Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the mayor, bailiffs and capital burgesses only1
Estimated number qualified to vote:
22 in 18312
2,025 (1821); 2,479 (1831)
|10 Mar. 1820||THOMAS FRANKLAND LEWIS|
|13 June 1826||SIR ROBERT WILLIAMS, bt.|
|3 Aug. 1830||SIR ROBERT WILLIAMS, bt.|
|8 Feb. 1831||SIR RICHARD BULKELEY WILLIAMS BULKELEY, bt. vice Williams deceased|
|2 May 1831||SIR RICHARD BULKELEY WILLIAMS BULKELEY, bt.|
Beaumaris, Anglesey’s county and assize town, was a seaport, resort and castellated borough situated at the northern entrance to the Menai Straits almost five miles east of Porthaethwy (later Menai Bridge) and three miles north across the Straits from Bangor in Caernarvonshire.3 Its decaying port had lost trade to Amlwch and Holyhead, but neither could equal its 190 entries in Pigot’s National and Commercial Directory for 1828-9. Even so, the municipal improver Robert Aglionby Slaney*, whose family stayed at Beaumaris in July 1828, regarded it as a
poor town consisting of one long street. Pretty green to the sea near the fine old castle. The sands improving. Steam packet every other day to Liverpool ... New houses building, no library, coffee room, etc.4
Attempts made between 1689 and 1730 to have Newborough recognized as its contributory had failed, and Beaumaris remained the pocket borough of the Bulkeleys of nearby Baron Hill.5 They owned 90 per cent of the property and had created a closed corporation by restricting the franchise to the 21 capital burgesses, the mayor and two bailiffs. Election to the corporation was usually for life, and between 1820 and 1832 the only person disfranchised was John Hampton Hampton of Henllys, the 1820-1 and 1823-4 mayor, who engaged in a dispute with the 1st Baron Bulkeley’s half-brother, the pro-Catholic Whig Sir Robert Williams of Friars, over gaming rights and was dismissed from the corporation, 8 Jan. 1825.6 Michaelmas meetings to elect the mayor and bailiffs had become little more than lavish dinners for the 24, hosted by Bulkeley as the borough’s recorder. The mayoralty was in practice restricted to county squires with close ties to Baron Hill, while the bailiffs were usually chosen from the upper ranks of the trades and professions. From 1820 to 1832 they included attorneys, customs and harbour officials, leather merchants, maltsters, surgeons, and a gentleman, grocer, tanner and wine merchant. Most were resident and frequently re-elected, albeit rarely in successive years. Although not recognized under the Elizabethan charter, a salaried treasurer was appointed in 1825, ‘in consequence of the increasing value of the estates of the corporation and the trouble thereby occasioned to the bailiffs’. In fact the corporation estates had dwindled from 1,556 to 18 acres, realizing only £127 in 1821, so increasing the borough’s dependence on Baron Hill and its Members for municipal and charitable endowments. Distribution of these had been managed since 1804 by the Druids Society of the Town of Beaumaris. County magistrates on the corporation also served the borough, and the gaol, which had fallen into disrepair, was replaced in 1829 by one for county and borough financed from the county rate.7 Suspension bridges across the River Conway and the Menai Straits had been petitioned for by the inhabitants in March 1819 to improve communications and encourage tourism, and were constructed to the engineer Thomas Telford’s design and opened in 1826; but a petition of 9 June 1822 from the mayor, bailiffs, gentry, clergy and inhabitants rightly complained that it diverted the Holyhead road and trade away from Beaumaris.8
The sitting Member Thomas Frankland Lewis, first returned by his fellow Grenvillite Bulkeley in 1812, was re-elected in 1820, with Sir Robert Williams as his sponsor. Few details of their financial arrangement survive, but Lewis, like Bulkeley, contributed generously to municipal improvements. He occupied the hour between his nomination and return by making a speech praising Bulkeley and denouncing the manufacturer and philanthropist Robert Owen’s proposals for the poor. One-hundred-and-fifty dined in the town hall after the chairing, and the corporation and inhabitants adopted a memorial against the reimposition of the coastwise coal duties.9 The borough did not celebrate the withdrawal of the case against Queen Caroline in November 1820, but the coronation in July 1821 was marked by parades, salutes and a public dinner, presided over by Bulkeley, as constable of the castle. The principal speaker, Owen Williams* of Craig-y-don, criticized the radicals Henry Hunt* and Matthew Wood* and proposed a toast to ‘perdition to the disaffected’. The corporation addressed George IV during his visit to Plas Newydd in August, dined afterwards at Bulkeley’s expense, and went again to Baron Hill at Michaelmas, when the Society of Ancient Druids celebrated in the town. The Commons received the curriers’ petition for repeal of the leather tax, 1 May 1822.10 Sir Robert Williams, whose eldest son inherited Baron Hill in trust and adopted the style of Sir Richard Bulkeley, became recorder following Bulkeley’s death, 3 June 1822, and Sir Robert and his nephew Thomas Peers Williams* presided at the next corporation dinners at the Bull’s Head.11 When, in January 1824, the Grenvillite leader the duke of Buckingham asked William Fremantle* to find out ‘whether the interest in Beaumaris vests in Lady Bulkeley’ and, if so, ‘whether she would sell the seat during the next Parliament to me’, he replied:
Lady Bulkeley ... has the sole and entire power over the borough [and] said she should bring in either Frankland Lewis or young Williams [Sir Robert’s son]; it depended on the footing on which the former stood.12
On 12 Dec. 1824 she settled the representation in the next Parliament on Frankland Lewis, now a revenue commissioner, soon to be appointed by the Liverpool ministry to the Irish education commission. She informed him:
I am happy to find you do not object to represent the borough of Beaumaris at the ensuing election (which they tell me is likely to take place in the spring) and, as Mr. Neville tells me, you do not object to the terms of £8,020, by £500 (a year) with all election expenses and annual dinners paid. I am sure we perfectly understand each other, and it is always much better to speak openly that no difference may arise afterwards ... Should you have a few hours to spare on your return to England perhaps it would be as well just to call at Beaumaris and enquire after your constituents, but if you are hurried do not think about them.13
Frankland Lewis had donated £800 to the corporation since 1821, and he sent a further £100 when their ‘public purse’ was ‘nearly exhausted by the heavy repairs attendant upon the new buildings and other public works’ in February 1825.14 With a dissolution anticipated in September 1825 and Sir Robert Williams certain of opposition in Caernarvonshire, the 1st marquess of Anglesey’s agents suggested approaching Lady Bulkeley about returning Williams for Beaumaris to avoid the cost of a county contest, but the dissolution was delayed and it is not clear whether Anglesey pursued the matter.15 Following Lady Bulkeley’s death, 22 Feb. 1826, Sir Robert accepted his son’s offer of a precautionary return for Beaumaris. This ‘delighted’ Fremantle, despite their political differences and the inconvenience to Frankland Lewis, who, after canvassing Radnorshire, came in for Ennis. Sir Robert’s hopes of a double return and handing over Beaumaris to his son were dashed at the general election in June, and Sir Richard presided at his election dinner and the speech making in Beaumaris.16
The contentious Menai Bridge-Beaumaris road bill, overseen locally and successfully steered through Parliament by Owen and Thomas Peers Williams, received royal assent, 9 May 1828.17 Sir Richard Bulkeley’s marriage that month to his cousin (William Lewis Hughes’s* daughter) was celebrated throughout the town, and Sir Robert entertained the corporation at Friars at Michaelmas.18 Horeb Chapel petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 21 Feb. 1828, but no petitions from Beaumaris were forthcoming on Catholic emancipation in 1829. Sir Robert bravely supported it, while William Wynne Sparrow of Red Hill (the 1819, 1825, 1826, 1829 and 1832 mayor) encouraged the adoption of hostile petitions at county meetings in Beaumaris, 6 Jan., 13 Apr. 1829.19 Baron Hill’s overnight enclosure of Beaumaris Green (the Greenwich) in November 1828 was deemed outrageous, ‘a piece of charity’ that Owen Williams complained, ‘outsteps in absurdity’ any of ‘the Bart’s’ (Williams’s) previous acts. On legal advice, Sir Richard Bulkeley and Wynne Sparrow took over the trusteeship of the Druids Society from him, 21 Oct. 1829, and had its rules amended to enable the Society to purchase Greenwich for £1,600 in 1830, and lease back sufficient land to the corporation for the erection of Victoria Terrace, which realized almost £430 a year in rents by December 1832.20 Proposals to transfer Beaumaris’s assizes to the mainland had been successfully resisted (1818-24), but they were revived in the 1830 administration of justice bill by which the Welsh judicature and court of great sessions were abolished. Baron Hill, Beaumaris corporation and the Anglesey magistrates opposed the measure outright, and the assizes were saved by a late government amendment, which left the Welsh assize structure almost intact when the measure received royal assent immediately before the dissolution, 23 July 1830.21 With Sir Richard Bulkeley abroad and his father too ill to attend the election, Sir Robert’s son-in-law Charles Eden deputized at his election and dined 70 at the town hall.22
