TALBOT, Christopher Rice Mansel (1803-1890), of Penrice Castle and Margam Park, Glam.
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Family and Education
b. 10 May 1803, o.s. of Thomas Mansel Talbot of Margam and Penrice Castle and Lady Maria Lucy Fox Strangways, da. of Henry Thomas Fox Strangways†, 2nd earl of Ilchester. educ. Harrow 1814-17; Oriel, Oxf. 1819. m. 28 Dec. 1835, Lady Charlotte Butler, da. of Richard, 1st earl of Glengall [I], 1s. d.v.p. 3da. suc. fa. 1813. d. 17 Jan. 1890.
Ld. lt. Glam. 1848-d.
Talbot was descended from the earls of Shrewsbury through the Hensol Castle, Castle Talbot and Lacock branches of the family. His forefathers had purchased the Abbey and most of the 18,725-acre parish of Margam at the Dissolution, and intermarried with the Mansels of Oxwich and Penrice to become Glamorgan’s largest resident landowners (34,000 acres). Margam’s political hegemony had lapsed, but as manorial lords of Kenfig and proprietors in Aberavon, their interest remained decisive in the struggle between the 6th duke of Beaufort and the 2nd marquess of Bute for control of Cardiff Boroughs, while in Glamorgan Talbot’s father had led the ‘independent’ party against the absentee aristocracy and rebuilt Penrice, where by 1820 the annual rent revenues reached £15,000.1 He died in 1813, having entrusted his estates to his cousin Michael Hicks Beach† (d. 1830) of Williamstrip Park, Gloucestershire, Beach’s namesake son, Member for Malmesbury, 1812-17, and the rector of Margam, the Rev. Dr. John Hunt. His widow, who in 1815 married Sir Christopher Cole*, had full control of her jointure and Penrice until Talbot married or attained the age of 25. Talbot received £1,000 annually from the age of 21, increasing to £2,000 if he was travelling abroad or a Member of Parliament.2 Trust funds were also released for Cole to contest Glamorgan in 1817 and 1820, and on 30 Mar. 1825, the balance stood at £16,421 2s. 6d. in Talbot’s favour.3 His sister Jane Harriot had married John Nicholl† of Merthyr Mawr, the son and heir of the Member for Great Bedwyn, and the family’s influence in Glamorgan was further strengthened by the marriages of his sisters Isabella to Richard Franklen of Clemenston, and Charlotte to the Rev. John Montgomery Traherne of Coedarhydyglyn. In 1833 Emma married John Dillwyn Llewellyn of Penlle’rgaer, son of Lewis Weston Dillwyn†.4
Talbot is reputed to have refused to sign the thirty-nine articles, but he gained a first in mathematics at Oxford in 1824, when, to his dismay, his coming of age was a great county occasion.5 Congratulating him on his academic achievement, Sir John Nicholl* had observed that the ‘young S_r of Margam might so distinguish himself as to possess that weight and influence in Glamorganshire which his ancestors heretofore held’ and advised him
to abstain very cautiously from committing yourself to any party or set of men, until you had a full opportunity by considerable experience of forming a deliberate judgement which set of measures generally pursued or recommended by contending parties were upon the whole most conducive to the real interests of the country, for if once you became a party man, you were no longer quite as independent, and perfect independence should in no degree be sacrificed but on most mature consideration guiding the judgement.
