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November 2017

The Bank of the BLACK OX

…or Banc yr Eidion Ddu, founded by David Jones of Llandovery in 1799.


The Main Problem, before the Black Ox Bank, was highwaymen.  Anyone in charge of a drove had to be paid in advance to cover the expenses of the journey, so he carried at least £100 on the way down to London and possibly thousands on the way back1

How did it Work (before the BOB)?


The Buying

A fortnight or so before the drove was due to start off, the dealer or his agent would “attack the country”, i.e. go from farm to farm, buying stock.  He knew what he was looking for: hardy beasts, probably over two years old, that fitted the requirements of his customers at the London end.


Unless he had grown wealthy in the trade, he would need loans from banks or credit from the farmers.  If a loan, he could use the backing of a bank to give the farmer a bill of exchange for the cost of his beasts.  This was an IOU for the money, payable within three months2.  The snag for the farmer: the bank would not cash his bills at face value if disease struck or prices fell3.  Snag for the dealer: he knew he could buy the beasts cheaper if he offered cash…


If the farmer offered credit to a dealer he trusted, all he would get was the “spit & slap” of an agreement.  Then he would hear nothing for about seven weeks: three for the journey, two while the drover tramped from fair to fair and waited for payment, two more for the return.  And all the time the farmer would be praying that his money was safe. 


 Setting Out

Farmers were told to bring their beasts down to a starting point4 by a certain date and time.  (The sight of black cattle converging in streams from every direction must have been an exciting sight.)  On arrival they would be shod before the journey eastwards on to metalled roads5.


Enter David Jones

DJ had worked at the King’s Head (#1) in Llandovery when he was a lad of 15 and had witnessed dealers asking the landlord to keep their money safe6.  Many years later he married an heiress who let him use ten thousand pounds to set up a bank in that same inn.  Banc yr Eidion Ddu, The Bank of the Black Ox, was born in 1799, but it was different.


Too many small banks had fallen by the wayside.  To make sure his (her!) money was safe he asked two men he trusted completely to be his first two customers, then asked them each to pick two more, and so on.  The clientele was to consist entirely of stockmen and only these were allowed to handle the famous Black Ox banknotes (#2), which to thieves were thus worthless.  He could now lend any amount of cash to his clients so beasts could be bought more cheaply.  The farmers liked the payment-guarantee as well.


 When the beasts were sold in London, the dealer gave his gold to the Black Ox agent to bank for him.  His credit would be waiting for him in Llandovery when he returned to Wales.  The big problems were solved.


Eventually there were three branches of the BOB: Llandovery, Lampeter & Llandeilo, run in the 1820’s by DJ’s three grandsons.  Local trust in the bank was so high that during a financial panic in 1825 the BOB ordered extra Bank of England notes in case there was a run.  One depositor refused to accept them.


In 1909 the BOB became part of Lloyds, and in 1915 the famous Black Ox was replaced by a Black Horse.  Not worth so much now, then?


(#3 shows Prospect House, the home of Lloyds in Llandovery, before it was closed this year.  The last banking link to BOB has gone from the town.) 


1 On the outward journey the cattle would also make them easily visible.  No wonder they carried guns.  On the way back they sewed money into their clothing.  “Useful” men who wanted to join them on the return journey, like sailors who had jumped ship, were welcomed.

2 These bills were often passed from farmer to farmer in payment of local debts, i.e. used as banknotes.
3 Another snag for the farmer: if winter was round the corner his beasts would starve unless he got rid of them.  Also his rent was often due and how else would he pay it?  It was a buyers’ market.
4 There were over 30 market towns in West Wales from where droves started out.  The most used seem to have been Newcastle Emlyn, Haverford West, Machynlleth & Cilgerran.
5 Some northern drovers asked the farmers to mark their beasts before the drove: some of these were branded, some had patterns or initials cut in the fur.

6 Llandovery was a perfect meeting place for cattlemen: on a wide plain where two rivers meet. 




November 2017 image 1
Where it started...
November 2017 image 2
Black Ox banknote
November 2017 image 3
Now no more