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Opinion

The apple trees of Whitchurch common …and the ‘generosity’ of the Lords Bute

14 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Apple blossom

Ken Moon

Unlike many places that we still think of as ‘commons’, Whitchurch common is still a registered common. But there are no common rights of access, and there is no commoner’s association to manage it.

Whitchurch Common is managed in trust by the local authority, for public benefit, for the purposes of leisure and recreation. I can sit on it and read a book, or I can stand and admire the apple blossoms. My Dad disputes that these are apple trees, but we can freely dispute this between us without committing an act of aggravated trespass.

But I cannot legally access resources from the common as our ancestors once could.

And the reasons for this are history that we are rarely taught. A history which is available to us if only we know where to look. The history of land access & land ownership.

Gwaun Treoda

According to the Cardiff Parks page Whitchurch common was acquired by Lord Bute as part of the Lordship of Caerdydd and ‘was originally known as Gwaun Treoda (Treoda Common)’. Hence local place names such as Treoda Road, where I used to deliver newspapers in my younger, more innocent, days.

But how did the Lord Bute come to acquire exclusive rights over this common land?

Gwaun Treoda was part of what was once a much more extensive area of common land. It extended from today’s Whitchurch library, up and through the village, along the Philog, across the A470, into Birchgrove and on up to the lesser & greater Heaths.

Today’s Heath Park is another remnant of this common that was later generously ‘gifted’ by the Lord Bute to the people of Cardiff.

Whilst Gwaun Treoda itself was never physically ‘enclosed’ one of the Lords Bute, I forget which, evicted those commoners who were living upon the lesser & greater Heaths as illegal squatters’.

A term reminiscent today of ‘illegal immigrants’. These commoners had claimed squatters’ rights through the ancient Welsh custom of Tŷ unnos.

But this custom was not recognised under English law, and ever since the Acts of Union, English laws prevailed across the whole of Cymru.

Enforced privatisation

The Butes, and their estate managers and lawyers’, then set about parcelling up and selling off this land for commercial purposes, an enforced privatisation of the commons which separated people from the land they depended on for their subsistence and livelihoods, for their sustainability.

Capitalist appropriation then underscores how much of today’s Cardiff came to be built, and the Bute family is often credited as having ‘built Cardiff’.

But the Butes, as the Lords of Glamorgan, didn’t ‘build’ Cardiff. They acquired lordship over it, and they gradually set about claiming exclusive ownership rights over as much of it as they could.

In short, the Butes stole Cardiff from the commoners. And they weren’t the only ones.

They simply finished doing what the Normans, and those who followed them had started.

And then, having extracted all the wealth that they could from it, they generously ‘gifted’ all the bits they didn’t need any more to the city corporation to look after.

Green spaces

They’re the parks and green spaces we’ve been left to enjoy today, so I hope that you are suitably grateful. The trouble is, as food prices start to rise, and more and more of us start looking to the land in and around the places where we live to meet the needs of our communities, we’re slowly starting to appreciate just what we’ve had taken from us.

As far as I know Coed Cardiff planted the apple trees.

And it is good to see what remains of the common gradually being reclaimed by the common folk who will soon be able to access at least one resource from Gwuan Treoda once again.

This gradual reclamation of common land is part of a wider blossoming of communities reclaiming access to the commons across Cymru. This is our Spring.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago

May the spirit of Benny Rothman be with you…

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
29 days ago

The Butes, and their estate managers and lawyers’, then set about parcelling up and selling off this land for commercial purposes, an enforced privatisation of the commons…

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

Frank
Frank
29 days ago
Reply to  Steve Woods

Nicely put.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
29 days ago
Reply to  Frank

Thanks, but I can claim no personal credit.

It’s the first verse of a poem written in opposition to the enclosures of common land from the 18th century onwards.

Frank
Frank
29 days ago
Reply to  Frank

Well thanks anyway for introducing us to such a true-to-form poem.

Frank
Frank
29 days ago

“Generosity”!!!! The Butes came here from Scotland when they smelled huge fortunes under the ground of South Wales. It was the Welsh that were generous letting them take what they wanted for free. They gave a little generosity back just to bull**** the Cymry but took a great deal more. I wonder if a Welshman could have swaned into Scotland or England and helped himself!!

Last edited 29 days ago by Frank
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago
Reply to  Frank

They did in Patagonia?…

Asking for an Argentinian friend…

They have a curious version of history taught by ‘Germans’ I believe…

Last edited 29 days ago by Mab Meirion
L. Edwards
L. Edwards
29 days ago

The Butes also tore down Caerphilly in the 1930s in order to restore the castle. They owned everything. There was no planning law. They could do what they liked. They demolished the town centre, leaving only the war memorial as evidence of where the main square once was. WWII then caused work on the castle to halt, the Butes subsequently decamped, and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works finished the job during the 50s. The war memorial now stands bleakly isolated in the midst of raging traffic. Those old enough to remember (now not many) insist the town never… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago

And now we have ‘Bute’ energy etc…any connection ?

L. Edwards
L. Edwards
29 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

None of the three directors is a Crichton-Stuart. Haven’t looked up their family trees

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
28 days ago
Reply to  L. Edwards

They too hail from Scotland, Jac covered them in June 23, conduit is Danish but the money is anyone’s guess…

Alwyn
Alwyn
26 days ago

Just what is Ken Moon whittering about? Has he EVER seen apples on the trees on Whitchurch Common? He won’t, since they’re cherry trees

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