Radnorshire

County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

8001

Elections

DateCandidate
17 Mar. 1820WALTER WILKINS
20 June 1826WALTER WILKINS
9 Apr. 1828THOMAS FRANKLAND LEWIS vice Wilkins, deceased
1 Mar. 1830LEWIS re-elected after appointment to office
9 Aug. 1830THOMAS FRANKLAND LEWIS
6 May 1831THOMAS FRANKLAND LEWIS

Main Article

Radnorshire, a small border county, had extensive crown wastes, few large estates and a history of treasury interference and strong party and dynastic rivalry at elections.2 Landowners frequently had property and interests elsewhere and were no more than occasional visitors to Radnorshire, which remained, unusually for Wales, a constituency open to relative newcomers. The sitting Member Walter Wilkins, son of a Brecon squire, banker and attorney, had purchased the politically important Maesllwch estate near Hay, on the Brecon border, with the proceeds of his service in the East India Company. Others indebted to the Company included Edward Rogers*, whose father had purchased the former county Member Thomas Johnes’s Stanage estate, near Knighton; the Walsh family, future Barons Ormathwaite, who had bought Cefnllys in 1776 with a view to emulating Lord Clive in Shropshire; and the Presteigne-born diplomat, Sir Harford Jones of Boultibrook, who assumed the additional name of Brydges on succeeding to his grandmother’s Kentchurch estate in Herefordshire in 1826. The lord lieutenancy and stewardship of the crown manors of Cantref Maelienydd remained in the control of the Harleys, earls of Oxford, who had latterly distanced themselves from Radnorshire politics. Their former rivals, the Lewises of Harpton Court, were striving to regain the initiative, their task made harder by tactical switching of elections from New Radnor, where Thomas Frankland Lewis was steward and recorder, to the Whig stronghold of Presteigne on the Herefordshire border, which had also acquired the right to hold the assizes. Lewis, a political follower of Lord Grenville and Canning, had married Lord Liverpool’s niece by marriage and also had interests in Wenlock and Leominster. Though obliged to come in for Lord Bulkeley’s pocket borough of Beaumaris, he made no secret of his ambition to represent his native county, and had been promised the support at the next vacancy of his militia deputy, Richard Price of Norton Hall, Member for the Boroughs.3

In 1820, Wilkins, who claimed he was no radical despite his penchant for opposition and support for parliamentary reform and Catholic relief, canvassed early, justifying his opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus and the Six Acts, and making much of his independence and support for ‘a moderate reform’. The county adopted the customary addresses of congratulation and condolence to the new monarch, 14 Feb., and on the 17th Wilkins was drawn from Boultibrook to Presteigne, where his re-election was celebrated with music, bell ringing, and revelry and the ladies wore his colours of azure and pink. His proposers, the Whigs Sir Harford Jones and John Charles Severn of Penybont, delivered the speeches.4 Wilkins opposed the prosecution of Queen Caroline, and when the news reached Presteigne in November 1820 that the case against her had been dropped, bells were rung, windows illuminated, beer flowed, and ‘effigies of Majoccione and Dumont were carried through the streets on gallows before being burnt in a fire in Broad Street on which a fat sheep was roasted for the populace’.5 Petitions were few and confined to issues supported by Wilkins: from Radnorshire Agricultural Society and the nobility, gentry, and freeholders for action against ‘distress which they suffered in common with all persons engaged in agricultural transactions’, 25 Apr. 1822; and against colonial slavery, 2, 4, 26 Mar. 1824, 8 May 1826. The last, from the north of the county, was received by both Houses.6 Wilkins and Hugh Powell Evans of Neuadd, Rhayader, attended to Llanyre enclosure business, and there was great interest in the progress of the Montgomeryshire and Radnor and the Hereford, Radnor and Merioneth roads bills enacted in 1822 and 1824. Lewis, an authority on turnpike legislation, assisted with the latter.7

Deprived of his Beaumaris seat at the 1826 general election, Lewis canvassed Radnorshire, where he found the engineer James Watt, a newcomer who had invested heavily in the recent crown land sales in Cantref Maelienydd, supportive.8 He reported to his brother-in-law James Davies of Moor Court, the Kington banker, clerk of the peace, and acting steward of Cantref Maelienydd:

