SLATE MASTERS: THE ASSHETON SMITH LAND OWNING GENTRY AND SLATE QUARRY CAPITALISTS and Their Enclosures of Common Land by Gethin Ap Gruffydd.
Thomas Assheton Smith (the elder) (1752 – 12 May 1828) was an English landowner who played a major part in the development of the Welsh slate industry
South Wales had it's English
Iron Masters and North Wales had it's Slate Masters as the Assheton Smith Family
whose history is a fascinating look at a land grabbing Gentry building up their
estates by shrewd use of Enclosure Acts.
A study of this family at land grabbing
enclosure of common land informs a little as to how parts of England lost it's
land owning peasantry.
They were to become landless labourers or labourers
employed by big farms and gentry estates,
I dare say similar patterns existed in
parts of Wales but what interests me here is the making of common people into
quarry workers in association with slowly developing slate Industry in Gwynedd.
Of particular interest here are the Faenol and Dinorwic Estates of the Assheton
Smiths' Slate Masters, focusing attention on Llandeiniolen which witnessed
Enclosure trouble of 1808 and disturbances of 1809.
At Llandeiniolen Quarrymen
of the area led by Foulk Evan and Richard Jones resisted being evicted from
their cottages, the cottages were pulled down but upon being rebuilt by the
Quarrymen Constables were called out to protect and oversee their being pulled
A crowd gathered and soon stones, mud, turf and hot water was thrown
at the constables, as consequence a magistrate was called out to read the Riot
Act and the disturbance quelled.
Foulk Evan and Richard Jones along with four
women , Margaret Owen, Jane Jones, Margaret Hughes and Jane Evans of
Llandeiniolen went on the run.
The Men were captures and imprisoned but later
released whilst the women had a five guineas price put on their heads requiring
Unfortunately Assheton Smith was to win out and he gained
possession of the land and the Quarrymens cottages were awarded to Assheton
The peasantry and workers, often living in Tai Unnos occupation of the
commons and margins of waste land were not just fearing enclosure because of
eviction alone. The majority lived a subsistence existence as a poor scrap of
land owning underclass be it just an acre for growing a little food or use of
waste for pigs and chickens and gathering of wood, nuts and berries.
and they would indeed be reduced to poverty and have to go 'on the Parish' and
be put in the work house or migrate away to seek work, an irony for in many
rural areas in the late 18th and early 19th century the poor had been encouraged
by the local 'powers that be' to occupy marginal land and build a Tai Unnos as a
means of giving them opportunity to be a little self sufficient and of course
not requiring parish relief.
Information on Enclosures in Wales, see the book Before Rebecca, Popular Protest
in Wales 1793 - 1835, David Jones, Penguin Publications.