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Historical Notes






There was comparatively little political consciousness in Wales before 1776, and little more after that until the Reform Bill of 1832.

There were 27 Members of Parliament in Tudor times and that was the position until 1832. Generally speaking, elections represented a struggle between the landed gentry but after 1832, however, the new men who had estates and political influence due to industrial development, e.g. Lewis Weston Dillwyn of Penllergaer 1778–1855, the Crawshays and Guests of Merthyr and the Fothergills in Aberdare.

In Glamorgan, the struggle was between the Mansels, Talbots, Butes and Beauforts until 1832. A List of MPs is available in ‘Hanes Morgannwg,’ by Dafydd Morgannwg, pp 130–134.


Glamorgan first represented in parliament by George Herbert for the County and John Burrows for the Boroughs.

A member was chosen either by nomination at a private meeting of a section of the Gentry or by the vulgar process of an election when the voters were 40/- freeholders and the parish priests. The gentry usually tried to avoid an election. There was no division as on modern party lines but support or opposition to a particular candidate was determined more by family considerations than by Whig or Tory principles. The great objection to an election was its cost. It was enormously expensive and although the common people had no active say they had an indirect influence hence the great cost to which candidates were put.


Y Lecsiwn Fawr.


Cost of William Paxton’s unsuccessful effort to become county member for Carmarthenshire. The poll was open for a fortnight. The bill was for


11,070 Breakfasts

36,901 Dinners

684 Suppers

25,275 Gallons of Ale

11,063 Bottles of Spirits

8,879 Bottles of Porter

460 Bottles of Sherry

509 Bottles of Cider

18 guineas for Milk Punch

£786 for Ribbons


1832 Nov 26

Dillwyn’s Diary
‘Drove in Crawshay’s carriage to call on the Hills and make arrangements for a canvass tomorrow. In the evening at six, attended a public meeting at Merthyr of the electors of the town and neighbourhood. After a rather stormy debate it was at length unanimously carried on a motion made by Guest and seconded by Crawshay that all should to the utmost support me.’

1832 Nov 28

‘Left Crawshay at a quarter past nine and soon afterwards met Rowland Fothergill and Mr Jenkin Rhys who escorted me to Aberdare and to canvass as much as my health would allow me about the neighbourhood.’






This “Vested the right of election in every male person of full age occupying as owner or tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises to the clear value of ten pounds yearly.”

The Parliamentary Borough of Merthyr and Aberdare received its first writ on December 6th 1832. The Returning Officer was James Stephens. The electors after the Great Reform Act numbered merely 580 and they invited Josiah John Guest to be their first member and, there being no opposition, he was unanimously elected on December 11th 1832. On the evening of the election, 130 sat down to dine at the Bush Hotel in Merthyr.

Sir J.J. Guest was honoured with a baronetcy at the coronation of Queen Victoria. He was the owner of the Dowlais Iron Works, the son of John Guest their founder. He had represented Honiton from 1823 to 1831. He was a man of deep religious convictions. The Guests were primarily Methodists and they were the only Iron Masters whose furnaces stopped on Sundays. He was an efficient, popular and conscientious member.

1835 Jan 8

General Election. Aberdare nearly saw a contest. The Cyfarthfa Interests nominated a Merthyr solicitor, William Meyrick. Money was very important in these early elections. Excitement ran high. Meyrick declined when the opposition could be seen to be too great.

1837 July

First contested Election. J.J. Guest was obliged to go to the poll against John Bruce Price of Dyffryn who was the first stipendiary magistrate for Aberdare and district. He was reminded of his office by a parade of opponents carrying replicas of police court fine boxes. Lady Charlotte was met with acclamation wherever she appeared. Electorate was only 582 but the contest aroused wild enthusiasm. Both candidates addressed their appeals to electors and non-electors alike.



J.J. Guest



J.B. Price


Votes of Aberdare electors only




J.J. Guest



J.B. Price



June 29th   J.J. Guest returned unopposed   Electorate 750


July 28th    J.J. Guest returned unopposed


July 8th      J.J. Guest returned unopposed


Sir J.J. Guest died soon after the 1852 election.

The heir to his great fortune was Sir Ivor Guest later Lord Wimborne.
On the voters’ list of the Hundred of Miskin in 1842, there were 445 and in 1843, there were 426.
The whole of the county electorate in 1842 was 5,676, and in 1843, 5,608.


Table of parliamentary voters registered in various districts of Glamorgan


Polling District













The population of Aberdare was about 10,000.
Chartism began just after 1832 its main points were

1 Plea for vote by ballot
2 Plea for payment of Members
3 Plea for an Annual Parliament

Chartism gained much support in Llanidloes and Monmouthshire. NLW Journal Vol.10 Summer 1957, No.1 p8. Article by Walter Morgan, ‘Chartism and Industrial unrest in South Wales in 1842’.