As I had spoken to Price, I could add nothing, and Sir Harford Jones is hardly to be trusted. Clive tells me, however, that he is decidedly with me. Rogers cannot go with Wilkins, and it is safe to let him alone as he cannot start another candidate. Scrime will, I conclude, go with him. Powell Evans I wrote to, and also a note to Spencer. Venables, Barnes, and Whittaker, I wrote to thank for their conduct at the election. I have left it there. I think I shall only be at Harpton in ten days from this time. I will attend the assizes and stay all August. There are many things I wish to consult you about as to conduct. There being no chairman of quarter sessions I have some thought of offering myself as chairman jointly with some other person undertaking to serve every year as chairman at the two quarter sessions. Will you think of this? Think also of some means by which I can influence the district about Builth.9

Although he was 85, had recently been unable to attend to parliamentary business, and remained too infirm to travel to the election, Wilkins stood again, leaving no opening for Lewis, who left for Ireland where he was returned for Ennis on Sir Edward O’Brien’s* interest.10 Jones Brydges and Price proposed Wilkins, whose son Walter deputized. Jones Brydges, in a powerful speech subsequently printed in the Hereford Journal, recommended delegating decisions on the Catholic question, corn laws and currency to Wilkins, and expounded his own pro-toleration, anti-bullionist and protectionist views. He stressed his own contribution to maintaining confidence in the Kington Bank during the December 1825 banking crisis, and professed the hope that ‘when the time comes’ Wilkins would be succeeded by an equally honest, independent and faithful Member. After the chairing, 150 dined at the Radnorshire Arms. Wilkins’s printed address of thanks, 21 June 1826, proclaimed his opposition to sinecures, high taxes and the £800,000,000 national debt.11

After the election gaming rights in Cantref Maelienydd were restricted because of the shortage of grouse, and steps were taken to improve the shire hall and judges’ accommodation at Presteigne.12 In an upsurge in activity following recent crown land sales, new commissioners were appointed under the Cilrow, Colva, Gladestry and New Radnor Enclosure Acts; additional toll gate houses were sought for Builth, Llanhillin Pool and the Rhayader-Llanidloes road; and at the sessions, 12 Jan. 1827, Lewis, Price, Rogers and Wilkins endorsed the magistrates’ decision to apply for a grant to improve the Hereford-Aberystwyth road.13 The ailing Wilkins was named to bring in the 1828 Rhayader enclosure bill, 11 Feb., but he died, 17 Mar. 1828.14 Lewis, recently re-elected at a price for Ennis following his appointment as vice-president of the board of trade under Charles Grant*, was in London, where he succeeded in dissuading Wilkins’s son from standing and announced his candidature. Thomas Grenville†, writing to Lewis’s wife Harriet, was

heartily rejoiced at your Radnorshire news. I have always felt impatient that one of the best Members of Parliament that I know should not have an independent seat of his own and I am most favourably disposed to Mr. Wilkins junior for the facility which his retrograde movement gives to this arrangement. Indeed that facility is the whole value of the matter, for I am sure Mr. Lewis is too wise to think a county election worth a contest, though it is highly worth a speech and a dinner to well-trained and amicable constituents. Few elections of this description would have given me greater pleasure.15

Lewis’s canvassing address made much of his lineage and desire ‘to redeem a pledge ... that I would offer myself as a candidate’ and combine ‘with the duties I have already to perform, a constant, diligent, and willing attention to the more immediate interests of the county to which I belong’.16 After meeting the gentry at a land and cattle sale in Presteigne, 21 Mar. 1820, he informed Davies:

David James had been privately canvassing, and I fear he is deadly hostile. I sent to Rogers at Stanage, he is said to be at Ludlow. It appears to me to be absolutely necessary to organize Presteigne, which looks wholly neglected and is [the] enemy’s quarter. Let me entreat of you therefore on the receipt of this to mount your horse or set out somehow and meet Mr. Price and me there. It is absolutely necessary to find some means of communicating forthwith with Rogers, whose keeping aloof is very distressing. In this view it may be impossible for me to move towards Rhayader today. I am very anxious you should accompany me. Price thinks he can do most good by keeping in charge here and at Knighton. I intend to endeavour to get Whittaker to come to Presteigne. At all counts pray let me see you here or this Presteigne will be all wrong and it is the place of election and very important.17

