Tuesday 7 April 2015

Tom Ellis - Liberal Imperialist : Plus Notes of evidence to the Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthsire in 1893

Thomas Edward Ellis (16 February 1859 – 5 April 1899), usually known as T. E. Ellis, was a Welsh politician who was the leader of Cymru Fydd, a movement aimed at gaining home rule for Wales.

Just in case you were not aware T.E.Ellis was also a Liberal Imperialist and outlined his reasons for Welsh Home Rule at a dinner at the Criterion Club for the British Empire Club in 1893.

"The more England, Scotland and Ireland allowed Welsh opinion to prevail in Welsh matters the more willingly would the Welsh people rally to the ideas of the commonwealth of Great Britain. We seek the power of initiative and of decision in our own affairs.
The more willingly and generously that power is extended us ,the more firmly and closely will Wales be knit to the very texture of the imperial fabric.

Page 63 : Wales Drops  the Pilots (1937)  by W. Hughes Jones
 Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr publish this historic evidence of Tom Ellis to the Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire to provide background the Land Question in Wales but opposes his Imperialist vision of Home Rule to a that of  Independent Wales and Socialism - a Welsh Socialist Republic.
We have recently pointed out that the discredited ideas of these Home Rulers accommodating to the British State are re-emerging again and need to be combated here :
See Also :
We greatly admire Tom Ellis's struggle for Welsh Land Reform but firmly reject his Liberal Imperialism.



IN 1893.




IN 1893.

I AM the son of a tenant farmer. I have been
three times returned to represent my
native county in Parliament. I have
been a fairly diligent student of the rural
economy of Wales. From my boyhood I
have had a strong and deepening conviction
that the system under which the land of
Wales is cultivated requires drastic modifica-
tion and reform. I have given frequent
expression to this conviction in the press and
on the platform, and since my entry into
Parliament, I have taken occasion to press
this conviction upon the attention of the
House of Commons, for instance, on the
Address in reply to the Queen's Speech in 1887,
by a Resolution in 1888, by obtaining evidence
for the select Committee on Small Holdings
in 1889, and on a motion for the Second
Reading of the Tenure of Land (Wales) Bill
in 1892. 253


For good or ill, English rule and English
law have imposed upon Wales the system
under which its land is held, occupied and
cultivated. In Wales, as in every other
country, the relations between the land-holder
or rent-receiver and the occupier of the soil
is one which must influence, if not control, the
whole system of society. The enormous
growth and development of industrial Wales
have helped to modify very materially the
influence which the land-holders and the land
system of Wales exercise over the life and
destiny of the Welsh people. Nevertheless,
the influence is still great, and we are entitled
to apply some tests of the efficacy and sanity
of the present system in Wales.

1. Is it calculated to produce a self-respecting

tenantry and peasantry who can think,
speak, act and combine like free men ?

2. Does it bring out the full capacity^of

the soil and ensure an adequate reward
to the tillers for their skill, outlay,
and labour ?


3. Does it conduce to enable as many

families as possible to live and thrive
on the land ?

4. Does it preserve for the common good the

user and revenue of the public or common

5. Is the rent or surplus produce of the land

over and above what is necessary to
feed, clothe, maintain and educate the
tillers of the soil, wisely spent in the
interest of the community of Wales ?

I believe that the land system of Wales,
when searchingly tried by these tests, stands
condemned. The answer to questions 1 and 2
is in the negative, mainly because of the
insecurity of the tenure incident to tenancies-
at-will. The answer to questions 3 and 4 is
in the negative owing to enclosures made
with or without Act of Parliament, to
consolidation of holdings, and to the grafting
of the manorial system upon the old Celtic
tenures of Wales. The answer to question 5 is


in the negative owing largely to the divergence
of aims and ideals, religious, social, political
and national, between the rent-receivers and
the tillers of the soil of Wales.

I consider insecurity of tenure the first
and worst evil worst for the peasants' rights
and duties of citizenship, and worst for good
husbandry in Wales. Tenants-at-will have
learnt to realise the insecurity of their tenure
by very diverse but effective methods. These
methods vary at different periods and on
different estates. Here are some instances :

1. Eviction for exercising an independent
judgment in politics.

The Commissioners have received some
evidence of this already. They will receive
more. It will take years to forget the thrill
of horror which spread through Wales, more
especially through its tenantry, after the
political evictions which followed the elections
of 1859 and 1868. Four uncles and relatives
of my own were evicted for refusing to vote
for the Tory candidate in 1859 :


Ellis Roberts, Fron Goch, j On the Rhiwlas
John Jones, Maes y Gadva, j Estate.
Edward Ellis, Ty Cerrig, j On Sir W. W.
John Thomas, PandyMawr, J Wynn's Estate.

