06 May 2024
Blackguard & Demagogues

Blackguard & Demagogues



On the south wall of St Catwg’s church Cadoxton, John Edwards Vaughan is commemorated with an impressive memorial tablet which has a coffin in relief.  It records the facts that he was a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament for the County of Glamorgan and, although of Rheola, that he died at his house in Regent Street, London and is buried in Lambeth Church.  He was baptised In the Church of St Mary, Lambeth on 29th March 1772, the son of John Edwards and his wife Catherine – a fact that would be used to challenge him later in life.  Edwards senior, an engineer and inventor, had his son articled in 1788 to Hugh White of the Inner Temple with the result that he was admitted as an attorney of the King's Bench in 1793.  Edwards senior, whose residence was Belvedere House, Vine Street, Lambeth, purchased the Rheola and Hendreallwn farms in 1799 for which he paid the princely sum of 3,000 guineas.  He subsequently engaged John Nash (the architect who is remembered for his work on Buckingham Palace, Regent's Park and Regent Street, to name but a few of his illustrious works) to design the country house that is Rheola, and which was built sometime between 1811 and 1813 [Rheola House was illustrated by Thomas Hornor who advertised his pending pictorial survey of Wales in The Cambrian newspaper in 1814].

Through advantageous marriages and inheritances Edwards junior, of Red Lion Square and King’s Bench Walk, London, substantially increased his wealth which he had achieved as a parliamentary solicitor.  In 1799 he married, in St Catwg’s church, Ann Williams, the daughter and sole heiress of solicitor and estate manager Thomas Williams of Cwrt Herbert.   Williams died in 1802 followed by his daughter in 1807 and in that same year Edwards remarried to Sarah, widow of James Dalton of Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London and daughter of Daniel Parkin, cordwainer and his wife Sarah Barwis.  Sarah had three children with Dalton and two with Edwards.  Her children with Edwards were Nash Vaughan Edwards and Jessie Edwards born at their residence in Bloomsbury. 

In 1815 The Cambrian newspaper reported the death of Thomas Barnes [Barwis] ‘at his house in Wandsworth, Surrey, the uncle of Mrs Edwards, of Rheola, Glamorgan, on whom his immense property devolves.’ 

Following the death in 1817 of Benjamin Hall, the MP for Glamorgan, Edwards junior offered himself as a candidate for parliament on the platform that a businessman should represent the County of Glamorgan.  Whilst he had the support of many notable gentlemen he was detested by those who did not share his political views.  Having failed on this occasion to be elected, Edwards put his name forward again in 1818 when his electioneering tactics were radical to say the least.   The diaries of Lewis Weston Young, who was foremost amongst his opponents, make very interesting, if somewhat biased, reading of the shenanigans employed by Edwards.  Purporting to be a true Welshman and calling himself Edwards y Cymro, the opposition countered by stating that his grandfather came to Glamorgan from Staffordshire and his baptismal certificate from Lambeth was reproduced as a poster.  Dillwyn writes in his diary that;

‘Edwards is engaging a numerous Squad of all sorts of Lawyers and all the Coaches and Chaises in the County and he goes on throwing money in every possible manner.’

One of Edwards’ staunchest supporters was William Vaughan of Lanelay, himself a Barrister at Law and Marshal and Registrar of the Great Sessions for the counties of Glamorgan, Brecon, and Radnor.

Sir John Nicholl described Edwards as revolutionary having set tenants against landlords.  At the Mackworth Arms Inn, Neath, Edwards and a friend verbally and physically assaulted two Freeholders who refused to promise their votes for Edwards.  An unimaginable set events was to follow with Dillwyn and Edwards accusing each other of improper behaviour.

Edwards was on the verge of being elected unopposed as the other two candidates had withdrawn from the field; both candidates believed they had split the Country Gentlemen handing victory to Edwards as their supporters could not be persuaded to transfer allegiance.  Some Freeholders convened a meeting at the Gnoll

 ‘to ascertain whether it was yet too late to bring some proper person forward to oppose Edwards’ 

It was decided that the only option was to appeal to Sir Christopher Cole to re-enter the contest with a pledged of support of £5,000.00 [Cole had confessed he had no money to throw away in a contest].  Having met with Cole, Dillwyn sent out several letters informing the recipients that

‘the Gentlemen of the County are all coming forward with a determination to support Sir Christopher Cole and to inform all our Friends of this circumstance.’