Unaware of his cousin’s decision not to stand, the Rev. Walter Wilkins of Hay had already started canvassing and asked the sheriff, Samuel Beavan of Glascwm, to call a pre-election meeting, 5 Apr. 1828. To Jones Brydges’s annoyance, it was scheduled for 8 Apr., the day before the election, and coincided with the Brecon assizes. Attending, Wilkins confirmed that his cousin would not stand ‘at present’ because of ill health, although ‘this may change’, and Lewis and Price were accused of being ‘party to a coalition’. According to the printed version of his speech, after eulogizing the late Member, Jones Brydges alleged that Lewis was guilty of supporting the church to extort tithes while refusing to defend it on the Catholic question and criticized his support for free trade. He accused him of threatening the independence of the county and the Boroughs through coalition, adding the influence of the treasury to his own and failing to make his tenants magistrates, and claimed that as a member of the government he would be unable to act independently in Radnorshire’s best interests or devote enough time to county matters. Lewis countered with a two-hour speech in which he promised to support tithe commutation; pointed to the facility with which, as an office-holder, he could discuss Radnorshire matters informally with ministers; praised Grant and Charles Williams Wynn as cabinet ministers and county Members; and defended the government’s free trade policy. No other candidate came forward, and Lewis was elected at Presteigne the following day, proposed by the Tory Price and seconded by the Whig Powell Evans. Jones Brydges insisted that Lewis was on trial. The election dinner was held in a marquee at the bowling green and liquor was supplied for the populace. Lewis tried to offset the cost with his partial refund for Ennis, but O’Brien’s bills proved difficult to discharge.18

The Rhayader enclosure bill, which required the king’s consent for the inclusion of crown land, was enacted, 23 May 1828, and facilitated the introduction of the Rhayader road bill (linking Rhayader and Llangurig), which received royal assent, 23 Mar. 1829.19 The Commons had received a petition seeking protective duties from county’s wool producers, 28 May 1827, and to test Lewis, Jones Brydges organized a county meeting to petition against the importation of foreign wool, 31 May 1828. Lewis hoped to ‘turn this woollen snare which he has set up for me into an entanglement the more for himself’; and Davies, who chaired the meeting, succeeded in amending the petition, so that it requested relief ‘either by a protecting duty on foreign wool imported, or by such other means as may appear most effective and the most equitable’.20 Lewis, who had joined the Canningite exodus from government in late May, faced criticism over a similar petition from Lincolnshire, 3 June. Presenting Radnorshire’s, 12 June, he confirmed the petitioners’ plight, but ‘refused to say or discuss whether an increased duty on foreign wool can be imposed without exposing our manufactures to the loss of our export trade’. Minor tariff changes he suggested were later adopted.21 The county did not meet to consider Catholic emancipation in 1829. A hostile petition from the parish of Whitton was received by the Commons, where Lewis refused to endorse it, 9 Mar., and by the Lords, 2 Apr.22 Jones Brydges and the Whigs capitalized on the common law commission’s report of 29 Apr. 1829 which controversially proposed the abolition of the Welsh judicature and court of great sessions and forming larger assize districts. Radnorshire business would be dealt with in Hereford. A county meeting at Presteigne, 24 Oct., memorialized the home secretary Peel in protest and requested the right to retain concessit solvere actions, a popular and inexpensive means of debt recovery exclusive to the Welsh courts.23 When the king’s speech of 4 Feb. 1830 announced that the change would be effected through the administration of justice bill, Jones Brydges issued a notice on the 7th calling on the freeholders to emulate Cardiganshire (in November) by petitioning for improvement rather than abolition, but the planned county meeting had to be deferred until after the by-election necessitated by Lewis’s appointment as treasurer of the navy. Jones Brydges made much of the issue in his anti-Lewis tirades, but he failed to prevent his unopposed return at a cost of only £240 12s. 6d. in hospitality.24 At the county meeting, 9 Mar., Lewis’s supporters, the Rev. Richard Venables and John Whittaker of Newcastle Court, failed to confine petitioning to the retention of Presteigne assizes and concessit solvere. The resulting petition, against changing the constitution of the courts of great sessions in Wales and incorporation with Herefordshire, was received by the Commons, 22 Mar., and the grand jury at the spring great sessions forwarded a similar memorial to Peel, 9 Apr.25 In the Commons Lewis still insisted that Radnorshire sought assimilation provided it could keep its assizes, 27 Apr. He was determined to get what he could for Radnorshire ‘without making common cause with any other Welsh county’; but his plan for an annual Radnorshire assize and transferring prisoners to Hereford at other times was rejected in favour of the proposal to hold alternate joint assizes for Breconshire and Radnorshire at Brecon and Presteigne.26