Replying, Talbot described ‘knowledge gained’ at university as ‘rather curious than useful’, and dismissed his examination success as an endeavour to please his tutor. He concurred that the distinction between the parties ‘is so inconsiderable that it is no easy matter to make up the mind to either, however, I never shall approve of the maxim medico tutisimus ibis’.6 He indulged his love of sailing and foreign travel while he familiarized himself with the management of his estates, their mineral deposits, and Glamorgan politics, where Bute observed that he found it difficult to escape the bonds of loyalty incurred by Cole and the trustees in and before 1820.7 Talbot was indeed under pressure to provide financial support for the ‘independent’ interest in Glamorgan.8 He favoured banking exclusively in London and, grieved by the losses incurred by his agents through the collapse in December 1825 of Gibbins and Eaton’s Swansea bank, he consulted Nicolson Calvert* in London in May 1826 and took action afterwards to prevent his father’s lessees, the English Copper Company, exploiting his land.9 At the general election in June he declared late for and seconded Bute’s brother Lord James Crichton Stuart* in Cardiff Boroughs, and attended Cole’s election in Bridgend.10 He spent most of the next eighteen months aboard his yacht Guilia in the Mediterranean, whence he assumed control of family finances, monitored the activities of the Porth Cawl Company and commissioned plans to develop his port of Aberavon, realized later through the establishment of Port Talbot. He informed his agent Griffith Llewellyn, 21 July 1827:
It has always been my grand object to restore Margam to what it ought to be, the park and residence of the owner of the property. If it depended only on myself, I should have little difficulty, but there appears to have been on the part of those who held the purse strings, an anxious wish to get rid of the cash by every possible means. I mention this, because it will now depend more on you than on me, whether I am ever enabled to put my project into effect. I can easily limit my expenditure to £2,000 per annum even with my large establishment here, and if you would also limit the expenditure of the estate to what is absolutely necessary, I should soon be enabled to begin operations. There is a wide difference between conducting the affairs of a trust and of an individual.11
In 1829, after an extended visit to his cousin, the pioneer photographer William Henry Fox Talbot†, at Lacock Abbey, Talbot returned to his family at Penrice. He stewarded the races at Cardiff, for which Bute lent Cole the Castle, planned his new mansion, and kept a close watch on transport schemes, for he saw ‘grounds to dislike the introduction of an Act of Parliament on land which belongs exclusively to myself’.12 When George IV lay dying he met his trustees to settle the accounts and informed his agent, 7 June 1830:
I have also had a conversation with the earl of Ilchester respecting the money spent in electioneering, and in consequence of his communications to me, I have not the least further delicacy with regard to coming forward as a candidate for the county. I have received a letter from Sir Christopher stating his intention to resign at the next dissolution ... and I mention these things in confidence to you in order that you may be prepared, as soon you see his advertisement of resignation, to retain the legal men for me as soon as possible afterwards. It is unlikely there will be any opposition, but I am prepared if there is to raise a sum of money on the purchased estates which will be conveyed to me by the trustees. At all events, who is there in the county who has both a claim to represent the county, and money to support that claim? I have paid Miss Talbot’s fortune and Miss Emma’s. There now only remains Mrs. Traherne’s unpaid, and the trustees have agreed to take my personal bond for that, which will leave the purchased estates unencumbered.13
Cole announced his retirement and Talbot, frequently accompanied by Dillwyn, canvassed the gentry with his agents directly after the king’s funeral.14 Attempts to raise an opposition failed, and he was returned at Bridgend, 10 Aug. On the hustings he said that occasional conflicts of interest between the agricultural, manufacturing, shipping and commercial interests were inevitable, and described himself as ‘a sincere friend to every measure calculated to promote the liberty of the subject’, reduce public spending and taxation, improve the condition of the labouring poor and promote trade and commerce’. He praised the duke of Wellington’s policies on religious toleration, hinted at future support for his ministry and expressly denied that Cole had been his locum.15 From Cowes, where he joined Cole and the rest of his family, he wrote to Fox Talbot, 18 Aug. 1830:
Nothing can be more satisfactory than the result of the English elections. We are not, however, as fortunate in Wales. Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and Breconshire and Monmouthshire return all government men. Glamorgan is pre-eminent in returning two Whig Members. I marvel how Lord Lansdowne has managed about Calne. I see too Mr. Gye has left Chippenham.16
