WOOD, Thomas (1777-1860), of Gwernyfed Park, Three Cocks, Brec. and Littleton Park, nr. Staines, Mdx.

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



1806 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 21 Apr. 1777, 1st s. of Thomas Wood of Littleton Park and Mary, da. and h. of Sir Edward Williams, 5th bt., of Gwernyfed. educ. Harrow 1788-95; Oriel, Oxf. 1796. m. 23 Dec. 1801, Lady Caroline Stewart, da. of Robert Stewart, MP [I], 1st mq. of Londonderry [I], and 2nd w. Lady Frances Pratt, da. of Charles Pratt†, 1st Earl Camden, 7s. 3da. suc. mother 1820; fa. 1835. d. 26 Jan. 1860.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Brec. 1809-10.

Lt.-col. E. Mdx. militia 1798, col. 1803; militia a.d.c. to William IV 1831.


Wood, the heir to Gwernyfed, Littleton and his father’s East India Company shares, was an active Middlesex magistrate and militia commander. A personal friend and future executor of the duke of Clarence, he was also a brother-in-law of Edward Law†, 2nd Baron Ellenborough, Sir Henry Hardinge* and the Liverpool ministry’s foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh*, whose pro-Catholic Toryism he espoused.1 Since 1806 he had represented Breconshire on the Gwernyfed interest, allied to that of his kinsman John Jeffreys Pratt†, Marquess Camden, whose seat, The Priory, he used when at Brecon socially or on county business. He had defeated the heir to Y Dderw and Tredegar Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan* to retain his seat in 1818, but to do so he had been obliged to give a public pledge to oppose Catholic relief. His victory speech in Abergavenny had been interpreted as an invitation to Monmouthshire to rise against the Morgans, and he anticipated a further challenge from that quarter.2 None materialized in 1820, and he came in unopposed, promising attention to local interests.3

Wood was a forthright Member whose conduct was carefully monitored on account of his government connections. He remained a ready defender of the Liverpool ministry and the corn and poor laws in the 1820 Parliament, advocated game law reform, spoke on military and militia matters, and attended closely to local legislation, particularly for roads and tramways, in which he regularly invested. A prominent member of the 1820 and 1821 select committees on turnpikes, he proved to be a busy promoter of bills for Middlesex and South Wales trusts throughout his parliamentary career.4 Hitherto he had opposed the abolition of the Welsh judicature and courts of great session, of which he wrote to his Breconshire agent, John Jones of Glan Honddu, before the 1820 dissolution:

A few modifications may improve it, but we must on no account part with it, and if the Member for Carmarthen [John Frederick Campbell] does not know what is good for the Principality and would for the sake of a party question forget he is a Welshman, the Member for Breconshire does, and will do his best to preserve it ... I think all things considered I had better be without a vote for Carmarthen.5

When Campbell (afterwards 1st earl of Cawdor) sought inquiry with a view to abolition, 1 June 1820, Wood claimed that the Welsh would be ‘much dissatisfied if their judicature was ever altered’, and cited the poor roads and widespread use of the Welsh language as evidence of the Principality’s backwardness and as current obstacles to change. His prediction that the end of the language was nigh and progress thus assured prompted a furious backlash ‘without doors’, while in the House John Hensleigh Allen, Campbell’s Member for Pembroke Boroughs, pointed to Wood’s non-residence and questioned his right to speak as a Welshman. Charles Williams Wynn* informed his wife: ‘Wood is one of the South Wales Members, a very good natured very silly brother in law of ... Castlereagh, who resides but little in Wales but has a great love for speechifying’.6 Criticizing him for denigrating the language while defending the people, the Nonconformist periodical Seren Gomer commented that a thorough knowledge of the language would make Wood better qualified to represent a Welsh county.7

As regular member of select committees on issues affecting the poor, Wood condemned the labourers’ wages bill as a ‘restrictive’ measure, 23 June 1820. Fraternising with the South Wales industrialists, he warned the ironmaster Samuel Homfray†, a kinsman by marriage of the Morgans and his putative opponent in Breconshire in 1806, that the Grand Junction Canal Company wanted to incorporate a clause authorizing high tolls on iron in the 1820 Western Union Canal bill, and he entertained Lewis Weston Dillwyn† of Penlle’rgaer in the Commons, when legislation against smoke and noxious emissions was broached, 6 July 1820.8 Amid strong constituency support for Queen Caroline, he avoided declaring his views, but declined to present addresses to her. He distanced himself from the Breconshire meeting of 20 Jan. 1821, which attached parliamentary reform and distress to her cause, and petitioned urging the dismissal of ministers.9 Instead, with Camden and the lord lieutenant, the 6th duke of Beaufort, he procured and publicized a loyal address attributing distress and unrest to ‘inflammatory declamations at public meetings’ and ‘the increasing activity and unrestrained operation of a licentious, disloyal and perverted press’.10 He presented but dissented from the Breconshire petition, confident that ‘the tide is turned’ and ‘honour, virtue and loyalty triumphant’, 14 Feb., having divided against censuring ministers’ handling of the queen’s case, 6 Feb. 1821.11 Afterwards, he consulted his fellow Middlesex magistrates on relevant points of law and steered the 1821 Breconshire Bridges Act through the Commons.12 He criticized the reductions proposed by the opposition ‘Mountain’ and defended the proposed expenditure on the cavalry, the militia and the Royal Military Academy, 20 Feb., 14, 30 Mar., 30 Apr. 1821. Opposing the malt duty repeal bill, 3 Apr., he acknowledged that the tax ‘pressed hard on the poor’, but accused the Whigs of trying to undermine the government’s resources through a systematic assault on all taxes. Nevertheless, he declared that he would be prepared to consider lowering the tax on malt, should the ‘great error’ of repealing the property tax be reversed. His well-publicized campaign to extend the tax exemption for husbandry horses to ponies used in the South Wales iron industry failed, 18, 21 June. He again claimed to be representing South Wales interests when opposing the steam engines bill, 7 May, and the Wolverhampton petition against itinerant traders, ‘without whom his part of the country would be imperfectly supplied with necessary articles’, 21 June.13 Advocating reform of the game laws, ‘an evil which filled our gaols with peasantry and laid the foundation of so many crimes’, he attributed the recent upsurge in offences to the failure of the 1810 select committee to endorse his recommendations, 5 Apr. 1821. In September, the courtier Lord Graves* complimented him on the arrangements made for receiving George IV at Brecon, where he broke his journey from Ireland to London following the queen’s death.14 At Monmouth the following month Wood lent his support to Beaufort and his partisans.15

