Saturday 28 February 2015

The Land of My Fathers Reclaimed by Nickglais

Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr are re-publishing this article of Nickglais for St David's Day.

Between  1893 and 1894 Post Offices throughout Wales carried notices of a Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire, inviting people to attend public meetings with the purpose of taking evidence about the problems of Land tenure in Wales.

In all, Wales was to witness eighty such meetings with an additional nineteen meetings in London making for a total of ninety nine meetings to take evidence of tenants, landlords, the churches and other interested organisations.

The background to the Royal Commission was the activity of the Welsh Land League and Cymru Fydd and Gladstone's discussion of Home Rule all Around for Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

New disturbances erupted in the 1880s in Wales caused by tenant farmers and labourers being charged high rents by the landowners. The Welsh Land League that resulted in 1886 from this crisis approached the Welsh Land problem in a throughly constitutional way.

Whilst the problem of Land Tenure was central to the Royal Commission, there was also a tithe question in Wales where tenants were forced to pay tithes to the Anglican Church of Wales even if they were Non Conformists. The Welsh Land League was also active concerning the tithe problem and the issue was not finally resolved by legislation until the 1920's.

Whereas Ireland was to see a series of Land Acts effectively turning 10,000 large estates into 400,000 Irish owned farms overturning the Landlord tenant relationship.

The Royal Commission on Land for Wales and Monmouthshire concluded that the landord tenant relationship was the most "appropriate" for the Welsh.

The Royal Commission Report was a victory for the Landlords who were seen a "benevolent", despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

There was to be no buying out of the Landlords like in Ireland, but the Commission concluded that if some Welsh tenants were alreading buying their land then maybe assistance should be provided, however it was only retrospective and was not a future policy to be endorsed by the Commission.

Historians have interpreted the differences in the final Royal Commission Report between a majority report and a minority report has being the reason for the abandonment of a Welsh Land Act.

While the minority report was full blown Landlordism the majority report while acknowledging problems with Land Agents, compensation for improvements etc was only a more watered down version of Landlordism that we would expect from Liberals rather than Tories.

The fact that nothing happened and the Welsh Land Act was dead by 1900 shows that the constitutional approach to these matters did not work.

Lloyd George was consciously or unconsciously being absorbed by the interests of the British State, despite his flirtation with the Boers and despite his rhetoric against landords he was well on his way to becoming a servant of the British State.

Irish Land was going to be returned to the Irish people but Welsh Land was not going to be returned to the Welsh people.

One of the most deeply hidden secrets of the Victorian period was the massive expansion of Royal ownership of Land including Welsh Land enabled by an Act of 1862 which lifted restrictions on the Monarch's ownership of Land.

Since the Glorious Revolution and the placing of William of Orange on the throne through to the reign of William IV the monarchy was restricted by the rising bourgeoisie and landlords from owning more land has this was seen has a source of Royal social power and the bourgeoisie and the landlords wanted a tame symbolic monarchy.

Queen Victoria changed that, when she came to the throne, there were forty Lords owning more Land than her and she set about acquiring Land by any means necessary to restore the social power and prestige of the monarchy.

The Act of 1862 was a enabling mechanism for the monarchy to achieve real social power. A wide variety of vehicles were set in motion to achieve an  increase in Royal power, the Crown Estate, The Duchy of Cornwall and The Duchy of Lancaster.

I have estimated that Royal Lands from approximately 316,000 acres in Victorian Times approach 677,000 acres today. I would stress this is probably an underestimate has the Monarchy goes to great length's to hide it's extensive Land ownership including in Wales.

Needless to say the Monarchy has increased its Land ownership in Wales in the 20th Century.

Leaving aside the English Conquest of Wales in 1282 and The Tudor robbery of Welsh Lands one of the most invidious acts of expropriation of Welsh Land occurred between 1795 and 1874 aided and abetted by Welsh Landlords and Gentry collaborators in the Tudor Taff tradition, the real English lickspitals in Wales.This was accumulation by dispossession of the Welsh people.

Between 1795 and 1874 some 1,696,827 acres of Welsh Land belonging to the common people out of a total Welsh acreage of 5,121,013 was enclosed, deprived of community land for survival people many were driven into the industrial valleys for work, survival for ordinary folk in the nineteenth century Wales on the land was extremely hard and it looked to some with the Royal Commssion on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893 and 1894 that  help was at hand.

However hopes were dashed and the Welsh were betrayed by their erstwhile petty bourgeoise leaders who where more interested in the British State than the state of Wales.

Of course Lloyd George never failed to employ anti Landlord rhetoric when it suited him, but Wales was not going to be like Ireland or France with a large independent farming class owning its own land, the British State had decided that.

Kevin Cahill has pointed out in  "Who Owns Britain"  Wales remains a country with a small percentage of its people owning land. This of course also has implications for affordable housing has land is a key element in building new homes.

In 2012 the fallen banner of 1896 was picked up by Cymrwch Y Tir Yn Ol  and the struggle for a new Welsh Land Act is underway  and a campaign has been launched for the return of our stolen land and an electronic petition is circulating calling for the return of Royal and Aristocratic Lands in Wales to the people. Sign Here :

We are not calling for the redistribution of Welsh Land to Welsh tenant farmers like in Ireland but for the redistribution of Welsh Land to the people, the re-creation of Welsh common land that our fathers lost, like the one million acres lost between 1795 - 1874.

We support  new land vehicles like community Land Trusts, priority right to buy Land by Welsh communities similar to the Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003. Although the Scottish Land Reform Act is far to limited.

We should set ourselves the task of recovering one million acres of Welsh Land for the community land trusts and other community land owning vehicles over the coming  years.

The Great Unrest Group for a Welsh Socialist Republican Movement has set up a Welsh Land Commission for ongoing research into the Welsh Land Question and we appeal to you on St David's Day,our national day, to reclaim the Land of Our Fathers.

If the Land of your Fathers is dear to you it is time do something about it apart from singing - challenge people to sign the petition.


The Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire 1896.

Who Owns Britain by Kevin Cahill

Ken Morgan - Modern Wales

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