Monday, 11th March 2013
One hundred years ago today Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, died at his home of Tredegar House in Newport. This was a pivotal moment in the fate of the Morgan dynasty and their ancestral home. This was the beginning of the end.
The Morgan family had lived at the Tredegar Park site for well over five hundred years. By the end of the Eighteenth Century they owned over forty thousand acres of land. When the Industrial Revolution came into full swing they capitalised on the new wealth it brought. They were responsible for the economic development of the Newport area and benefitted from strong links (sometimes by marriage) with the new industrialist dynasties. Godfrey Morgan was actually the “spare”, his brother Rodney being the “heir”. However, the rather wayward Rodney died prematurely in France in 1854 and Godfrey found himself next in line to inherit the Tredegar Estate. This he did on the death of his father Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, the first Baron Tredegar, in 1875. Unlike his father, Godfrey spent most of his time at Tredegar House. He took more of an interest in local politics and society and was regarded as a great philanthropist. He could afford to be. Godfrey had never married, there were no children and his lifestyle was simpler than those who preceded and succeeded him. He was also the owner of land that was bringing industrial wealth and had interests in much of the economic infrastructure in the area. By the turn of the Century there were around a thousand farms paying rent to the Tredegar Estate. Godfrey’s net daily income was in the region of a thousand pounds.
The fortunes of the Morgans were at an apex when Godfrey died. So were the fortunes of South Wales generally, of course, with coal production at its peak. However, the iron, steel and coal industries of Wales were being threatened by the increasing competition of other European economies that had been developing and that of the United States of America. The following year would see the world thrust into the tragedy of the Great War and all of its repercussions and socio-economic upheavals. However, the Morgans were about to go into a downward spiral of near self-destruction anyway.
Godfrey’s brother Freddie had already died in 1909 and the Estate would now pass to his nephew Courtenay. Courtenay had a serious side to him, but also knew how to enjoy himself and had a very extravagant lifestyle. He spent a small fortune on servants at the various properties he owned and ran, there were yachts, parties, affairs and two children who knew how to spend just as well as their parents. Courtenay’s wife, Lady Katharine, had no desire to live in Wales and had properties in London and laterly in Surrey. When Courtenay died in 1934 it was not just the extravagances that had taken their toll on the family fortune, but death duties were contributing to the problems of a rapidly dwindling estate. The heir to it all was not to help matters at all. Evan Morgan took his responsibilities very lightly indeed. At least Courtenay had employed level headed Estate Managers to try and manage things, Evan’s choice of employees often had more to do with their good looks than ability. By the Second World War, Evan Morgan was using only part of Tredegar House to live in, most of it was in mothballs. There was a skeleton staff running the House and the property was in need of basic repairs.
In 1949 Evan died at his mother’s home of Honeywood House. The next to inherit was his elderly Uncle Fred. Owing to his age and failing health arrangements had already been made that although Fred would inherit the title of Baron Tredegar, the bulk of the Estate would go directly to Fred’s son John in order to avoid paying double death duties.
John Morgan had little interest in the area. Indeed after feeling that he had been snubbed when not invited to any of the formal local celebrations and events marking the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, he decided to sever all links with South Wales. He sold Tredegar House and its immediate grounds and gardens to the Sisters of St Joseph who would go on to use it as a Convent School and later a comprehensive, St Joseph’s High School which outgrew the property and moved out to a purpose built establishment. John began selling off everything quite ruthlessly , with tenant farmers sometimes only discovering that their livelihoods were to be auctioned by reading it in the local press. Much of the local land went to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.
In 1954 John’s father died and John took the title finally. John himself died in 1962. The childless Baron was the last Lord Tredegar. Twelve years later Tredegar House became the property of Newport Borough Council. An estate that had taken over half a millennium to build up had disappeared in less than half a century.