Wood divided with government on distress and taxation, 11, 21 Feb., including against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822.16 He thought that transferring the tax on tallow would ‘materially benefit’ the depressed cattle trade, 22 Feb., and suggested that the proposed duty on malt ‘would teach the public to brew their own beer’, 16 Mar. Although he had advocated lowering the salt tax since 1817, he refused to commit himself on the issue in February 1822 and explained that he would divide with government, 28 June, as ‘I always vote upon principle against isolated motions for repeal of taxes’. He reaffirmed his opposition to military reductions, 4, 20 Mar., and supported the mutiny bill, 12 Mar., but moved unsuccessfully for a £10,000 reduction in the grant to barrack masters, 29 Mar. He seconded the vagrancy laws amendment bill, which he claimed would relieve the country of the expense of passing vagrants from parish to parish, 31 May, and promised to support Scarlett’s poor removal bill that day. Convinced that ‘locking up’ the poor in parishes increased their demoralization while distorting the labour market, he announced his own resolutions on settlement, 23 July, but they had to be held over as the House was poorly attended, 30 July. He pressed successfully with John Calcraft for the withdrawal of a clause in the alehouse licensing bill, authorizing appeals to quarter sessions against petty sessions decisions, 27 June. Backed by Williams Wynn, now president of the India board, Wood resisted inquiry into the Middlesex court of requests in view of the lateness of the session and because the Middlesex Members had not presented the petition advocating it, 19 June 1822. However, in 1824 he failed to prevent the prosecution of the court’s clerk Heath, and his deputy Dubois, who were found guilty of taking excessive fees.17 Wood was deeply distressed by the suicide of Lord Londonderry (Castlereagh) in August 1822, ‘an awful lesson’, which, writing to his eldest son Thomas Wood (1804-72), the future Middlesex Member, he attributed to ‘incessant labour’ and failure to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. It was an ordnance Wood always observed and cautioned his sons against breaking, whatever career they should pursue.18

As his brother-in-law the 3rd marquess of Londonderry had predicted, Wood decided against jeopardizing Tom’s Horse Guards career by voting for the amendment to the address, condemning the peacetime appointment of Canning’s ally Beresford as lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 Feb. 1823.19 He criticized Wolryche Whitmore’s corn law proposals as likely to ‘unsettle the mind of the country’ and encourage unrest, 26 Feb., and denounced Nolan’s proposed bill for the employment and maintenance of the poor as a coercive measure, 4 Mar., but failed to proceed with his own resolutions until 4 June, when, despite some encouragement from the Whig Lord Althorp and Scarlett, the sliding scale he suggested (leading to guaranteed settlement after 15 years residence) proved so unpopular with Members representing the industrial North, that on the home secretary Peel’s advice he withdrew them and circulated a draft bill for consideration the following session. He opposed the tax cuts sought by opposition, 3 Mar., but deemed the sinking fund ‘unnecessary’ and criticized the national debt reduction bill, 6, 13 Mar. He declined attendance at the Breconshire distress meeting, 11 Apr., but presented their petition, 29 Apr., and one from Staines for repeal of the corn duties, 5 May.20 He disagreed with the chancellor of the exchequer Robinson’s decision to reduce the price of beer, 25 Apr., succeeded by 45-16 with an amendment raising the tax on strong beer from 27s. to 30s. a barrel, and opposed the proposed reduction in the price of malt, 28 May, maintaining that it would have little effect on beer prices and cause great suffering to farmers. He voted against reforming the Scottish representative system, 2 June. When Allen, his colleague on the 1820 and 1821 committees, moved for reform of the Welsh judicature, 23 May, Wood, unlike ministers, supported him, declaring that he had changed his mind ‘from conviction’ as a result of Wales’s increased prosperity. He voted in the minority for recommitting Fowell Buxton’s silk manufacture bill, 9 June, at the behest of Spitalfields weavers who had served his militia regiment well. He presented Breconshire anti-slavery petitions, 26 June 1823. When in July Camden and Londonderry considered a political alliance, the latter predicted that Wood ‘will be as little the follower of you as of me’.21

In view of constituency opposition to funding alterations required under the 1823 Consolidated Gaol Act, Wood called on Beaufort on his way to the Brecon October assizes, and in December took advice from colleagues on the Middlesex bench.22 In the House, 19 Feb. 1824, he asked Peel to exempt Wales from certain clauses in the Act, citing the cases of Radnorshire, where the gaol had only two cells and one prisoner, and Breconshire, where the estimated cost of a treadmill and alterations was ‘£3,000, or the amount of four county rates’. The Glamorganshire Member Sir Christopher Cole supported him, but Peel thought ‘the difficulty might be met by three or four Welsh counties combining to erect a prison for themselves’ and no concession was granted. Giving his customary endorsement of military flogging, 5 Mar., Wood expressed regret that the 1823 Act permitted the use of treadmills in ‘common gaols’ for imprisoned soldiers.23 He objected to a clause in Stuart Wortley’s game bill depriving landlords and lessees or manor lords of their shooting rights, supported an amendment safeguarding them, and strongly opposed the punishment proposed for night poachers (which was later withdrawn), 12 Apr. Nevertheless, he spoke and was a minority teller with Stuart Wortley against postponing the bill’s recommittal, 31 May. Wood presented the Radnorshire sheep farmers’ petition for drawbacks on imported wool, 25 Mar. He considered Althorp’s settlement bill unsatisfactory ‘as an isolated measure’ and proposed amending it by adding a clause giving settlement ‘to all persons who paid poor rates in the parish in which they had paid them’ 30 Mar. He conceded that the opposition of the large manufacturing towns made the passage of his own measure impossible and bemoaned the facility with which young people from agricultural parishes were ‘enticed away’ and young women returned pregnant, to become ‘encumbrances upon their former parishes’. Resisting change, he argued that the capital of the British farmer was still in very poor condition despite high corn prices, and suggested postponing the president of the board of trade Huskisson’s warehoused wheat bill until the state of the next harvest was known, 17 May. He presented Minehead’s petition for repeal of the duty on coal carried coastwise, 16 Feb. When the London (Middlesex) coal duties were considered, 1 Apr. 1824, he complained that the debate was deliberately confined to the rival monopolistic claims of the Staffordshire and Northern coal owners and objected to any system of pithead tolls. He added that he preferred light to fire and, cautioning against pressing the chancellor too far, he suggested repealing the window tax or ‘some tax of more general and impartial operation ... the abolition of which would have been more consonant with the principles of free trade’. That autumn he took his family to Wales, where George Rice Trevor* sought to dissuade him from taking his wife canvassing lest his bride should have to do the same.24