In the election of 1865, the landlords of
this district stood in this hall to watch their
tenants voting, and I have heard tenants
express their shame that, terrified by the
evictions of 1859, they voted against their
will and conscience. It was after the election
of 1868 that Cardiganshire and Carnarvon-
shire suffered most. I have heard this called
Ancient History, but those who know Wales
know that the influence of the memories of these
evictions is far from spent.

2. The preservation of game.

During the last thirty years, there has
raged amongst some landlords a veritable
fever for game-preserving. The whole
paraphernalia of game-preserving have been
set up a hierarchy of gamekeepers, strict
sporting clauses in agreements, covers,


rabbit-warrens, pheasantries, the killing of
dogs and cats, the pursuit of poachers and
the confiscation of their guns and nets.
Under the rule of the former owner of Rhiwlas,
Richard W. Price, a remarkable man and
true captain of agricultural industry, who
intimately knew the farms and farmers on his
estate, there was on the Rhiwlas estate only
one gamekeeper and hardly any game. When
the present proprietor of Rhiwlas attained his
majority, the great game period began. A
crowd of English and Scotch game-keepers
was introduced and dotted all over the estate.
I cannot describe the repugnance to and the
loathing for the game preserving system engen-
dered by the overbearing conduct and petty
tyranny of many of these gamekeepers, by the
monstrous increase of rabbits and pheasants,
and by the immense losses occasioned by
depredations of game on the crops of struggling
farmers. I referred in the House of Commons
to an incident in connection with game, the
truth of which has been challenged in a widely-
circulated pamphlet. I shall give the details


of the incident. In February, 1867, on an
afternoon while my father was away in the
Vale of Clwyd, one of his two dogs, while
with the servant who was ploughing, ran after,
but did not catch, a hare. That night a
gamekeeper, one George Stretton, came to
the house and bullyingly recited the dog's
offence. Next day, after his return, my
father was ordered to take his two dogs to
Rhiwlas. Both were taken and shot. In less
than a fortnight, my father was confidentially
told by the only Welsh gamekeeper on the
estate that he would lose his farm, and that if
anything was to be done to avert the eviction,
it should be done quickly. My father went
at once to the estate agent, Mr. Schoon, who
said that he had not heard of the intention
to give him notice to quit, but rumours were
still rife. Months of anxiety passed. On the
first of September, Mr. Price and Mr. Woodruff
came to shoot over my father's fields, but would
not deign to look at my father. On
September 27th, a notice to quit came. My
father went at once to the estate agent to


know the reason. The reason was : " That
the dog had chased the hare, and that the
gamekeepers reported that my father destroyed
the hares on his farm." My father desired
to be brought face to face with Mr. Price or
his accusers, but the agent said it was not of
the slightest use going near Mr. Price. Weeks
of dread anxiety followed with sickness and
death in the family. After much negotiation,
the farm was offered to my father at an
increased rental of 10. His capital and 12
years' hard labour were sunk in the farm.
His children were very young. He was
attached to his home. The offer was an
ultimatum. It had to be accepted. During
the 26 years which have elapsed, every penny
of the 260 enhanced rent has been paid.
My father has forgiven, and wishes to forget
it all. But these things cannot be forgotten.
On the same day, Mr. William Roberts, of
Fedw Arian, received notice to quit, because
one of his sons was said to be a poacher. This
farm could not be retained, except by an
increase of the rent and the exile of the son
for ever from his home.


3. Dispossession of tenants owing to a
whim of the Landlord.

A former proprietor of farms in the Hirnant
Valley determined to get rid of the Welsh
tenants in order to bring in some Scotchmen.
Some Scotchmen came, but never thrived,
and there is now not a bone or stick of them
left. A similar policy was pursued in a part
of Breconshire with some apparent success
which the Commission will doubtless examine
on the spot.

4. Compulsory exaltations of rent under
the threat of eviction.

When a farmer receives a notice to quit in
order to have his rent raised, he is in a very
helpless condition. For to leave his farm is
to leave the fruits of his skill, outlay and
labour in his farm and to abandon his means of
livelihood. He is no more a free agent in the
contract than a purchaser is in a besieged and
straightened town. Sometimes rents are
raised in order to put the estate in the market.


This was the case on the Pale estate prior to
its purchase by the late Mr. Robertson.
Sometimes they are raised after purchase, as
was the case on the Tottenham Estate lower
down the Dee Valley, under the regime of an
estate agent named Mr. Sharpe. Sometimes
rents are raised on what is called a re- valuation.
In 1876, the Rhiwlas estate was re-valued by
Mr. Jenkins, then of Plas-yn-Ward. At one
stroke the rent of every farm was raised,
the rise varying from 8 to 33 per cent. The
impression of the country-side is ineradicable
that the rents were in many cases raised
above Mr. Jenkins' valuation. Mr. Jenkins
is still alive.

