HUGHES, William Lewis (1767-1852), of Kinmel Park, nr. St. Asaph, Denb.
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Family and Educationb. 10 Nov. 1767, 1st s. of Rev. Edward Hughes of Kinmel and Mary, da. and coh. of Robert Lewis of Llysdulas, Anglesey; bro. of James Hughes*. educ. Felsted; Christ Church, Oxf. 1786. m. (1) 8 Mar. 1804, Charlotte Margaret (d. 21 Jan. 1835), da. of Ralph William Grey of Backworth, Northumb., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 8da. (6 d.v.p.); (2) 11 Feb. 1840, Gertrude, da. of Grice Blakeney Smyth of Ballynatray, co. Waterford, 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1815; cr. Bar. Dinorben 10 Sept. 1831. d. 10 Feb. 1852.
Militia a.d.c. to Queen Victoria 1840-d.
Capt. (vols.) R. Anglesey militia 1794, maj. 1798, lt.-col. cmmdt. 1803, col. 1808.
Hughes derived his considerable wealth from the proceeds of the Parys Mountain copper mine in Anglesey, on which his father had founded the family’s fortune. He had also inherited landed property in Anglesey, Caernarvonshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire, and was a partner in the Chester and North Wales Bank.1 Although he was a Whig by conviction, a friend of Sir Francis Burdett* and John Cam Hobhouse* and their set and a contributor to party funds, he had never been the most dedicated of parliamentary attenders. He maintained the same relaxed attitude in this period, until the reform crisis belatedly stirred his interest. By dint of his wealth and acreage, he carried some weight in North Wales electoral politics, in particular by helping to prop up his brother-in-law Sir Robert Williams in Caernarvonshire; but he never forcefully asserted himself, and mostly avoided active involvement in political campaigns.2 At the general election of 1820 he stood again for Wallingford, where venality and systematic bribery were entrenched, and where he had maintained a strong interest since 1802 on the basis of his money, though it was alleged that he was never seen in the borough from one election to the next. When the leaders of a new campaign to eradicate corruption, inspired by the Tory corporation, offered him their support, he apparently refused to subscribe to their resolutions in favour of electoral purity, which he said was a matter for electors rather than candidates. He topped the poll after a contest forced by the intrusion of another Whig, who ousted the Tory sitting Member. Just over two years later, it seems, the notorious ‘Miller’ of Wallingford, a local shoemaker, duly distributed packets of sovereigns to Hughes’s supporters, who were mostly impoverished men.3
It is not clear whether it was Hughes or his brother James who voted with opposition on the civil list, 5 May 1820, but he was in their minorities on the same subject, 8 May, and the additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May. He voted against the aliens bill, 1 June, 7 July. Either he or James voted to reduce the standing army, 14 June. He divided against Wilberforce’s resolution calling for compromise in the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and the barrack agreement bill, 17 July. He was one of Hobhouse’s minority of 12 in favour of a prorogation, 18 Sept. 1820. He joined in the opposition onslaught on government over their treatment of the queen in the first weeks of the 1821 session. He voted to condemn the Allies’ repression of the liberal movement in Naples, 21 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He was in small minorities for receiving the petition of Nathan Broadhurst complaining of his treatment in Lancaster gaol, 7 Mar., Creevey’s motion for a reduction in the number of office-holders in the House, 9 Mar., and delaying the army estimates, 12 Mar.; but his only subsequent known votes that session were for repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., inquiry into Peterloo, 16 May, and economy and retrenchment, 27 June. Although he was listed as one of the stewards of the London Tavern reform dinner, 4 Apr. 1821, he did not attend.4 Hughes voted for the amendment to the address, 5 Feb., against details of the Irish insurrection bill, 8 Feb., and in support of Sir Robert Wilson* over his dismissal from the army, 13 Feb. 1822. After voting for more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb., he divided for the production of information on naval pay, 22 Feb., relaxation of the salt tax, 28 Feb., economies at the admiralty, 1 Mar., and in the army, 4 Mar., and inquiry into the duties of officers of the board of ccntrol, 14 Mar. He voted for Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 25 Apr., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, the payment of naval and military pensions from the sinking fund, 3 May, and cuts in diplomatic expenditure, 15, 16 May. His only other known votes in 1822 were for inquiry into chancery administration and against the pensions bill, 26 June, and for repeal of the salt duties, 28 June. He was a conspicuously infrequent voter during the following four sessions. He divided against the national debt reduction bill, 13, 17 Mar., for a repeal of assessed taxes, 18 Mar., against the deadweight pensions bill, 14 Apr., for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He was in a minority of 13 against the trial of capital offenders in the army by court martial, 11 July 1823. His only recorded votes in 1824 were for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May, and proper use of Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May. He was given a month’s leave to deal with urgent private business, 15 Feb. 1825. He went up to vote for Catholic relief, 21 Apr., and against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., and was present to divide against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2 June, and for a reduction in judges’ salaries, 17 June 1825. In late October he wrote to Hobhouse from Kinmel Park that he had ‘no thought of leaving the country before Christmas or indeed, unless compelled, before the meeting of Parliament’.5 In the event, his first known votes in the 1826 session were against government on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 7, 10 Apr. He paired in favour of reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr., but voted in person for Russell’s general reform proposals, 27 Apr. 1826.
