POWELL, William Edward (1788-1854), of Nanteos, Card.

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



27 May 1816 - 14 Feb. 1854

Family and Education

b. 16 Feb. 1788, 1st s. of Thomas Powell of Nanteos and Elinor, da. of Edward Maurice Corbet of Ynysmaengwyn, Merion. educ. Westminster 1801-3; Christ Church, Oxf. 1804. m. (1) 4 Oct 1810, Laura Edwyna (d. 8 Sept. 1822),1 da. of James Sackville Tufton Phelp of Cottrell House, Glam. and Coston House, Leics., 2s.; (2) 21 Apr. 1841, Harriet Dell, da. of Henry Hutton of Cherry Willingham, Lincs., wid. of George Ackers of Moreton Hall, Cheshire, s.p. suc. fa. 1797. d. 10 Apr. 1854.

Offices Held

Ensign 18 Drag. 1811, half-pay 1822; maj. R. Card. militia 1811, col. 1816, lt.-col. commdt. (with rank of col.) 1823-d.

Sheriff, Card. 1810-11; ld. lt. 1816-d.


His family’s readiness to foster dynastic alliances and clever manoeuvring by his grandfather Corbet and agents John Benyon and Charles Morgan had enabled Powell, like his great-uncle Thomas Powell (c.1701-52), to secure the county seat, the lord lieutenancy and the office of custos despite his heavy debts and evidence of rampant neglect on the scattered 30,000-acre Cardiganshire estates he had controlled since coming of age in 1809.2 He customarily divided his time between London, Bath and his Newmarket stud; and his habit of living beyond his means, together with the unabated profligacy of his mother’s establishments and the web of debt, bonds and interconnected obligations of the Phelps and Powell families (his sister Ellen had married his brother-in-law Edward Tufton Phelp in 1811) brought threats of sequestration which by 1820 caused his Nanteos agents and his London solicitor Robert Appleyard to fear lest ‘general exposure which the county is too over fond of’ should cause him to lose his seat. Charges had been brought against him for non-payment of interest, his usurpation of newly enclosed land at Nanteos and rights to the Cwmystwyth lead mines were in dispute, and Powell himself threatened to take legal action against Aberystwyth corporation, who he claimed had usurped his powers as their manorial lord. Furthermore, friends of the Member for Cardigan boroughs Pryse Pryse were said to be scheming to get him the county seat. Powell was ‘prevented by illness’ from canvassing in person before the 1820 general election. By the time he reached Nanteos shortly before the nomination meeting the threat of opposition had evaporated and he was duly returned.3

Powell, who made no reported Commons speeches before 1832, could spare little time for his parliamentary duties in 1820. His agents, Adam Armstrong of Ty’n rhyd and John Beynon of Newcastle Emlyn, and his solicitors Appleyard and John Hughes of Aberystwyth agreed that as an absentee who ‘neither understands nor takes the least interest in farming’, he should give up his loss-making home farm and let the mansion at Nanteos.4 They persuaded him to do so to avoid financial ruin and Appleyard refused to prepare the case against Aberystwyth corporation until current costs had been met. It was dropped, and in May Appleyard and Armstrong were summarily dismissed.5 The House granted Powell a month’s leave to attend to urgent private business, 21 June 1820, and he now revoked previous powers of attorney and made John Edwards of Bloomsbury and William George Cherry of Buckland, Herefordshire (his wife’s brother-in-law) the managing trustees of his estates in Breconshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Montgomeryshire.6 As hitherto, Powell was roused to vote on relatively few issues, but generally divided with Lord Liverpool’s government. He paired, 28 Feb. 1821, and voted against Catholic relief, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. On Queen Caroline’s case, he voted to include the queen’s name in the liturgy, 23, 26 Jan., but against censuring ministers’ handling of the affair, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided with them on the army estimates, 11 Apr., retrenchment, 27 June 1821, and proposals to alleviate agricultural distress, 11 Feb. 1822. Mortgage debts remained a problem. His wife, whom he seldom saw, became gravely ill and there were suspicions that her death in Exeter in September was at least part self-inflicted through abuse of ‘violent medicines’ and Powell’s inattention to her needs.7 He acknowledged having a mistress in London, Mary Selina Gennet of Britannia Street, Gray’s Inn Road, and she is reputed to have borne him four children between 1816 and 1830, afterwards emigrating with them to New Zealand.8 He divided against Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and investigating chancery arrears, 5 June 1823, and repealing the usury laws, 17 June 1823, 27 Feb. 1824. His own finances remained precarious.9 His mortgage debt alone in 1823 was £58,500, and his gross income of £8,106 no match for current demands. Sheriff’s officers with distraint warrants arrived at Nanteos mansion in November 1824, and matters did not improve until he sold his unentailed Llanbrynmair (Montgomeryshire) estate for £18,250 in 1825 and negotiated a new £50,000 loan at three-and-a-half per cent to remortgage his entailed estates.10 He voted to retain military flogging, 5 Mar. 1824, and to outlaw the Catholic Association, 25 Feb. 1825. When a dissolution was contemplated that autumn he went to Carmarthen to mark the laying of the foundation stone of Sir Thomas Picton’s† memorial, attended the races, and chaired the Aberystwyth sessions and Cardiganshire great sessions.11 Amid promises of continued support, his cousin Edward Lewes of Llanaeron reminded him that ‘though high in popular favour, it is better by personal courtesy to "nip in the bud" any political coalition in persons who would be great men’.12 He shared his constituents’ fears of reduced protection for agriculture, and his wayward votes against the government’s corn bill, 11, 18 May 1826, were commended at the general election that summer and his return was unopposed. Afterwards, he thanked his constituents for ‘supporting an administration whose attention has been particularly directed to the improvement of the finances, the encouragement of the agriculture and the extension of the commerce of my country’.13 Following a family quarrel, he dismissed Cherry and appointed James Hughes of Glanrheidol a Nanteos trustee, and was summoned to Calais, where his mother, a refugee from her creditors, suffered a stroke, 6 Sept. 1826. She died before he arrived.14

