Merioneth (UK Parliament constituency)


Merioneth (UK Parliament constituency)
Merioneth
Former County constituency
for the House of Commons
1542 (1542)1983 (1983)
Number of members one
Replaced by Clwyd South West and Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

Merioneth, sometimes called Merionethshire, was a constituency in North Wales established in 1542, which returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the English Parliament, and later to the Parliament of Great Britain and of the United Kingdom. It was abolished for the 1983 general election, when it was largely replaced by the new constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy.

Contents

History

Boundaries

The constituency consisted of the historic county of Merionethshire. Merioneth was always an almost entirely rural constituency, rocky and mountainous with grazing the only useful agricultural activity that could be pursued; quarrying was its other main economic mainstay. It was also a strongly Welsh-speaking area (a parliamentary paper in 1904 listed that just 6.2% of the population could only speak English, lower than in any other county in Wales), and by the 19th century was a stronghold of non-conformist religion.

Establishment

Like the rest of Wales, Merioneth was given the right to representation by the Act of Union 1536, and first returned an MP to the Parliament of 1542; however, unlike all the other Welsh counties, Merioneth had no towns sufficiently important in the 16th century to merit borough status, so the county MP was its only representative. The MP was chosen by the first past the post electoral system - when there was a contest at all, which was almost unheard of before the second half of the 19th century.

Franchise and political influences before the Reform Act

As in other county constituencies, the franchise until 1832 was defined by the Forty Shilling Freeholder Act, which gave the right to vote to every man who possessed freehold property within the county valued at £2 or more per year for the purposes of land tax; it was not necessary for the freeholder to occupy his land, nor even in later years to be resident in the county at all. Nevertheless, the electorate was small, probably only a few hundred, though the lack of contested elections make it impossible to be sure: at the 1774 election, the only one to go to a poll in the 18th century, exactly 600 votes were cast. By way of comparison, the population at the time of the 1831 census was about 34,500.

For more than a century before the Reform Act, Merioneth's representation was almost entirely monopolised by the Vaughan family of Corsygedol - they and the Wynns of Wynnstay, who supported them, were the two leading families of the county and the expense of a contested election was presumably seen as futile by any potential opposition candidates. When a magnate from outside the county, The Earl of Powis, did intervene in 1774, his candidate was roundly defeated. Since the Vaughans were not aligned with any of the great aristocratic interests of the rest of Wales, and were generally regarded as maintaining their independence, there was little partisan interest in dislodging them.

Survival as a constituency with low population

Although the franchise was somewhat extended under the Great Reform Act, Merioneth's registered electorate at the first post-Reform election was only 580. However, it seems that this considerably under-represented those who were eligible, and more voters could be induced to register by vigorous campaigning. The Liberation Society, a body aiming to maximise the non-conformist vote to achieve disestablishment of the church, was active in Merioneth and a number of other Welsh counties in the 1850s and 1860s, and between the elections of 1859 and 1865 Merioneth's electorate rose by 50%, from 1,091 to 1,527. But there was also a dramatic rise in the electorate between 1835 and 1837 (from 698 to 1,336), which is less easy to explain. Nevertheless, even with these occasional peaks, Merioneth was a small constituency by Welsh - let alone English - standards.

By the time of the 1911 census, the population of Merioneth was 46,849, and in other circumstances it would have been too small to survive as a separate constituency, but the physical geography meant that the inconvenience which would be caused to voters and MPs alike by combining it with a neighbouring county outweighed any arguments for mathematical equality of representation. In 1929, the first election at which all adult men and women had the vote, Merioneth's electorate was under 29,000, and it had fallen even further (to 27,619) by the time of the final (1979) election before the constituency was abolished, even with the extension of the franchise to 18-21 year olds in the 1960s.

Political character after the 1860s

The gentry returned unopposed as MPs in Merioneth's deferential days had often been Conservatives, but with the introduction of competitive party politics, Merioneth became one of the safest Liberal seats in Wales - mainly the effect of the high number of workers in the slate and limestone quarries round Ffestiniog and Corwen. With the foundation of the Labour Party, the seat became less safe, but the Liberals held it through the first half of the 20th century, losing it to Labour for the first time only in 1951 and remaining the main challengers for most of the next twenty years. However, with the emergence of Plaid Cymru as a political force, Merioneth was natural territory for the nationalists: they overtook the Liberals for second place behind Labour in 1970, and then captured the seat at the February 1974 election, one of the first two seats the party had won at a general election. They retained it comfortably in October 1974 and 1979.

Abolition

The constituency was finally abolished with effect from the 1983 general election, when the alignment of constituency boundaries with the revised Welsh county boundaries necessitated a change. The Boundary Commission's original proposals would have united Merioneth with English-speaking Conwy on the North Wales coast, and would almost certainly have extinguished Plaid Cymru's chances of holding the seat, but after a public enquiry much more modest changes were adopted. The bulk of the electorate formed the core of the new Meirionnydd Nant Conwy constituency, joined by only around 5,000 voters from outside the old county, while about 3,000 voters in that part of Merionethshire which had been placed in Clwyd rather than Gwynedd moved to the new Clwyd South West constituency.

