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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen1

Estimated number qualified to vote:

21 in 18312


4,193 (1821); 5,026 (1831)



Main Article

The county town of Brecon (Aberhonddu), on the confluence of the Rivers Honddu and Usk, comprised two parishes and a chapelry, whose large church formerly served St. Mary’s priory.3 There was little industry, but a canal linked Brecon to the South Wales iron and coalfields and the Bristol Channel, most trades were represented in the town, and it housed the headquarters of Wilkins’s Bank, the supplier of specie for the iron works of Merthyr Tydfil.4 Brecon’s contributories, of which little is known, had been shed by 1660, but the rural outer ward of Llywel, near Trecastle, 12 miles to the west, remained part of the constituency. Doubts concerning the legality of confining the franchise to residents, as advocated by the Jeffreys family of The Priory and Llywel during their tussle for control of the borough with the Morgan family of Y Dderw, Breconshire, and Tredegar, Monmouthshire, had been allayed after the last contest in 1740, when the Morgans successfully perpetuated their Member John Talbot’s legal opinion, that as neither the governing charter of 1555 nor common law fixed a time period for residence, it was necessary only at the time of admission. Reducing the number of burgesses from 200 to about 20 and reserving the honour for their relations and partisan lawyers and clergymen serving with them on the corporation (a self-electing body of 15, headed by an annually elected bailiff), the Morgans made Brecon their pocket borough, suitable for junior family members pending vacancies in Breconshire or Monmouthshire.5 The electorate had returned the head of the Tredegar family Sir Charles Morgan’s* eldest son and heir Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan in 1812, and his second son George Gould Morgan in 1818, when his brother vainly contested the county. Standing as the candidate of the inhabitant householders claiming the franchise by scot and lot, the banker Walter Wilkins† of Woodlands, the namesake son of the Radnorshire Member, had opposed George in 1818, but his nomination had been rejected on the ground that his proposer was a non-freeman.6 Nothing came of the ensuing quo warranto proceedings, which the Morgans defended at a cost of £117 5s. 7d.7 With Charles unwilling to stand, Brecon marked the proclamation of George IV in 1820 with the usual addresses and returned George unopposed at a cost of £388 9s.8 Resistance to Tredegar domination persisted in times of distress, when it could be channelled into popular clamour for an extension of the franchise, but it did not threaten Sir Charles’s ability to return his sons with impunity until 1832. Borough meetings, presided over by the bailiff, were generally open to the inhabitants at large, who thus kept a voice in petitioning.9

After the 1820 election interest focused on celebrations marking the coming of age of Lord Brecknock*, whose father the 1st Marquess Camden owned The Priory, the appointment of a postmaster, and the health of the recorder Edward Morgan, who had been taken ill after arriving in the town to chair a canal company meeting.10 The establishment of the Association for the Preservation of Game and Fish, 24 May 1820, was primarily a corporation matter.11 Local Whigs and radical reformers espoused Queen Caroline’s cause and, to the corporation’s dismay, on 11 Oct. a deputation went to the Tregunter home of William Alexander Madocks* and asked him to present their address. Doing so, 25 Oct., drew Madocks into a hostile correspondence in the local press with the vicar of Brecon, Archdeacon Richard Davies, who claimed that ‘no person whatever above the rank of those in trade’ and many non-residents had signed the queen’s address, as ‘the general feeling of this place is that decency, no less than equity, require that we shall abstain from all interference’. At the Swan, 23 Oct., a meeting chaired by the attorney Charles Wild passed resolutions (to which the names of 55 signatories were appended) criticizing Davies and confirming the legality of the original proceedings. They were published wherever Davies’s letter appeared, and he issued another letter pouring scorn on ‘attorney’s clerk’ Wild as a non-burgess.12 The abandonment of the queen’s prosecution was celebrated, 11, 13 Nov., and at a public meeting, 2 Dec., 200 signed an address congratulating her.13 Three different loyal addresses were proposed at a borough meeting, 19 Dec. 1820. The bailiff, the Rev. Charles Griffiths, walked out as chairman when the corporation’s addresses were rejected in favour of another proposed by the clothier David Rees and wine merchant Henry Powell, that expressed regret at the ‘unjust, unwise and impolitic measures’ adopted by ministers, and relief that the case against Caroline had been dropped.14 It received 300 signatures at the Swan and was presented as a petition to the Commons, 14 Feb. 1821, with another procured by its sponsors from the county.15

