Dynevor - The Twentieth Century
The high point of the Dynevor's fortunes appears to have been the mid-19th century with the major makeover of Newton House from an 18th century gentleman's residence into a high-Victorian, mock-gothic stately home. Even Llandyfeisant church was completely rebuilt from the ruins of the old medieval building, which would suggest a large retinue of retainers, estate workers and tenant farmers to worship there. In keeping with their status as a gentry family, the Dynevors would have had their own pew reserved for family members only. The DuBuisson family who owned the nearby Glynhir estate also had their own pew in Llandybie church. As we've already seen in the Introduction above, the family estates in 1883 consisted of 7,208 acres in Carmarthenshire, 3,299 acres in Glamorgan, besides 231 acres in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Total: 10,738 acres, producing £12,562 a year income and equivalent to £573,596 a year at today's values. (When Richard Charles Uryan Rhys became the 9th Baron in 1962 the land that came with the title had shrunk to 2,000 acres.)
By contrast, when the 6th Baron, Arthur De Cardonnel (Rice), had died in 1911, he left in his will £72,383 gross, and £70,714 net. Multiply that by the 1911 conversion value of £54.85 (Bank of England figure) and the net value of the will amounts to £3,878,663 in today's money.
The early 20th century, too, must have seemed like a long summer afternoon that would never end. The southern part of the Dynevor's demesne, the Amman Valley, was booming thanks to that most generous of benefactors, King Coal, and the Dynevors sold land as if they had a bottomless well of the stuff. This was used to build the housing, roads, shops, places of worship, factories, coal mines and services for the rapidly expanding population. They came from all over Wales and beyond, from the English shires as well as the Welsh counties, but especially from Welsh-speaking Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire and they ensured that the Welsh language dominated the area. (There was even a shift known as the 'Cardi' in Emlyn colliery, Penygroes, at one point.) All, Welsh or English, were drawn by the explosive growth in the coal, rail and tinplate industries that developed above the rich anthracite seams of the valley.
Those were the days when coal was king and the valleys were the throne. For beneath the rugged mountains there was coal in abundance - steam coal for the navy, coking coal for the furnaces and anthracite coal for the hearth. And as the cry went out for coal and still more coal, the roads to the valleys were crowded with men in search of work and 'life'. They came from the countryside in the North and the West of the Principality and the shires across the Severn. And as they came they brought with them their way of life - the chapel and the choir, the Rechabite 'tent' preaching abstinence from drink, and the pub, the rugger ball and the boxing booth - all mixed up together. And as they settled in the valleys the cottages climbed even higher up the mountainside until the mining village looked like a giant grandstand.
The life of a collier was hard and brittle. The day's toil was long and perilous. Everyday someone would be maimed - and every year some valley would experience the agony of an explosion. Yet in spite of it all or, perhaps even because of it all, the men and women who came to the valley created a community throbbing with life. Thrown together in the narrow valley, cut off from the world outside, they clung together fiercely, sharing the fellowship of common danger. Life in the valleys has a magic of its own, and to us who grew up in the glow of its fires there comes a nostalgic longing - 'hiraeth' as they say in our mother language - of the fellowship of long ago.
Jim Griffiths, 'Pages From Memory', 1969
So wrote Jim Griffiths (1890 - 1975), a Betws miner who rose to become the Labour MP for Llanelli, Minister of State for National Insurance and the First Secretary of State for Wales. These vivid words describing Ammanford at the beginning of the twentieth century come from his autobiography 'Pages From Memory' published in 1969.
This land in the south belonged to the Dynevors in what had once been a tiny agricultural corner of the Parish of Llandybie called Cross Inn, where the Amman and Loughor rivers join forces at the foot of the Betws mountain. The Dynevors owned so much of the district that when the residents of Cross Inn voted to change its name to Ammanford in 1880, one of the suggested names had actually been Dynevorville!
On the 1st of October 1880, the following article appeared in the local newspaper:
It has been proposed to call CROSS INN, which is in the parish of Llandybie, in the County of Carmarthen, from this time forth, after the Right Hon. Baron, who owns the place, DYNEVOR.
By adopting a new name, it is hoped to get rid of all previous annoyances, and also, that the other Cross Inn may benefit by the change.
Notice that giveaway use of the word 'owns', more appropriate to 1280 and serfdom than 1880 surely, but revealing nonetheless. The proposal to rename Cross Inn to Dynevorville had come from one Lewis Bishop, Estate Manager to Lord Dynevor at the time, so hardly a disinterested party. Fortunately this somewhat vainglorious suggestion was rejected and, after several more public meetings, Ammanford it has been ever since.
