Political and social background to the Newtown area in the first half of the nineteenth century

Along with the other towns of the upper Severn Valley, Newtown was a fast-growing industrial centre exploiting new technologies and the distribution advantages of the canals and turnpikes. By 1832 the switch of the flannel mart from Welshpool to Newtown confirmed the latter as the centre of this growing industry. Here new factories were springing up and a new manufacturing district was growing around the canal basin at Penygloddfa, though handloom weaving was still central to the industry. Despite the growth in this industry periodic fluctuations in the market and competition from other parts of Britain meant lean spells and hardship for those it employed.

1830ís returns of employees working in the Montgomeryshire woollen factories show that nearly three quarters of the hands were under 18 with conditions generally deplorable with a fourteen hour working day being common. Dr William Lutener of Dolerw reported on the poor safety record for children in the factories at this time and the dreadful domestic health and sanitary conditions they faced. The Poor Law of 1834 with its new network of workhouses like that at Caersws provided a focus for local resentment and friendly societies and political associations began to spring up in the county. Political power in the county rested in the hands of the great landowners Lord Clive and Charles Watkins Williams Wynn (two of the magistrates in the present case). They were totally out of sympathy with the local working population and alien to their way of life and little minded to campaign for better working conditions. Local MP Charles Watkins Williams Wynn voted even against the Reform Act of 1832 which later returns claimed did not give a single mechanic in the county the vote. The Chartist Movement provided an umbrella under which various organisations seeking reform could shelter, and a simple set of demands to meet the political and social aspirations of working people.

The rapid growth of the cloth towns and the poverty and poor conditions were matched by an increasing drunkenness and disorder with no regular police force to meet it. Local magistrates were anxious that increased political activity might add to the local lawlessness.

This was the Newtown in which the three young men Ned Edwards, Owen Parry and Richard Thomas lived.


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Text and documentation supplied by Powys County Council Archive Department