The High Court Case (June 1971)
Kenfig Corporation Property V The Margam Estate
The Court Case
The dispute over land ownership between the Trustees of the Margam Estate and the Trustees of the charity
known as the 'Kenfig Corporation Property' was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, before Mr Justice
Goulding in June 1971. The action had started in 1959, the dispute having gathered momentum from the early part of the 20th century.
Tents on the Dunes
The Margam Trustees disagreed with the Kenfig Trustees' claim to be able to authorise the erection of tents on the dunes
Military authorities got permission from both the Margam and Kenfig Trustees to use the dunes for training
Excavation of Kenfig Castle
The Margam Trustees were alone in granting permission for the excavation of Kenfig Castle
Trespass Notices / Forestry Commission
The Kenfig Trustees asked the Margam Trustees to remove notices from Kenfig forbidding trespass - they refused to do so.
There was a proposal by the Forestry Commission to plant on part of the dunes - the Trustees passed a resolution:
- Lease for 999 years at 1 shilling per acre, per annum, half the proceeds to go to the Kenfig Trustees and half to the Margam Trustees.
- The Forestry Commission did not, in the end plant on the dunes.
The Kenfig Trustees were consulted with regard to the laying of a line across the dunes by the
Central Electricty Generating Board.
Rare Plants at Kenfig
Cardiff Naturalists Society was concerned to let the Kenfig and Margam Trustees know about
the presence of certain very rare plants growing at Kenfig.
Fishing in Kenfig Pool
The Kenfig Trustees gave Major Boycott permission to fish for pike in the pool.
They also granted a club fishing licence in 1948, 1954, 1955 and 1957 - The Margam Trustees objected.
Serving of Notices
The Kenfig Trustees put up notices to forbid vehicles and camping on the dunes. The Margam
Trustees approved this measure offering a contribution to the cost.
Proposed Caravan Site
The Margam Trustees rejected Penybont District Councils proposal to put a caravan site
on the former American Army camp. The Kenfig Trustees' consent had been given in principle at an early stage.
Steel Company of Wales
The Kenfig Trustees gave permission to the Steel Company of Wales to sink boreholes
on the North West part of the dunes with a view to possible construction of a reservoir.
The Steel Company sought permission for a pipeline and water extraction from the pool from both the
Kenfig and Margam Trustees.
Both parties realised the financial potential ofsuch a venture - they took up firm and competitive positions
on this proposition.
From this issue arose the court action concerning the ownership of the land, which technically prevented
the Steel Company from abstracting water from the pool.
The Court Case - In Depth
Mr Justice Goulding
This action is brought to try the title a tract of unenclosed land now called Kenfig Common
or Kenfig Burrows. The land is in Glamorganshire, between the Margam steel works and the sea. It contains approximately
1600 acres, and I shall refer to the whole contested area as 'the disputed land'.
For the purposes of my judgement I shall divide the disputed land into four parts.
Two of those parts, forming respectively the north-eastern and south-eastern portions of the whole
irregularly shaped area, are edged blue on a plan annexed to the statement of claim.
At the High Court
Defence: Margam Trustees V Kenfig Trustees
The Margam Trustees claimed they were the freeholders of the Kenfig Burrows and tried to stop
the Trustees of the Kenfig Corporation Property (the charity descending from the burgesses of the Ancient
Town of Kenfig) from acting as if they were the owners of the land.
The Kenfig Trustees claimed that at least since 1660 the burgesses were the true freeholders.
Their evidence for this was based on a document of 1663 which was earlier than any evidence presented
by the Margam Estate. Documents from 1330 & 1572 were also used to support the Kenfig Trustees' case.
The Margam Estate claimed that the title to Kenfig had descended to Thomas Mansel Talbot, Earl
of Pembroke, Philip Herbert, who had sold the land to Edward Mansel in 1668. The Earl died in 1813, having
made his will in 1810 and it was from then that the Margam Trustees claimed their title to the land.
