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Hereford cattle 1700-1900

At the beginning of the 18th century one man was noted for his breeding of Herefords: Richard Tomkins of the New House, Kings Pyon. Richard was a prosperous yeoman and owned the land that he farmed and lived on. This gave him an advantage over other Hereford breeders who were nearly all tenant farmers. Richard Tomkins had built up a local reputation for breeding oxen with an ability to put on weight rapidly after their ploughing days were over, something which made them very valuable and much in demand by local graziers.

Richard left his son Benjamin two cows in his will - a dam named Silver and her calf. Benjamin began his farming at the Court House in Canon Pyon in 1738. In 1758 he moved to Wellington Court where he lived until his death in 1779. His working life extended over 50 years, long enough to have made considerable progress towards establishing beefing qualities that would eventually change the character of the Hereford from a plough ox to a butcher's favourite. His son, also Benjamin, carried on his father's work at nearby Black Hall from 1769.

While the Tomkins were building up a reputation for their Herefords, over in Leicester Robert Bakewell was winning considerable publicity for his longhorns. However, his success was short lived and resulted in the near extinction of the breed.

The elder Benjamin had left no record of his breeding policy but he was the friend of William Galliers of Wigmore Grange, another noted breeder, and the two men regularly visited each other to breed from one another's stock. William Galliers is thought to have preferred the mottle-faced or tick-faced red cattle, and these cattle were successful at agricultural shows with later generations of the family.

From 1745, when the Galliers founded their mottle-faced herd at Wigmore, until the 1920s, their cattle maintained the same markings. Continuity was maintained in spite of a move from Wigmore to Wistaston in King's Pyon, and regardless of the fact that every other successful breeder had bred white-faced Herefords since the third quarter of the 19th century.

Elsewhere in the county other families were also breeding herds. Before the middle of the 18th century a herd of the first importance had been established by the Tullys at Huntington, a manor belonging to the Canons of Hereford Cathedral on the outskirts of the city. The Tully cattle were of immense size and also carried a greater proportion of white colouring than other herds. One red-and-white-faced bull that the Tullys bred from produced grey- or roan-faced calves but they were persuaded to keep them and these were the foundation of the famous "Tully Greys", the line by which the Huntington herd is best remembered.

Of the Tully family T.C. Yeld wrote "Old Mr Tully left three sons in business at Huntington, Clyro and Grafton and these possessed by far the best of what could be called the white-faced Herefords ... there is not a Hereford alive in the 20th century which cannot be proved to be a direct descendant of some of Mr Tully's cattle".

The Yeomans established a breed of Herefords at Thinghill before moving to Hownton Court, Kenderchurch in 1785. The family agreed with the Skyrmes of Stretton in preferring the lighter-coloured red but prudently bowed to public demand and eventually bred this colour out of the herd. They share part of the credit for establishing the white face in the Hereford Breed.

James Turner began breeding Hereford cattle when he took Aymestrey Court in 1780. His female lines probably exerted more influence than any other.

The first recorded sale of Herefords occurred when John Galliers placed his father's Wigmore Grange herd on the market on 15th October 1795. No attempt was made to publicise the sale outside the county and apart from buyers from Wrexham, Diddlesbury and Gladestry all at the sale were local. Due to the lack of outside interest Galliers' cattle sold at Hereford prices, which reflected the poverty of the county. Only 27 cows and calves were sold out of 47 at an average price of £15 6s 0d. Three of the buyers were James Turner of Aymestrey Court, Thomas Jefferies of The Grove and Edward Jefferies of The Sheriffs, Lyonshall. There is a possibility that some of the female bloodline from James Turner's stock still exist in the herd of Herefords at The Leen, Pembridge.

Herefords were still bred as prime cattle, not fashionable breeds, and in 1819 the average price at auction for "28 Prime Herefordshire Cattle of Benjamin Tomkins" was £149. The Hereford was pre-eminent among the best breeds of the country.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]