As a young man Bailey walked from Yorkshire to Merthyr to join his uncle's business and he learned the trade so well that he inherited a quarter share of the Cyfarthfa business from Richard Crawshay on the latter's death. Wishing to go into business on his own he sold his share of the Cyfarthfa works in 1813 for £20,000 and purchased the old iron works at Nantyglo which he successfully revived. Assisted by his brother Crawshay Bailey he also took over the Beaufort ironworks. He purchased estates in Brecknock, Radnorshire, Herefordshire and Glamorgan, including the Glanusk estate where he retired to the life of a landed gentleman, leaving his brother to manage the ironworks. He was created a baronet in 1852 and was M.P. for Worcester City, then Breconshire between 1847 and 1858. He also served as Deputy Lieutenant of the county. He died in 1858, his grandson Joseph Russell Bailey succeeding to the baronetcy.
As major landowners the family had considerable influence on the social and political life of the area and held many public offices. Sir Joseph Russell Bailey served as Sheriff for Breconshire in 1864 and Lord Lieutenant in 1875. He was a Justice of the Peace and M.P. for Hereford for many years and served locally as Chairman of the Crickhowell Board of Guardians and was elected as a County Councillor for Llangattock on the newly formed Breconshire County Council in 1888. He was created Lord Glanusk in January 1899 and died in 1906.
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