Alresford Museum

Relax and take a trip back in time

Alresford Displayed Issue No.17 - 1992


by Eleanor Kingston

The need to drive cattle and sheep to new pastures and markets has existed for at least 6,000 years and the drove ways that were used must be some of the oldest tracks in the country. In the thirteenth century cattle were driven from Wales to markets in England and in the late sixteenth century they were also driven from Scotland and shipped from Ireland to markets in the Home Counties. Here the animals were bought by graziers who fattened them for the London markets. The, droving of cattle and sheep reached its heyday in the eighteenth century when the growth of population in the large cities led to demands for more food from the rural areas. At this time Merino sheep were also imported via Southampton to supplement the Royal flocks at Windsor and in the nineteenth century they were exported through Portsmouth to New South Wales and imported from France for the London markets. All movements necessitated the driving of animals over vast distances via long-established droving routes. However, the coming of the railways in the nineteenth century led to sheep and cattle being moved by rail and to the subsequent decline in droving. Innkeepers, ferrymen, blacksmiths and drivers alike suffered through this loss in trade..

Drove roads often followed ancient trackways and sometimes ran parallel to turnpikes in order to avoid paying tolls and to prevent the stones used in maintaining the roads from damaging the animals hooves. Drove roads were from 40 - 50 feet, in width and were often hedged to prevent the animals infiltrating local flocks and herds, and from straying into cultivated crops. The routes were way-marked with evergreen trees which were easily visible at all times of the year. These trees included holly, laurel and particularly in Hampshire, yew, all trees growing freely above the hedge line. Scots pine and larch were also used as way-marks along the route and clumps of these trees also denoted stopping places at inns and farms, the word 'clump' being associated with drove roads. Droving inns were called 'hutts' and had adjoining paddocks of about 8 acres where the animals rested on their journey. Tree lined ponds were also situated along the route for the watering of animals.

Drovers had to be licenced and were amongst the most respected members of the farming community, being entrusted with documents and money from the sale of animals and were closely linked with early banking. They were required to be married, over 30 years of age and a householder, Scottish drovers wore the kilt or trews and Welsh drovers the traditional smock, their trousers protected from the wet by long woollen stockings, covered by leggings made of brown paper and waterproofed with soap.

As well as cattle and sheep, horses, pigs and geese were also driven to market, although geese were not driven great distances. Oxen were thrown on. to their sides and shod in order to protect their hooves, and geese were driven through tar and sand to protect their feet, A typical Welsh cattle drive would consist of: 300 - 600 animals split into manageable groups of approximately 200 each, and flocks of sheep would consist of between 1,500 and 2,000 animals. They would travel between twelve to fourteen miles a day and the journey from North Wales to Kent would take three weeks. Usually a man on horseback would go ahead to warn farmers to keep their animals clear of the tracks for fear of mixing the herds and flocks and to arrange overnight lodging and fodder. Three to four 'sidesmen' with dogs would keep the animals together and on the move, and other travellers would join the drove for company and protection.

Main drove roads across Hampshire follow an easterly direction from the borders with Dorset, Wiltshire and Berkshire, having originated in South Wales and the West Country. The droves headed for the fairs at Weyhill and Alresford and to the market towns of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

Leading into the main drove roads there are feeder droves, originating in the villages along the way. From these, local sheep and cattle could be driven to fairs and markets by following the main droves, and once again they follow an easterly direction. There are also local drove ways by which animals reached nearby meadows and pastures. As mentioned earlier, animals were also driven to the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, but these have yet to be studied.

Evidence that Welsh drovers frequented Hampshire's towns and villages may be seen at a cottage in Stockbridge where an inscription in Welsh on an outside wall denotes that grass, pasture, beer and shelter were available there. A good example of a main drove and its feeder droves, well way-marked with holly and yew, starts north-east of Stockbridge at the Leckford Hutt, a typical eighteenth-century droving inn with an adjoining paddock which would hold 100 sheep and a stance of Scots pine at the start of the drove on the opposite side of the road. Running eastwards from the Leckford Hutt and avoiding various turnpikes established in the mid-eighteenth century, the drove passes north of Crawley where it is known as the Ox Drove, and a stance of pines at the top of the lane leading to New Barn Farm at Crawley indicates a probable stopping place for drovers.

The drove continues eastwards to the south of South Wonston where it is known as Alresford Drove and then becomes the Lunway which meets the A33 at the Lunways Inn. The surface then-becomes metalled and leads north-eastwards to the Woolpack Inn at Totford. At the Woolpack the drove reverts to being an unmetalled track and is known once again as the Ox Drove, emerging at a stance of larches north of Bugmore Hill, south of Chilton Candover. Nearby is Bangor Wood (to be noted for its Welsh connotation), was once a famous droving inn run by two brothers, one of whom murdered the other in order to benefit from all their wealth made from the drovers. The drove may be traced from here on for many miles, following tracks and metalled roads as it heads towards Odiham and beyond.

Where the metalled road heads off in a north-easterly direction 2 miles east of Lunway Inn, a branch of the drove leads off in a south-easterly direction and reaches a point on Itchen Stoke Down where five tracks meet. The drove divides here, one branch leading to Abbotstone, Old Alresford, Bighton and from thence to Farnham. Stances of Scots pine at the farm opposite the. Three Horseshoes Inn at Bighton denote a probable stopping place for the drovers and their animals, and a stance of pines at the far end of the village are close to a known resting place in Bighton Dean Lane.

The south-easterly route of the drove from Itchen Stoke Down leads to New Alresford, entering Winchester Road at Drove Lane. At many points along the drove from the Leckford Hutt, feeder droves join it from the villages, enabling Hampshire sheep to take this route tot he county markets and betond. The 1843 Tithe Map for Alresford shows examples of local drove ways, one running from west to east along the present route of Grange Road, taking in the dog leg bend into South Road, and the other leading off Sun Lane where Appledown Close is now located. It is to be presumed that these two droves led to local pastures and may have provided access to paddocks for animals prior to being driven to fairs and markets in Alresford, as is indicated by the numerous stances of pine scattered throughout the southern side of Alresford.

According to Robert Boyes in his writings about New Alresford in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the markets for sheep in the town were some of the greatest in England. Originally held in the town centre, the sheep fair was moved to Fair Field in Sun Lane, still visible today with its ridges and stance of pines in the south-western corner, and in the 1860s to Sheeplands on the road to Bishops Sutton, the location indicated by the presence of the Hurdle House where the hurdles for the sheep fair were stored. The animals were sold to farmers and graziers from Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and other counties. The markets were held in September and November, the market in September being for horses and cattle, as well as sheep. Two annual fairs held on Holy Thursday and 'Old Midsummer Day' also saw the sale of sheep, horses and cattle. Drovers and visitors to the Town would have frequented the local inns and boosted sales in local shops. Although a busy town today, it cannot compare with the bustle and noise of the markets and fairs held in Alresford in times past. After attending the markets and fairs, animals would have been driven to easterly counties via the previously mentioned droving route through Bighton and via the drove to Bramdean, starting in Sun Lane which was formerly known as Bramdean Way, and then following Appledown Drove.

Further study is needed of other droves in the county in order to obtain a true picture of the network of droving routes that resounded to the cries and sounds of the drovers and their animals until the end of the last century, but it is hoped that this short account will foster interest in the subject and lead to more comprehensive knowledge in the future.

Copyright Eleanor Kingston October 1991

Further reading : K.J-. Bonser - The Drovers Newton Abbot, 1972

Note : A shorter version of this paper was published in the Autumn 1991 Newsletter of the Hampshire Field Club.