Background: The Bute Estate and the great mineral wealth of South Wales
The Bute estate included huge swathes of land in Glamorgan. Much of this land was in the South Wales coalfield. Rather than engage in mineral extraction themselves, the Bute family made money from the land by leasing out the mineral rights.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century transport facilities were very limited. In 1782, a customs officer at Cardiff stated that “We have no coal exported from this port, nor ever shall, as it would be too expensive to bring it down here from the internal part of the country.” When transport facilities were so limited, it was difficult for the Marquess of Bute to fully exploit the mineral wealth under his land.
Developing new transport infrastructure was therefore in the interests of the estate. The second Marquess decided to invest in dock facilities on land that he owned around the mouth of the Taff, the obvious outlet for shipping coal around the world. You can find out more about how the Marquess used acts of Parliament to develop the Docks here.
Three streams of revenue came to the Bute estate as a result of the development of the docks. The most direct was the dock earnings. As the Butes also owned much land in and around Cardiff they also benefitted from increased urban rents as a result of the growing city. Finally, the mineral royalties from Bute property also increased as their exploitation was made much easier by the provision of dock facilities.
The Bute family was also involved in the development of railways linking the mineral wealth of the valleys with the docks. Bute trustees promoted the Rhymney Railway which connected a number of valleys with the Bute Docks. The first branch opened in 1858, linking with the Taff Vale Railway. The Butes were major investors in the railway and gave some of the land on which it was built.
The investment that the Butes made in infrastructure eventually paid off. By the end of the nineteenth century revenue from the Bute estate was one of the highest in the country for an estate of its size. From £25,000 in 1850, the income from coal royalties reached £115,000 per annum by 1918.