer consequently spends a good deal of his time in driving them out of his young clover (when he has any) or his wheat. He is also constantly engaged in disputes, and not unfrequently litigation, with his neighbours, on account of the mutual trespasses of their stock.

The Welshman is by no means sharp-sighted when his cattle are enjoying themselves in a neighbour's field, especially when the master is from home, otherwise the fear of the "pound" will make him withdraw them after a short time.

On almost every farm water is very plentiful, often far too much so, and it is sometimes run over a meadow, but in such a manner as to lose one-half of the advantage which might be derived from it. The VOL. I.


farmer is contented with merely cutting two or three gaps in the watercourse at the top, from which the water flows over the field as it best can, scarcely wetting some parts and making complete pools in others.

Weeding he considers quite an unnecessary refinement, fit only for those who have plenty of money to waste upon their fancies—except now and then, when the weeds have acquired an alarming preponderance over the crop, he perhaps sets feebly to work to extract the more prominent after they have arrived at maturity and the mischief is done. His potatoes are overrun with persicarias, docks, and spurges; his wheat and barley with corn cockle, corn scabious, and knapweed, and his pastures with thistles, elecampine, etc., all in the greatest abundance. If you ask him why he leaves his land in such a disgraceful state, and try to impress upon him how much better crops he would have if he cleared it, he will tell you that he does not think they do much harm, and that if he cleaned them this year, there would be as many as ever next year, and, above all, that he can't afford it, asking you where he is to get money to pay people for doing it.

The poultry, geese, ducks, and fowls are little attended to, being left to pick up their living as well as they can. Geese are fattened by being turned into the corn stubble, the others are generally killed from the yard. The fowls, having no proper places to lay in, are not very profitable with regard to eggs, which have to be hunted for and discovered in all sorts of places. This applies more particularly to Glamorganshire, which is in a great measure supplied with eggs and poultry from Carmarthenshire, or

Sir Gaer" (pronounced there gar), as it is called in Welsh, where they manage them much better.

If there happens to be in the neighbourhood any one who farms on the improved English system, has a proper course of crops, with turnips, etc., folds his sheep, and manages things in a tidy manner, it is impossible to make the Welshman believe that such a way of going on pays ; he will persist that the man is losing money by it all the time, and that he only keeps it on because he is ashamed to confess the failure of his new method. Even should the person go on for many years, to all appearance prosperously and in everybody else's eyes be making money by his farm, still the Welshman will declare that he has some other source from which he draws to purchase his dear-bought farming amusement, and that the time will come when he will be obliged to give it up ; and though you tell him that the greater part of the land in England is farmed in that manner, and ask him whether he thinks they can all be foolish enough to go on losing money year after year, he is still incredulous, says that he knows “ the nature of farming,” and that such work as that can never pay. While the ignorance which causes this incredulity exists, it is evidently a difficult task to improve him.

DOMESTIC LIFE, CUSTOMS, ETC. The house is a tiled, white-washed edifice, in the crevices of which wall rue, common spleenwort, and yarrow manage generally to vegetate, notwithstanding their (at the very least) annual coat of lime. It consists on the ground floor of a rather large and very dark room, which serves as kitchen and dining-room for the family, and a rather better one used as a parlour on high days or when visitors call; this latter frequently serves as the bedroom of the master and mistress. The kitchen, which is the theatre of the Welsh farmer's domestic life, has either a clay floor or one of very uneven stone paving, and the ceiling is in many cases composed of merely the foor boards of the room above, through the chinks of which everything going on aloft can be very conveniently heard and much seen. The single window is a small and low one, and this is rendered almost useless by the dirtiness of the glass, some window drapery, a Bible, hymn book and some old newspapers on the sill, and a sickly-looking geranium or myrtle, which seems a miracle of vital tenacity in that dark and smoky atmosphere. On one side may be discerned an oak sideboard brilliantly polished, on the upper part of which are rows of willow pattern plates and dishes, in one corner an open cupboard filled with common gaudilycoloured china, and in the other a tall clock with a handsome oak case. Suspended from the ceiling is a serious impediment to upright walking in the shape of a bacon rack, on which is, perhaps, a small supply of that article and some dried beef, also some dried herbs in paper, a large collection of walking sticks, and an old gun. In the chimney opening a coal fire in an iron grate takes the place of the open hearth and smoky peat of Radnorshire and other parts. A long substantial oak table, extending along the room under the window, an old armchair or two, a form or bench and two or three stools, complete the furniture of the apartment. From the rack before mentioned is generally suspended a piece of rennet for making cheese, and over the mantelpiece is probably a toasting-fork, one brass and two tin candlesticks, and a milk strainer with a hole in the bottom of it ; on the dresser, too, will be perceived a brush and comb which serve for the use of the whole family, and which you may apply to your own head (if you feel so inclined) without any fear of giving offence.

