Before the onset of motorised transport, livestock had no option but to walk from their farm to their destination – be it a market in a nearby town or long distance to London to help feed the ever growing population.
It was the job of the Drover to ensure that his charges not only survived the journey, but also arrived in good condition. On top of this responsibility was the safekeeping of large amounts of money – cash collected on the sale of the animals – and it was by no means unheard of for a returning Drover to be attacked and robbed. (In fact this happened so regularly that eventually droving banks were set up along the routes – one of which was called The Black Ox after the Welsh cattle, and which later was taken over by Lloyds) No wonder then that one required a licence to become a Drover, with qualifications including being over 30 and “settled” in marriage.
Twice a year, in Autumn and Spring, the Drovers gathered herds of cattle together from various farms, often consisting of several hundred animals, and those that were being taken on the long journey to the South East would be shod to prevent them becoming footsore. A farrier would sometimes accompany the herd on horseback to supply, fit and replace the strange shoes (cues) which were basically two half moons shaped to fit the curved cloven hooves. There were also special shoeing stations, at Kington and Hay on Wye for those animals crossing the border from Wales into Herefordshire. The animals were not driven hard and were allowed to graze along the way to minimise loss of condition, and overnight stops were carefully chosen, – for example at Bromyard there were large ponds for watering the animals and a rather nice hostelry! Mind you, only the head Drover slept in comparative luxury and his men with their attendant cattle dogs slept in the open with their charges. Drovers would pick out tall landmarks, such as distinctive trees in a cluster, near to good overnight stopping places so that on future drives they could make a bee line for them, and very often there would be secure fields in which to park the cattle for the night, at a charge of one ha’penny per head.