Edwards was informed that something was afoot, and that letters had been despatched to Dillwyn’s agents, one of which lived at Ynysygerwn.  Edwards decided to pay the agent a visit but on his way met the agent’s son, who seeing that Edwards was in a rush borrowed a horse to return home.  When Edwards arrived at the farm, he was informed that the agent was not at home.  When the lad confirmed that a letter had arrived for his absent father, Edwards persuaded the lad to bring it to him.  After opening the letter, Edwards drove away with the letter and the borrowed horse and with the lad in hot pursuit; Edwards had the letter copied before the lad could retrieve it.  Both Edwards and William Vaughan read its contents to crowds who repeatedly cried shame against the Sheriff.  What followed was a public exchange of claim and counter-claim of miss-doing.  Edwards claimed Dillwyn, as Sheriff, had acted illegally and brought shame upon the office of Sheriff by openly supporting one candidate over another.  On the other hand, what right had Edwards to make enquires of Dillwyn’s letters, let alone read and copy them?   Edwards’s tactics appeared to have paid off, for on polling day Dillwyn was dismayed to find that neither Cole nor any of his supporters were present.  In the end Edwards was elected unopposed and as Sheriff it was Dillwyn’s duty to declare Edwards duly elected as the Representative of Glamorgan on 29th June 1818.  According to newspaper reports, on Edwards’s first visit to Swansea as County Representative ‘an immense crowd cheered as the new MP was chaired through the principal streets of the town before departing for London.’  Edwards’s election campaign had cost him an estimated £12,000.

In October 1818 Edwards’s father died at his home Belvedere House, Lambeth, bequeathing ‘all and singular my real and personal Estates and Effects Whatsoever and Wheresoever unto and for the use of my dear son of Bloomsbury Square…’ while his wife Catherine was to benefit from the annual proceeds generated from these estates.

Controversy and discrimination continued to dog Edwards long after his appointment as County Representative.  Edwards at the time of his nomination in 1818 had been a practising solicitor which would bar him from being elected.   He pledged that he would apply to the Courts of King’s Bench and Common Pleas to have his name removed from their rolls.   In February 1819 a rebuttal to a previously published article in The Cambrian newspaper stated that Mr John Edwards had not been struck off the rolls; he had not in fact applied to be removed until the November of 1818.  In August Edwards enjoyed a four day cruise with the Prince Regent only to be snubbed in September when, at the Grand Jury Dinner, the customary toast to the County Member was overlooked.  John Edwards’s hour of triumph was however short lived.  The death of King George III on 29th January 1820 resulted in Parliament being dissolved on 29th February 1820.  An early opportunity had presented itself for the principal gentlemen of the county to rid themselves of the “low lived blackguard!”

Shortly after the election of Edwards in 1818, Dillwyn recorded in his diary that at a meeting of Sir Christopher Cole and his friends, it was agreed immediately to raise a fund by subscription ‘to support the independence of the county and thus to prevent our representatives from being again carried off by the mere weight of Purse.’  The treasurers of this “coalition of wealth” were Henry John Grant of Gnoll Castle and the ironmaster Richard Hill of Llandaff House.  Eventually a total of £19,700 would be made available for election expenditure. 

Even before the candidates for the 1820 election had declared, rumour and counter rumour were spreading through the county with accusations of impropriety requiring public rebuttal.  The candidates for this election were the same three as at the last: Sir Christopher Cole, John Edwards and William Booth Grey.  Cole’s election campaign appears to have suffered the most physical abuse.  Whilst canvasing in Swansea market his supporters were infiltrated by opposition supporters with the result that fighting broke out between the two sets.  On another occasion, in Neath, stones were thrown at Dillwyn, being a supporters of Cole.  Dillwyn chronicled in his diary ‘I was severely struck on the Thigh, but pursued and succeeded in detecting the offender.’  It appears that “Coleites” were fair game with assaults taking place all over the County of Glamorgan.  Dillwyn writes that he was assaulted most violently in Merthyr by a party of Crawshays, but [miraculously] escaped without injury.  The election commenced at Bridgend on the 16th March 1820, where all three candidates were proposed and seconded and the bribery oath administered in English and Welsh.  On the first day and second days of polling Edwards came marginally out on top but Booth lagged so far behind he retired from the race.  When Edwards made his big push against Cole with “a great force of tenantry brought to vote,” Booth’s supporters also appeared in numbers to vote for Cole.  After nine days of polling Cole topped the ballot [25th March] and Edwards retired from the race – “A Junta of Demagogues” had prevailed against a low lived blackguard.  Edwards’ brief spell in the House of Commons did not set the house on fire as he had promised.  He spoke only once when presenting a petition on behalf of William Crawshay appealing against a tax on coal.

