Case Studies - Commons - Wales

Cwmdeuddwr Commons, Powys, Wales – (2) Elan Valley Estate


Type of institution for collective action

Estate, comprising management body and tenants’ association.

Name/description institution


Elan Valley Estate of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water







Name of city or specified area


Llansantfraid Cwmdeuddwr Civil Parish, Elan and Claerwen Valleys

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

Elan Valley Estate

Patron Saint of this institution



Amount of area and boundaries (for institutions related to landed property)

c. 6,668 ha


Note: the Estate itself has wider holdings; this figure is a discrete area of hill grazing, previously belonging to the manors of Grange of Cwmdeuddwr and Cwmdeuddwr, and provisionally registered as common land unit RCL 66 (subsequently deregistered).

Foundation/start of institution, date or year


Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?


Foundation act present?


Yes, a parliamentary act is in existence.

Description of Act of foundation


This was a parliamentary act which empowered Birmingham Corporation to purchase large areas of the commons in order to create reservoirs for supplying water to the city of Birmingham. 

Year of termination of institution


Not terminated: still in operation.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

See above.

Act regarding termination present?

See above.


Description Act of termination

See above.


Reason for termination?

See above.


Recognized by local government?

Yes, the Estate has the legal status of a private estate.

Concise history of institution


This case study centres on upland pastures in the Elan and Claerwen valleys, in the parish of Llansantfraid Cwmdeuddwr in Mid Wales.  Originally forming the upland grange for Strata Florida Abbey, this area comprised the two manors of Grange of Cwmdeuddwr and Cwmdeuddwr, which came into single ownership in 1825 (Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 1).  The upland landscape provided the community with pasture for livestock (organised through a pattern of ‘sheepwalks’: areas of grazing reserved for designated flocks); peat (an important fuel into the 20th century); and estovers.  This pattern of landownership and land use went through dramatic changes in the late 19th century, when large areas were purchased by Birmingham Corporation for the creation of reservoirs.  Birmingham’s purchase created a large new estate – the Elan Valley Estate – replacing common rights with tenancies (Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 2, i.e. this study); whilst those remnants of waste not purchased were put together to form Cwmdeuddwr Common (Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 3).  Though these contiguous lands have different legal status, they remain open and unfenced, and continue to be used as communal hill grazings today.


Institution: Elan Valley Estate

In the wake of the 1892 Act, graziers no longer had a common right to traditional sheepwalks on Estate land, but they could rent sheepwalks back from the Elan Estate, and in many respects grazing went on much as it had done before.  Management was closely controlled by the Estate and tenancy agreements stipulated those activities which tenants could engage in: the overriding goal now was to provide clean supplies of water.  Thus early tenancy agreements of 1902 contain clauses designed to prevent pollution, damage or alteration to the land surface of the watershed.  For example, tenants were prevented from washing sheep at locations other than those stipulated by the Corporation, and the Corporation built new wash folds in safe locations.


The introduction of the Elan Estate marked a major break in the previous manorial management regime, but there were also continuities: for example, the preservation of an open landscape, communal grazing and traditional sheepwalks.  The boundary between the land areas of the Elan Valley Estate and Cwmdeuddwr Common was artificial, determined by the watershed rather than historic territories, and indeed the new boundary remained unfenced.  Thus, there were many overlapping interests.  Some of the tenants of the Elan Valley Estate also had common rights to Cwmdeuddwr Common, and for many years they had a joint collective association, the Elan Valley Graziers’ Association.  This body had to split in 1990 when the different land ownership and legal status of the two areas required separate negotiations for agri-environment schemes.   The Elan Valley Graziers’ Association continued to represent estate tenants, whilst the Cwmdeuddwr Commoners’ and Graziers’ Association was set up for Cwmdeuddwr Common (see Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 3).  Thus the post-manorial management institutions have perhaps been less influenced by dramatic changes in landownership than by external agrarian policies.  Records relating to the Elan Valley Graziers’ Association were not located or available, hence details are limited.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

Special events: Birmingham Corporation Water Act 1892.


Numbers of members (specified)

Not known.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

Open to graziers of the Elan Estate.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Open to graziers of the Elan Estate.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Not known.

Advantages of membership?

Membership of Elan Valley Graziers’ Association enabled members to take part in collective negotiations with the Estate and external agencies.

Obligations of members?

Not known.

Literature on case study

  • B[anks], R. W. 1880. ‘The Grange of Cwmtoyddwr’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 4th ser. XI (1880), 30-50.
  • Clywd-Powys Archaeological Trust, ‘The Making of the Elan Valley Landscape’ at
  • Davies, Elwyn,  ‘Hafod, Hafoty and Lluest: their distribution, features and purpose’, Ceredigion 9 (1) (1980), 1-41.
  • Rodgers, C. P., E. A. Straughton, A. J. L. Winchester and M. Pieraccini, Contested Common Land: Environmental Governance Past and Present (London, forthcoming in 2010).
  • Silvester, R. J., ‘The Commons and the waste: use and misuse in mid-Wales’, in I. D. Whyte and A. J. L. Winchester (eds), Society, Landscape and Environment in Upland Britain (Birmingham: Society for Landscape Studies, 2004), pp. 53-66. 

Sources on case study

  • Printed parliamentary act: Birmingham Corporation Water Act of 1892 (55 & 56 Vict., c. clxxiii). 
  • Private records owned by the Elan Valley Estate: for example, Elan Estate Office: Estate plans and terrier, covering dates c. 1892-1913 (with additions to 1932). 
  • Also Welsh Water Authority records and tenancy agreements deposited with Powys County Archives: for example, R/D/WWA/1A/A7/47/1, Parc tenancy agreement, 1902.
  • Records of the Elan Valley Graziers’ Association have not been located.
  • See also common land register for de-registered common RCL 66 (Elan Estate), held by Powys County Council.

Links to further information on case study:

See Contested Common Land website:

Case study description provided by:

Dr. Angus Winchester, Lancaster University

Dr. Eleanor Straughton




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