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Bromyard is a pretty market town in Herefordshire between Leominster & Worcester on the A44.  It was a regular stopping point for drovers from mid-Wales who had entered England at Kington.


From Bromyard they would either branch south-east on Bromyard Downs to Acton Green, Malvern, Pershore & Broadway.  The Downs were Common Land which drovers used with the freedom of commoners.…1

… or they would continue eastwards to Worcester and Northampton, having rested on the Downs or on the next stretch of commons at Bringsty, a mile further east.


This article was prompted by the splendid Bromyard History Society who have a large archive and who cheerfully helped us with information.  (Details of opening times are on their website.)


One of the items they allowed us to copy was an (unfortunately undated) letter from a Mrs May Williams to the society.  She had once lived in High St, Bromyard and wrote it after a talk on “The Drover Roads” by Mr J Southwood.  Here are her words:


“My father often spoke of the journey up from Lampeter, Cardigan, by horse and wagon to Bromyard.  This was 90 years ago and he would recall how he followed the drovers and trekked across the mountains: Llandovery, Three Cocks by Hay and on to Hereford.  There he met trouble by letting the horses drink out of a trough2 but got away with it by pretending to know no English.  He often said they came through Hereford (the drovers) and down by the old road that comes out at Petty Bridge.

“My father mentioned that the reason the drovers came through Bromyard was, if they got to the Downs and Bringsty Common near on dusk, they could rest the cattle etc for the night, leaving at daybreak and making across Bringsty Common to Linley Green and on to Malvern where they would rest for the night, that also being common land.  The drovers would get in any shed alongside the cattle or sleep out in the ferns if summer time.”


This throws up a mystery: for the drovers to go from Hereford to Petty Bridge (on the eastern edge of Bromyard at SO 658544) in order to end up near Malvern involves a detour to the north.  The journey is 27 miles using modern roads, while the direct route is only 21.  Would the drovers have gone six extra miles to use the commons on Bromyard Downs?3 


Yes, quite possibly they would have.  The direct route went through a string of orchards where grazing would be hard to find.  More importantly, either route would have taken two days because the beasts had to be rested after 14 or 15 miles.  So why not go the 15 miles to Bromyard Downs on the first day, rest up with free grazing, then do the 12 miles to Malvern the next?


So Mrs Williams has given us a new droving route and a splendid picture of a wagoner following the drove because it was safer to be in the company of men who wouldn’t get lost and, more importantly, knew how to look after themselves (and, perhaps, him).


The pictures: #1 is St Ethelbert's Well in Hereford, the only drinking fountain I could find a picture of in the city.  #2 is Petty Bridge, Bromyard.  The white house on the left of the road was a tollhouse, so they wouldn’t have escaped payment.  But all account books agree that tolls were a quarter the cost of a night’s grazing.  #3 is the Bromyard Pound, a bit further up the hill.  Too cute to miss out.  #4 is taken on Bringsty Common.  #5 is a drawing of the Old Market Hall in 1842, in Market Square.  The impressive building behind it is The Hop Pole Inn, still open for business.

1 It was self-defeating for a licensed commoner to object to an incomer grazing his beasts: deals of all kinds, fruitful for both parties, would have been struck.  There are 88 Commoners on the Downs today, many with grazing rights.

2 I asked the Cattle Trough Association about this – yes, there is one! – and they don’t think there was a law prohibiting certain beasts from drinking from troughs.  Mrs Williams’ father probably let his horse use a public drinking fountain in Hereford (see #1).

3 They wouldn’t have used Bringsty as well as the Downs on the same journey: they are only a mile apart.  Anyway, the route down to Malvern via Linley Green joins the A44 before you reach Bringsty.

Bromyard image 1
Hereford (see note 2)
Bromyard image 2
Petty Bridge
Bromyard image 3
National Trust Property!
Bromyard image 4
On Bringsty
Bromyard image 5
Old Market, Bromyard