SEVERN (formerly CHEESMENT), John (1781-1875), of Penybont Hall, Rad.

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



1807 - 25 Jan. 1808
1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 27 Oct. 1781, o.s. of Capt. John Cheesment, master mariner, of Mile End, Mdx. and 2nd w. Sarah, da. of Thomas Grace of Graceville, Castledermot, co. Kildare. educ. Eton 1796; Christ Church, Oxf. 1800; L. Inn 1801, called 1807. m. 30 Dec. 1811, Mary Ann, da. and h. of John Price, banker, of Penybont Hall and Devannor Park, Rad., 1s. 3da. suc. fa. 1783; took name of Severn in ‘memory of William Severn late of Pall Mall esq. deceased’ by royal lic. 1 Aug. 1807.1 d. 17 Dec. 1875.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Rad. 1811-12.


Severn, a socially ambitious barrister who had sat briefly for Wootton Bassett in 1807-8, ‘began buying land in at least two parts of Radnorshire’ in 1808 and consolidated his position in that county three years later through marriage to the 18-year-old heiress to the Penybont estate. He devoted part of his energies in the next few years to the rebuilding of Penybont Hall.2 He was returned unopposed for Fowey in 1830 on the interest of George Lucy*, presumably as a paying guest.3

The duke of Wellington’s ministry regarded him as one of their ‘friends’, and he duly voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented anti-slavery petitions from the Baptists of Llanbister and the inhabitants of Mynyddyslwyn, 25 Nov., but bowed to pressure not to have them printed, to save expense. He introduced a Stagecoach Regulation Act amendment bill, to improve passenger safety, 10 Dec. 1830, but it made no further progress. He presented a Fowey petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 16 Feb. 1831. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed to disfranchise Fowey, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. About this time Joseph Austen, the joint patron of Fowey, wrote that ‘my friends connected with the mining interest ... feel very much obliged ... for your exertions in getting the [truck] bill so altered as not to affect our mining system’.4 He was returned unopposed at the general election later that month.5 He presented a Fowey petition for repeal of the duty on marine insurance policies, 29 June 1831. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for an adjournment motion, 12 July, use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and postponement of the consideration of Chippenham’s inclusion in B, 27 July. On 21 July he recited statistics from a Fowey memorial to the home secretary against the borough’s disfranchisement, to show that ministers ‘do not practice what they preach, respecting the consideration of increasing commercial prospects, in their plan of disfranchising boroughs’; but he had no hope that they would reconsider their decision. He divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He paired against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. In June he broached with Lucy and Austen the idea of vacating his seat immediately in favour of a friend, but was dissuaded because of the inconvenience involved. Lucy suspected that

if he had found Parliament beneficial, as it might have been, if the reform measure had not spoilt it, I should never have heard a wish about his resigning. He wanted a seat for some particular object, which finding he cannot attain is disappointed, and backs out, or wishes to do so, with as little loss as he can’.6

Severn was absent from the divisions on the Russian-Dutch loan in July 1832, having paired off for the session with Sir Thomas Winnington.7 His parliamentary career ended with the disfranchisement of Fowey.

In October 1833 Sir John Benn Walsh*, on a visit to Penybont, noted in his diary that Severn was ‘not a very popular man in this part of the world. He is supposed to be rather near, with a good deal of ostentation, and I believe there may be some truth in the charge. Yet he is an obliging man, with rather gentlemanlike manners’.8 He died in December 1875 and was succeeded by his eldest son John Percy Cheesment Severn (1814-1900), a barrister.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. R.C.B. Oliver, Squires of Penybont Hall, 29. The circumstances remain unclear, as no will of William Severn has been found.
  • 2. Ibid. 22-23, 30, 35-37, 43-44.
  • 3. West Briton, 30 July 1830.
  • 4. Cornw. RO AD 275/3.
  • 5. West Briton, 6 May 1831.
  • 6. Treffry mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Lucy to Austen, 14, 24 June, 23 July 1832.
  • 7. The Times, 24 July 1832.
  • 8. Oliver, 49.
  • 9. Ibid. 59-63 for details of the will.