Sheep of the Garw

From earliest times sheep have been a prominent feature of the landscape of the Garw Valley. The Cistercians who were settled in the abbey of Margam under the Normans in the 12th century held vast estates, or granges, in the uplands around Llangeinor, and along with the monks at Tintern, were the richest wool producers in South Wales. Margam’s sheep amounted to 5245 in 1291, bringing in the highest revenue of any abbey in South Wales. Many of those sheep will have grazed on the Garw hills and mountains.

Up until the 19th century, there were still hundreds more sheep than people, the area being agricultural serving the market town of Bridgend. The discovery of coal however brought people in their thousands to work, and from 1880 onwards the population of the Bridgend Valleys expanded rapidly, as did all the South Wales valleys where coal was mined. All these people had to be fed, and as the population increased so did the numbers of sheep, and a close relationship developed between the farmers and the miners, with fortunes interlinked, for many years.

Livestock auctions started appearing all over South Wales, and the first sale at Black- mill took place before the First World War, and during that war provided valuable service for both community and country. Over the following decades, these auctions be- came big social occasions, with the Fox and Hounds and Ogmore Junction pubs benefitting from the increased custom.

Sheep would be driven from many miles away and the sight of farmers and miners coming down from the mountains must have been an impressive sight. The roads to Blackmill on auction days would have been completely impassable with the flocks crowding the roads and lanes. Because the surrounding hillsides were not fenced the farmers had to gather up their sheep on horseback; each sheep would be known to in- dividual farmers by the earmark it carried. These earmarks come from a centuries-old tradition, arising from complex beliefs and cultural values. This system of marking has all but disappeared, as the sheep nowadays have to sport a tag which displays their flock number, with no reference to the marks that have been used down the centuries.

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  1. Please, was it necessary to use the term “South Wales” as if talking about the two Koreas and repeating it over again? Please stop doing so.

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