Powell divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He received three weeks’ leave on urgent business, 10 Mar., and voted against the corn resolutions, 2 Apr. 1827. Drawing on his Aberystwyth assets over the next two years, he issued 60-year land leases for the construction of gentlemen’s houses in the Castle Field (Laura Place).15 He presented the Cardiganshire maltsters’ petition for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 18 Feb., and several for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 Feb., and voted thus on the 26th.16 He brought up petitions opposing their repeal, 7 Mar., and against Catholic relief, 7 May, from the clergy of the Salisbury archdeaconry. He divided accordingly, 12 May, having also presented unfavourable petitions on the 8th from Cardiganshire’s Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. He divided with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against ordnance reductions, 4 July 1828. As their patronage secretary Planta predicted in February 1829, Powell opposed the concession of Catholic emancipation. He presented well-publicized hostile petitions from Cardiganshire and beyond on six separate occasions, 17 Feb.-27 Mar., and divided against the measure, 6, 18, 23, 28, 30 Mar. 1829.17 On the 1st (St. David’s Day), he had attended the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Society of Ancient Britons at the Freemasons Hall.18 Despite some early support organized by Herbert Evans of Highmead, opinion in Cardiganshire soon turned against the justice commission’s proposals to abolish the Welsh judicature and courts of great sessions, which recommended altering the assize districts prior to their incorporation into the English system and so partitioning Cardiganshire. At a county meeting at Aberaeron, 18 Nov. 1829, Powell, whose brother Richard (d. 1859) was chamberlain and chancellor of the court of great sessions in Carmarthen and the counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen and Pembroke, declared ‘against any change’, and he presented their unfavourable petition, 9 Mar. 1830.19 John Hughes corresponded with him on the progress of the administration of justice bill, by which the change (excluding the amended assize districts) was enacted, and he voted in the minority against the bill’s recommittal, 18 June 1830.20 He voted against enfranchising Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. In a letter postmarked 3 July 1830, shortly after news arrived of George IV’s death, Hughes reassured him that reports of opposition in the county from Lord Kensington’s† son and from Herbert Evans in Cardigan Boroughs were ‘neat inventions of the enemy’.21 He said little about his politics when he was returned unopposed at the general election in August 1830, which coincided with his return to live at Nanteos.22

Ministers counted Powell among their ‘friends’ and he divided with them on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Llanilar and Tregaron (where chapels had been built on his land), 25 Nov. 1830. He was granted three weeks’ leave, 14 Feb., and a further nine days, 8 Mar. 1831 because of illness, and so missed the early debates on the Grey ministry’s reform bill. Despite his previous reservations, he paired for it at its second reading, 22 Mar., so earning the approbation of the Cardiganshire reform meeting at Lampeter, 7 Apr. However, Kensington, who proposed the resolution of confidence in the sitting Members, made it known that he

would have been better pleased if I had seen the name of the Member for the county in another place, but, as I have seen his explanation I will only say, that I hope and trust and believe, or I would not do what I am now doing, that Mr. Powell will support the bill of Lord John Russell, not by pairing off, but by expressing his own, as well as the sentiments of his constituents in favour of it; and by voting for it in every stage. It is by that, that he will deserve the confidence and support of the county.

Powell voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., presented Cardiganshire’s petition in favour of the bill, 20 Apr. 1831, and was not opposed at the general election that month.23

He divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and, excluding his vote against the disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, generally divided for its details. However, he failed to do so on the controversial amendments to award county votes to freeholders in cities corporate, 17 Aug., and to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and received a month’s leave on the 30th to attend the sessions. He divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831. He is not known to have voted for it subsequently, but he divided for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He stayed away from Cardiganshire reform meetings but wrote to his constituents of his pleasure at giving them satisfaction by ‘my humble support for the bill’.24 He presented a petition for the three commotes road bill from the gentry, magistrates and inhabitants of Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, 22 May, and divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

