GUEST, Josiah John (1785-1852), of Dowlais House, nr. Merthyr Tydvil, Glam.

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



1826 - 1831
1832 - 26 Nov. 1852

Family and Education

b. 2 Feb. 1785, 1st s. of Thomas Guest, ironmaster, of Dowlais and Jemima, da. of Thomas Phillips of Shiffnal, Salop. educ. Bridgnorth g.s.; Monmouth g.s. m. (1) 11 Mar. 1817, Maria Elizabeth (d. 14 Jan. 1818), da. of William Ranken, late of E.I. Co., s.p.; (2) 29 July 1833, Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie, da. of Albemarle Bertie†, 9th earl of Lindsey, 5s. 5da. suc. fa. 1807; cr. bt. 14 Aug. 1838. d. 26 Nov. 1852.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Glam. 1819-20.


Guest’s family had been farmers in Shropshire until the mid-eighteenth century, when his grandfather John Guest moved to Merthyr Tydvil, where he became the manager of, and later a partner in, the Dowlais iron works. His father also managed the company and on his death in 1807 Guest inherited his freehold property, a one-sixteenth share in Dowlais and a one-fifth share of the residue.1 He assumed the management of the company and, following the death of his uncle William Taitt in 1815, became the principal shareholder. He took a keen interest in developments in geology, chemistry and engineering and their practical application to his business, and under his auspices the annual output of Dowlais expanded from 12,500 tons in 1815 to over 70,000 tons in the 1840s, when it was ‘supplying the railways all over the world’, employing 7,000 people and making profits of £50,000; he became the sole proprietor in 1849. He was also a partner in a country bank with branches in Cardiff and Merthyr.2 At the general election of 1826 he was returned at the head of the poll for the venal borough of Honiton, which he had canvassed 18 months earlier, declaring himself to be ‘a friend to civil and religious liberty’ who would go to Parliament ‘free and unshackled’ and ‘steer clear of all parties’.3

He acted with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry, voting against the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill, 2 Mar., for a reduced level of agricultural protection, 9 Mar., inquiry into Leicester’s corporation, 15 Mar., and inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates and information regarding delays in chancery, 5 Apr. 1827. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He was granted ten days’ leave for urgent business, 19 Mar. He voted against Canning’s ministry to disfranchise Penryn, 28 May 1827. He joined Brooks’s Club, 6 Feb. 1828. He opposed the duke of Wellington’s ministry by dividing against the grant for 30,000 seamen, 11 Feb., to postpone the grant to the Society for Propagating the Gospels in the colonies, 6 June, and reduce civil list pensions, 10 June. He voted against the grant for the Royal Cork Institution, 20 June, and to condemn the misapplication of public money for work on Buckingham House, 23 June. He presented several petitions for repeal of the Test Acts and voted accordingly, 26 Feb. He divided for Catholic claims, 12 May. He voted for a lower pivot price for the corn duties, 22 Apr., and a 15s. duty, 29 Apr. He voted against going into committee on the small notes (Ireland and Scotland) bill, 16 June 1828. He divided with the ministry for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829, and presented several favourable petitions. He obtained a second reading for the Merthyr magistrates bill, 13 Mar., which received royal assent, 1 June. He introduced a bill to establish a corn market at New Ross, county Wexford, 13 Mar.; it was committed but made no further progress. He voted for Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 2 June, and Hume’s proposed table of fees in the ecclesiastical courts bill, 5 June 1829. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb., and tax reductions, 15 Feb. 1830, and steadily in the revived opposition’s campaign for retrenchment that session. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and paired for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He was granted one month’s leave for urgent private business, 3 Mar. He voted to abolish the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and for Labouchere’s motion on the civil government of Canada, 25 May. He presented a Honiton petition to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 25 May, and paired in this sense, 7 June. He voted for reform of the divorce laws, 3 June 1830. At the general election that summer he was returned unopposed for Honiton after declaring that he had done his utmost to ‘stem the torrent of corruption and extravagance’ and reduce taxation, and that his aim was to ‘secure the stability of our free institutions’.4