The revolution in France, the beer bill, government taxation policy and the Welsh judicature dominated speeches at the 1830 general election, when, amid voluble opposition led by Jones Brydges, who was hissed, Lewis was nominated by Price and Powell Evans, with Rogers in attendance to support him. There was no contest. The dinner was held in the old shire hall and £264 17s. was spent on hospitality.27 Afterwards, petitions were prepared against the enclosure of crown lands in the manor of Swydd Urge and against West Indian slavery. Most of the latter were organized by the Wesleyan Methodists and received in November 1830 and March-April 1831.28 Radnorshire Whigs mustered strong support for parliamentary reform after Lord Grey succeeded the duke of Wellington as premier. The ministry’s bill added Presteigne, Radnorshire’s largest town, with a population of over 1,600, to the New Radnor group of boroughs, so threatening Lewis’s influence in that constituency. Presteigne’s reform petition approved the bill and criticized the current management of New Radnor Boroughs, where they claimed that tradesmen were being denied enfranchisement, 21 Mar. 1831. Jones Brydges, the Wilkinses, Beavans, Bodenhams and R.W.B. Mynors of Clyro were the chief requisitionists for the county reform meeting, 5 Apr., which adopted a petition favourable to the bill, proposed by Jones Brydges and seconded by Walter Wilkins of Maesllwch, grandson of the late Member. Wilkins brought with him Edward Romilly†, son of the former Whig lawyer, who had freehold property in the county and was looking for a parliamentary seat. Lewis tried to project himself as a moderate reformer and, backed by Price, proposed a counter-petition that expressed approval of the bill and the enfranchisement of Presteigne, but criticized the proposed reduction in English Members and the inattention to detail and local knowledge evident in the inclusion of the rural parish of Presteigne in Herefordshire in the Welsh township and borough of Presteigne. Afterwards the reformers assembled at the Radnorshire Arms, where the Grey Coat Club, previously established in London to promote Radnorshire grey flannel, was revived for political purposes by Jones Brydges, Powell Evans, Mynors and Thomas Price Richards of Evenjobb. Lewis failed to present the petition before the dissolution precipitated by the bill’s defeat, 19 Apr., to which his vote had contributed. He claimed that he voted to prevent a reduction in English representation, not to bring down the government.29 The Lords received the Radnorshire freeholders’ reform petition, 20 Apr. 1831.30

Romilly announced his candidature at the dissolution, declaring that he did so by default, after failing to persuade Wilkins to stand. He soon abandoned his canvass. On 25 Apr., 111 prominent freeholders, led by Powell Evans, Price, Rogers, Severn, Sir John Walsh, then Member for Sudbury, and Whittaker, of whom the largest single group (26) came from Knighton, signed a requisition to Lewis ‘approving generally’ of his ‘parliamentary conduct’, and thanking him for ‘his great and unceasing attention to the interests of the county, and for his earnest endeavours to promote its internal prosperity on all occasions’. Nevertheless, he was much lampooned by Jones Brydges and strongly criticized for failing to present the county petition to the Commons. Although not opposed, he was left in no doubt that he was expected to represent the interests of his constituents on reform. None of the requisitionists for the reform meeting signed that to Lewis. Fortunately for Lewis, and probably as a result of Lord Brougham’s co-operation, his endeavours to secure the living of Gladestry for his younger son Gilbert Frankland Lewis (1808-84), which later aroused resentment, remained secret until January 1832.31

