An extract from the book -
The Land Agents of Nanteos
The old Estate Office at Nanteos is located in the rear courtyard on the first floor, measuring 5.40metres x 4.55metres (17’8feet x 14’11feet).
Originally, the only access into the Estate Office was via an external entrance via a footbridge, constructed by two planks of wood topped with slate slabs and wrought iron handrails on either side.
Estate Office 1992 showing the original entrance, and evidence of the footbridge at the base of the photograph.
The entrance to the Estate Office before it was blocked up for renovations.
The land agent was not seen as a member of the main workforce of a landed estate; he was part of a higher hierarchy, and his role was that of overseer of the general estate. Though not generally a popular figure within the estate, nevertheless he was essential for the upkeep and successful running of a busy estate.
‘Known originally as land stewards or bailiffs, land agents were first employed during the seventeenth century by wealthy noblemen to collect rents, keep accounts and supervise farming operations on large properties. Such men became increasingly important during the Georgian period as estates were expanding through the enclosure of open fields and common land and developed for agricultural, forestry and sporting purposes.’[i]
A reliable and competent land agent was essential to the successful, smooth running of a country estate. Unfortunately, at the start of the nineteenth century, the Nanteos estate was running far from smoothly:
…local agents, who were unreliable and unpopular with the tenants had, in the absence of any responsible resident member of the family, been systematically mulcting the estate.[ii]
The reason for this at Nanteos were probably due to William Edward Powell’s youth, he was only nine years of age when he inherited Nanteos, he took control at the age of twenty-one, and with his lack of experience, it allowed his agents to take advantage together with the added lengths of time when William away from the estate:
A generation of mismanagement by inept agents, corrupt bailiffs and indifferent tenants holding their farms at unrealistically low rents had produced the inevitable result of dilapidation and decay. Tenancy covenants had been neglected, farm buildings allowed to tumble to ruins, and hedges and walls permitted to fall into disrepair.[iii]
In 1817, however, Adam Armstrong was appointed as the Nanteos estate agent and bailiff. He was hard-working, trustworthy, and totally dedicated to the Powell family, even to the extent of naming his daughter Laura Edwyna, after William Edward Powell’s wife.
He arranged the farm leases, collected rents and payments, and organised all manner of sales for the estate. In the course of his duties dealing with numerous tenant farms, he travelled extensively, often overnight, into Brecon and Carmarthenshire. During his tenure at Nanteos, he lived opposite the Nanteos Lodge at Ty’n y Rhyd (now sadly demolished).
He was not always popular with the tenant farmers. Amongst other things, his duties involved collecting the farm rents and making sure that the tenant farmers maintained their buildings, land and livestock to a high standard.
Unfortunately for the estate, in 1820, after three years’ loyal and devoted service, he was dismissed because of his criticism of the way the Nanteos estate was being run. After his dismissal, he wrote to Powell stating:
I could forgive any trait of your conduct towards me save that of letting my character be blackened by people with a vested interest in breaking the confidence between us.[iv]
With William’s lack of knowledge of the running of an estate he ‘seems to have regarded his agents in much the same way as most men would regard a pair of shoes; to be worn, used and finally rejected. Nanteos agents and bailiffs were regularly subjected to salary reductions, summary dismissals and mischievous character assassination on the part of their subordinates.’[v] With the departure of such good land agent, Powell did not realise how much good that Armstrong had done for the estate.
His departure was a major loss to the estate. Armstrong seems to have returned some level of control and order to the running of the estate. On leaving the estate he stayed in Aberystwyth for a while and became a brandy merchant in the town before moving to London, then on to Scotland, before eventually emigrating to Australia, where his descendants still live today.
There are over fifty letters deposited with the National Library of Wales, written by Adam Armstrong showing how he kept Powell up to date with estate matters during his tenure. They show him to have been a hard-working land agent, who tried his utmost, but sadly to no avail.
Today, Adam Armstrong’s legacy is remembered in this book shown above ‘Adam Armstrong Foundling Father of Dalkeith’ by Robert Couzens.
With the death of William Edward Powell in 1854, his son William Thomas Rowland Powell took over the estate. He was helped by his first cousin William Edward Phelp. Unfortunately, W.T.R. Powell and Phelp were not particularly well liked by the Nanteos tenants:
…neither he [Powell] nor Phelp could speak or understand Welsh, relying almost entirely upon the services of a translator, one Davy Edwards, in their business affairs with the tenants’[vi]
That in itself almost certainly gave rise to problems of trust and communication.
THE CAMBRIAN NEWS
9 JUNE 1939
**Old Pistol – An old revolver, stated to be over a hundred years old, was found last week during excavations on the Maesheli housing Estate. It is a five-chamber powder percussion revolver and dates back to 1835. The gun is in excellent condition though the woodwork has been eaten away. The revolving chamber is in working order, but the trigger is slightly damaged. **
Maesheli estate was built on the Nanteos Estate land and in the 1820s cases of poaching were so bad that the Powells’ gamekeeper had to carry a pair of pistols for protection.
