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History of Agriculture in Bridgend

Chicken Ladies

A farming family from Blackmill preparing poultry

Bridgend has a rich history of farming, food and agriculture. In the Vale of Glamorgan cattle and crops are farmed on the fertile arable lowlands which were once sea bed. To the north, the Glamorgan hills are home to Welsh Mountain sheep for many centuries as much a part of the landscape as the hills themselves.

For centuries, farmers divided their year between two locations. At the end of autumn the farmer moved his animals to the valley or coast to shelter over winter whilst he lived in the Hendre (the old habitation) in the valley. In the spring he would take his animals to the grazing land on the mountains and move to his temporary home, the Hafod, or summer residence. This meant his animals had food throughout the year and the land in the valley could be used for the growing of crops during the summer. This custom ended in Victorian times, but Hafod and Hendre still remain in the house names of many Welsh farms.

Until the first half of the nineteenth century the hills around Bridgend were sparsely populated and dependent on agriculture. The discovery of coal however, brought a massive influx of people to work in the mines and from 1880 the population expanded rapidly. The mining industry brought economic prosperity to farmers as demand for produce rose dramatically. The farms produced milk, eggs, butter and cheese as well as meat and lamb was bought and sold locally with a large number of local abattoirs and butchers servicing this trade. At one time the Garw Valley alone had at least half a dozen abattoirs.

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  Jones the Butcher, Blaengwynfi

This prosperous period in agriculture before and during the First World War meant that the tenant farmer now had the means to buy his own farm. Land ownership had mostly been in the hands of a few large estates, but now these were parcelled out for sale. Local councils also bought a number of holdings to be rented out. The fine estates of wealthy owners, such as the Treherne family of Bryngarw, were dismantled and land was shared amongst ordinary farmers.

More changes came with the Second World War as until the 1930s, Welsh farms worked their land with horses and depended on large numbers of farm labourers. Cheap grain was imported from abroad, brought in from the Empire. The outbreak of World War Two ushered in a need for more intensive food production and new technology such as tractors led to a near doubling of food production. The role of women on the farm changed too. Traditionally women were responsible for milking the cows and making the butter and the cheese, as well as helping with the harvesting and planting and lifting potatoes. With the coming of the Second World War the Women's Land Army was established to work on the farms.

Weekly markets and regular fairs were a feature of farming life until the development of the railway system in the 1840s and the traditions live on in the livestock auctions and agricultural shows of the Bridgend area. Blackmill Sheep Sales were set up at the start of the last Century, running every fortnight for 6 months of the year. Farmers would drive their sheep for many miles across the hills down into Blackmill, either on foot or on horseback. The sales, a regular meeting place, vital to the social life of the community as well as to agricultural and economic life still continue today, although now the livestock is transported by vehicle.

Agricultural shows have for centuries been an annual celebration of the area's agricultural life. The Dunraven Show, held on the Dunraven estate on the Glamorganshire Coast, was an important event in the agricultural calendar in the 1920s and 1930s, with guests at the castle including royalty and important people of the day. The Glyn Ogwr show, held at the start of the year at Pwllyfelin Farm, was revived in its current form in 1948 and is now the area's prime agricultural show as well as being a social highlight of the year.

From the 1970s supermarkets brought cheap food and global trade threatened the local agricultural trade. Local meat had once formed the basis of people's diets, but now the small village shops, butchers and abattoirs of the valleys closed down. Sheep were instead sold direct to the abattoirs of large supermarkets and moved around the country to be packaged.

This century has seen new challenges and opportunities for local agriculture. In 2002 Foot and Mouth disease nearly crippled Britain's farmers as thousands of animals were culled.

However, at least in part, farming has come full circle. Today there is an increasing demand for fresh local produce and farmers markets and farm shops allow food to be sold direct to the public once again. Many families have farmed the same land for generations - the Hopkins, Williams and Jones families of Blackmill and the Morgan family who have been farming at Gellifeddgaer since the 1700s. Charles and Gill Morgan and their son Richard, the current custodians, were at the forefront of the local Farmers' Market movement and have been selling their meat direct to the public for over 12 years.

At Ty Tanglwyst farm, William Jenkins sold milk direct to the public four generations ago. Today his grandson John Lougher and great-grandson Rhys run an award-winning dairy business processing their own milk in their on-farm dairy and selling milk, cream, and butter direct to customers through local shops. From the 1960s to the 1980s the milk churns would be collected at the end of the lane and taken to Bridgend Creamery where milk was still processed locally. From the late' 80s big liquid tankers came into use and milk was transported all over the country.  Ty Tanglwyst Farm started its dairy in 2006 and still uses some of the old milk churns to deliver milk to local ice cream producers.

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Ty Tanglwyst Dairy

Nowadays there is a greater public demand for access to the countryside, tourism and leisure activities are high on the agenda and farmers are diversifying. Before the coal mining industry came to the South Wales valleys well-to-do travellers, poets and artists visited the area to enjoy its wild beauty. Since the pit closures people are coming again to enjoy the landscape and activities such as walking, mountain biking and pony trekking and farms are taking advantage of this. At Hendre Ifan Goch, a working sheep farm, the Edwards family set up Lakeside Farm Park, a very popular attraction in the Bridgend borough.

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Lakside Farm Park 

Farmers are also being given a new role as official custodians of the countryside, with incentives to protect and conserve their land and to encourage wildlife. Their success can be seen in the fact that Red Kites, once on the verge of extinction, are now breeding again in the Blackmill area.

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Catherine Williams of Pant Y Cornant Farm winning first prize at Glynogwr

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