Members of Parliament

MPs 1542–1640

  • 1542 Edward Stanley [1]
  • 1545 Rhys Vaughan [1]
  • 1547 Lewis ap Owen [1]
  • 1553 (Mar) Lewis ap Owen [1]
  • 1553 (Oct) John Salesbury [1]
  • 1554 (Apr) Lewis ap Owen [1]
  • 1554 (Nov) Lewis ap Owen [1]
  • 1555
  • 1558 Ellis Price [1]
  • 1559 (Jan) John Wyn ap Cadwaladr[2]
  • 1563 (Jan) Ellis Price [2]
  • 1571 Hugh Owen / John Salesbury [2]
  • 1572 John Lewis Owen [2]
  • 1584 (Nov) Cadwaladr Price [2]
  • 1586 Robert Lloyd [2]
  • 1588 (Nov) Robert Salusbury [2]
  • 1593 Griffith Nanney [2]
  • 1597 (Sep) Thomas Myddelton / John Vaughan [2]
  • 1601 (Oct) Robert Lloyd [2]
  • 1604-1611: Edward Herbert
  • 1614: Ellis Lloyd
  • 1621-1622: William Salisbury
  • 1624: Henry Wynn
  • 1625: Henty Wynn
  • 1626: Edward Vaughan
  • 1628-1629: Richard Vaughan
  • 1629–1640: No Parliaments convened

MPs 1640–1983

Year Member Party
April 1640 Henry Wynn
November 1640 William Price Royalist
February 1644 Price disabled from sitting - seat vacant
1646 Roger Pope
1647 John Jones
1653 Merioneth was not represented in the Barebones Parliament
1654 John Vaughan
1656 Colonel John Jones [3]
January 1659 Lewis Owen
May 1659 Merioneth was not represented in the restored Rump [4]
April 1660 Edmund Meyricke
1661 Henry Wynn
1673 William Price
1679 Sir John Wynn
1681 Sir Robert Owen
1685 Sir John Wynn
1695 Hugh Nanney
1701 Richard Vaughan
1734 William Vaughan Independent
1768 John Pugh Pryse
1774 Evan Lloyd Vaughan
1792 Sir Robert Williames Vaughan Tory
1836 Richard Richards Conservative
1852 William Watkin Edward Wynne Conservative
1865 William Robert Maurice Wynne Conservative
1868 David Williams Liberal
1870 Samuel Holland Liberal
1885 Henry Robertson Liberal
1886 Thomas Edward Ellis Liberal
1899 Owen Morgan Edwards Liberal
1900 Sir Osmond Williams Liberal
Jan 1910 Sir Henry Haydn Jones Liberal
1945 Emrys Roberts Liberal
1951 Thomas William Jones Labour
1966 Will Edwards Labour
Feb 1974 Dafydd Elis Thomas Plaid Cymru
1983 constituency abolished: see Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of Parliament". http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/constituencies/merioneth. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of Parliament". http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/constituencies/merioneth. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  3. ^ Jones, brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, was summoned to the new Upper House for the second session of the Parliament, but no replacement as Merioneth's MP was elected
  4. ^ Although Jones was still alive in 1659, he is not listed as one of those who sat as a member of the restored Rump

Election results

General Election, 5–12 July 1945:Merionethshire[1]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Emrys Roberts 8,495 35.8
Labour H M Jones 8,383 35.4
Conservative C P Hughes 4,374 18.5
Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 2,448 10.3
Majority 112 0.4
Turnout 82.2
Liberal hold Swing
General Election, 23 February 1950:Merionethshire[2]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Emrys Roberts 9,647 38.8
Labour O Parry 8,577 34.5
Conservative J F Williams-Wynne 4,374 18.5
Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 2,754 11.0
Majority 1,070 4.3
Turnout 88.8
Liberal hold Swing
General Election, 25 October 1951:Merionethshire[3]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Thomas William Jones 10,505 43.0
Liberal Emrys Roberts 9,457 38.6
Conservative W Geraint O Morgan 4,505 18.4
Majority 1,048 4.3
Turnout 87.3
Labour gain from Liberal Swing

References

Sources

  • The BBC/ITN Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies (Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services, 1983)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [1]
  • Matthew Cragoe, Culture, Politics, and National Identity in Wales 1832-1886 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885 (2nd edition, Aldershot: Parliamentary Research Services, 1989)
  • F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949 (Glasgow: Political Reference Publications, 1969)
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • J E Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • Henry Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910 (London: Macmillan, 1967)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Robert Waller, The Almanac of British Politics (1st edition, London: Croom Helm, 1983)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "M" (part 2)

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