Pembroke Boroughs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen of Pembroke, Tenby and Wiston

Number of voters:

about 500 rising to 1,500


(1801): Pembroke 1,842; Tenby 844; Wiston 569


25 June 1790HUGH BARLOW 
31 May 1796HUGH BARLOW 
13 July 1802HUGH BARLOW 
6 Nov. 1806HUGH BARLOW 
15 May 1807HUGH BARLOW 
9 Feb. 1809 SIR HUGH OWEN, Bt., vice Barlow, deceased 
13 Sept. 1809 JOHN OWEN vice Owen, deceased 
21 Oct. 1812JOHN OWEN941
 John Hensleigh Allen480
19 Mar. 1813 SIR THOMAS PICTON vice Owen, chose to sit for Pembrokeshire 
3 July 1815 JOHN JONES vice Picton, deceased 

Main Article

The borough of Pembroke had been the focus of the influence of the Owens of Orielton since the mid 17th century. It was on their doorstep and the corporation enfranchised voters in their interest only: the admission books were not even accessible to their opponents in the litigation that followed the contest of 1812. The Owens had not succeeded in their earlier attempts to disfranchise Wiston, the lesser contributory borough which was influenced by their enemy Lord Cawdor, lord of the manor by purchase from 1794, who at once created 600 burgesses. The Owens now did the same at Pembroke. They had the upper hand at Tenby, where although it was a foe of theirs, Sir William Paxton*, who started to develop the town, it was a friend, another nabob, Jacob Richards, who became Tenby’s chief patron and leader of the corporation. With the growth of Tenby as a resort, and of Pembroke as a naval dockyard after 1814, the Orielton influence depended on the propping up of their corporations.1

There had been no contest since 1741. Hugh Barlow of Lawrenny, uncle and guardian of the young Sir Hugh Owen of Orielton, held the seat unopposed from 1774 until his death in January 1809. Sir Hugh then succeeded him unopposed, despite a rumour of opposition from Sir William Paxton, but died without issue a few months later. His heir at law John Owen, formerly Lord, was challenged when he in turn offered, by John Hensleigh Allen of Cresselly, a protégé of the Blue (Whig) party in the county, led by Lords Milford, Kensington and Cawdor, who regarded this as a riposte to the Orielton challenge to them in the county election of 1807. Allen might have stood at Barlow’s death, but declined, whereupon Cawdor agreed with Sir Hugh Owen to let him in unopposed in exchange for his support of a Blue candidate for the county next time. (Cawdor had refused a prior suggestion of Sir Hugh’s that the Blues should be given the seat for Pembroke on Barlow’s death, in exchange for supporting him at the next county election.)2 Allen withdrew on Sir Hugh’s death too, finding his chances slim after failing to get the Lawrenny interest,3 but offered again, late in the day, at the election of 1812 when there was a confrontation of the Blue and Orange parties in all three Pembrokeshire seats. In fact it was because John Owen was so incensed at Allen’s canvass that he promulgated a contest at Haverfordwest.4 Allen hoped to take advantage of the fact that his opponent of Orielton, who had evidently discarded a plan to put up Thomas Meyrick of Bush for Pembroke, was also contesting the county, which looked like monopoly; his promoter Cawdor, the only Blue prepared to spend money, had put up his son for the county and regarded Allen’s candidature as a diversion and source of expense to harass Owen.5 John Colby, brother of the dowager Lady Owen, had also been approached by the Orange party to ease their leader’s position by standing in his place for the boroughs, but all his hopes lay in the grave with Sir Hugh Owen and he declined this offer, as well as another one made in January 1812 by the Blues, through Lord Kensington, evidently with a view to splitting the Orielton interest, which was their only real hope. (Allen had likewise hoped in 1809 to take advantage of the rift between the Orielton and Lawrenny branches of the Owen family caused by Sir Hugh Owen’s controversial will.) Colby did, however, declare his neutrality.6

