This attractively produced volume is a paperback reprint of Professor John Davies’s classic study of the Bute estate in Glamorgan, which was originally published thirty years ago by the University of Wales Press as Volume 3 in its then pioneering Studies in Welsh History Series launched in 1977. There are now no fewer than thirty-two volumes in the highly acclaimed series. Davies’s pioneering study was in turn largely the revamped fruits of a substantial doctoral thesis presented in the University of Wales in 1969.
The original book was hailed at publication as ‘the most important case study in British landownership yet to appear’, and it has certainly stood the test of time. This paperback edition has not been revised or updated in any way except for the inclusion of a brief note on page 316 explaining that the large Bute archive, which has been in the custody of the National Library of Wales since 1950, was finally catalogued definitively in 1998, with the result that some call numbers have changed in the process.
The underlying research is awesomely extensive and indeed complete, encompassing not only the major Bute estate archive in Aberystwyth, but other documents, varied in nature, scattered far and wide across several far-flung repositories, from Cardiff to Edinburgh, from London to Nottingham.
The Bute family, owners of the Cardiff Castle estate, occupied centre stage in the political, social and economic transformation of south Wales from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth. This study looks mainly at the role of the first three marquesses – above all the second – and their individual contribution to the development of both Cardiff as a town and Glamorgan as a county, to some extent as politicians and local government activists. This came to an end in the mid-twentieth century with the gift of Cardiff Castle to the Cardiff Corporation in 1947. Just three years later the estate archive was presented to the National Library.
Davies analyses with impeccable scholarship how the role of the marquesses as agriculturalists and landlords rapidly gave way to the advance of industry and concomitant urbanisation. He makes the important point that, as landlords, the Butes and their managers displayed real concern for the well-being of their tenants and for the necessary amelioration of agricultural practices, so that landlord–tenant relations were far more generally harmonious than on many other landed estates. Later chapters survey the role of the Butes as urban and ground landlords and focus particularly on the mineral estate. Gradually but surely, it was the substantial income derived from the Bute docks, and more especially from the ever-booming mineral royalties, which sustained the Bute estate and helped to offset the losses made from agriculture.
Naturally, due space is devoted to the Bute docks, ‘the greatest enterprise of the Bute family in Glamorgan’ (p. 246), which gave the town of Cardiff a dock network unique among the ports of south Wales, ideally situated in relation to the south Wales steam coalfield valleys and to sea routes stretching out to the civilised world. As Davies clearly underlines, massive profits simply poured in – from the docks, the urban rents in Cardiff, and, primarily, in the shape of royalties from the mineral properties.
Although the volume features a most helpful Bute family pedigree and useful maps, it is a pity that the frontispiece featuring the second marquess is the only illustration. Although no doubt the author justifiably felt no real necessity to revise his thirty-year-old text, the full bibliography originally compiled in 1980–81 could well have been updated and extended with much advantage to scholars and readers.
J. Graham Jones
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.