The Margam Tustees further claimed that builders throughout Glamorgan had sought their permission
to take sand from the area, without there having been any challenge to their right to sell it.
Among documents submitted by Mr Balcombe, the representative for the Margam Estate were:
- The Will of Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot who left everything in trust to his son Theodore
(who died in a hunting accident at the age of 21)
- A Terrier Map compiled on the instructions of Mr Talbot, showing hunting areas
- A Tithe Map showing local taxable land
The latter showed that the sumof £103.16s was payable to Mr C.R.M.Talbot from parishes in Pyle & Kenfig.
It showed he was owner of Kenfig Pool and 1042 acres of warren, sand and pasture. However, the survey presentment
of 1660 states that the freehold of two-thirds of Kenfig Common was in the hands of the Kenfig burgesses, while
the other third was owned by Mr Turberville of Sker House.
Evidence: Submitted by Kenfig Trustees
Under an ordinance of 1572, the Kenfig burgesses were given the freehold of Gwaun y Cimla Common
at Cefn Cribbwr because their land at Kenfig Common had become covered in sand. At Cefn Cribbwr they had rights
to grazing and coal extraction. This land was later sold to Mr Talbot in the 19th century for £1600 for coal
extraction. The Kenfig Trustees claimed they still owned the land at Kenfig Common. The Kenfig Trustess, in
support of their claim to ownership, showed they had the following:
- Old stone from Kenfig quarry (the ruins of Kenfig Castle have been referred to as a quarry,
but it is also thought there may have been one near Kenfig Pool)
- Received payments for sheep dipping in the Pool (the remains of sheep dipping sites can still be seen
at the edge of the Pool)
- Received fees for angling and yachting on the Pool
- Received rental for the Pyle & Kenfig Golf Course
They called two witnesses: Mr Edward Plumley, their clerk, who gave historical and documentary evidence and Mr John
Thomas who was the last remaining burgess (he was 79 at the time of the case and died in 1972). Mr Thomas described the state
and character of the Common in his young days and its use for rabbiting, grazing
and watering cattle. He recalled when, at the age of ten, he accompanied his grandfather to plant sedge
to stabilise the sand.
Buried City's Trustees Celebrate Victory
Source: Reg Matthews, Kenfig (booklet) - Arthur Smith (1982) - (Glamorgan Gazette 18/06/71)
They were ten trustees of the Kenfig Corporation Property Trust and their clerk assembled in jubilant mood at the guildhall (Town Hall)
of the old buried city of Kenfig, to hear first-hand reports from their representatives who attended the High Court case.
Their rejoicing was tempered by realisation of the possibility of an appeal against the High Court decision. Meanwhile, the trustees' jubilation
is being shared by the public whose interests they safeguard.
But only when they know for sure that there will be no appeal will they be able to proceed with plans they have in hand for the area.
Unfortunately two of the 12 trustees were not able to attend the celebration meeting but, like several members of the public, they sent
their congratulations. All but one of the party charged their glasses with good Scotch whiskey for the toast. The odd man out was the Chairman,
84 year old Mr Lewis Jones, MBE a confirmed life-long abstaine, who drank a glass of milk. It was an historic occasion.
The High Court case concerned the ownership of Kenfig Common (or burrows) and Kenfig Pool. It was the culmination of a 12 year old
dispute between the trustees of the Margam Estate, acting on behalf of a company of land agents and professional developers and the
trustees of Kenfig Corporation Property, a public body set up to manage the burgesses' affairs when the ancient Corporation of Kenfig
was dissolved uunder the Municipal Corporation Act.
The land in dispute included the ancient buried city which, before it fell victim to the drifting sands, a fate finally completed
by a great storm in 1607, was a busy commercial centre. Some 800 years ago, the city had its regular weekly markets and 2 annual fairs,
a navigable river and large seaport, military station and a Portreeve, with 12 publicly-elected Aldermen governed well.
