Welsh County

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

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,000


28 Nov. 1814 BENJAMIN HALL vice Wyndham, deceased
6 Sept. 1817 SIR CHRISTOPHER COLE vice Hall, deceased
29 June 1818JOHN EDWARDS

Main Article

The county did not go to a poll from 1780 until 1820. A contest had seemed likely when the Parliament of 1784 was dissolved, but the retiring county Member Charles Edwin of Dunraven Castle, ambitious to secure the return of his son Thomas Wyndham, averted it by resigning in 1789, while the rival candidate, put up as he himself had been by the ‘Grand Alliance’ of landowners led by the Duke of Beaufort and the future Marquess of Bute, was absent on naval duties. Thus Wyndham was returned unopposed with the support of the other camp, the independent interest of the county, who were critical of an aristocratic clique and were led by Thomas Mansel Talbot of Margam, Jones of Fonmon, Matthews of Llandaff, Pryce of Dyffryn, Morgan of Tredegar, Robert Morris of Clasemont (the Swansea coppermaster), and John Llewellyn of Penlle’rgaer, and supported by many dissenters. ‘Wyndham and liberty’ was their watchword, and Wyndham, though his politics were little different from those of the aristocrats, held his seat unopposed until his death in 1814.1 The only difficulty arose over his non-attendance; he was publicly criticized for it in 1806, and in 1807 his friend John Llewellyn of Penlle’rgaer, exasperated, canvassed against Wyndham, withdrawing only on the latter’s assurance that he would attend in future.2 Wyndham did not, but was left in peace by his own friends, as well as by the Marquess of Bute, who was content with the Cardiff Boroughs seat.

In 1814 the choice was between Benjamin Hall of Abercarn, a ‘foreigner’ and an industrialist who, his critics feared, would favour Monmouthshire interests, and Robert Jenner of Wenvoe Castle, who were both proposed by the independents meeting at Pyle, 21 Nov. Talbot of Margam was dead and his trustees were unwilling to commit themselves; Wyndham’s son-in-law Wyndham Quin* was suggested, as was Sir John Nicholl*. The latter was regarded as a much stronger candidate than Jenner, but he demurred and a show of hands was in favour of Jenner. Yet many abstained, and finding some weighty voices against him Jenner withdrew, 22 Nov., enabling Hall to come in unopposed. Hall set about acquiring a residence in the county and at his early death in 1817 was held in great esteem for his efforts as a county Member.3

An underlying territorial tension in the county, which had led to a campaign to make Swansea an alternative venue for elections to Cardiff, had been resolved by Hall’s obtaining an Act (55 Geo. III, c.72) to fix future elections at Bridgend, ‘a central place’.4 Nevertheless, Sir Christopher Cole, who had married Thomas Mansel Talbot’s widow and emerged as the candidate of the Margam interest, had the support of Sir John Nicholl and of the more independent western part of the county, while William Booth Grey of Dyffryn was the favourite of the eastern landlords: Grey later claimed that, but for the fact that he had just returned in poor health from the Continent, he would have offered in 1814. Advantage of the situation was taken by a wealthy and ambitious attorney, John Edwards of Rheola, to canvass the yeomanry, but the gentry thereupon took fright and rallied to Cole. Edwards therefore decided to withdraw. At the county meeting at Pyle, 22 Aug. 1817, Sir John Nicholl rebuked Edwards for canvassing before a county meeting had endorsed his candidature, and he was further censured for approaching tenants without reference to their landlords. Booth Grey made way for Cole, seconding his nomination, and criticism of Cole at his election as a mere locum tenens for the heir of Margam by an independent spokesman was ill received.5

At the election of 1818, after rumours that Cole would be opposed by Sir Samuel Romilly*, it was Booth Grey who offered, to Cole’s dismay. Grey refused a compromise by which the Marquess of Bute would bring him in for the boroughs, if Cole kept the county seat. The ‘Jacobin’ Edwards, at the instigation of his friend William Vaughan of Lanelay, renewed his candidature and Booth Grey and Cole failed to come to terms, while the independents could not find any acceptable alternative candidate. An attempt was made by the sheriff and Sir John Nicholl to get Cole to stand at the last minute, but this manoeuvre was exposed by Edwards’s friends and Cole could not afford a contest: so Edwards came in unopposed.6 He was supposed, nevertheless, to have spent some £15,000. Cole’s friends blamed Booth Grey for spoiling their man’s prospects, but Grey denied that he was committed to support Cole and called on Cole and Edwards to withdraw their pretensions in favour of a compromise candidate. Cole’s friends estimated, however, that of the 146 leading interests in the county, Cole had 92, Grey 23 and Edwards only five.7 Edwards was snubbed by the gentry; the friends of the Margam interest proposed an independent association and a subscription of £20,000 to put up Cole next time, but failed to sway the eastern landlords, who still preferred Booth Grey. This was the basis of a tripartite contest in 1820; according to Lewis Weston Dillwyn, 10 Feb.:

The question now involved in the approaching election is whether the landed interest shall possess the influence and respectability which they have heretofore held in the county, or be trampled underfoot by the low attorneys and the rabble.8

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Ll. B. John, ‘Parl. Rep. Glam. 1536-1832’ (Cardiff Univ. M.A. thesis, 1934), 104-11; R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales, 1790-1830’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), i. 198.
  • 2. Bristol Jnl. 1 Nov. 1806; Cambrian, 2, 9, 16 May 1807.
  • 3. Cambrian, 12, 19, 26 Nov. 1814; JNLW xii. 1, M. Fraser, ‘The Halls of Pemb.’; Merthyr Mawr mss, CO150/1-5.
  • 4. Cambrian, 3 Dec. 1814, 25 Mar., 8 Apr. 1815; CJ, lxx. 248; NLW, Penlle’rgaer mss, diary of L. W. Dillwyn, 17 Nov. 1817, 18 Mar. 1818 (extracts pub. in S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. vol. v (1963) and in R. Grant, Parl. Hist. Glam. 1542-1976 .
  • 5. Cambrian, 2, 9, 16, 30 Aug. 1817; NLW mss 6575, ‘A report of the procs. at the co. meeting held at Pyle on 22 Aug. 1817’; Merthyr Mawr mss, L151/1-20.
  • 6. Dillwyn diary, May-July; Cambrian, 30 May, 13, 27 June, 11, 18, 25 July 1818; Add. 34461, f. 152.
  • 7. Dillwyn diary, 4 July; NLW mss 6575, Booth Grey to Blakemore, 1 July; address 15 Sept. 1818; Cardiff Pub. Lib. mss, Glam. election pprs.; Merthyr Mawr mss, CO152/1-10.
  • 8. Merthyr Mawr mss, CO152/11-37; Dillwyn diary, 1 Aug., 25 Oct. 1818, 10 Feb. 1820.