There was speculation in August 1832 that Powell might resign at the dissolution in favour of Herbert Evans’s stepson Delme Seymour Davies.25 In the event he stood as a Conservative in December 1832 and retained the seat unchallenged until obliged to resign through ill health in February 1854. The peerage he aspired to eluded him,26 and the Rebecca riots of the 1840s, which preoccupied him as lord lieutenant, were another ‘sore trial to his patience’.27 He died in April 1854 at his London home in Hyde Park Terrace, recalled as an opponent of church disestablishment, supporter of agricultural protection and a popular local benefactor, and was buried at Llanbadarn Fawr (Aberystwyth).28 Nanteos mansion and the entailed estates passed in trust to his son William Thomas Rowland Powell (1815-78), Conservative Member for Cardiganshire, 1859-65. Powell’s will underestimated by over £4,000 the amount that could be realized to honour family bequests, but arrangements were made for his second wife Harriet, who erected a memorial in Llanbadarn extolling his virtues, to receive £500 a year and her income under their marriage settlement.29 The estate declined steadily until the male line of Powells became extinct in 1930.30

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


Draws also on M.M. Escott, ‘Parliamentary Representation: From the French Revolution to the Passage of the Reform Bill, 1790-1832’, Card. Co. Hist. iii. ed. G.H. Jenkins and I. Gwynedd Jones, 387-97.

  • 1. Ann. Reg. (1822), Chron. p. 291.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1715-54, ii. 364; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 486-7; iv. 875-6; D. Gorman, ‘William Powell of Nanteos and Public Affairs in Early 19th Cent. Card.’, NLWJ, xix (1995-6), 119-25.
  • 3. R. J. Colyer, ‘Nanteos: A Landed Estate in Decline’, Ceredigion, ix (1980-4), 60-64; ‘Agriculture and Land Occupation in 18th and 19th Cent. Card.’, Card. Co. Hist. iii. 21; NLW, Nanteos mss L362-7, 370, 371, 929, 930, 5338; Nanteos: A Welsh House and its Families ed. G. Morgan, 122-3; Carmarthen Jnl. 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Colyer, Ceredigion, ix.65; Nanteos mss L368-71.
  • 5. Nanteos mss L373, 376-9, 395.
  • 6. Colyer, Ceredigion, ix. 65.
  • 7. Nanteos mss L545.
  • 8. Nanteos ed. Morgan 67-68, 75; J. Joel, Nanteos (1995). The alleged parallel family were Edward William (b. 1816), Frederick James (b. 1819) and Henry William (b. 1825), baptized together under the surnames of Gennet or Powell at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, London, 15 Mar. 1829; and Emma Mary (b. 1830).
  • 9. J. Barber, ‘Tithe Unrest in Card. 1796-1823’, WHR, xvi (1992), 190.
  • 10. Colyer, Ceredigion, ix. 65-66; Nanteos mss L581-627, 926.
  • 11. Cambrian, 20 Aug., 3, 10 Sept., 1 Oct. 1825.
  • 12. Nanteos mss L936, 1180.
  • 13. Cambrian, 24 June, 1 July 1826; Nanteos mss L5302.
  • 14. Nanteos ed. Morgan, 70-71; Nanteos mss L1101, 1111.
  • 15. Nanteos ed. Morgan, 71-73.
  • 16. Cambrian, 1, 8 Mar. 1828.
  • 17. Carmarthen Jnl. 16, 30 Jan., 6, 13, 20 Feb.; Cambrian, 21 Feb., 14, 21, 28 Mar. 1829.
  • 18. Cambrian, 7 Mar. 1829.
  • 19. W.R. Williams, Hist. Great Sessions in Wales, 1542-1830, p. 199; Cambrian, 7 Mar, 18 Apr., 14, 21 Nov.; Carmarthen Jnl. 4 Sept., 13, 20, 27 Nov. 1829, 12 Mar. 1830.
  • 20. Nanteos mss L855-880, esp. 855, 857, 859, 861, 867.
  • 21. Ibid. L879.
  • 22. Carmarthen Jnl. 23, 30 July, 6, 13, 20 Aug.; Cambrian, 24, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830; Nanteos ed. Morgan, 75.
  • 23. Cambrian, 2, 16 Apr., 7, 14 May; Carmarthen Jnl. 12 May 1831; Seren Gomer, xiv (1831), 155.
  • 24. Seren Gomer, xv (1832), 26-27, 157, 189; Welshman, 6 June 1832.
  • 25. Seren Gomer, xv (1832), 251.
  • 26. Add. 40401, ff. 174-5.
  • 27. D. Williams, Rebecca Riots (1971), 10-11; Nanteos ed. Morgan, 83-90.
  • 28. Carmarthen Jnl. 30 Nov. 1832, 6 Jan. 1833, 14, 21 Apr. 1854; Welshman, 14, 21 Apr. 1854; Colyer, ‘Gentry and County in 19th. Cent. Card.’, WHR, x (1980-1), 497-535; R.G. Thorne, ‘Parliamentary Representation: From the First to the Third Reform Bill, 1832-1885’, Card. Co. Hist. iii. 387-97.
  • 29. PROB 11/2191/392; IR26/2007/488.
  • 30. Colyer, Ceredigion, ix. 67-68; Nanteos ed. Morgan, 117-44.