The Morgans - An Existential Crisis? PART 2:



Les James explores the threats faced by the Tredegar House family in their ‘ANNUS HORRIBILIS 1831’

As a young soldier, Sir Charles Morgan had faced revolutionaries on the battlefields of the American colonies. He had also come across such radicals in London during the 1790s. 1831 was a year that fulfilled all his fears.

Rumbustious electioneering in Newport set a tone of disturbance that erupted in Merthyr at the start of June and spread across the coalfield. The hanging of Dic Penderyn in Cardiff (13 August) did not contain discontent. The late October riots in English towns, which culminated with the burning of Bristol city centre, brought further agitation via Newport into the coalfield. Magistrates and army officers, notably Colonel Love, based at Cardiff were fearful of further outbreaks in south Wales.

The year ended with a ‘standoff’ in the Merthyr district between colliers and employers, and a ‘Scotch Cattle’ campaign that lasted four years, building an organisation, nine thousand strong, that dominated the coalfield from Hirwaun to Pontypool during the 1830s.


In 1831 the British economy was at the depths of the worst depression within the 35 years of wage deflation that lasted from 1812 -1848. That year the country was suffering from a severe weather period that had lasted since late 1829. Personal debt and hunger, high prices and taxes caused grievance amongst the middling as well as the working classes

Seeing John Frost ride high that Spring and Summer on the wave of ‘Reform’ must have been highly distressing for Sir Charles.


For the first time since the 1680s no Morgan sat in Parliament for Monmouthshire. (see Part 1 CHARTISM MAG no.17) Sir Charles had been forced to forfeit his county seat to a Whig opponent - William Adams-Williams. For the first time since the 1780s the Whigs, were in revival. They had beaten the Marquis of Worcester, the younger son of the Duke of Beaufort for the Monmouth Boroughs seat. The efforts made by John Hodder Moggridge (1771-1834) to rebuild the Whig cause in Monmouthshire had finally worked. The 1831 victory was the fruit of Moggridge’s audacious, albeit unsuccessful, bid to break unchallenged Beaufort entitlement in 1820.


And the surprising fact that no doubt irked Sir Charles Morgan and his sons was that this Whig revival owed much to both John Frost and Thomas Prothero. Frost had never counted in their tribe, but Prothero had always been for Sir Charles ‘his man’. In fact, he had employed Prothero since1807 to keep such men as Frost under control. He had no choice but to sack Prothero in 1831, when he sided with the cause of ‘Reform’ and once again supported the Whig candidate, convincing Sir Charles that he had no choice but to give up his seat in Parliament.


Prothero nominated and Frost seconded John Moggridge, when he stood in the 1820 borough election. Now in 1831 at Newport, John Frost and his supporters held sway in the streets and Thomas Prothero fixed the votes. It was the voters in Newport who took the seat from Sir Charles’s allies, the Beauforts. The majority of the votes cast for Sir Benjamin Hall were from Newport. He received few votes in Monmouth and Usk.


It became apparent in 1831 that although the Tredegar Estate of the Morgans possessed 40,000 acres stretching from the coastal mudflats of the Rhymney and Usk estuaries northwards to the Brecknock mountains, the family lacked sufficient ‘retainers’ in their heartland territory of the coalfield and in their traditional ‘bailiwick’ of Newport. Even in Breconshire, there were unfavourable election results, an indication that mutiny was in the air.


Sir Charles’s father, Gould Morgan had in collaboration with his son-in-law Samuel Homfray (1762-1822) and his partners (Fothergill and Monkhouse) entered a partnership in 1800 to establish an ironworks on the estate’s land at the northern end of the Sirhowy valley. Named Tredegar ironworks, in honour of the family, this enterprise gave them a strong position in the north of Bedwellty parish and strong connections with Merthyr, where Homfray was involved in the running of the Penydarren works (1784, until 1813) and had very close links with London banks. His son, Samuel Homfray, junior took over the business and worked very closely with his uncle, Sir Charles to build links with the family’s Newport business, the Tredegar Wharf Company.


