Welsh Journals

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THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE, WALTER DAVIES ('GWALLTER MECHAIN') AND CARDIGANSHIRE, c. 1794-1815.1 The period dominated by the Napoleonic Wars was one of rapid change in Welsh agriculture. Prior to this time, in the oft-quoted words of David Thomas, 'there were few [agricultural] improvers and little improve- ment.,2 The dramatic increase in population during these years meant that there were many more mouths to feed, a fact that necessitated a far more productive method of farming. The policy of agricultural improvement that had hitherto only been carried out piecemeal by individual 'enlightened' farmers was therefore given fresh impetus.3 Our understanding of the state of agriculture in Wales at this criti- cal juncture is hampered by the lack of some of the critical sources, such as newspapers and parliamentary papers, available to the historians of agricul- ture and rural society of later periods. As a result, the historian is forced to consult the work of the numerous travellers and tourists who recorded their impressions of the country as they passed through. The quality of their work varies enormously. Some unashamedly copy the work of other travellers, raising the question whether they ever actually visited the places that they mention. Of the better ones, Benjamin Heath Malkin's tour of Wales in 18054 and the Reverend John Evans's tour of south Wales in 18035 are par- ticularly useful. However, of these travellers the most valuable is undoubt- edly the Reverend Walter Davies. Walter Davies, who was firstly a curate at Meifod before later becoming the sole incumbent at Manafon, Montgomeryshire, in 1807, was commissioned by the London-based Board of Agriculture to write its surveys of the agricultural state of both north and south Wales and his findings were published in 18106 and 18157 respective- ly. His printed surveys have been used extensively by many historians but behind these works lie his massive manuscript collection, containing, amongst other things, the actual field notebooks that he used on his various itineraries through Wales. These manuscripts, housed in the National Library of Wales, cast significant further light on the rural economy and society of Wales during this critical period and enable the historian to place much of the material contained in the printed surveys into the wider context of Davies's activities. The Board of Agriculture was born out of William Pitt's indebted- ness to Sir John Sinclair during the currency shortage and economic crisis of April 1793.8 Sinclair, who had maintained an interest in agricultural matters