Though still dissatisfied with its details, Lewis voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831. The changes he sought in the boundaries of Presteigne, 9, 10 Aug., and his requests for further clarification of the voting arrangements in contributory boroughs were granted without division. However, he voted against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and declined to support the measure thereafter, claiming that the substantive changes he sought had not been made. A county meeting, 1 Nov. 1831, adopted a loyal pro-government, pro-reform address to the king following the bill’s defeat in the Lords. Some of Lewis’s April supporters had signed the requisition, but he and Price stayed away and Jones Brydges, Wilkins, Romilly, and the radical William Davies of Caebalfa (who canvassed Ludlow in 1832 and started against Charles Williams Wynn* in Montgomeryshire in 1835), were the main speakers. They were supported by the Whig Sir John Walsham of Knill Court near Kington, Herefordshire. (Kington later petitioned for inclusion in the post-1832 New Radnor Boroughs District.) Jones Brydges, who was heralded as the champion of reform in Radnorshire and became a privy councillor in 1832, headed the delegation which presented it.32

Bells were pealed at Presteigne when the reform bill was enacted in June 1832, and a reform festival with banners, a procession, and bread, mutton and cider for the townspeople followed, 11 Aug., Jones Brydges provided venison for a dinner for the gentry chaired by Walsham, supported by Davies of Caebalfa. Toasts were drunk to Wilkins and Romilly, who came in for Ludlow as a Liberal at the general election in December 1832. There was no serious attempt to oust Lewis.33 One-thousand-and-sixty-four electors, only two of whom were copyholders, were registered in the new polling towns of Colwyn, Knighton, Painscastle, Penybont, New Radnor, Presteigne and Rhayader. New Radnor was a polling town solely for the Radnor District constituency.34 The representation was contested in 1835, 1841, 1874 and 1880. The Liberal Walter Wilkins defeated the Conservative Sir John Walsh to take the county seat when Lewis, as a poor law commissioner, was obliged to vacate at the dissolution in 1834, but Walsh prevailed when Wilkins’s death created a vacancy in 1840 and retained the seat until he was created a peer in 1868, when it passed to his son. It next changed hands in 1880, when Sir Richard Green Price of Norton, the defeated candidate in 1874, took the seat for the Liberals.

Author: Margaret Escott

Notes

  • 1. D.A. Wager, ‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1832’ (Univ. of Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1972), 367; 634 polled in 1802.
  • 2. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iv. 3; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 510-11.
  • 3. NLW, Harpton Court mss C/281, 615, 626; D.R.Ll. Adams, ‘Parl. Rep. Rad. 1536-1832’ (Univ. of Wales MA thesis, 1969), 10-64, 416-36.
  • 4. Hereford Jnl. 16 Feb., 8, 29 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Ibid. 22 Nov. 1820.
  • 6. The Times, 26 Apr. 1822, 3, 5, 27 Mar. 1824; CJ, lxxvii. 204; lxxix. 115, 120, 216; lxxxi. 312; LJ, lvii. 204; lviii. 306.
  • 7. Hereford Jnl. 25 Oct. 1820, CJ, lxxvii. 267; lxxix. 73, 148, 154, 247, 393; LJ, lv. 149.
  • 8. K. Parker, ‘Sale of Crown Lands in Rad. in 19th Cent.’ Trans. Rad. Soc. lxxv (2005), 151-73.
  • 9. Harpton Court mss C/595.
  • 10. Hereford Jnl. 7, 14 June 1826; Harpton Court mss C/397.
  • 11. Hereford Jnl. 28 June, 5, 12 July 1826; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford) X21.
  • 12. Hereford Jnl. 9, 23 Aug. 1826; P. Parris, ‘Shire Hall Presteigne’, Trans. Rad. Soc. li (1981), 40-41.
  • 13. Hereford Jnl. 20 Sept., 4, 11 Oct. 1826, 17 Jan. 1827; Harpton Court mss C/596; Carmarthen Jnl. 27 Apr. 1827.
  • 14. CJ, lxxi. 396; lxxxiii. 35; Cambrian, 22 Mar.; Hereford Jnl. 26 Mar. 1828.
  • 15. Harpton Court mss C/3044.
  • 16. Hereford Jnl. 2 Apr.; Cambrian, 29 Mar., 5 Apr. 1828; Harpton Court mss 2161.