Thomas Bucknall Estcourt* hoped Talbot would ‘not be disinclined to exert himself’.17
Talbot arrived in London after the October races, too late to present the Glamorgan address. He was confident the Wellington ministry would be defeated on reform and ‘must go out’,18 but was absent from the division on the civil list, which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. From London, 18 Dec., he dismissed the incendiarism in Glamorgan as the work of aggrieved labourers, incited by travellers, and added:
As to Swing, that is all humbug and hoax, but I do confess I am quite astonished that those who do receive their letters should publish to the world that they have.19
He returned to Penrice, where county landowners and radicals solicited his support, 23 Dec. 1830, and on 25 Feb. 1831 presented petitions from the hundred of Cowbridge for tithe reform and from Bridgend for election by ballot.20 He brought up further reform petitions, 15 Mar., and was surprised to find that Kenfig was not to be disfranchised under the Grey ministry’s bill.21 He divided for its second reading, 22 Mar., and afterwards left for Dover, where he was ‘kept by contrary winds and might just as well have stayed in town to talk’. He considered the majority of one, ‘small as it is ... as good as 100’, and hoped Parliament would not be precipitately dissolved, so that the Glamorgan roads bill and concessions on the coastwise coal duties were not forfeited (both were enacted).22 He presented the county’s petitions for reform and additional representation, 28 Mar., 15 Apr. As requested by the Merthyr Tydfil meeting, 8 Apr., he accompanied a ‘deputation to Lord Althorp*’, 18 Apr., ‘to try for a Merthyr Member, but in vain’.23 He knew before he divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., that the industrialist William Crawshay of Cyfarthfa, the former county Member Sir John Edwards Vaughan*, and Alderman William Thompson*, a joint-proprietor of the Penydarren works, were scheming against him in Glamorgan.24 Ignoring requests to declare against the bill at the ensuing election, he campaigned assiduously, assisted by the popular tide for reform. He had already privately agreed to back Dillwyn for the second county seat conceded to Glamorgan, 18 Apr. 1831, for which his brother-in-law Nicholl now canvassed as an anti-reformer.25 At his election, Talbot explained that he supported reform because the population, wealth and education had increased and communities had outgrown their political institutions.26
He had declined a militia captaincy in 1829, and the June 1831 Merthyr rising confirmed his belief ‘that a force acting together only eight days in the year must be wholly inefficient for any practical purposes’.27 He gave up his hotel rooms and took a house in Chesterfield Street in July 1831 to make Commons attendance easier, and divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and steadily for its details, except where they conflicted with his personal and Glamorgan interests.28 He thus cast a wayward vote against taking a Member from Chippenham (which Fox Talbot hoped to represent), 27 July. He declined to promote Merthyr Tydfil’s cause in the Commons ‘lest he should hamper the bill’, but he acknowledged that it had a good case for separate representation, voted against its inclusion in the Cardiff Boroughs, 10 Aug., and lobbied to ensure that it was not awarded the separate franchise granted to Swansea (with Aberavon, Kenfig, Loughor and Neath), whose petition he presented, 16 Aug.29 He voted for Lord Chandos’s amendment enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He divided for the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept.,30 and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He was privately relieved that the home office heeded ‘the awful power of the lower classes’ at Merthyr Tydfil, which remained a contributory designate of Cardiff in the revised reform bill.31 He returned to London to vote for its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and later maintained that pressure to attend the House during its committee stage delayed his recovery from influenza.32 He divided for the schedule A disfranchisements, 20 Jan., but either failed to vote for or divided against schedule B, 23 Jan. (for which only a majority list survives), although he voted for the Vestry Act amendment bill that day. He voted with other South Wales Members to substitute Merthyr Tydfil for Gateshead in Schedule D, 5 Mar., but deemed the government’s decision, announced on 14 Mar., to award it the extra Member designated for Monmouthshire
very unwise in them, because everyone knows that if the duke of Beaufort had not been supposed to have great influence, the thing would not have been done. It is a job, and will tend to throw great discredit on ministers.33
He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., but was ‘absent in the country’ when a ministry headed by Wellington was contemplated. He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. 1832.