Following Sir Robert’s death in Nice, 1 Dec. 1830, the corporation and inhabitants of Beaumaris formed a cortège along the route from Baron Hill to Llanfair-yng-Nghornwy churchyard for his burial.23 Sir Richard Bulkeley, nominated by Rowland Williams and Wynne Sparrow, was returned in absentia at the ensuing by-election, when, ‘from a feeling of respect to the memory of their late Member, it had been determined by the corporation, that no chairing should take place, and that the business of the election should be conducted without noise or parade’.24 Both Houses received petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of Trinity Chapel in November 1830 and from the Wesleyan Methodists in April 1831.25 Bulkeley proved his loyalty to Lord Grey’s administration with votes for the reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., which precipitated a dissolution. The bill proposed extending the franchise to £10 householders and making Holyhead, where the interest of the Stanleys of Alderley and Penrhos predominated, Beaumaris’s contributory. It paid almost £573 17s. in assessed taxes in 1830 and had a population of 4,071 in 1821. Amlwch (population 5,292 in 1821), where the Parys Mountain copper mines gave Lord Anglesey, William Lewis Hughes, his brother James Hughes* and their relations Owen and Thomas Peers Williams considerable influence, had petitioned for enfranchisement on population and commercial grounds, 2 Apr. 1831, and this had been privately conceded. Like Holyhead, in 1830 it had contributed over £570 in assessed taxes.26 Bulkeley, whose influence through property in Beaumaris was not threatened by the bill, urged the corporation to set aside their private interests. His return was a quiet affair, for most Beaumaris attorneys were retained for the Caernarvon Boroughs election, and this was the main topic of discussion at the election dinner.27
Petitions were received in June and August 1831 from Llangefni, Bodedern, Llanerchymedd, and Newborough requesting contributory borough status, but only the case of Llangefni, where Williams Bulkeley and William Lewis Hughes (the coronation peer Lord Dinorben) could expect strong support, was referred to the boundary commissioners.28 The population of Llangefni, whose memorials claimed that it was equal in importance with Holyhead, had increased only marginally from 1,737 in 1821 to 1,753 in 1831, and in 1830 it contributed only £150 in assessed taxes, for, like Beaumaris, its economy suffered when it was bypassed by the new Holyhead road. It was included in the Beaumaris group (with Amlwch and Holyhead) in the revised reform bill of December 1831.29 The North Wales Chronicle claimed that the declining corporate borough of Newborough, which had lost its franchise in 1653, was omitted solely because it was a Tory stronghold, but the Caernarvon Herald countered that Newborough had no £10 householders.30
Visitors to Beaumaris joined the corporation, gentry, clergy and inhabitants in petitioning for restrictions on commercial shipping following the Rothsay Castle disaster of August 1831, when over a hundred were drowned off the Anglesey coast.31 Making a bid for the county seat, Bulkeley’s speech at the corporation dinner that December stressed his credentials as the county’s principal resident landowner, yet his decision to relinquish borough representation in 1832, when his second marriage, the regatta, the eisteddfod, Princess Victoria’s visit and an outbreak of cholera dominated the local, news took Beaumaris by surprise.32 Bulkeley had been negotiating with Anglesey, his family and agents since May 1831, but, abandoning the prospect of bringing in his brother Captain Robert Williams or William Owen Stanley† of Penrhos for the Beaumaris district, in November 1832 he gave his interest there to Lord Anglesey’s nephew Captain Frederick Paget†.33 Assessing the situation in a letter of 25 Nov., the Tory Lord Boston of Llanidan, who had hoped to see the franchise at Beaumaris extended to the hundred, informed Bulkeley:
I consider Beaumaris under the reform bill by the arrangement of townships, in place of having been opened to the hundred of Menai, to be in the very position which the bill professed to extinguish, ‘Nomination’, and it must have been well understood that the predominant interest in each of these towns was in the control of persons who were influenced in favour of the existing government.34
The electorate which returned Paget unopposed as a Liberal on an anti-slavery platform in December 1832 comprised 144 Beaumaris, 71 Holyhead, 55 Amlwch and 36 Llangefni voters.35 The representation was twice contested, but remained exclusively Liberal until the constituency was abolished in 1885. A Paget was returned at each election until 1857 and the 1857-74 Member was William Owen Stanley.36
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. CJ, xxi. 473.
- 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 497.
- 3. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), i. 139.
- 4. Salop Archives 6003/5, 28 July 1828.
- 5. P.D.G. Thomas, Politics in 18th Cent. Wales, 22, 30, 95; CJ, xxi. 29, 35, 48, 35.
