Pembroke Boroughs


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 freemen of Pembroke, Tenby and Wiston

Estimated number qualified to vote:

1,400 in December 1831 (Pembroke and Tenby 900; Wiston 500)1


(1821): Pembroke 4,925; Tenby 1,400; Wiston 134; (1831): Pembroke 6,511; Tenby 1,942; Wiston 129


13 June 1826HUGH OWEN OWEN

Main Article

Pembroke, an integral part of the earldom of Pembroke comprising the parishes of St. Mary and St. Michael, was a chartered castellated borough, trading centre and old county town situated on the south side of the Cleddau estuary (Milford Creek), ten miles south-east of Haverfordwest and 13 by road and ferry from Milford. Its decline had been arrested in 1814 by the removal of the naval dockyard from Milford to Pater (Pembroke Dock). It was the polling town and its nominally elected mayor and bailiffs were the returning officers and assessors for the constituency. It had an indefinite number of common councillors (styled aldermen) and freemen. Tenby, a small seaport and growing resort on the Bristol Channel, 12 miles east of Pembroke, was governed locally by a mayor, common council and an unspecified number of freemen. Wiston, a small castellated village and manor approximately 15 miles from Pembroke and five miles from Haverfordwest, offered its patron the possibility of unlimited freeman creation as no qualification restrictions applied. Formerly the property of the Wogan family, it had been purchased for £38,000 in 1794 by John Campbell† of Stackpole Court (from 1796 Baron Cawdor) and remained a latent threat to the ability of the Owens of Orielton, whose attempts to disfranchise it had failed, to control the constituency. This they had done since 1626, by administering the corporations of Pembroke and Tenby in tandem.2 The representation was nevertheless influenced in the early nineteenth century by the power struggle between the county’s Blues or Whigs, who looked increasingly to Cawdor for leadership, and the Orange or Tory party headed by the Owens. John Owen* had successfully contested both the Boroughs and Pembrokeshire in 1812 and been made a baronet by Lord Liverpool the following year. Knowing that in future Cawdor would be able to call on the 1,000 freemen created at Wiston in 1812 and that he would be unable to match the expense at Pembroke and Tenby, in 1816, when he had no son of age, Owen acceded to a two-election pact brokered by James Scarlett*, whereby he remained unchallenged in the county and co-operated to return Cawdor’s nominee for the Boroughs, where his nominee, the Carmarthen barrister John Jones*, made way in 1818 for John Hensleigh Allen of Cresselly, the defeated Blue in 1812.3 A few Whigs, including Allen and Abraham Leach of Corston, were already common councillors of Pembroke; and the wealthy Blue banker Sir William Paxton† of Middleton Hall (d.1824) remained a powerful figure in Tenby, where Lord Dynevor and other prominent West Wales Reds or Tories had been made common councillors. Owen, who presided over the election of partisan mayors and patronized local charities and societies, successfully resisted Cawdor’s attempts to increase Blue representation on the common councils of Pembroke and Tenby. The men who assisted him as mayors between 1820 and 1832, some serving more than once, or in both boroughs, included his brothers Charles and Eyre Coote Lord, William Edwardes, the Rev. John Hunter Humphreys, Joshua Whittaker and William Edward Paynter, the Rev. Charles and John Lewis Philipps, the Rev. Thomas Owen, Nicholas Roch, Jacob Richards, Anthony Innes and John Stokes Stokes. Both boroughs elected resident and non-resident mayors alternately, the resident ex-mayor deputizing for his non-resident successor. In Tenby the mayor had the right of veto over the common council and could control revenues that reputedly stood at £801 10s. a year, although the sums realized varied from £575 in 1821 to £616 in 1830. Pembroke corporation revenues were less than £135. The 1835 municipal corporations report noted correctly that de jure admissions had all but ceased and ex gratia admissions, to which no property or residence qualification applied, were controlled by the common council. Mass creations were not apparently resorted to after 1814. At Pembroke, only the better off were charged stamp duty and a £1 admission fee; Tenby’s new freemen were expected to pay the duty and a further 7s. Wiston’s mayor, usually a poor freeman nominated by Cawdor’s steward Thomas Evans, whose brother William, an attorney and corporator in Haverfordwest, was town clerk, presided over the Easter and Michaelmas courts leet at which partisan juries formalized presentments and admissions as required. Freemen became eligible to vote two years after admission and there were no mass creations after 1812. Wiston was estimated to have between 500 and 600 freemen by 1825 and the same number in 1831.4

