The Road to Little London - The Home of the Welsh Drovers
Queen Elizabeth 1st gave legitimacy to the Welsh long distance cattle drovers, by licensing their trade. This prevented the practice of engrossing and forestalling, and forced traders to use the fairs and markets for the sale of their goods. During the early Stuart period, the movement of cattle into England was known as the "Spanish Fleet of Wales", and today they might be regarded as Welsh cow-boys.

The largest and most prosperous market would have been London in the 1500's. Travellers arriving there for the first time would have been amazed at it's size and splendor, especially if they came from a distant land of high moors mists and mountains.

The drovers would drive their cattle at that time, on the main direct routes to London. Road traffic in the 1500's was non-existent, but they had a reason and a license to travel. They were uncertain times, so they would have travelled as a group, with their dogs for protection. They spoke English but like any minority group, they would converse amongst themselves in their native tongue. They would have been regarded with suspicion by the "locals", who new them as Welches or Bull-beggars. The routes to London would have been known to one of their number, and over the years they would gain knowledge of the difficulties of moving hundreds of cattle some two hundred miles in unfamiliar territory. It was in later centuries that they had to contend with an increase in road traffic, with the Civil War, problems of crossing canals, dealing with highway-men and ultimately the development of the railways.

At some point in time they decided to establish their own communities, where they could rest and meet their kindred spirits: having been away from home for many months. It was only "armies" that traveled such distances, so they needed to set up their own camps. They were allowed to build them on common-land, because it was open to all.
Little London shown on "Taylors" Hampshire map of 1759. Courtesy of Colin Bates www.geograph.org.uk. Normally in practice this meant the local villagers and parishioners, who through the right of "custom" could graze their animals there. In the Middle Ages it was only the drovers who travelled with cattle, having a right to do so. The Welsh did not own their accommodation being on common land; it was only occupied at certain times of the year, and the camps or sites would have disappeared as and when the commons, heaths, fens and marches were "enclosed" in the 1700's and 1800's.

> Next