He confirmed his preference for qualification by ‘a mixed calculation of property and rating’ when a new settlement bill was proposed, 22 Mar. 1825. Breconshire and Glamorganshire entrusted their petitions for the free movement of fish to him for presentation, as a member of the 1824 and 1825 select committees, 29 Mar. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., but refrained from voting on Catholic relief in deference to his constituents, and presented a hostile petition from the hundred of Brennig, 18 Apr. 1825. Opposing corn law revision, 28 Apr., he asserted that its detractors confused the achievements of the 1815 Act with those of the 1822 agriculture committee, and that the ‘fraudulent practice of returning fictitious averages ought not to be laid upon the present system’. He objected to a fixed duty on principle, preferring a 70s. or 65s. pivot price and a 17s. tariff. He used similar protectionist arguments against admitting Canadian grains, 2 May 1825. He travelled to Brecon for the assizes when a dissolution was anticipated in September and stayed on to steward the October race meeting.25 Wood seconded an unsuccessful amendment against proceeding with the case against the Welsh judge and Surrey magistrate William Kenrick†, 17 Feb. 1826. The Warwick lion fight induced him to support legislation against cruel sports, 21 Feb. He voiced his customary support for expenditure on the barracks and Royal Military College, 6 Mar., and presented a petition for restoration of the 8s. daily allowance to retired militia adjutants, 22 Mar. 1826, (and another, 6 June 1827). He presented Breconshire anti-slavery petitions, 8, 22 Mar. 1826. Opposing the Welsh Mining Company bill later that day with the Staffordshire Member Littleton, he described it as a ‘great evil’, likely to ‘increase the competition to a mischievous extent’, and unnecessary, because of the abundance of iron. He was not convinced that changes to the Corn Importation Act, introduced in the wake of the London petition for a fixed duty, would alleviate distress, and instead suggested appointing a select committee to settle the corn question ‘at once’, 2 May. He added that provided this was done he had no objection to lowering the pivot price to 70s. or 65s. and releasing bonded corn at a 12s. duty. The Whig Lord Milton opposed his suggestion. Peel and Canning countered his objections to the government’s corn importation bill, 8, 11 May, when Canning challenged him to deny that he had agreed to a 65s. pivot price. He was prevailed upon to vote for the bill’s second reading that day, but resolutely maintained that ‘a free trade with a fixed duty ... [was] extremely objectionable’, a graduated scale inefficient, and a fixed duty no more than a short-term solution. In committee, 12 May, he suggested, but did not proceed with an amendment for a 65s. pivot price. He thought that the information Edmond Wodehouse sought from the foreign office with a view to improving the statistical base for the averages should be qualified with details of production costs, 18 May. He left for Breconshire, where he was in dispute with Sir Charles Morgan over the rights to Llangors Pool, directly Parliament was dissolved in June 1826.26 His return that month was unopposed and his speech at Brecon largely devoted to describing his work as a Member.27 At the Brecon eisteddfod in September he endeavoured to reassure supporters of the Welsh language that the Breconshire aristocracy were not against its cultivation.28

He approved the ministry’s decision to implement the Corn Importation Acts by order in council and urged the House to put an end to ‘the aggravating attempts of the press to dissever the manufacturing and agricultural interests’, 24 Nov. 1826. Saddened and angered by Whig-led opposition to Clarence’s grant, Wood spoke, 16 Feb., and voted in favour of the award, 14 Mar. 1827. He reiterated his protectionist principles in the corn debates that month, following Lord Liverpool’s stroke. He said that he was inclined to support the import scale proposed in the government’s corn bill although he considered the prices too low, 1 Mar., objected to the use of the Winchester bushel for taking averages, 8 Mar., spoke out against taking the price of peas, beans, and rye into account, 19 Mar., and called for averages to be taken over six weeks not one, 26 Mar. He divided for the bill, 2 Apr., hoping to amend it in committee, but had to withdraw his amendment extending the prohibition on imports, 6 Apr. He had earlier been denied a hearing amid the clamour that greeted reports of Canning’s likely succession as premier. He called for protection by ‘prohibitions rather than regulation’ when the Canning ministry’s warehoused corn bill was committed, 21 June, and approved their resolution for a 70s. corn pivot price, 18 June.29 During Canning’s ministry Wood also assisted with the passage of the Glamorgan roads bill, which emulated the Breconshire system by establishing a single countywide trust, served on the Ludlow election committee and objected to the receipt of Edmund Lechmere Charlton’s† petition against its findings, 14 May, and defended the award to the national vaccine establishment, 14 May. He introduced his game laws suspension bill, 17 May, and, supported by Milton and Wodehouse, carried its second reading on the 30th by 56-2, and secured its committal, despite objections from Sir Gilbert Heathcote and supporters of a rival bill introduced in the Lords, 7 June; but the report was deferred, 20 June, and it was timed out. He endorsed Robert Gordon’s call for a select committee on provisions for pauper lunatics in Middlesex and was appointed to it, 13 June 1827.

