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The Bute Family and the Dawn of a New Age

 

In 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 day.

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 county.

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 there.

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 town'.