Fortunately, in 1856 a well-known local man, Thomas Griffiths (b.1833-d.1902) was appointed as the Nanteos land agent. He was popular and thoroughly trustworthy, known as ‘T.G.’ or ‘Griffiths Bach Nanteos’. He had been born in Penglanowen, and brought up on a tenant farm there. He knew the estate well, and before his appointment at Nanteos had been employed as an accountant and clerk by several influential people in the Aberystwyth area. He was the land agent to the Nanteos estate until the death of William Thomas Rowland Powell in 1878.
Under the four-year stewardship of George Powell (the son of W.T.R. Powell), Sylvanus Howell Lewis became land agent to the estate. He was the brother-in-law of William Beauclerc Powell, who took over the estate with the death of his cousin George Powell in 1882. Sylvanus H. Lewis (b.1828-d.1903) of Plas Newydd, Newcastle Emlyn, left his family home and moved into Nanteos, where he lived until his death in 1903.
Sylvanus Howell Lewis, Land Agent[vii]
When William Beauclerc Powell took over the Nanteos estate in 1882, better financial management and organisation began to be introduced. Such improvements were, to some extent, achieved by selling a number of farms and cottages to pay off some of the estate’s debts. Although a member of the Powell family employed as a land agent may not necessarily have been particularly good at his job, the tenants were possibly more amenable to having a Powell in charge.
After Sylvanus Lewis became too ill to carry out the duties of land agent, Hugh Lloyd was appointed to the post. He had started work at Nanteos as a clerk in 1884, and was promoted to the role of land agent with the illness of Sylvanus, who died the following year. Hugh Lloyd lived at the Nanteos Cottage (known today as The Woodlands) with his wife Harriet. They had five children, James, William Henry, Idris, Gladys and John Hughes (who sadly died in 1898, aged ten months). After just six years as the Nanteos land agent, Hugh Lloyd suddenly passed away on the 3 April 1908 at the age of fifty-two and was buried at Capel Seion chapel cemetery.
William Beauclerc Powell and his wife Anna Maria died within days of each other in December 1911, and their son Edward Athelstan Lewis Powell, of Rhydyfarian inherited the estate and he moved to Nanteos with his family. He had acted as the land agent for three years following the death Hugh Lloyd but with his new responsibilities, a new land agent had to be appointed.
In 1912, a local Aberystwyth man, Llewelyn Jones, was appointed as the next land agent. Llewelyn was an influential man locally and was already the Secretary of the Aberystwyth Horse Show and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society (founded in 1901). On taking up his appointment at Nanteos he worked closely with Edward Powell and lived in the Nanteos Cottage (The Woodlands) close to the mansion. On the death of Edward Powell in 1930, Llewelyn left Nanteos to become the Borough Surveyor for the County Council of Aberystwyth (a post his father had previously held). He moved into a large town house in Aberystwyth, where he lived until his death in 1957. He was buried in Aberystwyth cemetery.
A few pages from the Nanteos Estate Order Book
The last of the Nanteos land agents was John Noel Davies-Jenkins, who was appointed by Margaret Powell. He was a solicitor based in Baker Street, Aberystwyth. Davies-Jenkins came from a noble Welsh family, and had been born in Llanidloes. He was well trusted and kept the Nanteos estate in exceptionally good order.
John Noel Davies-Jenkins
On the death of Margaret Powell, he dealt with her estate, and is known to have stated that all the estate’s debts had been paid over the last few years, and that there was no reason for Nanteos to be sold.
As seen from the above, the land agent, had to work hard to maintain a smooth-running estate, which did not always go as planned. It was a tough demanding job, and many did not last long at their posts.
1776 William Felix
1793 Thomas Robson
1814 – 1817 John Edwards
1809-1817 Henry Barber (dismissed)
1817-1820 Adam Armstrong (dismissed)
1818 John Beynon (Tregaron)
1820 George Warbrick (resigned)
1830-40 James Hughes
1854-1878 W.E. Phelps (1st cousin to W. T. R. Powell) lived at Nanteos and Sunnyhill
1871 James Laurie Nanteos Garden Cottage (Woodlands)
1852 Joseph Jenkin (Tregaron)
1853 Mr Phillips
1856-1878 Thomas Griffiths (aka T.G. or Griffiths Bach)
1881 Richard Jones
1890 – 1908 Hugh Lloyd died 1908 buried Capel Seion.
1878-1903 Sylvanus Lewis 1878 (Uncle to E. A. L. Powell) lived at Nanteos
1882 H. P. Cobb
1901 – 1911 Edward A L Powell
Mr Wells Agent
1909-1930 Llewelyn Jones
1950s Davies Jenkins
Today, the Estate Office at Plas Nanteos Hotel is a luxury bedroom suite, sympathetically renovated, a delightful room to stay.
[i] David S.D. Jones, Servants of the Lord, Quiller Publishing Ltd 2017, p. 21
[ii] R.J. Moore-Coyler, ‘Nanteos: A Landed Estate in Decline 1800 – 1930’ Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. ix no.1 1980 p.60
[iii] ibid p.72
[iv] Nanteos L428
[v] R.J. Moore-Coyler, ‘Nanteos: A Landed Estate in Decline 1800 – 1930’ Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. ix no.1 1980 p.64
[vi] ibid p.77
[vii] National Library of Wales Photograph Album 763