During the first supply debate of the duke of Wellington’s ministry, in which Hardinge was clerk of the ordnance, 18 Feb. 1828, Wood refuted Lord Normanby’s claim that Canning had openly attributed his South American policy to Castlereagh and expressed confidence in the government. He called for an end to

all such contrasts and such expressions as ‘that Mr. Canning’s party is scattered to the winds’ ... The grave should be a protection against such expressions ... I will only add, that, after hearing all I have heard about the blowing up, as it has been termed, of the late administration, I think the House had better cease to look backward and turn their eyes toward the present administration.

He condemned the practice of supplementing wages from the poor rates and sought a wider brief for the select committee on parochial settlement he was appointed to, 21 Feb., adding that if no one ‘better qualified ... could be found’, he would move to have the ‘question of the poor laws generally’ referred to it. He agreed with Burdett that assisting the emigration of the Irish poor was as important an Anglo-Irish issue as the Catholic question or free trade and cited the Harrow labour auction as proof of the degradation the poor laws created, 4 Mar. He had little to say on Macqueen’s abortive bill to end settlement by hiring, 29 Apr., but he ordered returns of removal orders and of quarter session appeals, and was added to the select committee on the poor laws, 3 June. Wood presented his constituents’ petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 Feb., and published denials after being listed in the government minority against it, 26 Feb. 1828.30 He disapproved of spending on Irish education and the commission’s work, 28 Feb., and was named to the committee that considered their reports, 11 Mar. As in 1822 and 1829, he was appointed to the select committee on policing the metropolis, 28 Feb., when, commenting on the state of Newgate and other prisons, he called for individual cells, separate prisons for commitment and correction, and an end to the Middlesex-Westminster rivalry, which precluded sharing resources, although the authorities had many magistrates in common. On 10 Mar., goaded by Lord Nugent, he denied ever arguing that the ‘salutary effects’ of flogging would benefit grown men as well as schoolboys, and spoke of its importance to the army as a deterrent, which, when applied as an early punishment, had saved at least two young men under his command from vice. He was in favour of limiting the duration of tithe commutation agreements (a contentious issue in his manor of Glasbury and the hundred of Builth), 17 Mar., and presented and endorsed Breconshire’s petition for amendment of the 1827 Malt Act, to permit earlier wetting of corn, 20 Mar. On behalf of Spitalfields weavers, he seconded and was a minority teller for ending the prohibition on the use of ribbons at elections, a ‘harmless demonstration of public feeling’. He suggested that if the House was serious about curbing election costs it should restrict the franchise to residents. He recommended postponing Althorp’s freeholders registration bill, 25 Mar., and said that he would oppose its second reading, because it would increase election costs and did not provide for simultaneous polling by district. Challenged by Hume, he said he did not consider the government’s corn resolutions a party matter, 31 Mar., but he was confident that their bill would ‘protect the interests of agriculture’ and that the proposed 58s. pivot price would ‘turn out to be a prohibitory duty’, 25 Apr. He presented Breconshire petitions against concessions to Catholics, 28 Apr., and for protective tariffs on wool, 16 May.31 Assisting Hardinge, on whose select committee he had served, he said he was confident that the government’s decision to implement militia reductions was correct and well founded, 20 June. When goaded, he defended the reputation of his 1,200 Middlesex troops and pressed for continued recruitment by ballot. Supporting ministers, he gave a detailed technical explanation of why the post of lieutenant-general of the ordnance should be retained, 4 July 1828. He had recently assisted at the Durham by-election necessitated by Hardinge’s appointment as secretary at war, and he became an intermediary during the recess between Wellington, the king and Clarence, who had to resign as lord high admiral.32

Wood sent Wellington a draft oath designed to protect ‘the Protestant church establishment’, and the patronage secretary Planta predicted in February 1829 that he would divide ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation.33 Asked to support the borough of Brecon’s hostile petition, he endorsed it as respectably signed and ‘temperate and conciliatory’ in language, 3 Mar., but reserved ‘the opportunity of delivering my opinions’ on the measure.34 He did not vote on the introduction of the relief bill, 6 Mar., but he summarized it and the securities offered at a predominantly anti-Catholic county meeting in Brecon on the 9th. He also reaffirmed his commitment to representing their views and supporting the hostile petition adopted.35 Referring to it on presenting another from the hundred of Pencelli, 16 Mar., he explained that he could no longer be ‘strictly neutral’ and was ‘bound’ to oppose emancipation. He acknowledged that

some ... may consider it unconstitutional and wrong on my part to have given such a pledge, but, having had the benefit of it for some years, I cannot do otherwise now than fulfil what I consider to be an honourable engagement with my constituents.

He divided against the bill, 18 Mar., but reminded the Ultra Sir Edward Knatchbull that he did so ‘reluctantly in obedience to his constituents’. He delayed presenting the Breconshire petition until 26 Mar., when it could be received with the county’s pro-emancipation petition entrusted to the Whig Edward Smith Stanley, who, as Wood had been forewarned, questioned the provenance of the anti-Catholic petition.36 The recorder of Brecon Hugh Bold, who liaised with Wood and Smith Stanley, wrote to the latter, 4 Apr., ‘poor Wood had not a word to say in answer. I cannot bring myself to pity a person who sits for this county [except] to voting according to his conscience’.37