Brecon was ‘in a perfect blaze of illumination’, 13 Sept. 1821, when George IV slept at The Priory on his way to London from Ireland following the queen’s death. He ‘was received by almost the whole population’, and the ‘corporation and inhabitants’ delivered a loyal address to the courtier Lord Graves*.16 Sir Charles Morgan arrived, 23 Sept., and plans were laid that autumn for the 1822 Brecon eisteddfod.17 The recorder’s death created a vacancy to which, notwithstanding their political differences, Sir Charles suggested appointing the barrister Hugh Bold in December 1821.18 Archdeacon Davies, however, opposed the appointment, and the Morgans’ local agent, Thomas Bold, and the incumbent and former bailiffs, the Rev. Thomas Williams, the Rev. Charles Griffith, Major David Price, Samuel Church and Lancelot Morgan, who had tried to ensure that objections to Bold were waived, rallied for a compromise candidate, the Glamorganshire barrister and Tory James Lewis Knight* of Dyffryn, whose election as recorder was confirmed, 10 Apr. 1822.19 A borough meeting, 22 Oct. 1822, marked a rare visit by Camden to The Priory with an address thanking him for sacrificing the emoluments of his sinecure office of teller of the exchequer.20 In July 1824 the Anti-Slavery Society’s secretary Thomas Clarkson found considerable support for the establishment of a local committee in Brecon, and wrote in his diary of his ‘prodigious victory’ there. A borough meeting, 16 Feb. 1826, petitioned both Houses for abolition.21 Sir Charles had brought George and his bride on a canvassing visit to Brecon assizes and races in October 1825, and his return in 1826, proposed by Archdeacon Davies and seconded by Church, was unopposed. He returned to Brecon with his relations in September for the corporation elections, the eisteddfod and races.22

Brecon hosted the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists’ ‘sasiwn’ in 1827, and the borough’s Dissenters petitioned strongly in 1827-8 for repeal of the Test Acts, which the Morgans opposed.23 The Calvinistic Methodists and the gentry, clergy and inhabitants petitioned both Houses against Catholic relief in 1828, and again in 1829, when over 1,000 signed the resolutions proposed by Price and Church at a meeting chaired by Lancelot Morgan as bailiff, 16 Feb. It was evident at the county meeting in Brecon, 9 Mar., that the borough recorder (since 29 Sept. 1828) Hugh Bold, who procured a breakaway pro-emancipation petition, differed politically with Tredegar and most of the corporation, except Archdeacon Davies, on the issue.24 Brecon’s assize town status was threatened by the law commissioners’ 1829 proposals for the creation of larger assize districts when the Welsh courts of great sessions were abolished, but lobbying by the county and others secured an amendment to the 1830 administration of justice bill by which this was enacted, and the assizes subsequently alternated between Brecon and the Radnorshire town of Presteigne.25

His boundary dispute with the Rev. Thomas Watkins of Penoyre having been resolved after litigation,26 Sir Charles Morgan went to Brecon in September 1829 to be sworn in as bailiff, accompanied by his sons and a retinue of 200 horsemen dressed in white. He delegated his duties to Archdeacon Davies, who with William Williams was sworn in as an alderman.27 To combat an economic downturn, a borough meeting in January 1830 chaired by Hugh Bold raised subscriptions for relief of the poor, and Brecon and its bankers also petitioned for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 22 June.28 The 93rd Highland regiment, which was garrisoned in the town, was in attendance at the proclamation of William IV in July; and ‘with extreme simplicity, and apparently without creating the slightest sensation’, the representation was transferred back to the heir to Tredegar at the general election in August 1830.29

