WOOD, Thomas (1777-1860), of Gwernyfed, Brec. and Littleton Park, nr. Staines, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1806 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 21 Apr. 1777, 1st s. of Thomas Wood of Littleton Park by Mary, da. and h. of Sir Edward Williams, 5th Bt., of Gwernyfed. educ. Harrow 1788-95; Oriel, Oxf. 1796. m. 23 Dec. 1801, Lady Caroline Stewart, da. of Robert, 1st Mq. of Londonderry [I], by 2nd w. Lady Frances Pratt, da. of Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, 7s. 3da. suc. mother 1820; fa. 1835.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Brec. 1809-10.

Lt.-col. E. Mdx. militia 1798, col. 1803; militia a.d.c. to King William IV 1831.

Biography

Wood, the eldest of 14 children, was recommended by his grandfather Thomas Wood to Lord Sydney in 1798 as suitable to be made a groom of the bedchamber ‘or any other such situation’.1 In 1803 he became a colonel of militia for Middlesex, which his grandfather had briefly represented in Parliament, and in 1806 his name was hawked about as a potential candidate for the county. It was thought that as brother-in-law of their opponent Castlereagh he could scarcely expect the countenance of the Grenville ministry. He was in any case virtually sure of a seat elsewhere. Since 1804, when his mother succeeded to the Gwernyfed estate, he had become an obvious contender for Breconshire, where he could count on the support of Lord Camden, his wife’s uncle. Insisting in advance on his freedom of action in Parliament, he was returned unopposed on the retirement of Sir Charles Morgan in 1806.2

In general, Wood followed the political lead of his brother-in-law Castlereagh. He voted against the Grenville ministry on the Hampshire election petition, 13 Feb. 1807. His first speeches showed his interest in military matters, which was doubtless stimulated by Castlereagh’s being at the War Office. Thus on 27 July 1807 he was a fervent supporter of the militia transfer bill, on 2 Feb. 1809 he championed the militia enlistment bill and on 18 Apr. the militia completion bill. His arguments derived their force from his own experience of militia command. A friend of the Duke of Clarence3 (who as King William IV appointed him one of his executors), he deplored the proceedings in the House against the Duke of York in February and March 1809. When Castlereagh quarrelled with the cabinet that autumn, Wood followed his line, voting with the majority on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, with the minority for inquiry into the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan., and with the majority against the censure on it, 30 Mar. 1810. The Whigs duly listed him ‘Castlereagh’ at that time. He was a critic of Sir Francis Burdett’s conduct, 3 May 1810, and on 21 May voted against parliamentary reform. He subsequently rallied to the ministry with Castlereagh and voted against remodelling the government, 21 May 1812.

Like Castlereagh, Wood was friendly to Catholic relief and voted for it in the session of 1813, in 1815, 1817 and subsequently:4 it was constituency pressure that determined his ultimate hostility to the measure. After the election of 1812, he knew that he would be challenged for his seat by the heir of the Morgans of Tredegar, now of age, and he was the more sensitive to local issues. On 5 Mar. 1813 he failed to obtain the committal of a bill to amend the Brecknock Canal Act, which he conceded to be controversial and which the Morgans opposed. The absence of Castlereagh on the Continent also affected his role in Parliament: on 21 Feb. 1815, for instance, he replied to Lambton’s motion deploring the alienation of Genoa, remarking in his defence of the Congress arrangements that ‘the pacification of the world was beyond the reach of all human agency’. He opposed the disembodying of the militia, 28 Feb. 1815, and was a supporter of flogging in the army as, to preserve discipline, there was no alternative but the death sentence. As a member of the Military Club, he defended it against those opposition critics who thought it had sinister political associations, 4 Mar. 1816.

In the spring of 1816 Wood, though a supporter of the continuation of the property tax, was critical of the government’s supine attitude to agricultural distress. His constituents wished for relief from the tax burden, as their petitions indicated, and he suggested the repeal of the malt and agricultural horse taxes, 7 Mar. 1816, setting himself up as the champion of the ‘little farmers’, 25 Mar. On 28 Mar., insisting that legislative intervention was necessary to remedy the depression, he added grain protection, reduction of the salt tax, tithe and Poor Law reform to his recommendations.5 On 20 May he secured a committee to review the Game Laws, in view of the increase in poaching. He disliked the committee’s draconian proposals and on 4 Mar. 1817 obtained leave for a bill to repeal the statute of 28 Geo. II making the sale of game illegal. It failed to get past its second reading, 9 June, and Wood could not swallow George Bankes’s bill on the subject, debated in the two subsequent sessions.

Wood’s only vote contrary to government in the Parliament of 1812 was against John Wilson Croker’s wartime salary at the Admiralty, 17 Feb. 1817. He was in other respects disposed to criticize the opposition. When they called for repeal of the leather tax, he said he would sooner see the salt tax repealed, 12 Mar. 1818. He questioned Burdett’s credibility as a parliamentary reformer in the light of his electoral practices in Middlesex, 5 May 1818. Nevertheless, he was considered sufficiently independent to be preferred by Whigs in Breconshire to his opponent Morgan, who had shown himself a negligent Member and one of the silent majority of ministerialists.6 He defeated Morgan in 1818, retaining his seat until he retired as one of Peel’s martyrs in 1847.

In the Parliament of 1818 he developed his ideas, as a select committeeman, on Poor Law reform. He suggested road work for the unemployed, 17 Feb. 1819, opposed the law of settlement which discouraged the mobility of labour, 10 May, and advocated schools of industry for pauper children, 11 June. He was also sympathetic to the lot of child chimney sweeps, 17 Feb. 1819. He thought direct taxation preferable to indirect precisely because the latter hit the poor hardest, 20 May. He opposed the abolition of the Welsh judicature, 21 May. Wood, who had voted against Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May 1819, went on to support government measures against sedition. He was one of the few Members out of office invited to Castlereagh’s pre-sessional ministerial dinner.7 In justification of the blasphemous libel bill, 21 Dec. 1819, he said that Hone’s parodies had found their way into his children’s nursery, where they were thought to be ‘very good; but very shocking’. He died 26 Jan. 1860.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820