The ministry of course listed Guest among their ‘foes’, and he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented a Merthyr ironworkers’ petition for repeal of the corn laws, 19 Nov. 1830, one from Honiton for repeal of the coal duty, 7 Feb. 1831, and several that winter for the abolition of slavery. On 23 Dec. 1830 he drew attention to the ‘great number of abuses’ in the system of granting civil list pensions and maintained that they could only be awarded for the monarch’s lifetime, unless renewed by Parliament, and that they should only be given for ‘actual [public] service’. His motion for an address to the king for the production of the warrant authorizing the pension to Harriet Arbuthnot, the wife of a Tory ex-minister, was agreed. John Charles Herries* informed Mrs. Arbuthnot that the motion had taken the opposition ‘somewhat by surprise’.5 Guest gave notice of a motion for a select committee to investigate civil list pensions, 7 Feb. 1831, but this did not come on, and his intended resolution declaring that many of them had been ‘improperly granted and ought to be inquired into’, announced on 20 Apr., was overtaken by the dissolution. He obtained a return of the pensions paid from the consolidated fund, 11 Feb. His motion for an account of all civil and military sinecures was withdrawn because of the problem of definition, 22 Feb. He complained of the ‘enormous sums’ being spent on fortifications in the colonies, 10 Feb., and was a minority teller for reduction of the garrisons grant, 14 Mar. He obtained a return of those employed in the customs department receiving more than £1,000 per annum, 25 Feb. 1831. He maintained that ‘nineteen-twentieths of the people’ of Honiton favoured parliamentary reform and that ‘this feeling pervades the country generally’, 21 Dec. 1830. In presenting a Merthyr petition for reform and the ballot, 7 Feb. 1831, he observed that Glamorgan was underrepresented by comparison with many English counties. He presented a Swindon petition for economy, retrenchment and reform, 9 Feb., and reform petitions from Merthyr and Brecknock, 16, 19 Mar. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered again for Honiton, where he claimed that an ‘odious oligarchy’ had thwarted reform in order to resist economy and retrenchment, and while expressing regret that the borough stood to lose one of its Members he was confident that his constituents were ‘too generous to set up selfish views in opposition to a great national benefit’. He was mistaken, and came bottom of the poll.6

Guest had been the principal speaker at a public meeting in Merthyr, 8 Apr. 1831, when he had called for the town’s enfranchisement, and he was involved in the subsequent campaign for this objective which was achieved in March 1832. He immediately announced his intention of offering for the new borough, and he was returned unopposed in December 1832 as ‘a reformer ... in favour of free trade, a revision of the corn laws, the abolition of monopolies, the ballot and a commutation of tithes’. His position as a large employer enabled him to exercise ‘a kind of industrial feudalism’ at Merthyr and by the 1840s he was described as ‘a Whig’.7 His marriage in 1833 to the daughter of an impecunious peer and the award of a baronetcy by Lord Melbourne’s government in 1838 ‘symbolized the recognition of industrial success by the aristocracy’, and in 1846 he purchased Canford Manor in Dorset for over £350,000. He was described as ‘a man of great mental capacities, a good mathematician and a thorough man of business, not without a taste for the refinements of literature’, who ‘took a comprehensive view of his social duties’.8 He died in November 1852 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Ivor Bertie Guest (1835-1914), who was created Baron Wimborne in 1880. His business interests at Dowlais were divided between his sons, who retained control of the company until it was merged with Keen and Nettlefold of Birmingham in the 1890s.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. The personalty was sworn under £12,500 (PROB 11/1466/663; IR26/126/119).
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1853), i. 91-92; Diaries of Lady Charlotte Guest ed. Lord Bessborough, 5-7; A. Birch, Hist. British Iron Industry, 67-74, 289-95.
  • 3. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 15, 22 June 1826.
  • 4. Western Times, 10 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 5. Arbuthnot Corresp. 140.
  • 6. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 28 Apr., 5, 12 May 1831.
  • 7. D. Wager, ‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1832’, WHR, vii. (1974), 441, 445-7; Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 119; (1843), 160; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 199-200; R. Grant, Parl. Hist. Glam. 47-50.
  • 8. Birch, 289-95; Gent. Mag. (1853), i. 91-92.
  • 9. PROB 11/2165/26; IR26/1962/13; Birch, 171; C. Erickson, British Industrialists, 150.