New Radnor Boroughs
Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen of New Radnor and in the freemen (resident or non-resident) of Cnwclas, Knighton, Rhayader and Cefnllys1
Estimated number qualified to vote:
Number of voters:
268 in 18203
(1821): New Radnor 426; Cnwclas [parish of Heyop] 164; Knighton 1,000; Rhayader 647; Cefnllys 371; (1831): New Radnor 472; Cnwclas 187; Knighton 1,076; Rhayader 669; Cefnllys 367
|17 Mar. 1820||RICHARD PRICE||207|
|10 June 1826||RICHARD PRICE|
|2 Aug. 1830||RICHARD PRICE|
|30 Apr. 1831||RICHARD PRICE|
New Radnor (Maesyfed), situated 30 miles north north-east of Brecon, was the old county town of Radnorshire, probably its only chartered borough, and the polling town of the contributory boroughs constituency to which it gave its name. It comprised ten scattered hamlets and extended, in a five-mile radius from the castle, over a fifth of the county’s 272,128 acres.4 It had a recorder, a co-optive corporation of 27 (25 common burgesses and two aldermen), and its bailiff was the returning officer.5 The out-boroughs of Rhayader, 16 miles to the south-east, Knighton (Tref-y-Clawdd, ‘Town on the Dyke’), ten miles north-north-west, and Cnwclas (Knucklas), in the parishes of Beguildy and Heyop, a little over two miles from Knighton, were prescription boroughs and crown manors wholly within the extensive royal lordship of Cantref Maelienydd, where the steward, a crown appointee, had the authority to admit burgesses.6 Some small crown manors also lay within New Radnor, the only one of the boroughs where, by a Commons’ ruling of 1690, electors were required to be resident.7 The stewardship of Cefnllys, 10 miles west of New Radnor, where 16 of the 190 freemen in 1820 were resident, had been purchased in 1776 by Sir John Benn Walsh† (1759-1825), whose namesake son aspired to the representation of Radnorshire.8
In 1780 the Lewises of Harpton Court had lost control of the constituency to the Harley family, earls of Oxford, stewards of Cantref Maelienydd and county lord lieutenants. From 1795 the mass burgess creations, by which elections had long been won, ceased. Few were created by the 5th earl of Oxford (1773-1848), steward of Carntref Maelienydd, 1799-1824, and between 1790 and 1831 the electorate dwindled from 1,038 to 115.9 In New Radnor, where the Lewises met administrative costs and, as recorders and bailiffs, vetted borough appointments and freeman creation for electoral purposes, there were only 16 admissions, 1820-32. 10 Reviewing enfranchisement before and under his management, the Kington banker and attorney James Davies (a brother-in-law of Thomas Frankland Lewis*), the administrator with his partner Richard Banks of land sales after the crown revoked the Harleys stewardship of Cantref Maelienydd in 1824,11 informed Lewis, who had suggested admitting burgesses, 8 June 1832:
I never feel that in any part of my life I could more completely defy censure or blame than in regard to the election of burgesses in the boroughs of Cantremellenith [sic]. Previous to your acting at all, I had a long consultation at the office of woods [and forests] on various points, among others, that of making burgesses. I stated my advice to be to make but few, but that as none had been made for near 25 years it might not be right to decline it altogether, as I knew many wished to be made. This advice was approved of and I was directed to act accordingly. At the first court I held, which was for the borough of Rhayader in 1824, I was much urged by persons whose bias in politics it never entered my head to enquire about, and the course I adopted was to tell the jury that though the custom was for the steward to nominate, I would allow each of them to deliver in two names, which, with two of my own and two of Mr. Banks’s, should be the only ones made. This gave general satisfaction. At Knucklas and Knighton none were made that year. It was generally supposed that in the latter borough the power of creating had ceased, because it was thought the jury should be composed of burgesses for the purpose of such a presentment in that borough and there was not one to be found. At Rhayader on one or two subsequent occasions some very small number was made for the mere purpose of avoiding to give needless offence, and then only a few of the most respectable inhabitants of the town and its immediate vicinity, whose politics I knew nothing of at the time, but which I have since had reason to know more as opposite as possible. For the last two or three years I think none have been made, except some three or four at Knighton, the circumstance and occasion of which can be better explained by Mr. Banks, as I was not present. I do not see that the steward of the crown manors, except in the creation of burgesses, if he was considering, derives any influence from this office, which he could exert with success for or against the ministers of the day; and by such action, unless he was a person with numerous tenants or other dependents, like the late alderman Harley or Lord Oxford, he would gain but little, for when made how could he expect their adherence to him. Certain it is, that of the burgesses who are in existence at this time, a very inconsiderable proportion is under the influence of those who were instrumental in getting them created. For the county it does not appear to me that the weight of government would be of any avail nor would it be for the Boroughs unless they could select and make burgesses of a great number of persons on whom they could rely for their future votes.
