This exhibition is based around the Powysland Museum's collection of political propaganda. Dating mostly from the 1880 election the material shows the political division at the time between the Liberal politicians F. Hanbury Tracy and Stuart Rendell and their Conservative opponents Pryce Jones and C.W. Williams Wynn. If today's tabloid newspapers often seem to cross the line of libel and slander, this is nothing compared to the attacks carried out by the authors of these 19th century political verses on their opponents.
Britain’s internal politics were dominated by the two main political parties: The Tory or Conservative Party and The Whig or Liberal Party – the names changed in the 1850s. While The Tory Party represented the landed gentry, The Whigs spoke for traders and manufacturers. From 1800 to 1846 the Tories were mostly in control with Whig governments from 1806-1807, 1830-1834, 1835-1841 and 1846-1852. But in the second half of the century the two parties were in and out of power, each serving approximately 25 years in government.
At the beginning of the century only the upper classes had the vote. The 1832 Reform Act extended the voting franchise to middle class land owners. Political groups such as the Chartists continued to campaign for further improvements and these were introduced with the 1867 and 1884 Reform Acts, thus increasing the voting population and improving the democratic process.
Feelings at election time could run high, especially among working men who were not allowed a vote of any kind. In 1841 the Rev. Evors of Newtown Hall switched his allegience to the local Conservatives and his home was attacked by a mob. The local special constables called in a number of riflemen and in the ensuing struggle one special constable was mortally wounded.
Throughout the nineteenth century Montgomeryshire sent two MPs to Parliament. One represented the “Montgomery Boroughs”: Montgomery, Welshpool, Llanfyllin, Newtown, Llanidloes and Machynlleth, and the other the rest of the county. For most of the century both seats were held by members of the great landowning families of the County, or their nominees.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century very few people had a vote. The 1832 Reform Act extended the franchise to about one in five of the male population. The two decades following that Act saw much agitation for extending male suffrage, particularly through the Chartists movement, which was particularly strong in Newtown but perhaps better remembered for the disturbances they caused in Llanidloes.
As the parliamentary candidates were men who, through their ownership of property had the ability to control the daily lives of the electorate, voters had to decide whether they should vote for the policies advocated by a particular candidate or to vote for the man who would do them the most good - or harm. Before the Ballot Act of 1872 which brought in the secret vote, your landlord would always know for whom you had voted; a powerful incentive to do as you were told.
At election times there was always a fear of violent behaviour. Sometimes additional police were brought in from Shropshire and Denbighshire. On one occasion the Montgomeryshire Rifle Volunteers had their rifles taken from them during the election for fear that they might by misused.
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Until the closing years of the century both Whig - later Liberal - and Tory MPs were from the great landowning families of Montgomeryshire.
Tory politics were heavily influenced by the Earls of Powis who ensured that a succession of Wynns of Wynnstay were returned to parliament. Charles Watkin Willams Wynn held the Montgomeryshire seat from 1799 until his death in 1850. He was succeeded by Col. H. W. Williams Wynn, who on his death in 1862, was replaced by C. W. Williams Wynn. The Tory ascendancy ended in 1880 with the election of Stuart Rendel, later Lord Rendel, for the Liberals. He was the first of a long line of prominent Liberal MPs in Montgomeryshire.
The Borough of Montgomery - Montgomery Boroughs after the 1832 Reform Act – had been held by Tories, since 1741. The seat was taken from the Tories in 1833 by the Liberals, returning to Tory rule with Hon. Hugh Chomondeley, a nominee of the Earl of Powis, in 1847.
In 1863 the Boroughs were taken for the Liberals by the Hon. C. D. R. Hanbury-Tracy, of Gregynog, the son and heir of Lord Sudeley of Toddington, Gloucestershire. When he succeeded to the title the seat was taken by his younger brother, the Hon. F. S. A. Hanbury-Tracy, also of Gregynog. The seat returned to the Tories on the election of Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones in 1885, and he was eventually succeeded by his son, Edward Pryce-Jones, in 1895.