“The Cambrian” for August 20th and 27th deals with meetings of Chartists near Pen yr Heol Gerrig.

1852 Dec 14

On the death of J.J. Guest, Henry Austin Bruce of Dyffryn was returned unopposed, and again in April 1857.


There was a contest primarily due to Bruce’s opposition to the extension of the franchise and his total opposition to the ballot. His opponent was Edward Meyrick Elderton a London barrister who was completely unknown in the constituency.
The result was Bruce 800 and Elderton 106. Some give Bruce 808.
The Election was caused by the fall of Lord Derby’s administration in 1859. On Friday April 30th 1859, both candidates appeared at the hustings at Merthyr Market at 11 a.m. Thomas Stephens of Merthyr proposed H.A. Bruce and David Williams, (Alaw Goch), seconded. A Mr. McWilliam proposed and a Mr Scott seconded Elderton. On a show of hands, Elderton was favoured. The supporters of Bruce, however, demanded a proper poll which took place the following day.


Total poll in Merthyr and Aberdare was 914. In 1959, it was 75,333.


H.A. Bruce returned unopposed on April 28th.

Recommended reading book on background: ‘Wales in British Politics 1868–1922’, Kenneth O. Morgan, University of Wales Press, 1963.

H.A. Bruce during his candidature described himself as a Liberal Conservative but in the House of Commons displayed himself as an orthodox Liberal. He always opposed Ballot and extension of the franchise and never renounced his views. This probably alienated the masses.

1859 Jan 16

There was a great public meeting at Tabernacle Chapel, Aberdare, presided over by William Hodges, High Constable for that year, in favour of reform. Resolutions forwarded to John Bright the well-known radical leader by Dr. Thomas Price. During the sixties there was constant agitation and movement at Aberdare. The Cardiff Times, February 2nd 1866, “The word Reform is on everybody’s mouth at Aberdare. It is held on all sides that Aberdare with nearly 40,000 inhabitants deserves a member of its own”.

The large number of petitions sent to Parliament in the 40s 50s and 60s of the last century is a sure sign of political activity.

1868 May

Householders in towns were enfranchised and the electorate in Merthyr and Aberdare increased by more than ten-fold and representation was increased from 1 to 2.

In the election, there were three candidates

1 H.A. Bruce the sitting member
2 Richard Fothergill of Abernant
3 Henry Richard of Cardiganshire and London.

Two were connected with the town, Fothergill had long been associated with the iron works at Abernant, and Bruce was long native here. There was great feeling particularly as so many voters were newly enfranchised. Henry Richard’s election was taken as a foregone conclusion for although he was new to the district he had a national even a worldwide reputation. Born in Tregaron in 1812, he was educated for the Ministry at Highbury College, London, and quickly gained favour and reputation as one of the great London preachers. He was ordained a Congregational Minister in the Old Kent Road Chapel in 1835, and resigned in 1850. Meanwhile he had developed a great interest in social and political matters with special reference to Wales. He was a regular contributor to ‘The Times’ in 1843 on the ‘Rebecca Riots’, 1847 ‘Brad Y Llyfrau Gleision’, 1848. He became secretary of the Peace Society and he attended international conferences on Peace. He went to Berlin, Brussels, Vienna and Paris where he first made the acquaintanceship of Victor Hugo. In 1865, he was nominated liberal candidate for Cardiganshire but withdrew his nomination.


He consented to stand for Aberdare and Merthyr. See Chapter 14, pp. 116 et seq. in the biography of Dr Thomas Price.

The real contest in this election was between Fothergill and Bruce. It was a real battle royal. After a period of political excitement previously unknown, Bruce was defeated at the poll on November 17th 1868.



Henry Richard


Richard Fothergill


Henry Austin Bruce


See ‘The Election of 1868 at Merthyr Tydfil,’ by I.G. Jones in the Journal of Modern History, Vol. 33 No.3, September 1961, pp 270–286.


H.A. Bruce was elected M.P. for Renfrewshire in January 1869 and represented that constituency until August 23rd 1873. He exhibited powers of statesmanship, which further developed when he was raised to the peerage as the 1st Lord Aberdare in that year. He entered Gladstone‘s cabinet in 1869 but he did not make an auspicious start. His first problem was the Liquor Trade. The U.K. Alliance was attempting to get Local Option to stop the trade. Bruce introduced a Bill increasing the penalties for drunkenness and limiting the hours of sale. In 1873, Gladstone reshuffled his Cabinet and Bruce was made a member of the Privy Council and elevated to the Peerage. He was the chief architect of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889, and he spent some time also in Geographical Exploration. The Aberdare Mountains in Kenya bear his name.

Henry Richard became one of the foremost Parliamentarians of his day and became known as the Member for Wales.