The population of Cross Inn, which eventually became the administrative district of Ammanford Urban District Council in 1903, was tiny. The Reverend Rhys Powell was ordained in 1811 as the minister of Cross Inn Chapel (renamed Christian Temple in 1865) and he describes the population of Cross Inn as being around 300 during his term. Yet in just 100 years this would grow to 6,000 souls with the most spectacular growth being from 3,500 in 1901 to 6,000 in 1910. 'Kelly's Directory for South Wales' for 1910 describes Ammanford thus:
The parish [ie Ammanford] is governed by an Urban District Council of 15 members, formed in 1903, under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1894. The town is lighted by electricity supplied by the Ammanford Electric Supply. The church of St. Michael's and All Angels, erected in 1885, at a cost of £1,257.7s.7d. is an edifice in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, vestry, and a bell cot, containing one bell. There are 200 sittings.
There are Wesleyan, Baptist, Congregational and Calvinistic Methodist chapels. In the parish are tinplate works and collieries. The Ivorites Hall is used for concerts, theatricals and public meetings, and will seat about 1,600 persons. A market is held here every Saturday. Brynffin is the property and residence of Lieut.-Col. David Morris. The Hon. W. F. Rice, Mrs. Jones of Carregamman, and W. N. Jones esq. J.P. are the principal landowners. The area is 878 acres; rateable value, £11,491 ; the population in 1901 was 3,500 and is now [ie in 1910] about 6,000.
By the dawn of the twentieth century the Amman valley coalfield had become so important to the Dynevor's fortunes that they soon had need to open a new office to administer the rent and sale of land to property developers, builders and businesses. The location chosen for their land office was not on their genteel, fox-hunting Llandelio estate, but just south among the collieries and tinplate works of Ammanford. Purpose built in 1914 on College Street, its strong-room had eighteen inch thick walls and heavy steel fire-proof doors where plans, deeds, registers and other legal documents and valuables could be stored. This was the office from which three generations of the Bishop family managed Lord Dynevor's extensive land holdings and business transactions until the 1960s, when large tracts of land were sold to pay death duties resulting from the demise of the 7th and 8th Barons in quick succession. The Dynevor Estate's office now had to close, there being very little land left to manage or business to transact, and it was sold as a private residence in 1966. (Source: W.T.H. Locksmith, 'Ammanford: Origins of Street Names', 2000, page 66.)
Clues to how much of Ammanford was once owned by the Dynevors can still be seen in some of today's street names, those fossil remains of past greatness by which a family's name can live on long after the passing of its family members. Thus we see Walter Road (after the 7th Baron Walter Fitz Uryan Rice, mentioned above); Margaret Street, after his wife, Margaret Childe-Villiers, eldest daughter of the 7th Earl of Jersey, whence also Villiers Road. Then there's Union Street named after their marriage; Talbot Road, after an earlier dynastic marriage to the daughter of Earl Talbot in 1756 (see above). Bishop Road is so called after three generations of the Dynevor's estate managers surnamed Bishop, and Rice Street in Betws derives from the former family name of Rice. Iscennen Road comes from Lord of Is-kennen, an earlier title used by the medieval ancestors of the Dynevors. Other vestiges of their presence, no longer found in Ammanford, were the Dynevor tinplate works and Dynevor Arms Hotel (both in Pantyffynnon); Cardonel Terrace, now absorbed into Pantyffynnon Road; Dynevor & Maesquarre colliery (Betws) and Dynevor Terrace (Tirydail). And, further up the Amman valley, the raven emblem on the Dynevor coat of arms furnished the name for the Raven Colliery, Raven Tinplate works (operating from 1881 to 1940) and Raven Arms Hotel in Garnant. (W.T.H. Locksmith, 'Ammanford: Origins of Street Names', 2000.) The family's former Neath Abbey estates bear further witness to past glories, especially in Skewen, where there was once a Dynevor Coal Company, a Cardonnel Tinplate Works (after the 6th Baron), and a Dynevor Foundry and Brickworks. There was also a former Dynevor Station on the main Swansea to London railway line, and a Cardonnel Halt on the Vale of Neath Line, while road names such as Dynevor Road and Cardonnel Road also reveal traces of former ownership.