The trustees of the Margam Estate claimed they were freeholders of the 1042 acres of land and 83 acres of water and sought injunctions
to stop the defendants - the trustees of the Corporation Property, a charity deriving from the ancient town of Kenfig, from acting
as if they were the owners of the land.
The defendants claimed that throughout the centuries and certainly since 1660, the Burgesses were the true freeholders. They
relied heavily on a document of 1663, a survey presentment, made by a jury of 12 local people under oath which preceded any document
presented as evidence by Margam Estate's trustees.
The action came about when, in 1959, the Margam trustees tried to sell water from Kenfig Pool to the Steel Company of Wales for
use at the Abbey Works. This was opposed by the Kenfig trustees.
The Margam trustees claimed their freehold title from the will of Thomas Mansell Talbot, Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1813.
The will was made in 1810 and the Margam trustees since that date had done various acts of ownership, including the leasing
of land to Pyle & Kenfig Golf Club.
In the High Court, the Judge, Mr Justice Goulding, held that Kenfig Common belonged to the trustees of the Kenfig Corporation Property.
he dismissed with costs the action brought by the Margam Estate's trustees to uphold their claim to the freehold ownership as Lords of the Manor.
Thus ended a case which started in 1959 and which is estimated to have cost £15,000.00
When the case resumed, following an adjournment sought by the Margam trustees, Mr A.J. Balcombe QC, for the Margam trustees, said his
clients did not shrink from their original claim that they were the owners of the whole area known as Kenfig Common (or Burrows) and Kenfig Pool
comprising 1600 acres between the Bristol Channel and Port Talbot. But, he said, there was some evidence that in the 16th century, the
Burgesees had owned an area called Kenfig Down.
The Kenfig trustees now asked the Court to rule that the Down was the whole area but there was good evidence that Kenfig Down could be
defined as an area of about 200 acres, most of whose boundaries could be well defined.
An amended list of defendants, the Kenfig trustees was then handed to the Court. The list covered not only the present 12 Trustees but
also those who have retired or who had died since the start of the action. The latter had been retained as defendants because of the possibility
of apportioning costs. In the case of those who had died, their personal representatives would then have been involved.
The defendants were:
- Mr Lewis Jones of Pyle Inn Way, Pyle
- Mr William John of Collwyn Road, Pyle
- Mr Edwin J.Davies of Heol Ton, Kenfig (district councillor)
- Mr Evan Harold David of St. Christopher Road, Newton, Porthcawl
- Mr John Thomas of Gwynfryn, Maudlam, Pyle
- Alderman Graham Griffiths of Margam
- Mr Frederick Jones of Heol Fach, Cornelly (parish councillor)
- Mr William Henry Lewis of Welfare Avenue, Bryn, Port Talbot
- Mr Mostyn Jones of Waunbant Road, Kenfig Hill (county councillor)
- Mr Graham Harries of Pil-y-Kenfig, Pyle (district councillor)
- Mr Elwyn Davis of Curwen Terrace, Cornelly
Those who had died or had been replaced as defendants were:
- Major Llewellyn David of Ffynnore, Llantrithyd
- Mr Taliesin Mainwaring of North Street, Port Talbot
- Mr Edward John Morris of Ynysgwas, Cwmavon
- Mr W.Kenneth Jones of Heol Fach, Cornelly
- Mr John David of Sea View, Maudlam, Pyle
- Mr Daniel Rees of Kenfig Farm, Kenfig
- Mr David Thomas of Heol Maindy, Cornelly
The Kenfig Corporation Trustees, June 1971
From left to right, back row: Evan H.David; Howard Overfield; Graham
Harries; Elwyn Davies; Mostyn Jones MBE, DL; Fred Jones.
Front Row: William John; John Thomas; Lewis Jones MBE; Edwin
J.Davies CBE, JP; ED Hennys Plumley MBE.