Upstairs the furniture is simple enough : two or three plain beds in each room with straw mattresses and home-made blankets, sheets being entirely unknown or despised ; a huge oak chest full of oatmeal, dried beef, etc., with perhaps a chest of drawers to contain the wardrobe ; a small looking-glass which distorts the gazer's face into a mockery of humanity; and a plentiful supply of fleas, are all worth noticing. Though the pigs are not introduced into the family quite so familiarly as in Ireland, the fowls seem to take their place. It is nothing uncommon for them to penetrate even upstairs; for we were once ourselves much puzzled to account for the singular phenomenon of finding an egg upon

the bed, which happened twice or we might have thought it put there by accident. It was subsequently explained to us that some persons thought it lucky for the fowls to lay there: the abundance of fileas was no longer a mystery. The bed in the parlour before mentioned serves, besides its ostensible use, as a secret cupboard, where delicacies may be secured from the junior members of the family. I have been informed by an acquaintance whose veracity I can rely on (and indeed I should otherwise find no difficulty in believing it) that one day, being asked to take some bread and cheese in a respectable farmhouse, the wheat bread (a luxury) was procured from some mysterious part of the bed, either between the blankets or under the mattress, which my informant could not exactly ascertain. The only assistants in the labours of the farm, besides the sons and daughters, is generally a female servant, whose duties are multifarious and laborious, including driving the horses while ploughing and in haytime, and much other out-of-door work. If you enter the house in the morning, you will probably see a huge brass pan on the fire filled with curdled milk for making cheese. Into this the mistress dips her red and not particularly clean arm up to the elbow, stirring it round most vigorously. Meals seem to be prepared solely for the men, as you seldom see the women sit down to table with them. They will either wait till the others have done or take their dinner on their laps by the fire. The breakfast consists of hasty-pudding or oatmeal porridge, or cheese with thin oatmeal cakes or barley bread, which are plentifully supplied at all meals, and a basin of milk for each person ; for dinner there is perhaps the same, with the addition of a huge dish of potatoes, which they frequently break into their basin of milk or eat with their cheese ; and for supper, often milk with flummery or “siccan” (pronounced shiccan). As this is a peculiar and favourite Welsh dish, I will describe its composition. The oat bran with some of the meal left in it is soaked for several days in water till the acetous fermentation commences; it is then strained off, producing a thin, starchy liquid. When wanted for use this is boiled, and soon becomes nearly of the consistence and texture of blancmange, of a fine light brown colour and a peculiar acid taste which, though at first disagreeable to most persons, becomes quite pleasant with use. This is a dish in high repute with all real Welshman. Each person is provided with a basin of new milk, cold, and a spoon, and a large dish of hot fummery is set on the table, each person helping himself to as much as he likes (and that is often a great deal), putting it in his basin of milk; and it is, I have no doubt, very wholesome and nourishing food. I must mention that the women, both in the morning and evening (and frequently at dinner too), treat themselves to a cup of tea, which is as universal a necessary among the fair sex here as in other parts of the kingdom. They prefer it, too, without milk, which they say takes away the taste, and as it is generally made very weak, that may be the case. Once or twice a week a piece of bacon or dry beef is added at dinner or supper, more as a relish to get down the potatoes than as being any food in itself. The beef in

« EelmineJätka »