THE Letter-Book OF JOHN BYRD, CUSTOMS COLLECTOR IN SOUTH-EAST WALES, 1648-1680. Edited by Stephen K. Roberts. Cardiff: South Wales Record Society, 1999. Pp. xlviii, 286. Stephen Roberts has produced a sterling edition of the letter-book in which John Byrd of Caerleon (1594-1683), customs collector at Cardiff, recorded letters that he wrote between 1648 and 1680. Byrd's was a life of significant personal success: he was the third son of the youngest son of a Bristol family, but he acquired a legal education at the Middle Temple, property in Caerleon, Boverton, Llantwit and elsewhere which had made him Caerleon's leading taxpayer by 1661, connections with the earls of Pembroke and other local magnates, and the post of customs collector in the port of Cardiff between 1629 (or earlier) and 1662. It is this last position which generated most of the correspondence in his letter-book. Although the status and the remuneration of this office were important to Byrd, it was a demanding job. His area covered not only Cardiff, but all the 'creeks' or other ports from Burry Port and Swansea in the west to Magor and Chepstow in the east, so Byrd needed deputies and agents spread across these ports, and kept horses saddled so that he could set off at a moment's notice: a letter of 9 September 1650 brings this vividly to life as Byrd describes how he had heard from the customs collector at Bristol that the Elizabeth of Barnstaple was headed for Neath with goods intended for Ireland; he and Captain Foxe rode to Neath, then on to Swansea, where they learned that she had arrived at Briton Ferry 'where wee put a watch night and daie to attend hir'; a few days later she discharged her cargo at Neath Abbey and Byrd was able to seize some goods on which he believed the merchant had intended not to pay customs (pp. 60-1). Unfortunately, the customs service in south-east Wales was not a profitable business. The cost of policing so many small harbours was high, and the volume of trade here was low (most of the cargoes went through the port of Bristol); but Byrd pressed on, principally, it seems, in the hope of preventing tax evasion rather than reaping large profits either for himself or the state. The sporadic loads of coal, butter, hides, horses, rolls of tobacco, and, memorably, prunes which were mistaken by the officials for tobacco, kept this corner of the customs machine ticking over. So Byrd had time enough to devote to his property whence he derived the bulk of his income and to the politicking which was necessary for any man on the make and especially for a middle-ranking official in the mid-seventeenth century. Family connections, perhaps above all his London-based brother-in- law, Thomas Pennant, gave Byrd's career its initial impetus and did much to sustain it, but Byrd's attention to detail, his experience and local knowledge did much to recommend him to superiors like the Customs Commissioners.