Thomas Prothero had also established ‘Charlestown’ at the northern end of Moggridge’s ‘Blackwood,’ but Moggridge’s alliances particularly with the Llanarth (Jones) estate meant that a great swathe of the central Sirhowy valley that had in the 17th century belonged to the Penllwynsarph Morgans, no longer owed allegiance to the Morgan family.


Despite ‘industrialisation’, Monmouthshire, even within the coalfield, remained in 1831 a rural society run by its landowners, who maintained their power through a hierarchy of retainers employed in their households, home farms and estate management and a body of content and loyal renting tenants. Gone the days when these men were expected to fight for their master, but they were expected to turn out on election day, at visitations, at family and special celebrations with their own families to show their respect and support. Usually on such occasions they were rewarded with food and fun. Sir Charles had a good reputation. He was assiduous in attending to the interests of his tenant farmers. He was certainly held in high regard amongst the household at Tredegar and the tenants of Wentloog and the lower Ebbw valley (Bassaleg to Risca). Further away from the hub of Tredegar, we can suspect there was a different degree of fealty. In many parts of the coalfield, many of the farmers were copy holders and commoners, claiming traditional rights relating to land use. Taking coal and timber from their land became a contentious issue, when faced with the legal chicanery of Thomas Prothero. The problem was that as he aged, Sir Charles allowed ‘his man’ Prothero free rein. Sir Charles much preferred to visit the rural parts of his estate around Bassaleg, talk with tenant farmers and promote the breeding of short horn cattle, than set foot in Newport or the coalfield.


For a large proportion of the population were not retainers and the greatest number of these lived in the coalfield and Newport. The county’s population of about 45,500 in 1801 had expanded to over 98,000 in 1831 and in that year, the nine Monmouthshire coalfield parishes reached 40,000. Six of the nine coalfield parishes of western Monmouthshire (1) , together with the port of Newport, had one of the fastest growing population in mainland Britain. These burgeoning communities posed a threat to the political status quo.


Since purchasing in 1810, 450 acres in the Sirhowy valley that had once been part of Pwllwynsarph estate, John Hodder Moggridge established Woodfield Park estate. He developed a coal mine in the district, supported three ‘model’ villages - Ynnysddu, Trelyn and ‘Blackwood’ and was partner in a number of Monmouthshire businesses, including the Ponthir tinplate works at Caerleon. In his enterprises, Moggridge worked closely with the Newport attorney, Thomas Prothero, who through his legal work for the Tredegar estate had an intimate knowledge of the business opportunities in the coalfield. Politically, Moggridge brought together a significant alliance of anti-Tory landowners.

The Tredegar Morgans, once Whigs themselves, abandoned the cause in the 1780s, but there were still significant Monmouthshire families of great wealth with longstanding loyalties. The victorious Whig candidates of 1831 owned important estates - Adams Willliams held the Llangibby castle estates and Sir Benjamin Hall, son of a Glamorgan Whig MP, was in possession of the Llanover and Abercarn estates.

Capel Hanbury Leigh (1776-1861) of Pontypool House was the anchor of Monmouthshire Whiggism. This was a role he inherited with the death of his elder brother in 1795. Pioneers of iron and tinplate production, the Hanbury family had since the 16th century built an estate that dominated the Afon Llwdd valley and extended into the Ebbw valleys. Numerous coal, iron and tinplate proprietors had Whiggish tendencies and favoured such causes as political reform, slave emancipation and abolition of the Corn Laws. Moggridge was amongst those who campaigned against ‘Truck’ (Company shops). The Quaker Harfords of the Sirhowy and Ebbw Vale works were loyal followers. By 1829/30, the Whigs gained the support of Roman Catholic, Philllip Jones, owner of the extensive Llanarth estate, with coalmines in the Sirhowy and land in Newport, notably most of the wharves on the west bank from the Town Pill to Pillgwenlly.


The events of 1831 demonstrate that Newport was slipping away from Tredegar estate control. Three decades previously, matters were very different. Sir Charles acted as Recorder and nominated members for the Borough Corporation. In 1807, he appointed Thomas Prothero, his own estate agent, as the Town Clerk and he kept a firm grip on town affairs at a time when Newport’s port facilities were experiencing rapid development. Ostensibly, Prothero promoted Sir Charles’ interests, in reality Prothero always had his own agenda, using his position, to feather his own nest. Understandably, Frost had been wary of Prothero since they first met in 1807. By 1810, they were diehard opponents, as Frost championed the interests of the Newport Burgesses against Morgan seigneurial authority.