Costly building work at Margam between 1830 and 1832 forced Talbot to find £5,000 that year, but he attributed rumours that he was heavily in debt, which greatly annoyed him, to ‘my being arbitrator for Lord Portarlington in the case of a gambling bond transaction, wherein I hope I have benefited his lordship by my decision to an amount of £10,000, but certainly not at my own expense’.34 The admissions of many Kenfig burgesses had been deliberately kept unstamped to cut costs, and he had these removed from the books before the reform bill was enacted.35 Canvassing Glamorgan in June 1832, he declared that ‘no single Member ... can represent agriculture, commerce, industry and the county’.36 Anticipating opposition from ‘the Merthyr men’, Edwards Vaughan’s son, and the Conservatives, he attended closely to voter registration before the general election in December, but Bute refrained from intervention in return for Dillwyn and Talbot’s acquiescence in the return of John Nicholl for Cardiff Boroughs.37 Asked by Bute to define his politics and attitude towards the Conservative party, Talbot had replied, 16 Sept. 1832:
I think it very possible to be both ‘conservative’ and friendly to the present ministry, but until I know what are the objects of the Conservative party, and what those of the present ministry, I should feel it disingenuous in me to solicit support as the adherent of either. I regret extremely that any pains should be taken to perpetuate the existence of two parties whose ancient cause of dispute is now at an end. I know not on what grounds or pretences we should speak of reformers and anti-reformers, Whigs and Tories, now that the hopes of one party and the fears of the other have met with a common fate in the passing of the bill. When I first became a Member ... I placed entire confidence in the administration of the duke of Wellington. It is my firm belief that his grace possessed more power to benefit this country than any minister of modern times. He was looked up to by the ... Commons, and by the country, for his noble and unostentatious retrenchments and for his perfect disinterestedness. The ball was at his feet, he would kick it, it came to Lord Grey, and he gave it, I am willing to allow, an unreasonably hard kick. In my humble opinion, it was then too late to attempt even modification, and I, with many others, found myself compelled either to support the whole reform bill, or to have none at all: an alternative which I considered tantamount to revolution. In a word, I supported the ministry of Lord Grey because I thought it would eventually prove more strictly speaking a ‘conservative’ one than that of his opponents ... I am no admirer of the present ministry either in regard to their financial views, or their foreign policy: I believe more practical good to have been done by the exertions of Sir Robert Peel and ... Wellington than is likely to be effected by ... Grey and Lord Althorp, and I think that in any measures which may come before Parliament, Conservative, or from whatever source, predilection for neither one set of men nor for another would influence my line of conduct in favour of either.38
Notwithstanding his protectionist principles, Talbot represented Glamorgan as a Liberal until the boundary changes of 1885, and subsequently Mid Glamorgan, where he encountered strong constituency opposition after opposing Irish Home Rule in 1886. He died a millionaire and ‘father of the House’ in January 1890, having declined Gladstone’s offer of a peerage in 1869, as his only son Theodore, who predeceased him in 1876, refused to stand for Glamorgan.39 He bequeathed his real estate, including an estimated £1,000,000 stake in the Great Western Railway Company, to his unmarried daughter Emily Charlotte (d. 1918), whom he charged with the care of her sister Emma, and left his shares in the London and South Western Railway Company to his married daughter Bertha Elizabeth, whose grandson John Theodore, the son of Andrew Mansel Talbot Fletcher (1880-1951) of Saltoun Hall, East Lothian, succeeded to the estates in trust on Emily’s death.40
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. H.M. Thomas, ‘Margam Estate Management, 1765-1860’, Glam. Historian, vi (1969), 16; P.D.G. Thomas, Politics in 18th Cent. Wales, 14-15, 51-53; P. Jenkins, ‘From Edward Lhuyd to Iolo Morgannwg’, Morgannwg, xxiii (1979), 41; I.G. Jones, ‘Margam, Penrhudd and Brombil’, ibid. xxxiv (1990), 7-9; Glam. RO D/D/Ma/E/1; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss 9222; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 499-501.