In 1811, in anticipation of this contest, Owen had created burgesses en masse at Pembroke, anticipating Cawdor’s laggard efforts in that line at Wiston.7 Assisted by this and the Tenby vote (awarded him gratis by his friends there) he secured, after an 11-day poll, an easy majority. Allen petitioned against the return, questioning the validity of many of Owen’s votes.8 The petition failed and election expenses amounted by June 1813 to £8,581 1s.d., including lawyers’ bills of £2,199 4s. Allen, who had to be coaxed to spend £2,500 himself, took the view that he had been ‘forced into the contest’ under a misconception that there would be no snag, and relied on Cawdor to foot the bill for legal action against the return, though he also received offers of assistance from Joseph Foster Barham* and Lords Milford and Kensington.9 Cawdor now began quo warranto proceedings, on the advice of James Scarlett*, to prove irregularities in the corporation: the first action, against the town clerk, was successful at Hereford in August 1813, and further actions which turned on the admissions of new burgesses before the election were successful in the following August.10

Cawdor was about to push home his assault by a further action in August 1816, when Owen accepted a compromise drawn up by Scarlett. The parties agreed to preserve the peace, Cawdor and his friends supporting Owen for the county in exchange for Cawdor’s obtaining two consecutive seats for Pembroke Boroughs and giving up the proceedings at Hereford.11 This ended the drain on their resources, caused Lady Owen to ‘leap about the house in a frenzy of pleasure and she thanks God she could get rid of now, a set of blackguards, that they were obliged to associate with and be civil to’, and satisfied all parties, except Lord Kensington, Lord Milford having yielded for guaranteed security in his interest at Haverfordwest. Kensington was in favour of continuing proceedings at Hereford which, as Scarlett pointed out to Cawdor, was an expensive method of obtaining what the compromise achieved. The ‘political insolence’ of which Kensington accused Owen was effectively curbed by the loss of his monopoly of county and borough representation.12 During preliminary negotiations which failed in April 1816, while he was prepared to admit a few friends of Cawdor’s to the corporation of Pembroke, Owen had refused to share the naming of the mayor alternately as part of the compromise terms.13

Owen had, in any case, no suitable candidate to offer for the boroughs until his heir came of age: on obtaining the county seat in 1812 he had bestowed the boroughs unconditionally on the military hero Sir Thomas Picton, who styled himself ‘neither Whig nor Tory’,14 and, on the latter’s death in 1815, on John Jones, Cawdor’s enemy at Carmarthen and an avowed ministerialist. Jones was popular in the Owen camp, but he was obliged in 1818 to contest Carmarthen, rather than Pembroke, in deference to the terms of the compromise.15 Both in 1813 and 1815 John Hensleigh Allen had threatened intervention, and in his address on the latter occasion complained of the foisting on the constituency of ‘an absolute stranger’ and promised his future opposition to the degradation of Pembroke into a rotten borough in Owen’s hands. This address annoyed Cawdor’s son John Frederick Campbell*, who had offered to sponsor Allen, not because of its abuse of Owen, but because of its assumption of leadership of the Blue opposition. Allen’s candidature in 1812 had been pressed by Lord Kensington after he (Allen) had complained of neglect by Cawdor; they had not seen eye to eye over election expenses and Joseph Foster Barham had had to mediate; but Cawdor had brought in Allen’s brother-in-law Mackintosh for Nairn and now Allen felt obliged to see Cawdor’s son and assure him that he would not stand in the way of the family interest at Pembroke. Another person who was not allowed to stand in the way was William Owen, a barrister who addressed the boroughs, June 1815, on the principles of ‘real and genuine Whiggism’. He was nephew and heir of the disinherited Sir Arthur Owen, 7th Bt.; Sir John Owen snubbed him and the local Whigs showed no interest in supporting a lost cause unprovided with sufficient means.16

After the compromise arranged in August 1816, Cawdor seems to have wished to put up his brother George whom he had displaced at Carmarthen in his son’s favour in 1813, but nothing came of this, nor of an invitation to Sir William Paxton, nor of other Whig speculations:17 it was Allen who, after offering his services to Cawdor, 12 Mar. 1818, came in unopposed, in return for which favour he exerted himself for Cawdor’s heir in the Carmarthen election.18 As a symptom of the compromise, Allen sported the Blue and the Orange colours during his canvass and was proposed by Owen himself and seconded by Cawdor’s friend Adams of Lydstep.19 When the compromise ended in 1826, the new Lord Cawdor had no interest in continuing the agreement and Allen stood no chance against Sir John Owen’s son. The Blue squib which in 1818 announced the death of ‘old Orange, aged near 200 years’, was premature.20

