The Bute Family and the Dawn of a New Age
1683 the inheritance of the Seventh Earl of Pembroke was divided. The Welsh
estates passed to Charlotte Herbert, whose first husband was Lord John
Jeffries, son of the notorious Judge Jeffries. When Lord Jeffries died in 1702,
Charlotte married Thomas, Viscount Windsor, a soldier who had served with
distinction under the Duke of Marlborough.
Throughout the first half of the
Eighteenth century, the Windsors held the lordship of Cardiff and in 1766
Charlotte Windsor, the heiress to the estate, married John, Lord Mountstuart,
the eldest son of the Prime Minister, Lord Bute. So began a bond between
Cardiff and this ancient Scottish family which has continued to the present
The place names of Cardiff testify
to the influence of the Bute dynasty upon the borough. The family name appears
at Stuart Street, Bute Town, Bute Park, Mountstuart Square and Dumfries Place.
The wife of the Second Marquess gave her name to Sophia Gardens, while Fitzalan
Place, Howard Gardens and Glossop Terrace are associated with the wife of the
Third Marquess. The Scottish link is commemorated at Sanquahar Street and
Inchmarnock Street. The children have streets named after them in Colum Road, Ninian
Road and Lady Margaret's Terrace. Even the family's advisers, agents and dock
engineers are not forgotten. Richards Terrace, Priest Road, Corbett Road and
Collingdon Road, to mention but a few, all bear testimony to the influence of
the Butes in Cardiff.
The Bute connection became the
catalyst which changed a rather insignificant town into a great city. However,
there was no sign of this strong, future relationship when Lord Mountstuart
became the First Marquess of Bute in 1796. He contributed nothing to the
transformation of Cardiff and rarely visited the borough. Local matters were
left in the hands of agents such as John Bird. The Marquess was appointed Lord
Lieutenant of Glamorgan in 1772 but brought little distinction to that office.
Only once, at a time of national crisis amid fears of a French invasion in
1797, did he stir himself sufficiently to assume even a token leadership of the
His friend, James Boswell,
described the Marquess as "handsome, with elegant manners and a
tempestuously noble soul, who has never applied himself earnestly to anything'.
His estates fell to rack and ruin while he gallivanted across Europe in an orgy
of riotous living. When Charlotte died in 1800, he acquired a second fortune
through his marriage to Fanny Coutts, daughter of the famous banker, and did
his utmost to squander that as well.
Perhaps the Marquess was trying to
escape from the tragedy of his personal life. He intended to use Cardiff as a
means of launching his son, Lord Mountstuart, into a political career. In 1790,
as a precautionary measure, a hundred new burgesses were installed to ensure
Mountstuart's election as MP for Cardiff.
In August 1793 the Bute star seemed
to be firmly in the ascendancy, as the bells of St. John's rang out for three
days to celebrate the birth of Mountstuart's first son. The following January,
those same bells were tolling for Lord Mountstuart, tragically killed by a fall
from his horse. Three years later the infant lost his mother, and his childhood
was largely spent in the care of tutors. Both of his parents were interred in a
family vault at St. Margaret's Church in Roath, and in 1800, Charlotte, the
First Marchioness of Bute, became the third member of the family to be buried
The people of Cardiff saw no cause
to mourn the First Marquess when he died in 1814 and no monument was erected to
his memory. He had shown no interest in the borough and managed his affairs so
chaotically that a surveyor commented, "I never saw an estate in a more
neglected condition'. Even so, it was still a considerable fortune which the
First Marquess bequeathed to his grandson. In Cardiff, apart from the property
obtained by his marriage to Charlotte, the Marquess had been loyally served by
his local agents. They had purchased land on his behalf in Roath, Leckwith and
Cathays, as well as in the borough itself.
Among his acquisitions were the
Greyfriars site and Cathays Park, which is mentioned in Bird's Directory for
1813 as "a seat of the most noble Marquess of Bute'. This reference is to
Cathays House, the mansion built by the Marquess at a cost of £40,000. The
house was expensively decorated, furnished and landscaped but no trace of it
remains, as the Second Marquess demolished it in 1815 when he made the castle his residence at Cardiff.
From his rakish grandfather, he was ruthless
and arrogant, but also earnest and hard-working. A life-long affliction from an
acute eye disease did not prevent him from applying himself unstintingly to the
enormous responsibilities of organising his vast estates. Indeed he considered
the proper enhancement and exploitation of his wealth to be a sacred duty which
he made more difficult for himself because of a reluctance to delegate. For
example, when corresponding on more important issues he might, at the same
time, give instructions about the tethering of the castle dog or the use which
could be made of a broken flagpole.
Following his first journey to
Cardiff in 1815, Bute entrusted the task of surveying his possessions in South
Wales to David Stewart. His report took ten years to complete, and relations
with the Marquess became increasingly sour as Bute accused him in offensive
terms of delay and inadequate information. Finally, the parting became
acrimonious when the Marquess questioned Stewart's fee of £26,000.
In fact Stewart served his employer
well and gave him sound advice. He suggested that, in place of the scattered
properties Bute had inherited, an attempt should be made to build up a single
great estate. Cathays Park was enclosed with a boundary wall and, apart from a
kitchen garden near The Friars and the Dobbins Pit Farm to the north-east, an
open parkland was created by removing the hedges. The Marquess usually avoided
paying inflationary prices for new assets by dealing through a third party. In
this manner, he added properties in Penylan, Rhydypenau, Llanishen and Llandaff
to his estate. To the north of Cardiff, he acquired land teeming with mineral
wealth which in later years was to yield enormous dividends.
The policies advocated by Stewart
were to continue after the death of the Second Marquess. Consequently, by 1884
the Bute Estate owned 22,000 acres of land in South Wales, including most of
the ancient borough of Cardiff, rights over its foreshore, and valuable
minerals in the Welsh Coalfield. Not surprisingly, the family was one of the
richest in Britain.
