Prince Charles – Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall & Rothesay, High Steward of Scotland, Lord of the Isles, etc – is the largest private landowner in England. In his capacity as Duke of Cornwall, he owns an estate of some 135,000 acres, spread across 23 counties.
The Duchy of Cornwall is one of the strangest beasts in England’s still quasi-feudal political economy. It’s not a company (and so doesn’t pay Corporation Tax). It’s not a charity. It’s not a public body (though it is accountable to the Treasury, and Parliament) and it’s not subject to Freedom of Information law (though it is subject to requests under the Environmental Information Regulations, in its narrow capacity as a harbour-master). It is, in short, something of an anachronism – but one that has survived for nearly 700 years and continues to grow in size.
The Duchy was created in 1337 by Edward III, as a personal endowment for his son, the Black Prince. Ever since, its lands and revenues have belonged to the male heir to the throne – in recent times, Charles, Prince of Wales. (Note that in the absence of a male heir, the Duchy reverts to the Sovereign; another discriminatory anachronism.) Prince Charles can’t simply do what he likes with the Duchy, mind; its capital assets are held in trust and he has no access to them, and the Treasury must approve all land transactions over £500k. Nevertheless, the Prince receives a healthy annual income from the Duchy, and he plays an active role in the management of the estate.
The Duchy is open about its size – “around 53,000 hectares” (c.130,000 acres; Kevin Cahill in 2001 estimated 141,000 acres) – and its website and annual accounts paint a reasonable, if incomplete, picture of its extent. But others who have sought more details on what land it owns have been rebuffed (such as this attempt to use an EIR request to get a list of the Duchy’s land and properties). When I cheerfully asked the Duchy over email for a map of their landholdings, reply came there none. Well, it’s always worth a try.
But, dear reader, I’m not one to be easily put off. So I’ve searched high and low for every scrap of information on what the Duchy owns – from news stories, formal accounts and websites, to an academic study of when the Duchy’s lands were sold off by Parliament after the Civil War.
With the exception of one smaller, lower-res and unattributed map I found on Pinterest, this is the only map I can find anywhere of the Duchy’s landholdings. The Duchy’s own website contains one map of its land on Dartmoor, but no other maps. Update, 15th March: Miles King (@MilesKing10) has flagged up this presentation on the Duchy by the Tenant Farmers’ Association, which includes a good map of the Duchy’s landholdings on slide 8.
You’ll notice that the National Geographic map includes a total acreage for the Duchy of 135,526 acres – mid-way between the acreages stated by Cahill and by the Duchy themselves. Whilst this assessment is now over a decade old, its precision – and the detailed breakdown it gives by county – means I’ve opted to use it as the basis for my own analysis. Either way, the Duchy in the twenty-first century is nearly twice as large as it was in the Victorian period: the 1873 Return of Owners of Land recorded it as being just 74,113 acres. And these are just the landward acres: in addition, the Duchy owns around 100,000 acres of foreshore and 14,000 acres of estuarial river beds in Cornwall and Devon.
Useful as the above map is, it doesn’t give a whole bunch of detail on each of the red splodges denoting landholdings. So using it as a guide, that’s what I went in search of. Here’s everything I’ve found, in Googlemap format, followed by a table of results.
|Scilly Isles||3,921 acres||Part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall, but governed separately|
|Cornwall – 17,731 acres|
|Truro – Eastern District Centre & Belvedere Development||Unknown; not large||Source|
|Tregunnel Hill, Newquay||10.8 acres||See Duchy website.|
|Nansledan development, Newquay||538 acres||See map here.|
|Restormel Estate & Manor, near Lostwithiel||Unknown; not large||Cornwall head office and centre of the Duchy’s holiday cottage lets. Also home to Duchy Nursery.|
|Duloe Estate, near Looe
|2,900 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. Bought in 1951 from the Church Commissioners. Farmland tenanted by Cornish Orchards cider business.|
|2,500 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. Bought in 1952. Includes Ladock woods, near Truro. Example of a recent long-term farm tenancy lease on the Arrallas Estate.|
|Stoke Climsland, at head of the Tamar Valley, near Callington.
