The word ‘cowherd’ conjures up an image of a lowly rustic, perhaps uncouth and unkempt. However, there was nothing lowly about the Cowherd in medieval and later Southampton.

The cowherd was an important official of the borough with wide ranging powers and responsibilities.

He was in charge of all the animals grazing on the Common and was responsible for the maintenance of the whole 375 acres including planting, gates, fences and turf banks.

He also had to identify strange animals whose owners did not have rights of common and impound them and occasionally his jurisdiction extended even to the town for instance, making sure that hogs did not roam the streets.

Fortunately, he had some help with this huge task.

There were four drivers or drovers under his command and this number rose to eight in 1566. They would help with the day to day work on the Common and the daily task of collecting and returning the animals from the town.

Each householder had the right for two animals, cows, bullocks, sheep or horses, to be put to pasture on the Common on any one day.

They were collected each day from the pound tree – now the top of Poundtree Road- and returned at dusk.

When the town became more commercialised, the site of the pound moved to the bottom of the Avenue.

The Orders for the Drivers of the Common 1790 add some interesting detail to this narrative.

The fine for trying to exceed your allowance of beasts was the sum of three shillings and fourpence which must have been a serious amount of money at the time.

If a non-resident allowed an animal onto the Common it would be placed in the pound by the Bellemoor entrance and he would have to pay double – six shillings and eight pence – to reclaim his animal.

The Cowherd and the drivers were able to identify intruders because the beasts from the town were branded with an S superimposed on an H.

So far, I have referred to the Cowherd as ‘he’ but there were some women who took on the role. Although it was a municipal appointment, it sometimes passed to family members.

From 1644, for well over a century, the post was held by the Fawkens family including two women. Elizabeth Fawkens, widow of John, was appointed in his place in 1675 and Mary, who had been married to another John, succeeded him in 1718.

To residents of Southampton the word cowherd will be synonymous with the public house on the Common and unsurprisingly there is a connection.

The first mention of a house for the Cowherd occurs in 1624. Clearly by 1760 this building had fallen into disrepair because the public-spirited Alderman Knight offered to rebuild it at his own expense.

Unfortunately, it cost more than he had expected and the Cowherd had to shoulder some of the burden in the form of increased rent.

When Edward Dyett was appointed in 1774, he decided to supplement his income by brewing and selling beer.

The building was taken over by Taylor, Moody and Taylor as a full-time pub in 1789 and was called the Southampton Arms. The locals however continued to call it the Cowherd’s house and by the end of the nineteenth century the council gave into pressure and officially adopted the name.

The last appointment of a Cowherd was in 1834 and the job of Haywarden became more important.

Nevertheless, a record of 1879 shows us that people were still sending animals for grazing as late as 1879.

This document tells us that Thankful Joy, who was landlord of the Cowherds at this point, had sent two cows and some residents of Bevois Mount had sent their horses.

As a resident of Bevois Mount in 2019 it is hard to imagine my neighbours having horses, even 140 years ago!

By Ally Hayes - tour guide with