The bailiff, recorder and inhabitants sent petitions for the abolition of West Indian slavery to both Houses in 1830-1, and the Wesleyan Methodists and Welsh Calvinistic Methodists petitioned independently.30 No steps were apparently taken to petition for parliamentary reform until the details of the Grey ministry’s bill were announced in March 1831. Under it Brecon was the only Welsh borough unencumbered by contributories.31 The borough reform meeting, 15 Mar., was chaired by John Lloyd Vaughan Watkins†, who had succeeded his father to Penoyre in October 1829 and was perceived as a candidate in waiting. Publicizing the opinions of the Breconshire Member Thomas Wood, his agent John Jones of Glanhonddu defended the aristocracy but argued that Brecon was a close borough that should be opened. He declared for the bill as an improving measure, but not as a radical step. Similar praise for the aristocracy and the contribution of the Morgans of Tredegar to Brecon was forthcoming in speeches by Vaughan Watkins, his kinsman John Lloyd of Dinas and Hugh Bold, but their endorsements of the government’s proposals were unequivocal. Bold added that ‘as recorder ... he had over and over again proposed to some of the members of this corporation to extend the elective franchise’. The petition was carried unanimously and entrusted to the lord lieutenant, the 6th duke of Beaufort, who failed to present it (some confusion arose over misreporting of the Brechin petition presented to the Lords by Lord Durham, 18 Mar.) and to Morgan, who delegated its presentation to the ironmaster John Josiah Guest*, 19 Mar.32 At the county reform meeting, 14 Apr., Archdeacon Davies argued that Brecon was a ‘close but never a corrupt’ borough, and promised that Morgan, to whom a vote of thanks was passed for voting for the second reading of the reform bill ‘can and will do justice’. Price disagreed, and condemned the bill as ‘the most extensive and despotic act of violence that had taken place for the last two centuries’. ‘A Breconian’ informed the local press that the corporation were divided on the issue.33 Morgan did not vote when Gascoyne’s amendment wrecked the bill, 19 Apr. 1831, precipitating a dissolution and his father’s retirement from Parliament. With attention focused on the Breconshire contest, Morgan’s re-election was barely reported.34

Troops from Brecon were sent to Merthyr during the June 1831 riots, and popular support for reform remained strong. In November, following the bill’s Lords’ defeat, it culminated in a violent demonstration by ‘a crowd so large the constables dared not interfere’. They went on the rampage, smashing windows at the homes of Price, the Rev. Thomas Vaughan and other known anti-reformers, before the magistrates, having hastily sworn in 250 special constables, threatened to read the Riot Act.35 The enactment of the revised reform bill, which Morgan opposed, was marked with a dinner at the Swan, chaired by John Lloyd, who called for Brecon to be taken out of Tredegar marriage settlements, 11 June 1832. Afterwards, Vaughan Watkins switched his canvass from the county to the borough.36

As the commissioners had suggested, the Boundary Act added the extra-parochial districts of the Castle and Christ College to the Brecon constituency, but their recommendation that Llywel be excluded from it because of its distance from the town was overruled. Eleven burgess and 231 £10 voters were registered in October 1832.37 The Liberal Vaughan Watkins narrowly defeated the Conservative Morgan at the general election in December, after a bitter, occasionally bloody, campaign marked by trials of strength between the parties over subscriptions to a new infirmary, and whether the October races at the new course provided by the Morgans should be cancelled on account of cholera.38 By March 1833, a petitioning campaign to open the corporation was under way.39 Brecon, which acquired a reputation for bribery, was contested a further eight times before the constituency was abolished in 1885, returning Liberals on eight occasions and Conservatives on another eight. Morgan regained the seat for the Conservatives and Tredegar, 1835-47, and Watkins represented the borough, 1847-52, and 1854-66.40