The 1820 election was the second and likely to be the last at which Allen was returned unopposed under the 1816 agreement. His addresses and speeches called for retrenchment and lower taxes, upheld the ‘Whig’ principles of 1688, and accorded with his parliamentary conduct before and after 1820.5 He was also a staunch supporter of Queen Caroline’s cause, Catholic relief, parliamentary and criminal law reform, and a thorough overhaul, even abolition, of the Welsh courts of great sessions and judicature. On this he and Cawdor’s heir, John Frederick Campbell*, disagreed on principle with Owen and Jones who, with Owen’s support, defeated Paxton to come in for Carmarthen at the July 1821 by-election caused by Cawdor’s death.6 With the 2nd Baron Cawdor, Allen also strenuously supported campaigns for the abolition of colonial slavery, and he was eulogized in the Welsh language periodical Seren Gomer as Wales’s most conscientious Member and thanked for his efforts to alleviate the country’s suffering.7 However, he chaired meetings only in the Blue strongholds of Haverfordwest or Milford. There was a firework display at Tenby in November 1820 after the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline; and Pembroke and Tenby celebrated Jones’s by-election victory.8 Allen, Cawdor, Owen and all the leading gentry were present when George IV landed at Pembroke in October 1821 after storms forced the royal yacht to shelter in the Haven. The freemasons took custody of the stone on which the king first trod, members of the friendly and benefit societies, which Cawdor and Owen patronized, were on parade, and the ships at Pembroke Dock were suitably bedecked.9 The parties also campaigned jointly whenever, as in 1824, any withdrawal or reduction was proposed in the Irish packet service.10 Most constituency petitions represented the views held by Owen and were presented by him and his allies. Pembroke petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 6 June 1820, both Houses against Catholic relief, 4 May 1825, and a bill empowering Pembroke corporation to permit the navy to let stalls at Pembroke Dock market received royal assent, 10 June 1825.11 Tenby’s market had been demolished in 1821 on the instructions of Sir John Owen as mayor, and a £1,000 exchequer loan was authorized in 1822 to erect a replacement on land to be purchased from Jacob Richards. Superseded by Pembroke Dock market, it remained unbuilt, and in 1827 the corporation were thought to have received £3,000 in compensation from the navy for the loss of tolls.12

The solicitor Thomas Farrer warned Cawdor, 17 Nov. 1824, that he might have to sell Wiston to repay debts of over £40,000 secured on the 4,800-acre estate, owing to the lord privy seal, Lord Westmorland; and the estate, mansion, rectory, tithes and ‘contingency’ for creating unlimited freemen was advertised and offered for sale at Garraway’s coffee house, 12 Oct. 1825.13 Likely purchasers included the bishop of St Davids, Henry Protheroe of Llantarnan Abbey, Monmouthshire, William Henry Scourfield, and Richard Bulkeley Philipps Grant Philipps* of Picton Castle, the late Lord Milford’s heir, who was set to replace Scourfield as Member for Haverfordwest, but had a secondary interest in Pembroke. A report of 24 Sept. 1825 commissioned by Cawdor from the Haverfordwest land agent John Willy, who also acted for Joseph Foster Barham*, concluded that since the 1812 elections

a material change ... [had] taken place in Pembrokeshire politics and I should guess that nearly one third of the Wiston burgesses (freemen) may be now influenced by Sir John Owen, and I do not think there has been a compensatory accession of Tenby and Pembroke burgesses to the Blue interest.