Frost v Prothero


Their political embrace in 1820 was a short lived matter of convenience. As soon as the election was over they both needed to disentangle and distance themselves from each other. Prothero had done his master’s bidding. He had thwarted Moggridge’s ambition to take Sir Charles’ county seat. He now set about his ‘day job’ - he had been retained by Sir Charles to deal with such men as Frost and he was definitely looking for ways to compromise the position of the Frost family. And Frost anxious not to show that he had become one of Prothero’s creatures, took the bait.


Convinced that Prothero had deliberately mis-advised his wife’s uncle to cut her out of his will and having seen the distress Prothero caused his own uncle, Frost launched a vitriolic pamphlet attack on Prothero regarding his public activities. He dangerously muddled personal and public grievance. Prothero took matters to court and won a libel action against Frost that resulted in Frost serving six months imprisonment in Cold Bath Gaol. Prothero thought this a victory, but it proved to be more of a draw, for when Frost returned from gaol, he was hailed by large numbers of the town’s people as a hero. Thanks to his capable wife and daughters the family business flourished. A decade later, Frost’s stand against a bully was not forgotten. However, as demanded by Sir Charles, Thomas Prothero successfully kept Frost in check and prevented him from getting a place on the Corporation or on the Magisterial Bench.


Frost considered Prothero to be corrupt. Prothero was not averse to finding loop holes in documents and putting pressure on tenants or business rivals. Placing people in his debt was his regular practice. In comparison Frost had imagined Moggridge to be something of a visionary, but during the 1820 election, he saw his hero at closer quarters. The following years he publicly criticised his corrupt practices as a magistrate. He realised that Moggridge was in Prothero’s pocket. The ‘scales’ had dropped. Moggridge owed Prothero money.


During 1831-32, Frost studiously avoided sharing any platform with Prothero against the Beaufort interest, but he could not escape cooperating with Prothero’s latest puppet, Thomas Phillips


The Merthyr Rising and its aftermath

During the General Election, the most serious disturbance occurred at the beginning of June in Merthyr Tydfil, which athough the largest community in Wales, lacked parliamentary representation. Merthyr had no say in the Glamorgan borough election. That was the decision of a small quiescent electorate in two divisions - Cardiff, Llantrissant, Cowbridge and the Swansea, Neath, Aberavon, Kenfig, Lougher.

Lacking borough status, the political avenues pursued at Newport were not open to the Merthyr crowd. The only vent for their anger was to exercise Cyfiawndwr - communal justice - and appeal to ‘traditional rights’. The notion held sway that the authorities could and should maintain the ‘just’ price’, protecting the public by regulation from price vagaries

Fed up with confiscation of personal property by bailiffs in lieu of debts, a crowd gathered as Lewis Lewis (known as Lewsyn yr Heliwr) demanded and retrieved his tin box. He then proceeded to another business premise and successfully demanded the return of a neighbour’s property. Success bred success and with an ever growing crowd, Lewis Lewis conducted a day long tour of the district returning property to ‘rightful’ owners.


That same day men from the Cyfartha district, adopting Scotch Cattle methods, marched to the next valley and trashed Fothergill’s company shop in Aberdare. And this heady day ended with a furious destruction of the records at the office of the ‘Court of Requests’


The following day, thousands gathered outside the Castle Inn where the High Sheriff of Glamorgan and the magistrates were meeting. The crowd was demanding a reduction in the price of bara caws (bread and cheese) and an increase in their wages. Again, they were appealing to tradition - in earlier times it had been common practice for protesters to take their market place grievances, such as a fair price, to the magistrates for arbitration. They found that the building was under the protection of a detachment of the 93rd Highlanders, hastily summoned from Brecon.