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 503.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), i. 261, 262.
  • 4. R.O. Roberts 'Brecknock and the Industrialisation of South Wales, vi - the Brecon Old Bank', Brycheiniog, vii (1961), 56-70; R.L. Grant, 'Townscape and Economy of Brecon, 1806-1860', ibid. xvi. (1972), 103-24; D. Davies, Brecknock Historian, 112.
  • 5. P.D.G. Thomas, Politics in 18th Cent. Wales, 34-35; 'Parl. Elections in Brec. 1689-1832', Brycheiniog, vi (1960), 100-8; HP Commons, 1715-54, i. 372.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 483.
  • 7. NLW, Tredegar mss 45/1694-1703, 1725; 121/790.
  • 8. Cambrian, 12, 26 Feb., 4, 11 Mar.; Bristol Mercury, 21, 28 Feb. 1820; Tredegar mss 45/1451-3, 1705-24; 135/772.
  • 9. PP (1831-2), xli. 11-12; (1835), xxiii. 311-15.
  • 10. Cambrian, 6 May 1820; Tredegar mss 45/1461-72.
  • 11. Tredegar mss 135/796.
  • 12. NLW, Porthmadoc mss 295; Shrewsbury Chron. 20 Oct.; Cambrian, 21, 28 Oct., 4, 11 Nov. 1820.
  • 13. Cambrian, 18 Nov.; Seren Gomer, iii (1820), 387.
  • 14. Cambrian, 23 Dec.; The Times, 27 Dec. 1820.
  • 15. Cambrian, 30 Dec. 1820; Seren Gomer, iv (1821), 28-29; NLW, Maybery mss 6546.
  • 16. Tredegar mss 57/28; GLRO Acc. 1302/108a-d, 199, 200.
  • 17. Tredegar mss 57/14, 35-37; 72/134; Seren Gomer, iv (1821), 374; v (1822), 346-9.
  • 18. Tredegar mss 57/29-32; 146/99.
  • 19. Ibid. 57/24-27, 32-34, 39, 40; Hereford Jnl. 24 Apr. 1822.
  • 20. NLW, Tredegar Park mss 4399, 4400.
  • 21. NLW, ms 14984 A, ii. 15, 16; Cambrian, 25 Feb. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 200; LJ, lviii. 261.
  • 22. Cambrian, 1, 8 Oct. 1825; Hereford Jnl. 3, 21 June; Bristol Mercury, 9 Oct. 1826.
  • 23. Brecknock Historian, 139; Greal Y Bedyddwyr, ii (1828), 93; CJ, lxxxiii. 90, 100; LJ, lx. 78.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxiii. 277; lxxxiv. 98; LJ, lx. 307; lxi. 114; Hereford Jnl. 18 Feb., 18 Mar.; Cambrian, 21, 28 Feb., 14, 28 Mar., 4 Apr. 1829.
  • 25. Hereford Jnl. 22 Apr. 1829; Glam RO D/DA15/42.
  • 26. Tredegar mss 68/4; 146/101-4; Carm. Jnl. 19 Sept. 1828.
  • 27. Hereford Jnl. 30 Sept., 7 Oct.; Cambrian, 3, 10 Oct. 1829.
  • 28. Mon. Merlin, 6 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 352, 463; LJ, lxii. 752, 759.
  • 29. I.W.R. David, 'Political and Electioneering Activity in S.E. Wales, 1820-1852' (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1959), 40, 41; Mon. Merlin, 3 July, 7 Aug.; Cambrian, 3 July 1830.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxvi. 105, 444; LJ, lxiii. 279, 487, 492.
  • 31. Cambrian Quarterly Mag. iii (1831), 273, 274.
  • 32. Cambrian, 19, 26 Mar.; The Times, 19, 21 Mar.; Hereford Jnl. 23 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 406; LJ, lxiii. 336.
  • 33. Cambrian, 26 Mar., 16, 23 Apr.; Hereford Jnl. 20 Apr. 1831.
  • 34. Mon. Merlin, 23, 30 Apr., 7 May; Hereford Jnl. 4 May 1831.
  • 35. Maybery mss 2319-21, 2632; Mon. Merlin, 18 June; Hereford Jnl. 29 June, 14, 28 Sept., 10 Oct.; Carmarthen Jnl. 26 Aug., 2 Sept., 14 Oct., 25 Nov. 1831.
  • 36. Welshman, 15 June; Cambrian, 16 June 1832.
  • 37. Cambrian, 13, 27 Oct. 1832; PP (1831-2), xli. 11-14; (1835), xxiii. 313, 314, 320; Maybery mss 6595, 6595a, 6601.
  • 38. Carmarthen Jnl. 14 Oct.; Mon. Merlin, 8 Oct. 1831, 12 May, 16 June, 12, 28 July, 4, 11, 18 Aug., 8, 15 Sept. 6, 13 Oct., 15, 29 Dec.; Welshman, 21 Sept.; Cambrian, 8, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 39. Tredegar mss 84/218.
  • 40. M. Cargoe, Culture, Politics, and National Identity in Wales, 1832-1886, pp. 51, 53, 125-30.