Quo warranto proceedings against Stokes and others had been considered as a means of weakening Owen’s hold on Pembroke and Tenby, but J.W. Russell (7 Oct.) and Allen, (30 Oct. 1825) reported problems in gaining access to the corporation books and that by-laws prohibiting copying made success unlikely in the short term. Meanwhile Wiston, for which bids of £40,000 to £63,600 were made at auction, failed to make its £70,000 reserve price and remained unsold.14

The Liverpool ministry had taken Owen’s ability to oust Allen into consideration when choosing him to succeed Milford as lord lieutenant of Pembrokeshire in December 1823 and hoped that Philipps would assist him.15 Owen had his son and heir Hugh admitted as a freeman and elected to the common councils of Pembroke and Tenby soon after he came of age in December 1824, and in October 1825 Jacob Richards chaired a meeting to endorse his candidature at the next election.16 Sir James Mackintosh’s* confidence that Allen, his brother-in-law, would not be opposed was misplaced.17 Sir John Owen canvassed on his son’s behalf and Allen campaigned to retain his seat.18 Robert Fulke Greville, who inherited Castle Hall in 1824, had also come of age and was spending time and money at nearby Milford, but there is no evidence that he considered standing or promoting Allen’s candidature as a fellow Blue. Possible unrest at Milford and its rival Pembroke Dock during the 1826 banking crisis had been avoided by special deliveries of specie authorized by the admiralty.19 Allen’s February 1826 canvass showed that without Cawdor’s backing he had little hope of success, but he made his customary gifts to the poor, stressed the merits of his political views, experience, and local connections, and refused to accept his fate until the dissolution in June 1826, when he issued a scathing retirement address. Owen had to place notices in the newspapers to counter attacks on Hugh’s inexperience and rumours that he had decided not to stand.20 Owen was proposed on the 13th by John Hill Harries of Priskilly with Jones seconding. Orange favours abounded, the militia band was in attendance, the inns were opened and the new Member presided over dinner at the Golden Lion, with Jones as his deputy. Sir John, the main speaker, reaffirmed their opposition to Catholic relief.21

Short-time working at the dockyard did not prevent celebrations to mark the launch of the Clarence at Milford, 23 July 1827.22 Early in 1828, Sir John Owen became patron of a new benefit club, the St. Davids Friendly Society, set up to provide relief during sickness. It did not join Pembroke’s older societies in petitioning against the friendly societies bill, 2 May 1828.23 Allen continued to provide gifts for the poor,24 but Pembroke’s new water supply under the 1828 Act, which the West Wales Reds steered through Parliament, was drawn from Sir John Owen’s land.25 The locality was ‘in a ferment’ over proposals to station the Irish steam packets at Hobb’s Point, near Pembroke Dock, instead of at the Pill, near Milford.26 Pembroke Dock Dissenters petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827, 21, 22 Feb. 1828, and Pembroke’s Welsh Calvinistic Methodists did so against Catholic relief, 2 May 1828.27 As elsewhere, by 1829 this was a divisive issue with political overtones.28 Both Houses received anti-emancipation petitions from St. Davids Friendly Society, 13 Mar., and the magistrates, clergy, gentry and inhabitants of Pembroke and Tenby, 9, 16 Mar., but Allen, Cawdor and Leach, who supported emancipation, procured favourable petitions from the inhabitants of Pembroke and its vicinity for presentation, 23, 30 Mar. Owen avoided dividing on the question until the third reading of the relief bill, 30 Mar., when he paired in the majority for it.29 Cawdor’s agent again thought Philipps might offer £77,000 or £78,000 for Wiston, but it remained unsold.30 The Owens were staunch opponents of the 1830 administration of justice bill, through which the Welsh courts of great session and judicature were abolished, and Hugh Owen presented Pembroke’s petition against it, 9 Mar. 1830. The threat it posed (unamended) to the county assizes was widely disliked and Henry Leach failed to secure a petition for the bill, which the freemen and magistrates of Pembroke opposed to the last as ‘injurious’ and ‘in direct opposition to the wishes, interests and welfare of the inhabitants’.31

