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David Jonathan

This extraordinary "drover and cattle dealer", as he describes himself in the 1851 Census, deserves a chapter to himself.  He kept account books showing his travels around the country on foot, on horseback and by train from 1839 to 1882: a long time to remain commercially active, but in such a punishing and uncertain trade it is astonishing. I have not calculated how many miles he must have travelled with pigs, sheep or cattle, but if he made the return journey to London (over 500 miles) four times a year at least - the small profit of 10-15 shillings on each animal made that the minimum for a decent living - most modern cars would be hard pushed to clock up the same mileage in their lifetime1

From 1852 until his death he lived in the far west of Wales at Ffwrn-eithin, farm outside Mydroilin in the parish of Dihewyd2 near Aberaeron, yet was trusted as a fair man of business throughout Wales & England. He received letters from all over the country asking for advice - one from Leatherhead is shown in #1 asking him to buy beasts on commission - and he used drovers like William Abel  and David Jones to sell his beasts for him and report their success, or lack of it. by post. He kept their, often amusing, letters. 

Many of Jonathan's journeys were almost due east across the country from the Aberystwyth area via Leominster to Worcester, Stratford and Northampton.  Leicester & Hinckley, further north, also feature in the account books, but Northampton, Market Harborough & Rugby together account for 70% of his sales.

(See #2 for a typical drove from October 1845.  Some of the place-names are hard to decipher, like Pembridge, Leominster & Bromyard.  Yardley [Hastings] and Kempston appear at the end, so the destination was presumably Bedford.)

He appears at fairs as far east as Wellingborough, Stevenage & Royston; as far south as Chelmsford; also in villages around Bicester, like Launton and Ham Green.  

According to Richard Moore-Colyer, any beasts unsold in the Midlands would be taken to Harlow, Ongar, Romford or Chelmsford.  (The markets of last resort seem to have been in the London area.)   Alternatively, Jonathan could move them to the 149 acres of accommodation land he rented permanently in Spratton, north-east of Northampton, and await an improvement in the market. #3 shows the rent receipts for 1875 & 18803 and #4 the Spratton land ownership map of 18734.  

He favoured buying and selling on commission, which meant he could use the turnpikes and charge the costs of those to whoever ordered the beasts,  This made the journeys rapid, efficient and safe, and ensured that the animals would be in good condition. 

When the railway opened at Blisworth in 1864 beasts bought in Northampton could be taken there on foot to the huge stockyard outside the station.  From there the journey would be by rail to Brentwood & Watford.  Droving south of Northampton became a thing of the past.  The last surviving member of the Jonathan family, Ann5, says that he put any sheep he wanted to sell on a train with a dog.  After market, the dog would find its way home.  (We assume a drover was put on the train as well!)

By the 1860's Jonathan was spending £10K on cattle every year.  

One entry describes a drove of 103 pigs from Merioneth to Merthyr.  It's hard to drive three pigs three miles to market, let alone 103 for 73.

This remarkable man is described for us in the Cambrian News in 1880, when he was in his mid-seventies as "very much of a John Bull as represented in the comic papers".  Somehow, that description is unsurprising.

His family continued the business after he retired.

1 In fact the Jonathans did much of theirjourneying up to 1850 by coach, leaving drovers to walk the beasts from fair to fair.  After 1850 they used rail transport for themselves & the beasts.

 More about his farm and its importance will be on a side tab shortly.

3The rent for the land was paid to a Mr Lantsbery up to 1875; after that the bill seems to come from Charles Markham, Lantsbery's solicitor.  It is possible that Markham became the owner by mortgage default, which was a regular event with Lantsbery.  Note how the rent was lowered!

4 My thanks to Michael Healey of Spratton for finding the ownership maps and giving me permission to reproduce them.  We saw some of the fields DJ rented, but they look like any other pasture so I haven't included them on the page!

5 It is Ann who left Jonathan's valuable account books to the National Library of Wales.

David Jonathan image 1
Leatherhead commission
David Jonathan image 2
David Jonathan image 3
Spratton Rent 1875, 1880
David Jonathan image 4
Spratton 1873