- 2. PROB 8/206; 11/1546/389; Penrice and Margam mss 6556.
- 3. Penrice and Margam mss 9235, J.W. Smith to G. Llewellyn, 30 Mar., 30 June, 16 July 1825.
- 4. Glam Co. Hist. vi. 2-4; Penrice and Margam mss 6488; 9238, Talbot to G. Llywellyn, 15 Apr. 1830.
- 5. J.V. Hughes, The Wealthiest Commoner, 11-14; The Times, 18 Jan. 1890; Cambrian, 15 May 1824; British Library, Talbot collection, Isabella Franklen to Fox Talbot.
- 6. Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/7.
- 7. Penrice and Margam mss L1324-5; 9235, Wyndham Lewis to T. Llewellyn, 23 Sept.; 9236, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 8 Aug. 1825; Glam. RO D/DA11/17, 47; 12/116, 135-6; NLW, Bute mss L67/23.
- 8. Merthyr Mawr mss F/51/7.
- 9. Penrice and Margam mss 9235, W. to T. Llewellyn, 19 Dec.; 9236, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 24 Dec. 1825, 14 May 1826.
- 10. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/37; Cambrian, 17, 24 June 1826.
- 11. Penrice and Margam mss 9236, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 21 July 1827 and passim.
- 12. Ibid. Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 15 Nov. 1828, et seq.; 9237, same to same, 29 Nov.; NLW, Penllergaer mss, diary of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, 12-14 Oct. 1829.
- 13. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 7 June 1830.
- 14. Bute mss L73/78; Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 7, 18 July; Dillwyn diary, 6, 16-18, 26, 27, July, 5, 7 Aug.; Cardiff Pub. Lib. Bute estate letterbks. ii. 240; NLW, Vivian mss, Talbot to J.H. Vivian, 7 July; Cambrian 10, 17 July 1830.
- 15. Bute estate letterbks. ii. 228; Fox Talbot mss, Talbot to Fox Talbot, c. 14 July; Cambrian, 24, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 16. Fox Talbot mss.
- 17. Ibid. Estcourt to Fox Talbot, 21 Oct. 1830.
- 18. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 16 Aug., 8 Nov. 1830.
- 19. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 10, 18 Dec.; Cambrian, 18 Dec.; Bristol Mercury, 28 Dec. 1830.
- 20. Bute estate letterbks. ii. 260; Cambrian, 28 Jan. 1831.
- 21. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn 7, 15 Mar.; Cambrian, 12 Mar. 1831.
- 22. Cambrian, 27 Nov., 24 Dec. 1830, 26 Feb., 5 Mar. 1831; Fox Talbot mss, Talbot to Fox Talbot [24 Mar. 1831]; E. Ball, ‘Glamorgan: A Study of the Co. and the Work of its Members in the Commons, 1825-1835’ (Univ. of London Ph.D. thesis, 1965), 90-92.
- 23. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 19 Apr.; Cambrian, 19, 26 Mar., 23 Apr. 1831.
- 24. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 19, 20 Apr. 1831.
- 25. Bute mss L74/30, 32, 34; Mon. Merlin, 14 Apr.; Dillwyn diary, 20 Apr.; Penrice and Margam mss 9239, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 27 Apr., 1 May; Cambrian, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 26. Dillwyn diary, 2, 6 May; Cambrian, 14 May; Mon. Merlin, 21 May 1831.
- 27. Bute mss L72/85; L74/124, 137; Penrice and Margam mss 9239, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 18 June 1831.
- 28. Penrice and Margam mss 9238, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 28 July 1831.
- 29. NLW, Maybery mss 6585; Ball, 171-8.
- 30. The Times, 23 Sept. 1831.
- 31. Penrice and Margam mss 9239, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 4 Nov., 15 Dec. 1831.
- 32. Ibid. Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 13 Jan. 1832.
- 33. Ibid. same to same, 20 Mar. 1832.
- 34. Thomas, 28; Penrice and Margam mss 9239, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 3 Apr. [2 June] 1832.
- 35. P