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The Board of Agriculture's printed surveys of 1810 and 1815 cast significant light on the rural economy and society of Wales at the turn of the 19th century.

The Board of Agriculture

The Board of Agriculture was established by Sir John Sinclair, following his 'Plan for Establishing a Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement' (1793). It was awarded an annual grant of £3000 and consisted of 31 ordinary members and a president, all of which were landed gentry or aristocracy. The Board commissioned a series of 'County Reports' of surveys and statistical accounts with a view to the publication of a 'General Report' on the agricultural condition of the whole of England and Wales. Sinclair hoped the report would ignite a new spirit of enterprise, experimentation and productivity amongst the agricultural community.

In 1797 Walter Davies ('Gwallter Mechain') was commissioned to undertake the survey of north Wales. Sinclair was so impressed with his swift progress that he was also awarded the commission to survey the counties of south Wales.

Walter Davies

Walter Davies (1761-1849) was born in Llanfechain, Montgomeryshire. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1795 he took holy orders in 1795 and became curate of Meifod, Montgomeryshire, and later, in 1799, became curate of Ysbyty Ifan, Denbighshire. In 1807 he became the sole incumbent at Manafon, Montgomeryshire before moving to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in 1837.

Walter Davies was a prolific poet, antiquary and literary critic and many of his works have been published. He was closely related to the London-Welsh circles, particularly the Gwyneddigion Society. His manuscript collection of more than 300 items, including field notebooks of his tours through Wales which were the basis for his reports, is held at the National Library of Wales.

The agricultural surveys of Wales

The surveys were published as 3 printed volumes in 1810 and 1815. Each contains a wealth of information about agricultural practices across Wales as well as the rural and political economy of the time. Walter Davies' attention to detail provides an unprecedented account of, amongst other things, the

  • condition of farms;
  • agricultural buildings;
  • management of estates;
  • leases and tithes;
  • types of livestock reared; and
  • types of crops cultivated

The surveys also commend recent regional renovation and propose areas for further development in agricultural practice to benefit the farmer and the rural economy.

Further Reading

  • Mari Ellis, 'Gwallter Mechain ar ei Deithiau', Country Quest (October 1997), 48.
  • Rosalind Mitchison, 'The Old Board of Agriculture (1793-1822)', English Historical Review, 74 (1959), 41-69.