Wood called for game sales to be made legal and an end to differential treatment of the rich and poor under the game laws, 6 Apr., and defended spending on the militia, 4 May. He pressed for the recommittal of the labourers’ wages bill, 15 May, commended it as the work of the 1828 committee and argued that by attempting to end magistrates’ wage scales and payments from poor rates, it separated the poor laws, of which he approved, from ‘the evils ... grafted on them’. He suggested raising the proposed householder rating threshold from £6 to £10, helped to secure the withdrawal of a clause permitting parish overseers to contract for the employment of the poor, and carried an amendment making owners (not occupiers) of tenements rated at £10-£12 liable for rate payments. His objections to proceeding with the anatomy regulation bill that day were ignored. He attended the Pitt dinner as Lord Mansfield’s guest, 28 May.38 In July Wellington refused to make his brother a metropolitan police commissioner.39 Wood had informed the 1828 justice commission that he and his constituents supported abolition of the Welsh courts of great session and judicature; but he realized when their report also recommended partitioning and amalgamating counties to form new circuits, that this would be strongly resisted, particularly in Breconshire, where, under the tripartite county division proposed, Brecon forfeited its assize town status.40 When Brougham urged Peel to introduce a bill based on the report that session, 4 May 1829, Wood predicted that Breconshire would petition against it, accused the commissioners of reporting ‘without having any notion of the localities’, and prevailed on Peel to pre-empt opposition by circulating a draft bill and letting it ‘mature’ preparatory to legislating the following session.41 He shared Thomas Frankland Lewis’s distaste for a union of Breconshire and Radnorshire, and in a bid to avoid it sought support from the 2nd marquess of Bute, as lord lieutenant of Glamorgan, for uniting that county with Breconshire and holding assizes alternately at Brecon and Cardiff.42 He also met the leading abolitionists Dillwyn and Cawdor in London to discuss strategy, and chaired the September assizes at Brecon, where he dissuaded the magistrates from petitioning.43

Wood acknowledged that suffering was rife, but suggested that the time of the House would be better spent seeking remedies for distress than discussing an amendment protesting at its omission from the address, which served only to highlight party differences, 4 Feb. 1830. To cries of ‘Where?’, he claimed that distress was already on the wane, when the revived Whig opposition cited it as a reason for abolishing the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, which he voted to retain, 29 Mar. He divided against Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He presented private petitions against the Brechfa road and Swansea gas bills, 17, 18 Mar., and another on the 23rd for extending the provisions of the Breconshire roads bill.44 Speaking on assisted emigration for the poor that day, he repeated that ‘a great part of the evils attributed to the poor laws arise from their maladministration’ and cited regional variations to prove his point. He supported the Scottish and Irish poor removal bill, 26 May, and when its opponents pointed to the threat it posed to Middlesex and the metropolis, he cited the lack of legislation for Welsh migrants as proof that none was necessary. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He spoke highly of Ellenborough and was a majority teller for his divorce bill, 6 Apr. 1830. ‘As a Welsh Member’ Wood strenuously supported the 1830 administration of justice bill, by whose enactment the courts of great sessions and Welsh judicature were abolished. He acknowledged the bill’s inherent weakness, 27 Apr., but claimed that all opposition to it would cease if judges appointed by the lord chancellor were sent to hear the assizes in every county town, and reminded ministers that uniting English and Welsh counties was perceived as an even greater evil than combining Welsh ones. Drawing parallels with an Englishman facing trial in France, he also stressed the need for juries to be Welsh, ‘not out of prejudice’, but because ‘most of the evidence given by the lower classes of the people on criminal trials is given in Welsh’. He repeated his objections to the proposed division and consolidation of counties, 27 May, 18 June, and defended the rights of court officials to compensation, 5 July. The Carmarthen reformer George Thomas held Wood personally responsible for securing the late government amendment that left the existing assize structure almost intact when the bill was hurriedly enacted immediately before the dissolution precipitated by George IV’s death.45 During the king’s illness, his family and ministers had drawn on Wood’s connection with Hardinge and Clarence to obtain information on the latter’s political sentiments. Meanwhile he had echoed ministers’ opposition to the continuation of offices bill, 10 May, and cutting the grant for South American missions, 7 June, and voted against abolishing the death penalty for forgery.46 His return at the 1830 general election was never in doubt. Addressing the freeholders afterwards he explained that William IV favoured economy, retrenchment and reform, while he disliked reform ‘in any shape or form’ and regarded election by ballot as ‘poking beans into boxes’.47

The Wellington ministry naturally listed Wood among their ‘friends’ and he divided with them on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. He blamed Parliament for permitting the 1830 game bill to lapse and remained as anxious as ever to see legislation enacted that permitted game sales, applied to all classes, and enabled property owners to permit whomever they pleased to sport on their land. He accordingly welcomed Lord Chandos’s game bill, although he conceded that it was hopelessly encumbered with detail, 7 Dec. He presented several Breconshire anti-slavery petitions the same day. Commenting on the budget, 11 Feb. 1831, he said he had to agree with the radical Henry Hunt that a reduction in malt duty would be of greater benefit to the poor than cuts in the tobacco tax, adding that it would also serve as a deterrent to illicit brewing and distilling mixtures of barley and malt. Following the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which he did not expect to pass ‘in its present form’, Wood corresponded regularly at length with his Breconshire agent John Jones of Glan Honddu, in order to ascertain his constituents’ views and to ensure that his own were not misrepresented. He was granted five days’ leave on account of ill health (an attack of gout), 16 Mar.48 He divided for the bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and explained when the Cambridge University petition urging moderation was presented, 30 Mar., that he had done so, that the House ‘might proceed with caution and circumspection’, and because he did not think it right to cut short the progress of so important a bill. Breconshire reformers welcomed his vote, but complained that his speech was ‘bob ochr’ (two sided) and called a county meeting to petition for the bill and warn Wood that half-hearted support for reform would not do.49 ‘Not a little mortified’ to find his contribution to carrying the bill by a single vote ‘so little appreciated’, and ‘because every gentleman must see that a representative so shackled is no longer a free agent and can no longer be a Member of a deliberative body, calmly and constitutionally considering the welfare and the interests of his constituents’,50 he informed his Breconshire friends that he would oppose any reduction in the number of English Members, and left them to address the county on his behalf:51