5. The exaction of high, sometimes im-
possible, rents in times of severe depression.

During the last ten years, there has been
great suffering. The absence of any impartial
authority to which the tenants might appeal
has been keenly and bitterly felt. It has
already been pointed out how, on the Rhiwlas
Estate, an attempt at a combination of the


tenants was treated. A respectful petition
signed by many of the tenants was sent to
Mr. Price, Those who signed the petition
received an abatement of 5 per cent., those
who did not were blessed with 10 per cent.
Under a system of tenancy-at-will, such an
artifice is very likely to produce a submissive
and subservient tenantry.

6. The uncertainty of obtaining compen-
sation for improvements.

I have obtained from my father an estimate
of the cost of the permanent improvements
which he has executed on his farm during his
tenancy (see following page) :


This is exclusive of the gates on the farm,
which almost without exception have been
supplied by my father. Most of these improve-
ments are unexhausted. Most of the fences
are more valuable to-day than they have
ever been. So are the hay-sheds and the
machinery for churning and chaff -cutting.
Yet, according to the Agreement, no com-
pensation will be paid for any of the drains,
stone walls, and quickset hawthorn fences
because more than 12 years have elapsed
since their construction. Nor will there be
according to the Agreement, in two or three
years, any compensation for expenditure upon
buildings. Yet, if the farm was put in the
market, it would probably fetch, mainly owing
to these improvements, nearly double the
sum which was paid for it when purchased. I
venture to think that this expenditure by
the tenant on these permanent improvements
on an upland farm, his payment of 3,400 in
rent, 350 in tithes, 450 in land tax and
rates, fairly establish what is popularly known
as " tenant right."


The Crofter Commission laid emphasis upon
the opinion so often expressed before them
that the small tenantry of the Highlands
have an inherited inalienable title to security
of tenure in their possessions while rent and
service are duly rendered. It is an impression
indigenous to the country, though it had not,
before 1886, been sanctioned by legal recogni-
tion, and had long been repudiated by the
action of the proprietors. There is a similar
ineradicable impression in Wales, and we urge
that it should likewise in Wales receive legal
recognition. The consolidation of estates,
the consolidation of farms, and the exercise
of manorial rights on the wastes and common
pastures of Wales contravene diametrically
the whole spirit of the old Celtic tenures of
Wales. Lists will be handed to the Com-
missioners from every rural district in Wales
showing how small tenancies have disappeared,
how the rural population is decreasing and
how labourers are drifting to the towns.
Enclosures have been ruthlessly made without
sufficient forethought for the poor. As a rule,
common pastures and meadows have been


shared among landowners of townships in a
proportion corresponding to the area of the
estates already belonging to them there. I
trust that this Commission will help to
regulate the remainder of unappropriated land
of Wales. In a return just issued by the
Board of Agriculture, it appears that there
are approximately in Wales 953,000 acres of
unenclosed mountain land, sheep runs and hill
grazings, over which sheep and other live stock
range for at least a portion of the year.

Mr. Price, of Rhiwlas, said at Bala (Q. 8169) :
" My tenants have sheep walks on mountain
land on this estate, which right is invested in

Mr. Wynne, of Peniarth, said at Barmouth
(Q. 9458) : " The rights of pasturage (on the
hill wastes) are vested in the owner. They
are part and parcel of the rents. If there were
no sheep walks, the farms would not command
half the rent."

The late Lord Penrhyn, before the Richmond
Commission (1879) said : " There was at one
time a great deal of pulling down walls in
one part of Carnarvonshire. There had been


an enclosure under the Enclosure Com-
missioners and the people, who were in the
habit of sending sheep on to the downs,
pulled down the walls from time to time ; and
when I was appointed the Lord Lieutenant
of the County, on finding that I could not get
any evidence against the parties who did it,
we got the county to raise an additional force
of police, and to quarter them in the district
and charge that district with the amount of
their expenses."

These deliberate statements how hill grazings
and common pasture have been enclosed, how
the rights to them are claimed to be vested
in the rent receivers, and how they are made
to swell the rent-rolls of great estates are facts
of pregnant interest to the student of the
economic history of the land of Wales under
the influence of English rule and law, especially
in the contrast which they afford to the student,
of the historical development of the agrarian
laws and customs of Switzerland. In the
ancient Laws of Wales, the common pastures
and hill grazings were jealously guarded by the
courts of the cantrev and cwmwd because, so runs


the law, " every wild and waste belongs to the
country and kindred (gwlad a chenedl), and
no one has a right to exclusive possession of
much or little land of that kind." That was
the cardinal principle. Every grant of the
waste, every encroachment was carefully
regulated by the cantrev and cwmwd courts.
With the revival of local self-government, some
public and local control of the common
pastures and hill grazings, in the interests of
rural economy, may fairly be expected.

The last of the five tests which were laid
down at the outset is perhaps becoming the
most serious and solemn question of all. Is
the rent or surplus produce of the land over and
above what is necessary to feed, clothe,
maintain and educate the tillers of the soil,
wisely spent in the interests of the community
of Wales.

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