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), i. 294; Pemb. RO, Cawdor mss, Wiston burgess rolls; Pembroke burgess rolls.
  • 2. NLW, Slebech mss 9512, T. Philipps to N. Phillips, 31 Dec. 1808; Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 225, Cawdor to ?, n.d.
  • 3. 1 Cawdor 130, Lord to Cawdor, 8 Aug., Allen to same, 13 Aug.; NLW mss 6108, Allen’s address, 23 Aug. 1809.
  • 4. 1 Cawdor 132, Campbell to Cawdor, 8 Oct. 1812.
  • 5. Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.431, bdle. 5, Cawdor to Foster Barham, 29 Sept., Lady Cawdor to same, 28 Sept.; NLW mss 6108, Allen’s address, 6 Oct. 1812; 1 Cawdor 225, Barham to Cawdor, 12 Aug. 1816.
  • 6. 1 Cawdor 132, Brigstocke to Cawdor, 20 Jan.; 133, Colby to same, 24 Jan. 1812.
  • 7. Ibid. 225, memo, n.d. [1812]; 2 Cawdor 136, lists of Wiston burgesses proposed, Sept.-Oct. 1811; Pemb. RO, Cawdor estate D/RTP/CAW/36-49.
  • 8. NLW mss 6108, handbill 7 Oct. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 52, 272; 1 Cawdor 133, Allen to Cawdor, 15 Feb. [1813].
  • 9. 1 Cawdor 225, Adams to Cawdor, 2 June; 132, Foster Barham to Cawdor, 29 July; 133, same to same, 7 Aug.; Allen to Foster Barham, 15 Sept.; Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, same to same, 30 June, 19 July, 26 Sept., 31 Oct., 5 Nov. 1813.
  • 10. 1 Cawdor 132, Scarlett to Cawdor, 19 Nov. 1812, Williams to same, 18 Aug. 1813; 2 Cawdor 207, legal pprs. 5 Aug. 1813-17 Dec. 1814; Carm. Jnl. 26 Aug.; Cambrian, 26 Nov. 1814.
  • 11. 1 Cawdor 225, memo of the compromise, n.d.; Sir J. Owen to Cawdor, 5 Aug. 1816. For an earlier suggestion for a compromise, NLW mss 6108, ‘A Friend to Peace’, address 25 Feb. 1812, suggesting Owen for the county and Sir James Mackintosh for the boroughs.
  • 12. 1 Cawdor 225, Adams to Cawdor, 9 July, Mathias to same, 5 Aug., Barham to same, 12 Aug., Kensington to J. F. Campbell 28 July, Scarlett to Cawdor, 15 Aug., Campbell to Kensington, n.d. [Aug. 1816].
  • 13. Ibid. Sir J. Owen to Adams, 16 Mar., Adams to Owen, 6 Apr.; 130, J. F. Campbell to Cawdor, 12 Apr. 1816.
  • 14. W. Wales Recs. xiii. 13; Carm. Jnl. 20, 27 Mar. 1813; NLW mss 12166, ms copy of Picton’s address, 23 Nov. 1812.
  • 15. NLW mss 6108, Jones’s addresses 29 June 1815, 4 June 1818; circular address to Jones from burgesses of Pembroke, n.d.; 1 Cawdor 132, Allen to Cawdor, 4 June; Carm. Jnl. 5 June, 13 July 1818.
  • 16. NLW mss 6108, Allen’s addresses, 13 Mar., 18 July 1813. Owen’s addresses 23, 26 June; Carm. Jnl. 7 July; 1 Cawdor 133, statement of the misunderstanding which took place in June 1815; Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, Allen to Foster Barham, 18 July, Campbell to same, Sunday, 26 July 1815; Rees, ii. 593.
  • 17. 1 Cawdor 132, Allen to Cawdor, 12 Mar. 1818; Add. 51542, Macdonald to Lady Holland, 3 Dec. [1817].
  • 18. 1 Cawdor 132, Allen to Cawdor, 5 Apr.; 133, same to same, 11, 15 June 1818.
  • 19. 1 Cawdor 133, Allen to Cawdor, 30 May; 132, same to same, 1, 14 June 1818.
  • 20. NLW mss 6108, election ‘Advertisement’ 1818.