You may make them quite easy on the state of their own borough [Brecon], for the opening of which, and all other boroughs, I shall most decidedly give my vote. But I am quite sure they are not aware of the details of the proposed bill, and I believe there is scarce a man all round this part of the country that is not of opinion that the bill must be materially amended. The bill as at present drawn ... extinguishes 70 English representatives and adds to the number of Irish Members. This I never will vote for. Ireland and its present Members with Mr. O’Connell at their head gives us trouble sufficient already. This is a mill stone round our necks and keeps us in an eternal state of expense and anxiety and pays almost nothing to the taxes. Last year, when the chancellor of the exchequer of the day [Goulburn] tried to make a more equitable arrangement, the whole 100 Irish Members united to resist them, and they would unite again at this moment if a modified property tax was proposed ... [and] make England pay the whole of that burden. As long as this is the feeling of Irishmen I am quite sure we ought not to add to their power in the ... Commons by reducing the number of English representatives. I will vote for a full, fair and efficient measure of reform. Every borough that shall continue to send Members to Parliament after the passing of the bill shall no longer be closed as it is at present ... I will not consent to rob freemen of their birthrights ... All that part of the bill which goes to the register of votes and the annual circuits of our assessors would be useless and would inflict on all counties very heavy annual expense ... When the bill gets into committee I will do my best to render it an efficient measure and to divest it of its several inconsistencies. I will also, previous to its being committed, state fully in the House my view of the whole of the arrangement, but I must say if every word I am reported to have said is to be productive of a county meeting it is not much encouragement to say anything, or much incitement to the active performance of one’s public duties ... None of the papers that I have seen ... accurately reported what I did say on the Cambridge petition ... What I did say was certainly cheered by both sides of the House, giving as I thought general satisfaction. Thus, if I cannot open my mouth without sending a written report of my speech to the papers I will cease to speak at all, for I cannot believe that is a very creditable way of making my opinions known to the public ... The constant study of my life has been to do my duty by those who have done me the honour for so many years to send me to Parliament, and my sole object and wish is to be considered by them a faithful, honest and independent representative.52

He received the Breconshire petition, 18 Apr., but failed to secure an opportunity to present it.53 Supporting Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment that day, he tried to explain, amid great clamour, that he had voted for the bill, with all its shortcomings, at its second reading ‘because I conscientiously believe that the time is arrived when some reform is rendered absolutely necessary’, but that he felt compelled ‘as an independent English Member to vote against the reduction of any one [English] representative’. Next day he sent offprints of his speech from the Mirror of Parliament to Brecon for circulation, and divided for the amendment.54 Deeming it ‘best to be prepared for war’, by the 23rd he had sent canvassing notices to the printer, engaged counsel, issued retainers, and directed his agent ‘to fix the day of election as early as possible’. A declaration of satisfaction with his conduct as a Member was also in train.55 The contest, a two-day poll which kept him from Littleton when his father’s life was feared for and put him to great trouble and expense, was not, as anticipated, against his erstwhile proposer Penry Williams of Penypont, but his brother Charles’s brother-in-law, John Lloyd Vaughan Watkins† of Penoyre, who started too late to have a reasonable prospect of success, but was supported by the Merthyr Tydfil reformers.56 The Times accused Wood of trying to get rid of reform ‘by a side wind’ and attributed his success to Beaufort, Camden and Sir Charles Morgan’s agents.57 Complimenting John Jones on carrying ‘the Colonel through his difficulties’, the Merthyr ironmaster John Josiah Guest* added: ‘I was decidedly against him upon principle, but should have been really sorry to have voted against him. Nothing but the casting vote and sincerity would have induced me to do so’.58

Wood declined a household appointment in order to sit unfettered, though he took a militia post and Lady Caroline became a lady-in-waiting to the queen. As the king expected, he voted for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July.59 The reformers persisted with their Breconshire canvass, erroneously believing that Wood would be made a coronation peer. Adhering to his ‘bob ochr’ strategy, he was one of ten critics of the bill who voted to proceed with it committee and to hear counsel on the Appleby petition, 12 July.60 He informed Jones, 13 July:

I shall vote for the transfer of all the weak and decayed boroughs to populous places, but we must ascertain that they are so. Appleby, about which we debated last night, has in the returns not only one of its townships omitted, but it is a burgage tenure borough and the court house and several of the burgage houses are situated in the parish that is thus omitted and the population of 1821 not 1831 amounted to 2,650 ... The taking away one seat from a class of boroughs and giving one seat to a class of towns, I decidedly oppose. Lord Milton has given notice of a motion for each place having two Members and so it ought; if it is otherwise instead of one boon to a place we should plant in every town a bone of election contention that would prove the greatest curse that could be inflicted on them. The right of voting in towns I think had better be for long lease £10 owners and £20 occupiers in England and £8 owners and £12 occupiers in Wales. Col. Davies has also given notice of a motion that all the freeholders of the towns should vote for the boroughs, which I think is desirable. I shall certainly propose that long holders should be enfranchised down to 40s. This is my idea of reform and this I firmly believe will be satisfactory to the country. I am sure it ought to be so. We had last night a second vote of time on the question of adjournment. From two until seven this morn the contest went on. I did all I could to bring them to terms without success. I voted with the ministers against the adjournments. If I could have got an opportunity I was anxious to have stated my opinion on the bill but there are so many speakers I did not succeed and now I shall not do so until we get into committee.61

He made several of these points in his speech that day against starting with the disfranchisement clause, ‘one of the most objectionable in the whole bill, which, by ending the freeman, scot and lot and householder vote, left the lower orders without any means of enfranchisement’, drawing ‘a broad line through society which did not exist before’, and explained that he disagreed ‘on principle’ with the creation of one and three Member constituencies. He voted to make the 1831 census the determinant of English borough disfranchisements, 19 July, against including Downton, 21 July, and St. Germans, 26 July in schedule A, and consistently against the schedule B disfranchisements. When these had been carried, he suggested using ‘those 112 seats at our disposal’ to give two Members to towns with populations above 12,000 and to ‘increase the representation of populous counties’, 2 Aug. He expressed concern that day at the way government was forcing though ‘the whole bill’, and his formal protest that the creation of metropolitan boroughs violated the principle of the bill paved the way for the anti-reformers’ trial of strength on the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., which ministers carried by 295-188. He had proposed making Middlesex a six Member county with a 40s. copyhold and freehold franchise, three divisions and Tower Hamlets, Brentford and Hackney as polling towns, and suggested similar arrangements for Kent and Surrey to avoid enfranchising Greenwich, Deptford and Lambeth. He had decided by 8 July to curry local support by campaigning for the separate enfranchisement of Merthyr Tydfil, a contributory designate of Cardiff, which extended into Breconshire at Cefn-Coed-y-Cymer.62 As announced, 5, 6, 9 Aug., when Welsh contributory boroughs were considered on the 10th, he moved to exclude Merthyr Tydfil from the Cardiff group, but was defeated by 164-123. South Wales Members of all parties supported him. Fearing that his speech would be misreported, he again sent copies of the Mirror of Parliament to Brecon.63 He spoke and voted against three Member counties, 1, 12 Aug., but in favour of dividing counties, 11 Aug. He moved unsuccessfully for a 40s. county copyholder franchise as a means of encouraging the ‘lower classes to aim at independence’, 17 Aug., and, to Lord Chandos’s annoyance, he countered his amendment for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at will, 18 Aug., by calling for all occupiers of farms worth £50 a year to be given the vote. He criticized the registration clauses, particularly the provisions for non-resident voters, 19, 25, 27 Aug., 2, 5 Sept., and was in the small minority on clause 27, governing polling arrangements, 2 Sept., having earlier created a stir by suggesting a system linked to the poor rate assessments. He divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. The bells were rung when, to counter local opposition, he and his family arrived in Brecon, 8 Oct. 1831. After presiding at the sessions, he hosted a Brecon dinner at which he justified his recent parliamentary conduct, taking care as previously to send local newspapers copies of his speech.64

