CARDIFF AND THE BUTE FAMILY
Anyone living in the Cardiff area will have heard the word Bute. It is associated with many areas such as Bute Docks, Bute Street, Bute Park and many more. But how many of us know where the Bute family came from and how they came to own so much land in South Wales?
In October I joined a party from the Contemporary Arts Society of Wales to travel to Scotland to visit the ancestral home of the Bute family, which is called Mount Stuart, on the Isle of Bute.
The story begins in the 18th century with John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), who was not only a powerful statesman but also a passionate patron of the arts. In 1761, he became the Prime Minister of Great Britain and guided the young King George III. While his political career took him to the heights of power, his heart always belonged to Scotland and the beautiful Isle of Bute.
John Stuart’s son was also called John Stuart and he was the 4th Earl of Bute and the 1st Marquess of Bute. He married Charlotte Windsor (1746-1800) from whom he inherited vast tracts of land across South Wales including Cardiff Castle, Caerphilly Castle, and Castell Coch. Much of this land contained minerals including, of course, coal.
It was his grandson, John Crichton-Stuart, who would become the 2nd Marquess of Bute, that truly left an indelible mark on the family’s history and their connection to Cardiff. Born in 1793, he inherited the Marquessate at a young age and was determined to honour his family’s Scottish heritage while embracing new opportunities. He saw the opportunity to lease his land and received income from the extraction of coal and other minerals.
In the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was sweeping across Britain, transforming cities and landscapes. One of these cities was Cardiff, which was transitioning from a small port town into a bustling industrial hub due to its coal exports. The Marquess saw the potential in Cardiff and decided to invest in the city, turning it into a thriving metropolis.
The Bute family poured their resources into the development of Cardiff, including the construction of the Cardiff Docks, which became one of the world’s largest coal-exporting ports. They also financed the construction of numerous buildings, parks, and cultural institutions, leaving an enduring legacy in the city.
But the Bute family’s most famous contribution to Cardiff is undoubtedly Cardiff Castle. The Marquess and his architect, William Burges, undertook a massive restoration and renovation project that transformed the castle into a neo-gothic masterpiece. The interiors of the castle were adorned with
intricate designs, stained glass, and opulent furnishings, creating a stunning testament to the family’s commitment to art and culture.
As time went on, the Bute family continued to shape Cardiff’s growth and prosperity. They played a pivotal role in the development of the railways, enabling even greater access to the city’s coal exports. They also supported the establishment of schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions, ensuring that Cardiff became a city known not only for its industry but also for its vibrant culture and community.
The Bute family’s connection to Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute remained strong throughout the generations. The stunning Mount Stuart House, with its beautiful gardens and rich history, became a symbol of their enduring love for Scotland. On our visit on a sunny day in early October, the gardens looked magnificent while the house itself was a veritable palace. The style is called Gothic Revival and the scale of it is simply vast. The ornate ceilings are as high as the roof of a cathedral, the marble was carved in Italy and the craftsmen brought their work to Bute. The stained glass is superb, and the intricate wooden panels were carved in the Bute workshops in Cardiff before being shipped to Scotland. If you are ever in Scotland, it is well worth the effort of taking the short ferry ride across to the Isle of Bute to visit this exceptional Mount Stuart.
Here in Cardiff, we can explore the legacy of the Bute family by wandering through Cardiff Castle’s opulent rooms, strolling along the picturesque Bute Park, and learning about the city’s industrial heritage. Meanwhile, on the Isle of Bute, Mount Stuart House stands as a testament to the family’s deep-rooted connection to their Scottish roots.
In September 1947, the Fifth Marquess of Bute handed over the keys of Cardiff Castle to Lord Mayor, Alderman George Ferguson. In what was described as “a gesture of truly royal nature” the Castle, along with its parkland, was presented as a gift to the people of the city. As reports at the time reflected, it was “no longer Cardiff Castle but Cardiff’s Castle”. Did you know that if you live or work in Cardiff then you are entitled to your very own Key to the Castle with free admission to this world-class heritage attraction for 3 years? To obtain your own key you simply have to visit the Castle ticket office with proof that you live or work in the City.
The Bute family’s story is one of ambition, vision, and dedication to both their Scottish heritage and the city of Cardiff. Their contributions continue to shape the cultural and architectural landscape of these two remarkable places, ensuring that their legacy lives on for generations to come.