The Dynevor's wealth in the past had come from agriculture; some from land they farmed themselves, but mostly in rents from their numerous tenant farmers. Ominously though, like most of the aristocracy and landed gentry, they didn't fully adapt to the new economy that was stealing up on them from every direction, what we now call the industrial revolution, except for some minor involvement in industrialisation on their Neath Abbey estates. Instead, they prospered in the short-term from the sale of their only assets - land - without realising that the supply was not endless. Some members of the aristocracy, it's true, did see which way the economic wind was blowing and went along with its drift, investing in this new way of doing business and evolving from landowners into industrialists in the process. Often this involved exploiting the mineral wealth such as coal, or iron and copper ore lying beneath their land. Many 'old money' families didn't take (or even notice) these opportunities that lay, quite literally, under their feet and suffered the consequences. More to the point, many industrialists soon became aristocrats themselves when they received titles by virtue of their huge wealth and power. The Darwinian imperative 'evolve or die' applies as much to human institutions and practices as it did to the long vanished dinosaurs.
The Dynevors did embark on limited industrial ventures, especially on their Neath Abbey estate, but these appear not to have survived the depression years between the two wars. Closer to home (home in this case being the Towy and Amman valleys) the Dynevors leased land and mineral rights to Richard Kyrke Penson to build the Cil-yr-ychen limestone quarry in Llandybie in 1857 (the splendid gothic kilns Penson built are still standing and can be seen from the main Swansea to Llandeilo A483 trunk road). This quarry inially produced limestone for railway construction:
The quarry was founded by Penson in 1857 on the basis of a 60 years lease with mineral rights of Dinas, part of the Cil-yr-ychen farm on the Dynevor estate, mainly with the aim of selling stone and lime to the Central Wales Railway.
CADW report for Cil-yr-ychen lime kilns, record number 10916, 1999.
The railway-building era in this part of Carmarthenshire began in 1840 when the Llanelly Dock Company reached Pantyffynnon, at the confluence of the Amman and Loughor rivers, with a line for conveying coal, and it reached its peak in the 1860s when passenger lines were extended northwards. Llandeilo was reached from Ammanford (still called Cross Inn) by 1857, Llandovery in 1858, and the final connection with north-east Wales was made in 1868. The Llandeilo to Carmarthen line was completed in 1864. Lime was also produced for spreading on farm land, but this was an industry fatally tied to agriculture, and lime production declined in step with farming's slow death throughout the twentieth century. Lime burning ceased in 1973 and the quarry was bought out by the giant MacAlpine construction company in 1975, who ceased the production of lime in favour of hardcore for the nearby M4 motorway, and the quarry was finally closed in 2001 even for stone quarrying.
We also have a glimpse back in 1770 of an earlier attempt at industrialisation when an ancestor of the Dynevors was involved in a project to build a canal in Ammanford. In 1770 one William Fenton of Pantyffynnon presented a petition to Parliament in London seeking permission to build a canal from the Loughor Estuary at a point called 'Pencoed' which was the highest accessible point for ocean going vessels. The destination of the proposed canal was to be Pantyffynnon Mill at the confluence of the Amman and Loughor rivers. Nothing came of the venture but the petition, which has survived, concludes with these words:
And it is referred to Mr. Rice, Lord Lisburne, &c.: And they are to meet this Afternoon, at Five of the Clock, in the Speaker's Chambers and have Power to send for Persons, Papers, and Records.
The Mr. Rice referred to was one George Rice, the local MP at the time, and whose son would become the 3rd Baron Dynevor in 1793. He appears not to have pursued these new industrial possibilities and the family continued mainly with the traditional (i.e. agricultural) way of securing their wealth.
But fast-forward to the twentieth century and the coup de grace to the Dynevor's fortunes seems to have come not from frittering away their inheritance, or at least not directly. Nor did it stem from another time-honoured cause, much loved by novelists, the spendthrift son who wastes the family fortune in gambling and other dissipations. Instead it came from the remorseless economic decline that followed the First World war. Population in the Amman Valley increased every decade from 1851 to 1931. But after the explosive growth between 1901 and 1911 (Ammanford alone grew from 3,508 to 6,074 in this decade) the influx of people into the Amman Valley coalfield slowed down somewhat but still kept growing for about twenty years or so. Until the depression of the 1930s, that is, when the population figures started to flatten out before entering an actual decline as people began to leave the area in search of work, a trend that has only been reversed in the last twenty years or so. The coalfield part of the Dynevors' land was concentrated in the south, in the Parishes of Llandybie, Betws and the Amman Valley. By now the Dynevors were relying more and more on the sale of land for their income, a healthy state while population grows, and people need land for homes, roads, workplaces and other buildings. As population declines however then so will the need for land - and therefore the revenues from land. The Dynevors must also have suffered a loss of income from agricultural rents as well, for the poverty in the middle of the century was terrible beyond anything we can imagine today. Here are the combined population figures for this region from the census figures of 1861 to 1971:
Note: These figures are for Llandybie Parish, Ammanford Urban District Council, Betws Parish and Cwmaman Urban District Council. There was no census in 1941 due to the war.