|Unknown – woodlands are 130 acres||Bought in 1880. Duchy College is based here. Includes the 130-acre Greenscombe Woods (mentioned here).|
|Pencalenick Estate, near Truro||918 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. Bought 1952.|
|Seaton woodlands, near Seaton/ Downderry||Unknown||“Most of the riparian corridor in the lower catchment is Duchy controlled Forestry.” Source.|
|St Enodoc Church and golf course, near Rock and Padstow
|Unknown; not large||Where former poet laureate John Betjeman is buried. http://www.st-enodoc.co.uk/the-club/|
|Port Eliot estate, St Germans||1,800 acres||Purchased from the Earl of St Germans in 2014. Source.|
|Pawton Estate, near Wadebridge
|2,127 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. Home to Pawton Mill Farmhouse, now rented out by Duchy as holiday cottages.|
|Landulph, on the Tamar Estuary||Unknown||Shown on National Geographic map; referred to in The Domesday of Crown Lands; Landulph Parish Council website states that the village is “surrounded by Duchy of Cornwall land”.|
|Various other farming estates near Wadebridge||Unknown||Shown on National Geographic map but cannot identify further.|
|Devon – 70,532 acres|
|Dartmoor holdings||67,459 acres||Includes Dartmoor prison. Large part of land leased to the MOD. “Most of Dartmoor’s 27,300 hectares [67,459 acres] have been owned by the Duchy since the 14th century”. Source|
|Other land in Devon||c.3,000 acres||Shown on National Geographic map but cannot identify further.|
|Somerset – 5,945 acres|
|Sir Matthew Gourney’s estate, near Curry Mallet
|Unknown||Became part of the Duchy c.1420s-30s. Source|
|Ham Hill||61 acres||Recorded here as being 25 hectares ie 61 acres|
|Dorset – 3,264 acres|
|Poundbury, Dorchester||Unknown||Prince Charles’ ‘model town’|
|Maiden Castle, Dorchester||Not large||Bought 1913|
|Gillingham Estate||Unknown||Bought 1862. Appears to run over into Wiltshire.|
|Herefordshire – 13,276 acres|
|Cradley Estate||1,853 acres
|Bought 1991. Source|
|The Guy’s Estate||11,369 acres||“The Guy’s Estate extends to 4,601 hectares [ie 11,369 acres]… It covers some 15 miles from the southern end at Ross-on-Wye to just north of Hereford, and falls into six sections”. Source. Highways Act s31(6) map online here. Estate originally belonged to Guy’s Hospital (see history paper here); later acquired by the Prudential (aka The Mercantile and General Reinsurance Company) and sold to the Duchy in 2000. See news story here.
|Gloucestershire – 1,584 acres (? Or 2,347 acres – sum of estates)|
|Daglingworth Estate||1,247 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. Bought 1959.|
|Highgrove||1,100 acres||Source of acreage figure: Cahill 2001. The Prince’s private home, and Home Farm.|
|Bath and North East Somerset – 8,310 acres|
|Manor of Inglescombe (Englishcombe)||1,500 acres||Acquired in 1421. Map at Somerset archives, here.|
|Newton Park Estate||? 6,810 acres?||Purchased 1941. “Further purchases took place in the early 1960s adding farms between Marksbury and Priston”; source. Historic England map here.|
|Kent – 3,246 acres|
|Westwood Court||2,905 acres||Part of the Prudential Estate bought in 2000. Source for acreage: Duchy annual review.|
|Abbey and Durlock farm||766 acres||Source for acreage: Duchy annual review. Looks to have been sold off in 2014, however: source.|
|Greater London – 39 acres|
|The Oval cricket ground||Building||Source|
|16 flats & 23 houses in Kennington||Buildings||Source|
|Oxfordshire||1,433 acres||Shown on National Geographic map 2006. Possibly at Bletchingdon, where Duchy has sold some of its land for an affordable housing scheme: source|
|Telford & Wrekin||1,438 acres||Shown on National Geographic map|
|Waitrose distribution centre in Brinklow, Milton Keynes||Building||Independent article|
|Holiday Inn, Reading||Building||Independent article|
|Llwynywermod Estate, Brecon Beacons||192 acres||Source|
|Various other sites shown on the National Geographic map, not listed here as no further information uncovered on them – summing to 4,615 acres.|
Why does all this matter? Because it’s the private estate of the heir to the throne and the largest private landholding in England; and because transparency and accountability matter in public life. There is little doubt that the current Duke runs his estate on eminently sound principles: concern for the environment, a desire to provide affordable but attractive and quality housing, the creation of long-term value. But what’s to say a future Duke of Cornwall would behave so responsibly?
This is the enduring problem of our uncodified constitution; stable in many ways for having accumulated gradually, but also ripe for abuse. After all, by convention, the heir to the throne does not lobby Ministers on policy matters; but Prince Charles has broken that convention, as his ‘black spider letters’ show. Even if the Duchy were to maintain its pretence of not being a public body, and avoided being made fully subject to FOI requests, a more complete set of annual accounts including a detailed map of its current capital assets seems in order.
As things stand, it’s unclear whether the Land Registry will include the Duchy in their free release of corporate and commercial land data this Autumn: one of the land titles I have for Duchy property gives the registered owner as being “His Royal Highness Charles Philip Arthur George Prince of Wales… in right of his Duchy of Cornwall”. If the Land Registry deems this to be land registered in an individual’s name, then it will be exempted from free release.
But then, concealment of wealth is all part of preserving it. And the Duchy – like the Crown and the Peerage, feudal remnants all – are past masters in surviving.