Richard Fothergill was a sound rather than brilliant Member, useful rather than distinguished. One of his greatest efforts was in his advocacy of Welsh Steam Coal for the Navy and this led to the great industrial development of this area.

Having been returned in 1868, Henry Richard and Richard Fothergill continued together until 1880. They had to fight a campaign in the general election of 1874 when the 1st Labour candidate, but then described as the Workmen‘s Representative, took up the challenge. His name was Thomas Halliday and he fought a most spirited election.

1874 Feb 6

Election Result


Henry Richard


Richard Fothergill


Thomas Halliday


This was the first election after the passing of the Ballot Act of 1872, which was the result of the wholesale evictions that took place after the election of 1868.


General Election: Again a choice of candidates. Henry Richard sought re-election but Fothergill had to withdraw because of financial difficulty. There were two candidates for the vacancy.
Charles Henry James of Brynteg, Merthyr. He was the son of a local brewer, born in 1817 and d.1890. He was called to the Bar in 1838 and was a prominent Unitarian, destined to be President of the Unitarian Association in 1888.
William Thomas Lewis of The Mardy, Aberdare, (a Merthyr man), agent to the Marquis of Bute. This was the first time that an avowed Conservative appeared in the field and that was probably why extreme bitterness was shown both during the election and after the declaration of the poll, the result of which was as follows:

Election Result


Henry Richard


Charles Herbert James


William Thomas Lewis


There were scenes of wild enthusiasm and disorder and a responsible magistrate thought it wise to have the Riot Act read. Unfortunately, the police used their batons too freely and innocent bystanders were among the casualties. A number of people coming from a prayer meeting at Siloa congregated, as was their wont, near the Green Dragon and were mistaken by the police for rioters refusing to disperse. During the charge, a woman was struck on the head and lost her sight. Jenkin Howells Reminiscences, ‘Y Genhinen’, 1903.


Early this year, Charles James retired and on the 14th March, D.A. Thomas of Ysguborwen was elected unopposed to replace him. Thus began a long and distinguished career as a member for Merthyr and Aberdare until the fall of the Balfour Ministry in 1906. He was educated at Cambridge where he was a mathematical scholar and gained his M.A. in 1883 when 31 years old. He was a great favourite in the constituency and in every subsequent election, which he contested, he was returned at the top of the poll. March 14th was soon followed by another by-election, as Henry Richard died suddenly full of years and honours.

The Liberals selected as official candidate Richard Ffoulkes Griffiths, Barrister-at-Law, London and a local preacher with the Baptists, but he was opposed by another Liberal who stood as an Independent, William Pritchard Morgan a native of Monmouthshire. He first practised as a solicitor at Newport and then in Queensland Australia. Then he gave it all up, and spent an adventurous time prospecting for gold in Merionethshire. He was a very colourful character known during the election as the Gold King. His appeal was so great that he triumphed over the official candidate. The contest took place in October.
Election Result:


W.P. Morgan


R. Ffoulkes Griffiths



1892 July

Next general election. There were three candidates. The retiring members were D.A. Thomas, W.P. Morgan, and Benjamin Francis Williams Q.C. of Cardiff, who stood in the Conservative Interest. He was a prominent barrister well known on the South Wales Circuit but he was badly beaten.
Election Result:


D.A. Thomas


W.P. Morgan


B.F. Williams


The Electorate at Aberdare was



1895 July

A feature of this general election was the great number of possible candidates, which was eventually reduced to four including D.A. Thomas and W.P. Morgan. The others were Herbert Clerk Lewis of The Mardy Aberdare, elder son of W.T. Lewis, who succeeded his father as Lord Merthyr in 1911, and Allan Upward who had a reputation as a scholar, author, publicist and barrister. Both the old members retained their seats.


Election Result


D.A. Thomas


W.P. Morgan


H.C. Lewis


A. Upward



Allan Upward later joined the volunteers in the Graeco-Turkish War, and was one of the few who succeeded in running the Blockade of Crete and took part in the Greek invasion of Turkey in 1898.

As the nineties wore on, Reform was again in the air, not least the cry for women’s suffrage. A leading lady in support of this cause locally was Mrs. R.J. Jones of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, who was before her marriage Ann Griffiths of The Poplars.


Portents of still greater changes. Report in local papers: “It appears that the doctrines of socialism are taking root in Aberdare and it is reported that there are several hundred socialists in the town”.


The notorious Khaki Election of October, when after the Boer War, the Conservatives swept the country. This constituency was not affected by the national temper but was famous for the advent of James Keir Hardie the uncompromising socialist and Labour leader. Towards the end of 1899, there had been an abortive miners’ strike in Aberdare, it led directly to the formation of the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council, whose first Chairman was Mr. John Prowle of the Bwllfa Colliery Lodge.