Edwards may have been overwhelmed at the time by his political defeat but he soon put it behind him; his social calendar was one distraction.  In 1822 Edwards was nominated for the Office of Sheriff of Glamorganshire to which he was appointed for the year of 1823.  A wealthy professional Edwards obviously wanted more in terms of social prestige.  His circle of acquaintances included King George IV with who he privately dined and gifted Providence pineapples grown at Rheola.  Because of the enormous cost in equipment and labour required to grow pineapples in a temperate climate, using hothouses called pineries, pineapples soon became a symbol of wealth.  In October 1826 Edwards presented the King with the largest pineapple ever grown in the kingdom. 

In the summer of 1825 fears had persisted in the circles of Glamorgan’s gentlemen that Edwards planned to make another attempt on the county at the next general election.  However, he was entreated, along with Richard Williams (a London banker), to stand for Wells in Somerset, on the independents’ ticket against the sitting Members.  He and Williams were defeated in the election alleging bribery and intimidation had been used against their supporters.  They also alleged that the mayor had rejected the claims of legitimate voters while allowing the claims of others with no legal right to vote.  A list of 67 individuals who had, allegedly, been improperly permitted to vote was prepared to substantiate their case, but the election committee decided for the sitting Members.

Away from politics Edwards had invested money in John Nash’s projects, including the ill-fated Regent’s Canal Company to which he was Clerk/Solicitor.  Edwards’s investments included the construction of what was to become Wenlock Basin.  It was opened at first by accident in August 1826 when the dam across the entrance gave way and water flooded into the new basin. 

In June 1829 newspapers reported the death of William Vaughan, of Lanelay, a long-time supporter of Edwards who had died at Edwards’ house in Regent Street, London.  Edwards and his children were beneficiaries of Vaughan and so in August that year, by Royal Licence, Edwards “in testimony of his grateful respect to the memory of Mr Vaughan, late of Lanelay, do take and use the surname of Vaughan, in addition to and after that of Edwards.”  Now known as John Edwards Vaughan of Rheola and Lanelay, he made another attempt to represent Wells.  This time he was partnered by John Lee Lee [formerly John Lee Hanning - he assumed the surname Lee in place of Hanning under the will of his uncle, Edward Lee].  During the severe election contest of 1830 Edwards Vaughan was accused of having shady business connections and electors were urged ‘not to be bought or sold for the convenience or profit of a lawyer.’  However, on this occasion Edwards Vaughan and Lee were returned well ahead of the opposition.  Poor health is said to have dogged Edwards Vaughan and that he had suffered a fit of apoplexy accompanied with a loss of sight.  His ill health prevented him from taking much part in parliamentary proceedings forcing him to take an absence from the House.

Rheola House c.1845 (12years after the death of John Edwards Vaughan)

Copyright - V&A Collection - taken by pioneer photographer Rev. Richard Calvert Jones

The social life of the Edwards Vaughan family continued to flourish, but not without its drama.  In February 1831, whilst out with the a local hunt in Ham Green, Buckinghamshire his horse, while in the act of jumping a gate, touched the top bar of the gate which immediately flew open.  The result was horse and rider came to ground with Edwards Vaughan pinned under the horse.  He remounted the horse but within a few minutes fell from the horse and was taken ‘senseless and nearly lifeless to the nearest public house.’ A week after his accident he was reported as making a gradual recovery.  Later that year Queen Adelaide held her second Drawing Room and Court where Miss Edwards Vaughan [Jessy] was presented by her mother.  At the same time Edwards Vaughan attended His Majesty’s Levee which was followed in June by Their Majesties’ Ball which the family attended. Edwards Vaughan’s parliamentary career was not plain sailing.  Wellington supporters had regarded him as one of their ‘friends,’ but his voting surprised many a member.  He voted against the Reform Bill which would broaden the franchise property qualification in the counties to include small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers.  Following the passage of the Reform Act of 1832 parliament was once again dissolved.  Edwards Vaughan announced his intention to stand for election to the next parliament as representative of Wells.  However, on the first day of polling finding himself so far in the minority and suffering extreme bodily affliction, through his agent, Mr Lyons, he addressed the Electors and retired from the contest.  John Edwards Vaughan died, at his house in Regent Street, London, on 9th August 1833 after a long and painful illness.  His body was interred in the Church of St Mary, Lambeth, London, on 15th August 1833. 

He was survived by his wife and two children who have stories of their own to tell.


Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, Volume 2.

The History of Parliament online.

West Glamorgan Archive Service

Parish records.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - 28th April 1796

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