P.S. Although I have for some time retired from the profession of the law, I consider myself still as one of the stewards and responsible for the due execution of the office.12
Oxford had done nothing to oust the anti-Catholic Tory Richard Price of Knighton, who had asserted his independence after coming in with Oxford’s approval in 1799. When opposed in 1812 by the lawyer and Hampshire landowner Percival Lewis of Downton, whose father Edward had represented the constituency, Price had secured the tacit support of Thomas Frankland Lewis*, to whom he pledged his backing in the county at the next vacancy.13 Claiming sufficient ‘legal burgesses’ to guarantee ‘ultimate success’, Percival Lewis renewed his challenge at the general election of 1820, when he declared late, 6 Mar., promising to ‘support such measures as may best tend to check any improper expenditure of public money’. Price had started four weeks earlier as a ‘crown and constitution’ candidate.14 Price prevailed in the costly eight-day poll during which his opponent, who trailed throughout, complained of gross partiality by the sheriff. In 1831, the boundary commissioners were informed that Knighton and Rhayader, where enrolment lagged behind presentment, had 30 and seven burgesses respectively, and that the voters of New Radnor had not been polled, indicating that Cefnllys and Cnwclas, which also had a ‘large number’ of out-voters, had played an important part in the contest. Almost every vote was subjected to scrutiny. Percival Lewis’s threatened petition never materialized. He died in September 1821 and was buried at New Radnor.15 Thereafter political interest focused on the crown land sales, whereby Price increased holdings in Knighton and Frankland Lewis did the same in New Radnor.16 Subsequent Boroughs elections received scant newspaper coverage.17
Price found it expedient to host partisan dinners in Rhayader, where Queen Caroline’s prosecution aroused great interest in the autumn of 1820.18 Petitioning was mainly confined to the county, but a few against West Indian slavery were received from New Radnor and Rhayader in 1824 and 1826, and the Wesleyan Methodists of Knighton joined in the petitioning in 1830.19 The clergy, burgesses and inhabitants of Rhayader petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 16 May 1825.20 Local concerns about the 1824 Radnor, Hereford and Merioneth roads bill, the 1828 Rhayader enclosure bill, and the 1829 Rhayader road bill were represented by Lewis and Davies.21
The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed adding the Whig stronghold of Presteigne, which had deprived New Radnor of its assizes and most of the functions of a county town, to the constituency. Presteigne and the county met to petition for the bill, 5 Apr. 1831, when Lewis, who failed to secure an amendment in favour of a more moderate petition, made much of government errors concerning its boundaries. Neither he nor Price, a fellow anti-reformer, opposed its enfranchisement.22 Lewis lobbied successfully to ensure that the Herefordshire part of Presteigne was not included in the parliamentary borough and drew on Radnorshire evidence to justify changes which the Tories sought in the assessment of £10 households, 9, 10 Aug., 6 Sept. 1831. He claimed that there was not a ‘shadow of common sense’ in applying the same voting qualification to New Radnor and Marylebone, and suggested a valuation based on ‘house plus land’, which, as Members pointed out, would have worked to his advantage in New Radnor.