Giving judgement, the Judge said that acts of owenrship exercised by the Margam trustees had taken place over the past 50 years.
Documents going backto 1397, 1660 and 1886 were sufficient links to show that the whole area of the common and Pool at Kenfig was
held by the Kenfig trustees. The Lordship of the Manor of Kenfig, said the Judge, had been bought by Sir Edward Mansell in 1668.
The Plaintiffs were owners of a large property called the Margam Estate. The title of the disputed land was claimed since
the will of Thomas Mansell Talbot who died in 1813 gave a general demise of his real estate in Glamorgan. The defendants, the Kenfig
trustees contended that this did not cover the disputed land. The Margam trustees submitted that various deeds and conveyances, a survey
of 1814 and tithe apportionment documents proved the title of the Margam Estate. The disputed land contained the remains of the medieval
town and castle. The Kenfig trustees claimed that in a 1397 Charter they had been granted the freehold of Kenfig Down.
In a 1660 survey, the Kenfig trustees claimed it was again stated that they held Kenfig Down by right of 'free socage tenure'.
Further, they relied on the property being vested in them under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 1886. The Margam trustees
contended that, if they were not entitled to all Kenfig Common and Pool, there was sufficient evidence to show that all the Kenfig
Corporation had owned was an area called Kenfig Down and there was sufficient evidence to show that that was a clearly definable area.
Mr Justice Goulding said it was impossible to identify any particular area as Kenfig Down but undoubtedly the Down of Kenfig
in Charter of 1397, the Kenfig Down mentioned in the 1660 survey and the Kenfig Common or Down mentioned in the 1886 scheme were
substantionally the same common. On the evidence the Court had no hesitation in upholding the claim of the Kenfig Corporation
trustees to be owners of the soil. On the question of costs of the action, the Judge said that because the Kenfig trustees had not
been as co-operative as they might have been, they should not have £100 of their costs.
Town Hall Toasts
At the guildhall celebration meeting, held within two hours of the clerk, Mr Ted Plumley and vice-chairman, Coun.Ted Davies JP, returning
from London the chairman Mr Lewis Jones presiding and the landlord of the Prince of Wales, Mr Jack David was in attendance. Among the trustees
was the last surviving Burgess, Mr John Thomas aged 79, who gave evidence in the High Court.
Mr Jones said the meeting had been hurriedly convened at the earliest possible moment to hear the reports of the tremendously important
decision. The trustees were entitled to hear the wonderful news at first-hand as quickly as possible. 'This is a great victory', he said,
and as trustees at this time we have seen history made by the result of this case.
As trustees, we stand to gain nothing from what we have brought about but the result is of immense importance to the people of Kenfig,
of Glamorgan and of Wales.
The activities of the trustees and all they wanted to do to improve amenities for the people had been bedevilled for a very long time
because of the duel ownership of the Kenfig Common, said Mr Jones. Now they could go ahead, unhampered in any way, in the knowledge
that Kenfig Corporation Property Trust owned the whole area. On many occasions in the past we have wanted to do a variety of things but we
have been told by other people in the field that we were not entitled to do them. The question of whether we could do things was always
present and frustrated our efforts. Indeed, during the 30 years that I have been a member of the trustees, we have had a very difficult time
trying to preserve the interests of the area and the benefits conferred on the people through the Charter, mainly because some of our
predecessors as Trustees, were not quite as interested as we have been in trying to retain their rights.
We have received many requests for improvements of amenities but were prevented through the duel ownership claim. It was when the
Steel Company of Wales wanted water from Kenfig Pool that the matter came to a head and it was necessary to decide who the owners really were.
In this connection, we did not prosecute the Margam Estate's trustees.
It was they who proceeded against us and made out they were the owners. Now the issue has been settled for all time. Proof of
ownership would have been less difficult if former trustees had been more diligent in looking after their historic documents and handed them on
for safe-keeping to succeeding generations.