We can see how the manpower in the coal industry reflected the decline:
Paradoxically, the outbreak of war in 1939 brought a temporary halt to the decline of the family fortunes when their Llandeilo estate was taken over by the army for the duration of hostilities:
Offering Dinefwr Castle to the War Office in 1939 for the use of the army prevented the seizure and destruction suffered by many other noble houses. Despite the army quitting Dinefwr after the war, failing health [of the 7th Baron] led to the stagnation and decline of Dinefwr.
from the entry for RHYS, Walter Fizuryan, 7th Baron Dynevor, 'Dictionary of Welsh Biography', 2001, page 220
As well as the Dinefwr estates in Llandeilo the family had an estate in Neath Abbey which included mineral rights and which they had acquired by one of several beneficial marriages, in this case of Griffith Rice, M.P. for Carmarthenshire in 1701-1710, who married Katherine, daughter and co-heiress of Philip Hobby of Neath Abbey. The 8th Baron, Charles Arthur Uryan Rhys, sold the Dynevor portion of the Neath Abbey estate in September 1946. This portion had amounted to 2,620 acres, extending from Cilfrew to Crumlyn Brook at Jersey Marine, and included 13 farms and industrial sites. During the 1930s the 8th Baron had also been one of the directors of the Richard Thomas and Baldwin tinplate works on the family's Neath Abbey estate.
Perhaps the Dynevors' fortunes recovered somewhat after the war; the Dictionary of Welsh Biography informs us that the 8th Baron began an extensive refurbishment of Newton House in the 1950s and a 'rationalisation' of their finances which involved the sale of estate properties. But then an adversary no-one can do much about in the long run suddenly appeared on the scene - the grim reaper himself, or in this case one of his henchmen who went by the name of death duties.
When the 7th Baron Dynevor died in 1956, his son Charles Arthur Uryan Rhys succeeded to the title to become the 8th Baron. He however died in 1962 (along with several other previous Lords he is buried in Llandyfeisant Church on the Dynevor estate in Llandeilo). The resulting duties from two deaths in quick succession plunged the estate into crisis. Charles Uryan Rhys, 9th Baron Dynevor, inherited the remaining holding of the Llandeilo estate, at the time (1962) comprising 23 farms and 2,000 acres, a ruined castle, a deer park with a herd of rare long horned white cattle, and substantial unpaid death duties. (Source: www.archivesnetworkwales.info ). Large tracts of land were sold to pay off these death duties and even the Dynevor Estate's office on College Street had to close, being sold as a private residence in 1966. The sale of most of the family's land to pay death duties had rendered a land office somewhat superfluous. Death duties had hit the family harder, and more damagingly, than any prodigal son, real or imagined, could have done.
With most of their land already sold they had no option but to turn to their estate in Llandeilo and dispose of the family jewels, so to speak. Newton House was sold in 1974 with its surrounding parkland following piecemeal over the next thirty years, all of which ended up eventually in public ownership. The National Trust acquired the deer park and the outer park at Dinefwr in 1987. Newton House was purchased by the Trust in 1990 having been through several hands since first sold by Lord Dynevor in 1974. The East Drive was acquired in 1992 and the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated the purchase of Home Farm and Penparc in 2002.
We don't have details of the death duties that dealt such a fatal blow to the Dynevor's fortunes in 1956 and 1962, but the Third Earl Cawdor, who died 8th February 1911, left £633,328 gross in his will, but only £52,973 net. (Source: 'Complete Peerage', Vickery Gibb, 1916.) With the pound in 1911 worth £54.85 of today's purchasing value (Bank of England figures) that's £34,738,041 reduced to £2,905,569, a huge grab indeed by the state. As we've seen above, the Cawdors lost all their Welsh lands within just 50 years of this thunderbolt striking them and they only held on to their historic castle in Scotland by turning it into a tourist attraction (it even has its own golf course).