From November 1825 Hughes had been vilified as a hypocrite and sham reformer in the Tory Berkshire Chronicle, which mounted a campaign to expose the ‘Miller’ system at Wallingford. In March 1826 he announced his intention of standing at the next election and, joining forces with his Whig colleague Robarts, canvassed in response to threats of opposition which then came to nothing.6 At the election in June John Dodson*, an anti-Catholic Tory, started on the independent interest. On the hustings, Dodson’s proposer, Alderman Charles Allnatt, repeatedly asked Hughes to renounce bribery, but he remained silent until, giving thanks after his return at the head of the poll, with Robarts in second place, he replied to his critics, assuming for himself the mantle of ‘a genuine Whig’, but disclaiming slavish adherence to a party line. He asserted that he had consistently voted for an extension of the franchise:
I have always felt convinced of the necessity for general parliamentary reform, but I never have been friendly to that species of reform which would have borne on the poor elector only while it left the borough proprietor in undisturbed possession of his property ... On this principle I refrained from voting for the disfranchising of Grampound, because I would not consent to disfranchise that borough, while so many equally corrupt were to be left untouched ... and which had for a series of years been held as property by individual patrons, which had been repeatedly been publicly brought to market.
He added that for this reason he had not felt able to vote for Russell’s resolutions of 26 May 1826 aimed at curbing the practice of electoral bribery, ‘which (however well intentioned) would have the effect of throwing a stronger fence around boroughs the property of individuals, and thus throw additional power and influence into the hands of the oligarchy’. When asked by a member of the corporation to confirm that he had voted for Russell’s reform motion only seven weeks earlier, he was said to have replied, ‘I suppose I did. I am not certain. I have voted so often for reform, that I really cannot recollect that motion in particular’.7 It was alleged in some quarters that Hughes had deserted Williams, who was forced out of the Caernarvonshire seat by county hostility to his pro-Catholic views; but in fact he had done what he could for his brother-in-law before advising him to give up a hopeless cause.8 When ill health forced Robarts to resign his seat for Wallingford in December 1826, Hughes publicly endorsed the candidature of the veteran Whig Robert Knight, who easily defeated the corporation man and so strengthened Hughes’s hold on the borough.9
He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. On 30 Mar. he was in the opposition minority for withholding supplies until the uncertainty over the new ministry had been resolved. His attitude to Canning’s brief ministry is unknown. In the autumn of 1827 he was host at Kinmel to his friend the duke of Sussex (one of whose executors he was appointed in 1840) and his mistress Cecilia Buggin, ‘a very agreeable person though perhaps not a very refined one’.10 Hughes, who is not known to have spoken in debate in this period, presented a Wallingford inhabitants’ petition in favour of Catholic relief, 8 May, and voted thus, 12 May 1828. He was reported to have paired in favour of the grant to Canning’s family the following day.11 He voted for reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. He was a virtual cypher for the rest of the Parliament. He presented petitions in favour of Catholic relief from Wallingford and a Suffolk parish, 19 Mar., and turned up to vote for the third reading of the relief bill, 30 Mar. 1829. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 1 Mar. 1830; and his only known vote that session was against the administration of justice bill, 18 June.
At the general election of 1830 Hughes was returned again for Wallingford, with Knight, after a token contest.12 Ministers of course numbered him among their ‘foes’, but he was not present to vote them out of office on the civil list, 15 Nov., and on 2 Dec. 1830 he was granted a month’s sick leave. He attended to vote for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Wallingford was to lose one seat, 22 Mar., presented a constituency petition in its favour, 18 Apr., and voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment the following day. He and Knight easily defeated a local Tory at the ensuing general election.13 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and against the adjournment, 12 Jul