 A group selected from the crowd went in to petition the magistrates. Negotiations were short lived. Matters unresolved, they were told to go home. Battle ensued and the soldiers fired on the crowd, resulting in at least 16 deaths. The magistrates and military retreated to Penydarren house, leaving. the crowd holding the town and preventing the military for nearly week. The ironmasters of Merthyr had been taken by surprise and the magistrates of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire were in a state of panic. There were militant flashpoints across the Heads of the Valleys from Hirwaun to Blaenafon. Unrest was reported as far afield as the Varteg, Abersychan, and Pontypool works where the workers were standing out for increased wages. Neighbouring colliers were also in a very restless state.


The lack of any obvious organisation at Merthyr and consequently no means to immediately raise support from the ‘iron towns’ and colliers of Monmouthshire, gave time for the military to reorganise, gather reinforcements and see off at Dowlais the thousands that did arrive days later from Monmouthshire.


In the wake of the Rising at Merthyr, Merthyr became enmeshed in a rapidly developing ‘lock out’ imposed by the employers of the colliers. Simultaneously, magistrates reported the sprouting of Political Unions - Merthyr, Tredegar and Pontypool were the ones with most traction; all were significant towns without direct Parliamentary representation. Parliamentary Reform was now on the ever broadening agenda of popular demands and to the alarm of the authorities, the Scotch Cattle in 1832 welded the franchise to their workplace demands.


Colonel Love, in charge at Cardiff and his superior, Sir Digby Mackworth, who lived at Llanhenock, near Newport had secret meetings to discuss the presence of the National Association for the Protection of Labour (NAPL) and its leading agitator ‘William Twiss’ present in Merthyr and the coalfield prior to the Rising and most certainly in its aftermath. Undoubtedly the demands of the local colliers, their espousal of mass picketing and their attempts to establish lodges, chimed with those of this nascent union organisation (1830-32) a forerunner of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union (GNCTU) to which the Tolpudddle ‘martyrs’ later belonged. The people of Merthyr were becoming enmeshed in a ‘lock out’ imposed by their employers, who feared the development of secret organisations, whose members engaged in intimidation, such as swearing blood curdling oaths of allegiance. By November 12th, the Whig editor of the Cambrian had succumbed to these claims, publishing details of the initiation ceremony of the collier’s union. He was obviously convinced by the October disturbances


Disturbances across Severnside and south Wales

On 7 October, the House of Lords rejected the second version of a Reform Bill, Within days, there riots at Derby and Nottingham, mass meetings of thousands organised in Birmingham, Bristol and London, followed by more riots in Tiverton, Yeovil, Blandford, Sherborne, Exeter, Leicestershire, Bath, Worcester, Coventry, Warwick culminating with the so called Bristol ‘riots’ over the weekend 29 to 31 October 1831.


Although consistently described as ‘Riots’, current analysis undertaken by Roger Ball of the Bristol Radical History Group cogently argues that this was not random nor wanton outrage, but a crowd acting with strategic accuracy, targeting key buildings within the affluent districts of central Bristol. His thesis indicates that this was a movement with leadership and direction.


The evidence suggests that within Bristol there appears to have been greater premeditation and organisation and an application of strategy and tactics than hitherto acknowledged by most 20th century historians. Very importantly, it is evident that a communication network of resistance was operating throughout Severnside. The Bristol crowd were not mere copy cats of the recent outbreaks of violence in England, they were inspired by the June events at Merthyr when workers held a town and the military at bay for the best part of a week.


During the Bristol disturbances in the early hours of Monday 31st October a massive crowd gathered at Newport bridge to view the flames in the night sky. When Colonel Love arrived that morning from Cardiff with his company of infantry, they blocked his path. Some of the crowd attempted to cut the Bristol packet steamer ropes and prevent the vessel’s sequestration by the military. As he mentioned in despatches, Love had to order his men to force their way aboard. Although full details are not available, the incident can best be described as 'picket action', that proved very difficult for Col. Love, who reported (7 Nov TNA HO52/16) to the Home Secretary “very bad feeling among the lower class at Newport. The mob endeavoured to set the Steam Boat adrift, but failed.”


