Sir Charles Morgan
Henry Brown of Tredegar House
This month’s speaker was Mr Martin Culliford, now a resident of Machynlleth. Mr Culliford has spoken to the Society on a number of occasions in the past, when he lived in Newport, and the Society was very grateful that he was willing to come a great distance to speak to us once again. Despite being an economist by training, Mr Culliford has become a noted writer and editor of books on the history of the County of Gwent. His talk this year was centred on the agent of the Tredegar Estate (1797-1806), Henry Brown. Tredegar House
The talk started by introducing the main character of the lecture, Henry Brown. Mr Culliford had researched the letters of the chandler’s son who had risen to high places, to his master Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar House. Apparently, the Morgan family were away from the estate for up to eleven months of the year and the everyday running of the estate fell to the agent. It was obviously an arduous task, because Henry Brown suffered from the strain of controlling the affairs of the 50,000 acre estate and suffered from a combination of stress and depression. However, this was not passed on to his patron, who seemed unaware of the everyday travails and had total confidence in his agent. Henry himself had been christened Harry, had amassed a personal fortune and an illegitimate child before his early death at the age of only forty eight. The Morgan family themselves were not true nobility, but the family were related to Ifor Hael and had amassed land across both Wales and England by a combination of good fortune and marriage. The parcels of land which they gained were not always particularly valuable, however since they also gained the mineral rights, the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries proved very lucrative to the family even if they were ultimately absentee landlords. Sir Charles Morgan was not even a true Morgan since he had agreed to change his original name of Gould to maintain the family name. The family also controlled a “golden mile” of track on the railway from which they levied a charge on every ton of coal passing near Tredegar House. Sir Charles’s portrait reveals a severe figure, though it is known from the letters that he suffered from gout. The family itself became more and more eccentric in the twentieth century and Tredegar House later became a school and was then bought by Newport Council.
Mr Culliford then took the sizable audience to the letters themselves. This was UN usual in itself, in that the Society was given an insight into the way historians evaluate source material, rather than accepting the finished product. Among the episodes shown in the letters were that horses were more important than servants, food was poor and adulterated, that the tax on hair powder was unpopular and that life was generally uncertain and dangerous compared to the relative safety of the health and safety culture of today.
Anecdotes included the story of a barber who died owing to excessive drinking and eating, including a binge of twenty four glasses of liquor from which even the two local apothecaries could save him. The strange case of a pig being carried on a scaffold while the bridge at Newport was being rebuilt in stone on a fair’s day.
Famine was also a notable feature of life on the estate with both livestock and tenants suffering in equal measure. Despite being a rather harsh master, Sir Charles Morgan did give £80 (£10,000) today in poor relief in 1800. Likewise, tenants who toed the line were treated well and others who did not were treated harshly.
A militia of some 500 men was also maintained by the estate, after all this was during the Napoleonic wars. Brown in his “wisdom” gave the militia beer to keep them happy, with the inevitable result of unrest and the firing of muskets around the town. Other letters refer to the produce of the estate including venison for the Bishop of Llandaff from the deer park and other victuals from the walled garden for days out in Cardiff Races. Grouse shooting occurred at Cwmbran (Mynydd Maen). Vandals are also referred to rustling wool from the backs of sheep.
As the letters became more infrequent it was obvious that Henry Brown was nearing the end of his days, though he never appeared to shirk from his responsibilities.
Following a lengthy question and answer session, Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Culliford for a very interesting lecture.