With hindsight, the major rebuilding of Newton House in the nineteenth century may have sown the seeds of the Dynevors' downfall in the twentieth. Many landed families at this time lavished vast amounts on their stately piles, buildings of dubious architectural merit in many cases (one word - 'hideous' - would serve for some of these monuments to Victorian bad taste). This often left families unable to maintain such vast properties if their fortunes suffered a reversal in the future, which is just what happened to the Dynevors who, along with almost the entire class of the landed gentry, were soon to disappear into the dusty pages of the history books. Herbert M. Vaughan (1870 - 1948) was one such member of this doomed class and he described the leading families of the gentry in his little book, 'The South Wales Squires' (published 1926). In a chapter entitled 'Men and Mansions', Herbert Vaughan certainly shares this view, whose sigh of nostalgia for this vanished world is quickly followed by a groan of despair:
There is nothing more charming and restful than an old matured country house that reflects within and without the tastes of a succession of occupants. Somehow the different styles and periods of building and furnishing automatically tend to harmonize and the result is most pleasing to the eye and gives character to the whole ...
The mania for building, which once obsessed the Irish squirearchy, did not begin to show itself in a virulent form in South Wales till after the middle of the last (19th) century. More's the pity it should ever have arisen, for instead of avoiding the fatal mistake of the Irish gentry, the Welsh squires took to imitating their follies, with the result that today many a landowner in south Wales is lamenting the extravagance of his predecessors, who rebuilt or enlarged the family seat. Apart from the cost, nearly all these additions or rebuildings were carried out during a very low period of architecture, so that in most cases they appear false and alien to the scenery, traditions and requirements of Wales. French Gothic, sham Elizabethan, London Cubit-built or castellated in 'ye olde baronial style', all are equally abominable.
Herbert Vaughan, 'The South Wales Squires', 1926, pages 81-82
The end of the 'squirearchy' - the rule of the country squire, or landed gentry - didn't end in one fateful event however, but had been happening slowly and remorselessly throughout the nineteenth century. Former squire Herbert Vaughan leaves us a description, from the horse's mouth as it were, of this strata of society and their demise. He defines a squire as follows:
Now I consider that to be ranked as a squire in the proper sense of that term there are three qualifications necessary. First, there must be a mansion or residence; second, there must be a home-farm or demesne attached to the residence; and third, there must be an estate, no matter how large or how small, provided there are tenants of the owner of the mansion ... an estate with tenants is an absolute necessity to the true squire, who must therefore own an immediate personal interest in all land legislation, as well as in the ordinary matters of local administration.
'The South Wales Squires', page 4, by Herbert M. Vaughan, originally published in 1926; reprinted in 1988, with a forward by Byron Rogers, by Golden Grove Editions.
Until the twentieth century at least, the Dynevors satisfied all three of these criteria, plus a fourth which Vaughan doesn't consider really necessary - wealth:
The Welsh squire, as I conceive him, was rarely wealthy, although there was a certain proportion of opulent and sometimes titled landowners in Wales, who either sat in the House of Lords or who were usually elected - in the past, of course - to represent their constituencies in the House of Commons. Rather, my term is intended to apply chiefly to that once-numerous class of resident landowners in South Wales, whose incomes varied from £2,000 to £3,000 a year down to those whose estates produced an annual rental of between £1,000 and £500 ... And in this connexion it must also be borne in mind that the magistracy of the county bench was then confined solely to the landed interest. Until the present century [ie the twentieth] only those persons who owned a yearly income of £100 direct from land, or could claim a prospective income of £300 a year from the same source were eligible for the magisterial office, which meant that only squires, the eldest sons of squires, and yeomen who were fairly wealthy, could by statute be placed on the Commission of the Peace [i.e. become Magistrates] by the Lord-Lieutenant of the county.
Herbert Vaughan, as above, page 3
Because the Lord-Lieutenant of the County was also its leading landowner, his motives for appointing local magistrates could not always be separated from his self-interest, nor the need to maintain the status quo - we've already seen the sweeping powers of the 4th Lord Dynevor during the Rebecca Riots. No-one in the nineteenth century could have even dreamed that the power of the large landowners would one day end, nor how soon that day would dawn:
Indeed, Wales was remarkable for its preponderance of large, landed estates. Over 60 per cent of the principality, as recorded in the 'new Domesday Book' compiled by John Bateman in 1873, consisted of estates of over 1,000 acres. These estates were in the hands of only 571 landowners, a mere one per cent of the total owning land in some form.