Hugh Owen was lax in his parliamentary attendance and left constituency business to his father, but his return at the 1830 election, sponsored by Abraham Leach and Jacob Richards, was unopposed and celebrated as usual at the Golden Lion.32 The main local issue was the duke of Wellington’s refusal to make John Hughes, who had campaigned against emancipation in 1829, rector of Tenby, as the mayor, Richards, and inhabitants wished.33 The Owens were absent from the division on the civil list when the ministry was brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. Hugh Owen presented petitions to the Commons for the abolition of slavery from Pembroke Dock Baptists and Tenby, 19 Nov., and the Dissenters and inhabitants of Pembroke, 2 Dec. 1830, and petitions were also received by both Houses from the Boroughs’ Wesleyan Methodists.34 There was support for parliamentary reform; but despite the wrath which greeted the Owens’ votes against the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, and rumours that Allen was prepared to stand, Hugh Owen was returned unopposed at the ensuing general election, when Robert Fulke Greville tried to defeat his father in the county. Predictably, many of Sir John’s staunchest supporters at the May and October 1831 elections were Pembroke and Tenby corporators. William Henry Yelverton† of Whitland Abbey, Carmarthenshire, who had been denied a seat on the corporation, used his influence in Tenby against Owen at both elections. Hostile newspaper commentators urged Owen to surrender his influence in the Boroughs to prove that he was the genuine reformer he now professed to be, and suggested that he was party to a plan to oust Hugh, whose inattention to his parliamentary duties caused comment, and make John Mirehouse of Brownslade, near Angle his paying guest.35

When in March 1831 the reform bill left the constituency unchanged, Jones (in debate, 25 Mar.) suggested that Wiston, with its sole taxable house, owed its survival to political factors and Cawdor’s influence. When reintroduced in June, the bill left Wiston unchanged, but made Milford a contributory designate of Haverfordwest, with an enumerated population of 2,405 in 1821 and 2,984 in 1831, a contributory of Pembroke. The Owens and others alleged locally and in the House, 10 Aug. 1831, that the transfer was politically motivated and calculated to further Greville’s influence. Ministers disputed this interpretation of their effort to ‘balance the constituencies’ and reminded Owen that he was likely to retain the upper hand while, under the seven-mile rule, ‘old’ freemen remained enfranchised. Political expediency required him to support the bill and the Commons endorsed the change without a division. The commissioners confirmed Jones’s allegation that Wiston, which paid assessed taxes of £24 1s. 3d. in 1830, was ‘of no importance’, but recommended no change under the Boundary Act. Tenby, which paid over £1,210 in assessed taxes in 1830, retained the old distinction between the in and out-liberties. Doubts concerning the Monkton and St. Nicholas areas of Pembroke, which, without them in 1830, contributed £807 14s. in assessed taxes was removed by including them in the post-reform constituency, to which Milford, with assessed taxes of £379 6s. 6d., was expected to contribute up to 105 £10 voters.36 One-thousand-three-hundred-and-eleven electors were registered in November 1832 (867 freemen and 444 ten-pounders): 191 £10 householders and 588 freemen in Pembroke, 82 of whom were also ten-pounders; 75 £10 householders and 135 freemen in Tenby, where 38 were also ten-pounders. There were 14 £10 householders among Wiston’s registered electorate of 158 and Milford added 164 £10 householders to the constituency.37 During an election campaign in which colonial slavery and Hugh Owen’s poor attendance were major issues, on 28 Nov. 1832 Tenby, ‘fearing war with the old Dutch friends’, met to petition against it and for withdrawal from the ‘unnatural’ alliance with France. Despite rumblings of discontent, his family’s dwindling fortune, and a threatened challenge by Colonel Harcourt Powell, Owen was returned unopposed in December 1832.38 The constituency was contested six times before 1885 and was controlled by the Owens of Orielton until 1868. Hugh Owen was obliged by his father, who vacillated between the Conservatives and Liberals, to vacate in favour of Sir James Robert George Graham* in 1838, and failed to regain the seat for the Liberals in a three-man contest in 1841, when Sir John topped the poll. Owen succeeded him in the representation in 1861 and, with the exception of 1868, the constituency returned Liberals until 1885.39