The boundary commissioners estimated that Cefnllys would contribute three, Cnwclas one, Knighton 86, Presteigne 137, Rhayader 45, and New Radnor 172 £10 voters to the new Radnor District constituency, the figures for Cefnllys and Cnwclas rising to 15 and 19 if land was included in the assessment. No such discrepancy was indicated in the New Radnor figures, and no attempt was made to change the rural nature of the Boroughs by altering their boundaries. Those of Cefnllys, Cnwclas, Knighton and New Radnor remained unchanged; Rhayader was extended across the Wye to include the hamlet of Dyffryn Gwy in the parishes of Cwmdeuddwr and Llansantffraid; and the ancient lordship, manor and borough were incorporated at Presteigne. Two-hundred-and-seventy-six freemen and 253 £10 householders were registered in November 1832. Individual borough totals are not available.23 ‘No one family’ had a ‘preponderating influence’ in the post-reform constituency, which Kington petitioned unsuccessfully to join in 1853. Price retained the seat for the Conservatives until 1847 and Lewis and his son George Cornewall Lewis followed suit until 1863, when Price’s nephew and heir Richard Green Price was returned as a Liberal. Thereafter the Boroughs were contested four times before being absorbed into the county constituency in 1885, returning a Liberal on each occasion.24
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 571.
- 2. D.A. Wager ‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1835’ (Univ. of Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1972), 371.
- 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 571. Another 20 were rejected as paupers.
- 4. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iv. 3.
- 5. PP (1835), xxiii. 493-9.
- 6. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales, ii. 547, 613; P.D.G. Thomas, Politics in 18th Cent. Wales, 16.
- 7. K. Parker, ‘Sale of Crown Lands in Rad. in 19th Cent.’, Trans. Rad. Soc. lxxv (2005), 151-3, 159.
- 8. PP (1835), xxiii. 511. See WALSH, Sir John.
- 9. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 571; Parker, 151-73.
- 10. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 392; xli. 187-9; (1835), xxiii. 495-9; Thomas, 30, 43.
- 11. Parker, 163; A Kington Family: Essays in Honour of Richard Alford Banks ed. J.B. Sinclair and R.W.D Fenn, passim.
- 12. NLW, Harpton Court mss C/401.
- 13. Ibid. C/281, 626; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 511-12.
- 14. Hereford Jnl. 9, 16, 23 Feb., 8 Mar. 1820.
- 15. The Times, 14-18, 21 Mar.; Hereford Jnl. 22 Mar. 1820; PP (1831-2), xli. 187, 192, 193, 197-9, 205; Gent. Mag. (1822), i. 89.
- 16. Parker, 156-9, 170.
- 17. Hereford Jnl. 7, 14 June 1826, 14 May 1828, 7 July 1830, 4 May 1831.
- 18. Shrewsbury Chron. 10 Nov. 1820.
- 19. CJ, lxxix. 115, 216; lxxxvi. 444; LJ, lviii. 306; lxiii. 60, 76, 96; W.H. Howse, Old-Time Rhayader, 9-19.
- 20. LJ, lvii. 807.
- 21. CJ, lxxix. 73, 148, 154, 247; lxxxiii. 35, 335, 376; lxxxiv. 31, 46, 53, 76, 105, 112, 158; Hereford Jnl. 17 Jan. 1827, 28 May, 18 June, 30 July, 3 Sept 1828, 4 Mar., 20 Oct. 1829.
- 22. Hereford Jnl. 23, 30 Mar. 13 Apr. 1831.
- 23. PP (1831-2), xli. 187-207; (1835), xxiii. 499, 511.
- 24. M. Cragoe, Culture, Politics and National Identity in Wales, 1832-1886, pp. 24, 58, 145; Harpton Court mss C/1915.