Wood had ‘no problem voting for the second reading’ of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, though he still found it ‘clogged with complicated details that will, I fear, very much impede its passage into law’. He restated his objections to altering the quotas of English, Irish and Scottish Members, settling disfranchisement before enfranchisement, metropolitan districts, single Members English boroughs and ‘lump sum votes on each Schedule’. As amendments, he suggested a separate registration bill, using Lieutenant Drummond’s disfranchisement scale, confining the urban franchise to residents while preserving the rights of freeman, scot and lot, and householder voters, and replacing the £10 land tax with the £10 poor rate qualification.65 Acting independently of others pressing Merthyr Tydfil’s claim, he promised to raise it again, 23 Jan. 1832. He disapproved of the late decision to award a third Member to Monmouthshire, when its boroughs had only one, 27 Jan., and repeated his criticisms of the proposed franchise qualifications, 1, 3, 8, 10, 11, 20 Feb. He voted against introducing single-day polling in boroughs with under 1,200 voters, 15 Feb., and against enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. Co-operating with Lord Granville Somerset and Bute’s brother Lord James Crichton Stuart, he presented Merthyr Tydfil’s petition for separate representation, 20 Feb., and tried to have it substituted for Gateshead in Schedule D, 5 Mar.66 Government hostility ensured failure (by 214-167), but the compelling demographic and economic arguments he cited and his references to the role of the chapels in curbing political union activity after the 1831 riots contributed to the government’s awkward decision to award it the additional Member intended for Monmouthshire, 14 Mar. He voted to enfranchise Merthyr Tydfil, but protested that he had been made ‘a scapegoat’. He was also a minority teller against depriving Monmouthshire of a third Member, 14 Mar.67 In a speech intended for both the House and his constituents, 20 Mar. (which the Mirror of Parliament corrected to coincide with the report in the Morning Herald), he said he was disappointed with the amendments made to the bill and would vote against its third reading because of the threat it posed to the country and constitution through the schedule B disfranchisements and its provisions for metropolitan districts. He supported the rotten borough disfranchisements, enfranchising large towns and extending the suffrage, and said that he had been against taking its third Member from Monmouthshire ‘because he thought the interests of agriculture in that county ought not to be diminished’. His elderly father and Lady Caroline were both seriously ill, rendering Commons attendance difficult, and he was listed in both the absentee and minority lists on the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. 1832.68 He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832. In August the colonial secretary Lord Goderich rejected his patronage requests.69

Standing as a Conservative and assisted by his sons, Wood pledged support for the established church and Sabbatarianism, advocated the abolition of slavery, factory regulation and an equitable composition of tithes and came in for Breconshire unopposed in December 1832.70 He retained the seat until he retired to avoid defeat in 1847, after supporting Peel’s decision to repeal the corn laws.71 He afterwards published pamphlets outlining his views on free trade, pauper settlement and the poor laws.72 He had inherited an estimated £88,000 on succeeding his father to Littleton in 1835, and correctly turned down William IV’s offer to make him a knight of the Guelphic Order that year, because he had never served abroad with his regiment.73 He died at Littleton in January 1860 and was succeeded there by Tom. His will, proved in 1860 and 1861, honoured and extended family settlements made in favour of his wife and descendents, who, after Littleton was destroyed by fire in 1874, settled at Gwernyfed.74