- 6. UCNW, Beaumaris mss iv. 319A; v. 148; UCNW, Henllys mss 283, 284.
- 7. PP (1831-2), xli. 1; (1835), xxvi. 2579-89; Beaumaris mss ii. 171; iii. 37, 326; iv. 319A; v. 1; NLW, Harpton Court mss 2156, 2157; G. Williams, Aspects of Welsh Hist. 9-10; NLW ms 14984 A, ii. 45; N. Wales Gazette, 4 Nov. 1819.
- 8. Beaumaris mss ii. 20; iv. 323-5; CJ, lxxiv. 301; lxxvii. 301; Beaumaris and its Environs (1859), 22-24.
- 9. Beaumaris mss iv. 319; v. 58; N. Wales Gazette, 16 Mar., 25 May 1820.
- 10. N. Wales Gazette, 26 July, 2, 16 Aug., 4 Oct. 1821; CJ, lxxvii. 222.
- 11. Beaumaris mss iv. 319A; NLW, Llanfair and Brynodol mss 294; Shrewsbury Chron. 3 Oct. 1823.
- 12. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 33.
- 13. Harpton Court mss C/377.
- 14. Beaumaris mss iv. 319.
- 15. UCNW, Plas Newydd mss i. 231.
- 16. UCNW, Baron Hill mss 5173; Beaumaris mss v. 59; N. Wales Gazette, 15 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 26 June 1826.
- 17. CJ, lxxxiii. 32, 67, 78, 94, 135, 148, 255, 284, 334; Henllys mss 289.
- 18. N. Wales Chron. 2 Oct. 1828.
- 19. CJ, lxxxiii. 91; N. Wales Chron. 8, 22 Jan., 2, 16 Apr. 1829; Plas Newydd mss i. 1752.
- 20. Henllys mss 289, 435; N. Wales Chron. 12 Mar., 3 Dec.; Chester Courant, 1 Dec. 1829; Beaumaris mss ii. 171-3; iii. 37; iv. 334; PP (1835), xxvi. 2589-91.
- 21. Plas Newydd mss i. 737-52; PP (1829), ix. 411; N. Wales Chronicle 23 Apr. 1829; CJ, lxxxv. 423, 369; M. Escott, ‘How Wales lost its Judicature: the making of the 1830 Act for the Abolition of the Courts of Great Sessions’ Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (2006), 135-59.
- 22. Plas Newydd mss i. 397, 503; Beaumaris mss v. 60; N. Wales Chron. 5 Aug. 1830.
- 23. N. Wales Chron. 16, 30 Dec. 1830.
- 24. Caernarvon Herald, 12 Feb.; Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Feb. 1831.
- 25. LJ, lxii. 115, 489; CJ, lxxxvi. 483.
- 26. D.A. Wager, ‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1832’, WHR, vii (1974), 438-9; Plas Newydd mss i. 194, 550; vii. 281, 282, 2168.
- 27. Caernarvon Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 28. CJ, lxxxvi. 564, 729; Chester Chron. 28 June 1831.
- 29. E.A. Williams, Day Before Yesterday, 83; CJ, lxxxvi. 564, 729; PP (1831), x. 43; (1831-2), xli. 1-10, 21, 22; PP (1835), xxvi. 2805-12.
- 30. N. Wales Chron. 21 June, 12 July; Caernarvon Herald, 16 July 1831; Plas Newydd mss vii. 295.
- 31. The Times, 22, 23, 29, 31 Aug. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 742.
- 32. Williams, 145, 257; Chester Courant, 11 Oct., 2 Nov., 20, 27 Dec. 1831; N. Wales Chron. 7, 14 Aug., 4 Sept., 1 Dec.; Caernarvon Herald, 18 Aug.; The Times, 18 Aug. 1832.
- 33. Add. 51568, Anglesey to Holland [Sept. 1831]; Plas Newydd mss i. 43-121; vii. 287, 304-7; Ll. Jones, ‘Edition of Corresp. of 1st mq. of Anglesey relating to General Elections of 1830, 1831 and 1832 in Caern. and Anglesey’ (Univ. of Liverpool M.A. thesis, 1956), 507; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 1436, ff. 327, 328.
- 34. Baron Hill mss 5630.
- 35. Caernarvon Herald, 15 Dec.; N. Wales Chron. 18 Dec. 1832.
- 36. F.P. Jones, ‘Gwleidyddiaeth Môn yn y 19eg Ganrif’, Trans. Anglesey Antiq. Soc. (1969-70), 192-208.