During the following week, there was clearly unrest in the town and that Saturday 5 November, the Monmouthshire Merlin (established 1829 in Monmouth) published the following alarming report:


We stop the Press to announce that a most alarming account has just reached us, of some incendiary fires having taken place near Newport. A commercial gentleman, who left that town yesterday, informs us, that at three o'clock in the morning he was awakened by an alarm of fire and he says the inhabitants were 'parading the streets during the whole night’. Being of a timid disposition, and unacquainted with the neighbourhood, he got up early and came off for Monmouth, without ascertaining the particulars. He understood that some stacks of corn and part of a farm house had been burnt. He saw the reflection of the fire, which appeared to be in the direction of the road from Newport to Cardiff.


A week later, these disturbances were alluded to in a report about recent incendiarism across south Wales. A rick was set alight in the riverside ‘slum’ land of Friars Field near the canal and river. (Cambrian 12 Nov 1831, p3):


On the morning of Friday last, between three and four o clock, the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, was alarmed by the cry of 'fire'; it proved to be a rick of hay stacked in a void piece of ground in Lanarth street, nearly in the centre of the town. The hay was the property of T. Gregory, an innkeeper. There cannot be a doubt but it was set on fire by the hand of an incendiary. By the prompt exertions of the respectable inhabitants and the firemen in having out the engine, little damage was done. Threats of fire have been spoken of here for some days past, and several individuals pointed out.”


Llanarth Street was just a short walk from Newport bridge. Many of the people living there, would have stood Sunday night on the bridge watching Bristol ablaze and doubtless were amongst the men blockading the quayside on Monday morning.


Days later Colonel Love returned with his company of infantry and on this occasion there was no attempt at direct action, the crowd assembled, simply ‘hissed’ the soldiers. Although there is no direct evidence, it seems that Frost had very likely yet again used his public esteem to keep the ‘crowd’ within the law. This act of defiance, unlike the previously attempted blockade, was recorded in the press.


We are concerned to hear that the 11th Regiment of Foot were hooted and hissed at Newport, on Monday last, when returning from Bristol, and where they had conducted themselves in so exemplary a manner as to obtain the thanks of that city, While this highly disgraceful manifestation emanated, no doubt, from the most low and ignorant of the inhabitants, it behoves every well wisher of his country to discountenance such proceedings. (The Cambrian, 12 November 1831, p. 3)


This story went unreported in the Merlin, until the 19th November, when the newspaper repeated word for word what was in the Cambrian the week before, without further comment.


Anthony Hill, ironmaster at the Plymouth works, located south of Merthyr town, was convinced that a meeting was planned for 7 November, when the men of Monmouthshire would unite with the men of Merthyr and simultaneously, solidarity meetings would occur in other places, to the west (Carmarthen) and to the east in Monmouthshire and beyond. They were known to have sent ‘delegates’ to raise support in other places. Hill demanded the return of Love and his troops form Bristol. He feared the Rising was in revival. Love arrived in Merthyr in the evening of Monday 7th November. He noted in his report that no meeting occurred.


That month the cause of Reform suffered a blow. Thomas Jones Phillips, Tory agent at Newport, won his case in the courts. Finding that many of Hall’s voters were ineligible, the court determined that the May election result should be turned over. The Marquis of Worcester took his seat in Parliament.


Since May’s election, Parliament had moved fast to pass an Anti-Truck Act making it illegal not to pay wages in coins. Over the Winter, coal owners were suggesting ways to deal with this obligation. On 7th February 1832, 150-200 men met on the mountainside near the Blaina works of Messrs. Russell and Brown. It was a month before the Truck Bill was due to come into operation. The management announced its intentions to reduce the wages by as much as six per cent while at the same time making advances in cash available to the workers three times a week. The ‘Bull’ ordered them to turn their coats and black their faces. The horn was blown and they headed for two targeted cottages


The Scotch Cattle had begun a ‘terror’ campaign that lasted the next four years.


Les James ©2019


In the next edition of CHARTISM eMAG no 19:

"The Scotch Cattle 1831-34"

"Great Reform Act 1832"


(1) See Census figures, p424, in Les James, ‘The Emergence of Mining Communities in South-East Wales during the Late Eighteenth Century and Early Nineteenth Centuries’ in Vom Bergau zum Industrierevier , edit Ekkehard Westermann, VSWG-Beiheft 115, ©1995 Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart.





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