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PROB 11/1848/399; IR26/1404/284; Gent. Mag. (1837), ii. 199; LMA ACC/1302, Schedule, p. 2; T. Jones, Hist. Brec. iv. 275-6; E. Wood, Thomas Wood, passim.
  • 2. NLW, Tredegar mss 45/1506; 121/792, 852, 854; 135/764, 765, 768, 775, 777; P.D.G. Thomas, ‘Parl. Elections in Brec. 1689-1832’, Brycheiniog, vi (1960), 99-113; E.G. Parry, ‘County Election of 1818’, Brycheiniog, xxvii (1994-5), 79-109; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 482-3.
  • 3. Cambrian, 26 Feb., 4, 11, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 648-50; D. Jones, Brecknock Historian, 11; NLW, Gwernyfed mss, parcel 36, passim.
  • 5. NLW, Maybery mss 6906. Arrangements for Wood to receive his Carmarthen franchise were completed in September 1824 (ibid. 6556).
  • 6. NLW, Coedymaen mss 939.
  • 7. Seren Gomer, iii (1820), 219-21.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 219-20; Tredegar mss 45/1520; Diary of Lewis Weston Dillwyn ed. H.J. Randall and W. Rees (S. Wales and Mon. Rec. Soc. v), 41.
  • 9. Cambrian, 28 Oct., 4 Nov. 1820; Hereford Jnl. 10, 17, 24 Jan.; Seren Gomer, iv (1821), 61-62.
  • 10. Maybery mss 6545, 6547-6548, 6550, 6822-6823, 6862-6863, 6919; Courier, 20, 31 Jan. 1821.
  • 11. The Times, 15 Feb.; Maybery mss 6920.
  • 12. Maybery mss 6544, 6922; Brecknock Historian, 29, 39.
  • 13. The Times, 19, 22 June; Seren Gomer, iv (1821), 222.
  • 14. LMA ACC/1302/108, 199, 200.
  • 15. Bristol Mercury, 20 Oct. 1821.
  • 16. Seren Gomer, v (1822), 91, 124.
  • 17. The Times, 19 Jan., 10, 13 Feb., 14 May 1824.
  • 18. LMA ACC/1302/201; E. Wood, ‘Col. Thomas Wood’, Brecon and Radnor Express, 4 July 1974.
  • 19. Norf. RO, Blickling Hall mss, Lord to Lady Londonderry, 14, 29 Dec. 1822, Hardinge to Londonderry, 24 Jan. 1823.
  • 20. The Times, 14, 30 Apr. 1823.
  • 21. Londonderry mss (Aspinall transcripts), Londonderry to Camden, 18 July 1823.
  • 22. Maybery mss 6553-5.
  • 23. Ibid. 6557.
  • 24. NLW ms 21674 C, Rice Trevor to Lady Frances Fitzroy, 26, 31 Aug. [Sept.] 1824.
  • 25. Maybery mss 6558; Cambrian, 1, 8 Oct. 1825.
  • 26. Tredegar mss 137/314-315; Maybery mss 6916.
  • 27. Cambrian, 3, 10, 24 June; Hereford Jnl. 14, 21 June 1826.
  • 28. Cambrian, 30 Sept. 1826.
  • 29. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1357.
  • 30. Cambrian, 1, 15 Mar.; Hereford Jnl. 12 Mar. 1828.
  • 31. Cambrian, 23 May 1828.
  • 32. Durham CRO, Londonderry mss D/Lo/C83 (180); Wellington mss WP1/957/14; Arbuthnot Corresp. 110.
  • 33. Wellington mss WP1/1069/26.
  • 34. Hereford Jnl. 18 Feb.; Cambrian, 21, 28 Feb. 1829.
  • 35. Hereford Jnl. 4, 18 Mar.; Cambrian, 14 Mar. 1829.
  • 36. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 17 Mar.; Ellenborough Diary, i. 399; Cambrian, 28 Mar., 4 Apr. 1829.
  • 37. Derby mss 920 DER (14) 63.
  • 38. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 33-34.
  • 39. Wellington mss WP1/1029/23.
  • 40. Hereford Jnl. 22 Apr.; Cambrian, 25 Apr. 1829.
  • 41. PP (1829), ix. 381; Hereford Jnl. 22, 29 Apr.; Cambrian, 25 Apr. 1829.
  • 42. Glam. RO D/DA15/27.
  • 43. NRA 34425, ii. 95; Hereford Jnl. 9 Sept. 1829.
  • 44. Maybery mss 6564.
  • 45. Cambrian, 31 July 1830.
  • 46. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 242, 247; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 356, 359, 363-4.
  • 47. Cambrian, 10, 17, 24 July; Hereford Jnl. 14 July, 4, 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 48. Maybery mss 6566, 6567.
  • 49. Cambrian, 26 Mar., 16, 23 Apr.; Hereford Jnl. 16 Mar., 11 Apr.; Carmarthen Jnl. 22 Apr. 1831.
  • 50. Maybery mss 6929.
  • 51. Ibid. 6930.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Ibid. 6568.
  • 54. Ibid. 6568, 6751-6752; Cambrian, 23 Apr.; Hereford Jnl. 27 Apr. Mon. Merlin of 23 Apr. 1831 incorrectly included Wood in the minority.
  • 55. Maybery mss 6569-72, 6582-6583; 6753-7; Carmarthen Jnl. 29 Apr. Cambrian 30 Apr.; Hereford Jnl. 4 May 1831.
  • 56. Maybery mss 6574-6, 6931; Londonderry mss C83 (33); NLW, mân adnau 1341 A; NLW, Gwernyfed mss, bdle. 36, Wood to J. Jones, 4 July 1832; Carmarthen Jnl. 6, 13 May; Cambrian, 7, 14 May; Mon. Merlin, 7, 14 May 1831; G. Williams, Merthyr Rising, 97-99.
  • 57. The Times, 26 Apr., 12 May 1831.
  • 58. Maybery mss 2318.
  • 59. Grey mss, Taylor to Grey, 7 July 1831.
  • 60. Maybery mss 6580-6581.
  • 61. Ibid. 6584.
  • 62. Ibid. 6580-6581.
  • 63. Ibid. 6585; Mon. Merlin, 13 Aug. 1831.
  • 64. Cambrian, 22 Oct.; Mon. Merlin, 22 Oct.; Hereford Jnl. 26 Oct. 1831.
  • 65. Carmarthen Jnl. 30 Dec. 1831.
  • 66. M. Elsas, Iron in the Making, 219-20; NLW, Bute mss L75/16, 23.
  • 67. Maybery mss 6590; Carmarthen Jnl. 9 Mar.; Mon. Merlin, 10 Mar. 1832; Cambrian, 17, 24 Mar. 1832.
  • 68. Maybery mss 6591, 6592, 6935; Mon. Merlin, 24 Mar. 1832; LMA ACC/1302/202.
  • 69. Add. 40880, f. 534.
  • 70. Maybery mss 6597, 6601, 6603; Cambrian, 8 Dec.; Carmarthen Jnl. 21 Dec. 1832; Pol. Tracts, ‘Speeches of Mr. Gordon and Colonel Wood’ (1833).
  • 71. Tredegar mss 84/810; Add. 40485, f.230; Silurian, 4 July 1846.
  • 72. Croker Pprs. iii. 101; Wood, Letter to Lord John Russell from a Member of the 1817 Committee; E. Poole, Hist. Brec. 403.
  • 73. LMA ACC/1302/136-8; IR26/1404/284.
  • 74. Gent. Mag. (1860), i. 411; Ann. Reg. (1860), Chron. pp. 511-12.