Case Studies - Commons - Wales

Case study: Cwmdeuddwr Commons, Powys, Wales – (1) Manor Courts 


Type of institution for collective action

Manor courts

Name/description institution


Manor courts of Cwmdeuddwr Grange and Cwmdeuddwr.







Name of city or specified area

Llantsantfraid Cwmdeuddwr Civil Parish, Elan & Claerwen Valleys

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

Cwmdeuddwr Commons

Patron Saint of this institution



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

Historically: c. 11,663 ha               


This area comprised the upland pastures of the commote of Cwmdeuddwr, and the wastes of the two manors of Grange of Cwmdeuddwr and Cwmdeuddwr.  However, in the late 19th century these common pastures were divided into two distinct land units: the Elan Valley Estate (see Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 2) and Cwmdeuddwr Common (see Cwmdeuddwr Case Study 3).


Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Medieval period; no specific date.

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

See above.

Foundation act present?


See above.

Description of Act of foundation


See above.

Year of termination of institution



Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?

Yes, a parliamentary act is in existence.


Description Act of termination

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, signaling also the end of manorial control. 

Reason for termination?

Birmingham Corporation wished to purchase large areas of the commons in order to create reservoirs for supplying water to the city of Birmingham.  This change in land status and ownership signaled the end of manorial control.  However, it should be noted that the manor courts of Cwmdeuddwr were already in decline, following a historic trend towards the collapse of manor courts in the modern period in England and Wales.

Recognized by local government?

The role of the manor court was recognised in the wider legal and governmental structure; but its significance as an institution was fading by the nineteenth century.

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, i.e. this study).  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 twentieth century); and estovers.  This pattern of landownership and land use went through dramatic changes in the late nineteenth 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); 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: Manor Courts

Evidence suggests that manorial governance was not particularly strong or consistent in Cwmdeuddwr – it is not certain that Strata Florida’s grange of Cwmdeuddwr had the status of a manor in the medieval period.  Nevertheless, post-Dissolution owners seem to have introduced a recognisable manor court system.  Almost all the surviving court records fall within the period 1722-1879.  Records for the smaller manor of Cwmdeuddwr range from 1371 to 1891, though they include only a small number of court rolls and presentments.  The union of the two manors after 1825 eventually resulted in the merging of court juries. 


These surviving records provide information about manorial governance and the collective decision-making of juries.  A presentment book of 1722-1817, and two court rolls (dated 1873 and 1878), for the Grange of Cwmdeuddwr, are particularly rich in detail.  These suggest that the court sometimes met twice a year in the eighteenth century, though by the 19th century, court sittings had become highly infrequent.  On the whole, the focus appears to have been on the exclusion of trespassers rather than on close management of those with legitimate rights.  Control of ‘foreign’ or trespassing livestock was one of the most frequent subjects of presentments.  Orders against illegal turf-cutting were also a regular element of court business: peat was an important fuel in this remote area, closely guarded from intruders from outside the manor.  Other issues tackled by the court included the getting of stone and estovers, encroachments and the erection of cottages on the waste.  Various officers were appointed, though not necessarily at every sitting, including a bailiff, reeve, hayward, petty constables, and affearors. 


Whilst manor court sittings became less frequent in the nineteenth century – in common with the general trend seen elsewhere – an obvious and sudden break in management systems occurred as a result of the Birmingham Corporation Water Act of 1892 and the land purchases which followed (see Cwmdeuddwr Case Studies 2 & 3).

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

Special events: Birmingham Corporation Water Act 1892.

Highs: active period – eighteenth century.

Lows: period of decline – nineteenth century.

Problematic periods: struggle to control trespassing stock (possibly due to a tradition of agistment) and encroachments on the commons, eighteenth century.


Numbers of members (specified)

Jury numbers varied, generally around 14-17 persons.

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

In principle, membership was open to all manorial tenants, but jury members were probably drawn from the more substantial land holders in the manor.

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

Freeholders or tenants of the manor.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

The manor court could not extinguish legitimate rights or exclude legitimate commoners from the common; but it could exclude trespassers and fine those commoners who broke customary byelaws (e.g. by putting too many animals on the common).

Advantages of membership?

Participation in decision making.

Obligations of members?

Tenants were obliged to serve as jury members if called and may be required to undertake offices (constables etc.). 

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

Manor of Grange of Cwmdeuddwr: Records survive in the National Library of Wales (e.g. presentment, 1757: Dolaucothi MSS & Papers schedule II p.16, MS vol. 12 (57), and Powys County Archive Office (e.g. list of farms, 1600-1700: R/D/LEW/5/135; list of lords and stewards, 1722-1889: R/D/LEW/5/133-4; presentment book, 1722-1817: R/D/Lew/3/96-97; courts rolls, extracts rel to boundaries, 1809-1839: R/D/LEW/5/136; precepts to summon court (3) 1837-1844: R/D/LEW/5/138-40; court roll, 1873: R/D/LEW/5/141; court roll, 1878: R/D/LEW/5/142).  


Manor of Cwmdeuddwr: Records survive in the National Library of Wales (e.g. letters patent, 1633: Harpton Court vol 1, p.31, 1715-16; court rolls, 1688: Powis Manorial records group II, p.179, various manors;  legal papers, 1800-1899: NLW MS 12878D MSS vol. IV; recognition of western boundary, 1842 (copy): Crosswood Group 1, p. 406, II.1207-8); Powys County Archive Office (e.g. misc. notes, extracted from court rolls, 1780-1878: R/D/Lew/5/145; correspondence rel to properties, 1844-1880: R/D/LEW/5/146-81; court roll, 1873: R/D/LEW/5/143; court roll, 1878: R/D/LEW/5/144; statement of boundaries, 1891: R/D/LEW/5/182-83), and The National Archives (e.g. estreat roll, 1530-1532: SC 2/227/50; estreat rolls, 1581-1602: LR 11/55/795-56/809; estreat rolls, 1614-1616: LR 11/57/812-813; survey, 1650: E 317/Radnorshire/1; papers rel to value, extent and ownership, 1672-1796: C 107/35; estreat roll, 1674-1676: SC 2/227/67; estreat rolls, 1680-1692: LR 11/57/820-822; estreat roll, 1686-1688: SC 2/227/71; presentments, 1780-1786: CRES 5/192; also various ministers’, reeves’ and foresters’  accounts in classes SC 6 and LR 8).


Printed parliamentary act: Birmingham Corporation Water Act of 1892 (55 & 56 Vict., c. clxxiii).     


See also common land register for registered common RCL 36 (Cwmdeuddwr) and 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 description provided by:

Dr. Angus Winchester, Lancaster University

Dr. Eleanor Straughton 




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