Kenneth O. Morgan, 'Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880 - 1980', page 9, University of Wales, 1981.
It wouldn't take long for all that to change. Before Herbert Vaughan, writing in 1926, gives us the histories of the leading South Wales squires, including the Dynevors, he first describes their death-throes:
Until some forty years ago then the gentry or the squirearchy - call them what you will - were the real rulers of the country-side. They interpreted the law at Petty Sessions [i.e. magistrates' courts]; they were responsible for all local administration at Quarter Sessions [i.e. jury trials]; they constituted in fact a ruling caste, and on the social side the wives and daughters and mothers of these magistrates shared their rule. That far-reaching power of the Welsh gentry has now been completely broken, or rather removed. The County Council Act of 1887 (which by the way was the measure of a so-called Tory Government) was a blow that in Wales smote the whole class beyond recovery.
Henceforward all matters of local administration were placed in the hands of popularly elected bodies, and even the supervision of the county police had to be shared with the newly created County Council. The Parish Councils Act of a few years later, though not nearly so vital in its effects, helped to complete their discomfiture. There still remained the legal powers as exercised chiefly at Petty Sessions, but these too have been largely curtailed by the filling of the local Benches with ambitious members from a different social stratum. The prerogative of the Lords-Lieutenant also has been greatly diminished by the appointment of Advisory Committees, whose democratic members vigorously assert the claims to office of persons of their own standing ...
Thus the status of the once all-powerful squirearchy had already been reduced to a low ebb, when the crowning catastrophe of the Great War dealt the final and fatal blow. Owing to loss in income and heavy taxation, their land was and is being put up for sale in all directions; country-seats were sold or abandoned; whilst of the squires who remained in their old homes a certain proportion has taken again to cultivating the home-farms, which had for the most part been leased or let as accommodation land. These survivors of the storm have now become gentlemen-farmers, content to stand aloof for the most part from the public life of the [magistrates'] Bench or the County Council. As an influential class, then, the old squirearchy has been practically wiped out; only here and there do a few of its members still seek to leaven the mass of local politics. In other words, it is a positive fact that, for good or bad, the Welsh squirearchy is becoming a thing of the past.
Herbert Vaughan, as above, pages 4 - 5
If all this was true in 1926, how much more so after the Second World War, when the Dynevors' land and fortunes were themselves wiped out? Herbert Vaughan had been a squire himself and ' The South Wales Squires ', despite its sometimes self-pitying and self-justifying lapses, offers a real insider's glimpse into this once powerful but now long-dead social class, effectively moribund even in 1926. Their once-sumptuous mansions were exercises in conspicuous consumption long before that phrase was coined, and what few have escaped the bulldozers now lie in ruins, or survive only as hotels and old people's homes. Those few great houses that still stand in their original condition owe their second chance to the lifelines offered by public ownership and tourism.
Fortunately, and at risk of upsetting today's aristocracy and their admirers, the Dynevor estate in Llandeilo has been rescued from their wayward stewardship of recent years and is now available for the general public to admire, a far more democratic mix of folk than the Lords Rhys or Dynevor could have envisaged at any time in their long and eventful pasts.
If the Dynevors had suffered injury by the loss of their lands, insult was not far behind when the current Baron, along with about 700 other hereditary peers, was removed from the House of Lords in 1999. The Labour Government elected in 1997 had promised reform of the upper chamber of Parliament, a promise they swiftly enacted. The British House of Lords was until then a thoroughly antiquated institution, a completely unelected body of more than 1,200 people who nonetheless constituted the upper house of the British Parliament. Over 800 of these were hereditary peers who, by virtue of nothing except an accident of birth, were able to have a considerable influence on British politics and all the acts of parliament that passed through their hands. But an electorate who expected reform to mean abolition of this left-over from the Middle Ages, and its replacement by an elected upper house, soon found it was their turn to be shafted by the government. Some 700 hereditary peers were, it's true, unceremoniously shown the door but 92 were kept, along with over 500 (unelected) Life Peers and 26 (unelected) Bishops, leaving a 'reformed' House of 731 Lords and not a single one of them ever subjected to popular ballot (as of June 2005 anyway) and with only a tiny elected number promised for some unspecified time in the future. So much for the pledge contained in the 1997 Labour election manifesto:
The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute.
Or not, as the case may be.
For a history of the attempts to reform the House of Lords see the BBC websiteTop