After Stewart's unhappy departure,
the Marquess gained his knowledge of local affairs from Edward Priest Richards,
his agent in Cardiff. He advised which contractors should be employed, which
traders were most worthy of Bute patronage, and which philanthropic causes
should be supported to enhance his master's prestige. For over forty years,
Richards was the eyes and ears of the Bute family in Cardiff, serving them
loyally and acquiring a personal fortune in the process. A letter of 1831, in
which Richards promises, "I will not spend a shilling without your express
direction', reveals that while the Marquess accepted guidance, he always made
his own decisions.
Normally the Marquess could only
spare the time for a few short visits to Cardiff, but on these occasions he
made himself available to the leaders of society and was given a full report on
local matters. His arrival in Cardiff was regarded as a social event and
invitations to dine at the castle were eagerly sought.The highlight of the week
was the visit to St. John's Church which almost resembled a royal progress.
"As the captain of the militia towed his lordship along Church Street,
every man doffed his hat and every woman bobbed'.
The Marquess was a liberal
benefactor to local causes but he was not averse to using his generosity in
advancing his political ambitions. Voters were expected to heed his wishes
during elections and, if they failed to do so in those days before the secret ballot,
he was capable of withdrawing his favour. Charities, endowments and
scholarships could be withheld from anyone foolish or daring enough to anger the
Marquess. Even the rents on his estates were often lower than his neighbours to
ensure political acquiescence. As lord lieutenant he expected the
militia to vote in accordance with his wishes, and when some of the men voted
against his candidate in the 1832 election he accused them of mutiny.
Bute rarely met with disobedience
but the election of December 1832 was strenuously contested over the question
of the Reform Bill. The Marquess's brother, Lord James, was the sitting member
for Cardiff but, to Bute's annoyance, he supported the Whig Reformers. Bute
showed no hesitation in running a candidate against his brother and it was his
candidate, John Nicholl, who defeated Lord James by 342 votes to 191. This kind
of political pressure was only possible while the electorate was small, and
within twenty years the influence of the Bute lobby was to be greatly diminished.
Bute's generosity in Cardiff cannot
be disputed and it would be unjust to dwell on his ulterior motives. Between
1821 and 1848 the Marquess subscribed £25,000 or 7% of his rents towards local
causes and charities. Education in particular benefitted from his benevolence,
as he provided sites, gifts and endowments for 17 new schools throughout
Glamorgan. In Cardiff, he not only granted a site for the building of St.
John's School in Crockerton, but also contributed towards its maintenance. The
school was opened in 1819, and within a few years it was providing an education
for 115 boys and 70 girls. Children were taught the skills of reading ,writing
and arithmetic, but the school's primary aim was "to impart so much
instruction in social morals and true religion as to make the partakers of it
good men and pious Christians'.
Apart from his contributions to the
Infirmary, the Sympathetic Society, the Jewish Relief Fund and similar
organisations, the Marquess was renowned for personal acts of kindness. Gifts
of food, blankets, clothing and food were regularly donated to the needy,
especially to those families struggling to avoid dependence on parish relief.
His correspondence reveals such payments as £1 a month to "the post boy
who broke his leg', or £5 to the wife of Edward Williams, "to enable her
to have the benefit of sea bathing at Swansea'.
His philanthropy increased Bute's
popularity among the poor and he saw himself as their champion against
rapacious industrialists. Frequently he clashed with the iron masters and, in
his capacity as lord lieutenant, he was reluctant to appoint any of them as
magistrates in the iron manufacturing regions. "Artificial, atrocious and
cruel', he termed the truck system which compelled employees to take a part of
their wages in tokens, valid only at their master's "tommy shop'. The
Marquess also considered the retention of private prisons and police by the
iron masters as an abuse of power and, for this reason, he used his influence
to ensure that Glamorgan was provided with a regular police force.
There was nothing sentimental in Bute's charitable deeds and his sympathy never extended
to the idle wastrel. Likewise he displayed little compassion towards
poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, urging the government instead to make local
authorities in Irelandaware of "a proper sense of their duties'. This lack of sensitivity did
not prevent him from importing Irish labour to complete the building of the
West Dock, when his Welsh workers went on strike.
If the Marquess believed that
circumstances warranted suppression, he could be as ruthless as his friend, the
Duke of Wellington. In June 1831, as Lord Lieutenant and Commander-in-chief of
the Glamorgan Militia, Bute authorised the
deployment of troops against rioters during the Merthyr Uprising. A clash
outside the Castle Inn led to the arrest of Richard Lewis, better known as Dic
Penderyn. He was charged with seizing a musket and bayonet from a dragoon,
wounding him in the process. The evidence was flimsy but Dic Penderyn was sentenced
to death, and Bute refused to lend his support
to the calls for a reprieve. While a crowd of 500 kept silent vigil, Dic was
hanged at Cardiff Gaol in August 1831. Afterwards, a procession more than a
mile long followed the body to its grave at Aberafon. A plaque on the wall of
the Central Market in St. Mary Street, where the County Gaol once stood,
commemorates this martyr of the labouring classes.
As the Georgian Age drew to its
close, Cardiffremained a relatively insignificant town. Swanseaand Merthyr were both larger boroughs and of far greater economic importance.
While Cardiffwas still nominally the capital of Glamorgan, Cowbridge was its equal as a
centre of social life. Cardiff,
still rural in appearance, was regarded as culturally backward with a tendency
to ape English manners and customs. But, as the Second Marquess of Bute began
to exercise his enormous wealth and influence, dramatic changes were about to
occur in what Iolo Morgannwg termed "that obscure and inconsiderable