"Farming in Rhiw"

Land in Rhiw has been farmed since Neolithic times and the names of farms such as Meillionydd, Bodwyddog, Penarfynydd, Ysgo, and Llawenan date back to medieval times. Then as now farming was mixed with barley and oats being the mainstay along with cattle, sheep and pig rearing. Flax and hemp was grown to make linen and lichen collected to make dye. Potatoes came into their own in the 19th century and became a staple diet.

Pre 19th century agriculture was mostly for self sustenance and largely for the benefit of the immediate community. Cattle were the main source of income and were taken to market in Smithfield and Barnet Fair London by drovers. One known drover from this area was William Lewis Bodwrdda who was buried in Llanfaelrhys in 1758. The drovers would set off from Sarn market for Efailnewydd where the cattle would be shod before setting off on their long journey, when they reached the Midlands they would be given grazing so that they could be fattened up for market. The cattle of that time were small sturdy black or mousey coloured ,during the 19th century other breeds were introduced in order to improve the stock. The drovers were an important part of society as they brought back new ideas for farming methods and they were the bearers of news from London and Parliament.

Rhiw had its own breed of sheep from monastic times. They were hardy little sheep with tan faces, in the 19th century they were cross bred with the Border Leicester to create a larger sheep which produced more wool. Most of the wool was home spun and woven and there was a woollen mill down at Penyceurau. The flax and hemp was taken to Pwllheli to be dressed and returned to Rhiw as cloth, lichen was gathered to produce dye for the cloth and wool. Rhiw sheep as a breed died out in the fifties.

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In the 19th century farming methods improved greatly, crop rotation came into use more and more land was enclosed and by the latter part of that century implements were coming into use. 1803 saw the opening of toll roads making it easier to get to market in Pwllheli, but the sea was still the best method of transport to and from the small coves. Dairy products and eggs were now sent to places such as Liverpool. The coming of rail to Pwllheli also brought the markets of England closer, but it also brought to an end the use of droving.

Many farmers had shares in shipping and it was tradition that youngest sons would go to sea especially as the farms could not afford to keep them employed. Ships were built locally in Pwllheli and Porthdinllaen. One vessel that brought coal, lime and shop goods such as tobacco to Penarfynydd was The Oceanic Steamer .

Farming was very much a communal activity and thrashing and shearing were regarded as not only hard work but also social events, especially for the children who would be given days off school to help. The women would prepare food and carry it out to the men and for thrashing days would make Pwdin Dyrnu and prepare cold hams along with panfuls of potatoes.

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Horses were used to draw carts, ploughs and other implements and donkeys were used to carry turf and other things in wicker panniers. Pigs were reared and killed and salted to provide meat for the winter. Many smallholders engaged in fishing to supplement their diets and income and for a time boats were built down at Rhuol .

Today farming in Rhiw is mostly store and dairy cattle, and sheep, most of the smaller farms have been integrated into the larger farms of Meillionydd, Bodwyddog and Penarfynydd. Farmers greatest problem in this day and age according to word on the lanes is bureaucracy !!!!!.

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