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xli. 275.
  • 2. Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dict. of Wales (unpaginated); Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iii. 612, iv. 291-3; R. Lewis, ‘Towns of Pemb. 1815-74’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv ed. D. Howell, 46-54; P.D.G. Thomas, Politics in 18th Cent. Wales, 20, 21, 30, 47-48.
  • 3. NLW ms 6106 D, passim; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 503-10.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xli. 167-85; (1835), xxv. 499-508, 537-48, 557-60; Carm. RO, Cawdor mss 2/209.
  • 5. Carmarthen Jnl. 16 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Ibid. 6 July 1821.
  • 7. Seren Gomer iv (1821), 154; v (1822), 188, 221; vii (1824), 224-5.
  • 8. Carmarthen. Jnl. 24 Nov. 1820, 13 July 1821.
  • 9. Ibid. 12 Oct. 1821.
  • 10. Ibid. 22 Sept. 1822; Add. 40352, f. 72.
  • 11. Carmarthen Jnl. 14, 21 Apr. 1820; The Times, 5 May 1825; CJ, lxxv. 297; lxxx. 374; LJ, lvii. 757.
  • 12. PP (1835), xxv. 546-7; CJ, lxxx. 387, 395, 408, 416, 518; LJ, lvii. 1018; NLW ms 6099 E; Carmarthen Jnl. 27 Apr., 8 June, 19 Oct. 1827, 10 Apr., 26 June 1829.
  • 13. Cawdor mss 2/215; The Times, 13 July 1825.
  • 14. Cawdor mss 2/209.
  • 15. Add. 38297, f. 357; 38298, f. 10; 40359, ff. 100, 145, 183-6, 205.
  • 16. PP (1835), xxv. 504, 544; Carmarthen Jnl. 25 Nov. 1825;
  • 17. Add. 51724, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 8 Oct. 1825.
  • 18. Cambrian, 3 Dec. 1825.
  • 19. Carmarthen Jnl. 8 Oct. 1825, 17 Mar., 28 Apr., 2 June; Cambrian, 18 Feb., 1 Mar. 1826.
  • 20. Carmarthen Jnl. 3, 10 Feb., 2, 9 June; Cambrian, 14 Jan., 4, 11 Feb., 10 June 1826.
  • 21. Carmarthen Jnl. 16, 23 June; Cambrian, 17 June 1826.
  • 22. Carmarthen Jnl. 13, 27 July, 3 Aug. 1827.
  • 23. Ibid. 28 Feb. 1828; M. John, ‘Friends in Need: Friendly Societies in Pemb.’ Jnl. Pemb. Hist. Soc. xiv (2005), 5-20; CJ, lxxxiii. 305.
  • 24. Cambrian, 13 Jan. 1827, 7 Jan. 1828.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxiii. 27, 40, 98, 124, 312, 356, 525; LJ, lx. 627.
  • 26. Carmarthen Jnl. 6 Apr., 23 May, 26 Dec. 1828.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxii. 527; lxxxiii. 91, 305; LJ, lx. 66.
  • 28. G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English. Politics. 143-4.
  • 29. Carmarthen Jnl. 13, 20 Mar., 3 Apr. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 141, 160; LJ, lxi. 143, 186, 200, 307.
  • 30. Cawdor mss 2/209.
  • 31. PP (1829), ix, passim; Cawdor, Letter to Lyndhurst; Cambrian, 7 Mar., 18 Apr., 10, 17 Oct., 6 Dec. 1829; Carmarthen Jnl. 2, 9, 30 Apr. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 153; LJ, lxii. 321; The Times, 22 June 1830.
  • 32. Carmarthen Jnl. 9, 16 July, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 33. Wellington mss WP1/1141/25; Carmarthen Jnl. 26 Nov. 1830.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxvi. 117, 143; LJ, lxiii. 23, 30, 115, 244.
  • 35. Carmarthen Jnl. 1, 8, 15, 29 Apr., 10 June, 23, 30 Sept., 7, 14 Oct; Cambrian, 9, 16, 23 Apr., 11 June; Seren Gomer, xiv (1831), 155; D. Williams, ‘Pemb. Elections of 1831’, WHR, i (1960-3), 42-52: Pemb. RO PQ/RP/P8-22; NLW ms 6099 E; The Times, 3, 10, 14 June, 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 36. PP (1831-2), xli. 275-9, 283-7, 291-4, 297-9.
  • 37. Ibid. (1835), xxv. 507; R.G Thorne, ‘Pemb. and National Politics, 1815-1974’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 235.
  • 38. Welshman, 22 June, 13 July, 17 Aug., 14, 21 Dec.; Carmarthen Jnl. 22, 29 June, 6 July, 17 Aug., 30 Nov., 7, 14, 21 Dec. 1832; NLW, Highmead mss 3154.
  • 39. M. Cragoe, Culture, Politics and National Identity in Wales, 1832-86, p. 63; Thorne, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 237, 238, 252.