Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot

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Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot FRS (10 May 1803 – 17 January 1890) was a landowner, industrialist and Liberal politician. He developed his estate at Margam near Swansea as an extensive ironworks, served by railways and a port, which was renamed Port Talbot.


Talbot was descended from the Earls of Shrewsbury, through Hensol Castle, Talbot's Castle and Lacock Abbey. The family had bought Margam Abbey and its extensive 18,725 acres (7,578 ha) parish of Margam during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Having then married with the Mansels of Oxwich and Penrice, the Talbot's had become Glamorgan’s largest resident landowners, with estates totalling 34,000 acres (14,000 ha) in that county alone. Their home estate at Margam included ancient metal workings, and extensive mineral rights across Margam, Kenfig and Aberavon. Talbot's father acquired the estate at Penrice, where having rebuilt Penrice Castle by 1820 the annual rent revenues reached £15,000.[1]

Early life

Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot was born at Penrice, Swansea, the son of Thomas Mansel Talbot, and Lady Mary Lucy the daughter of Henry Fox-Strangways, 2nd Earl of Ilchester. When his father died in 1813, Christopher was only ten years old, so his estates at Penrice and Margam were held in trust until he came of age in 1824. He was educated at a private school in Dorset, and then at Harrow School and Oriel College, Oxford, from where he graduated in 1824 with a 1st class honours degree in mathematics. He then undertook a Grand Tour of Europe. His favourite activities were yachting, racing and hunting. In 1823 he was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Club (later the Royal Yacht Squadron), and he was its Vice Commodore from 1851 to 1861.

Parliamentary and public career

Talbot was an elected Liberal Member of Parliament for Glamorganshire in 1830, the seat being vacated by his stepfather Sir Christopher Cole and he remained in parliament for the rest of his life. He was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, from 1848 to 1890.

On redistribution of parliamentary seats in 1885, he was elected for Mid Glamorganshire, a predominantly mining constituency, which included the Llynfi, Garw and Ogmore valleys Despite his venerable status the Liberal Association initially considered other candidates including Gwilym Williams and J. Carvell Williams.[2]

Talbot, at this time, was asked by William Abraham for his views on the election of labour representatives to the House of Commons, and specifically the desirability of a labour member representing the new Rhondda constituency. Talbot replied as follows:

I am of opinion that there has always hitherto been a great dearth of such members in the House of Commons, and that if a few really able men were elected, the proceedings in Parliament would be all the more likely to give satisfaction to the bulk of the labouring classes. We have plenty of employers of labour in the House, and many amongst them who profess to have the interest of their men at heart, and we have also a large number who from sentimental or philosophical motives advocate the promotion of the welfare of the people. But none of these men possess that intimate acquaintance with the peculiarities and specialties of mining operations which men who have themselves had experience as workmen in the mine have acquired, and they are often led in consequence to legislate on what they believe to be the interest of their constituents, but in what really is to their injury. Hence it is that I believe the presence of real working men in the House would be of vast advantage to the community at large, and I should be very glad to hear that the electors in the new Rhondda division entertained the same feeling, and were likely to send one of their own body to represent them.[3]

He retained his seat until his death, becoming Father of the House of Commons. He was described as "a tall, elderly gentleman ... wearing a long woollen comforter" in Sir Henry Lucy's Diary of the Salisbury Parliament for 10 June 1888 which was published in book form in 1892.[4]

Industry and transportation

Talbot recognised that improved transportation could stimulate industrial growth, and as Member of Parliament he introduced a Bill in 1834 to improve the old harbour at Aberavon; two years later, a further Bill provided for the harbour's expansion and a change of name to Port Talbot in his honour. He also encouraged the development of Swansea docks, and pioneered the introduction of railways to south Wales, being chairman and a shareholder in the South Wales Railway Company, which was acquired by the Great Western Railway in 1863, with Talbot joining the board of the GWR.

Talbot also invested in the area's extractive and metal production industries. The Port Talbot ironworks opened in early 1831, part of the industrialisation then taking place across south Wales; copper had been smelted at nearby Neath since 1584, and there were tinworks and ironworks at Pontardawe.

In 1869 aboard his private yacht Lynx he attended the opening of the Suez Canal, accompanied by members of his family and several guests. When he was in Egypt, Gladstone offered him a peerage, but he declined on this and two other occasions. He was adjudged the wealthiest commoner of his time.[5]

Margam Castle

Over a ten-year period from 1830, Talbot set about redeveloping the family estate at Margam Castle. The mansion was designed in the Tudor Gothic style by architect Thomas Hopper (1776–1856), while Edward Haycock (1790–1870) was supervisory architect and designed parts of the interior and exterior of the house, the stables, terraces and lodges. Talbot also took a keen interest in the project, encouraging his architects to borrow elements from Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire (ancestral home of the Talbots and home to his cousin William Henry Fox Talbot) and Melbury House in Dorset (home of his mother's family, the Fox-Strangways, Earls of Ilchester). Margam Castle is a Grade I listed building owned by Neath and Port Talbot County Borough council.[6]

Talbot encouraged his relations William Fox Talbot and John Talbot Dillwyn Llewellyn in the development of photography and was himself a Fellow of the Royal Society.


On 31 October 1880, C.R.M. Talbot, M.P., laid the foundation stone of Maesteg Town Hall, Maesteg. He gave £500 (£44,000 in today pounds) towards the building fund, and the miners of the valley agreed to levy themselves a day's wages towards the cost.

In Llanfair, his name still survives in "Talbot Terrace". In 1865 there was a public house in the village called the "Talbot Arms".[7]

Talbot married Lady Charlotte Butler, daughter of the first Earl of Glengall, at Cahir House, County Tipperary on 28 December 1835. She died at Malta on 23 March 1846, where the Talbots were on their yacht "Galatea".[8]

Talbot's only son Theodore died in 1876 following a hunting accident. Hence the dedication to St. Theodore of an Anglo- Catholic parish in the east of Port Talbot It was therefore his daughter Emily Charlotte Talbot (1840–1918) who inherited her father's fortune and became just as notable in the development of ports and railways. Another daughter, Olive Talbot, founded an Anglican theological college in Aberdare subsequently moved to Cardiff Road, Llandaff St. Michael's College.



Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Christopher Cole
Member of Parliament for Glamorganshire
With: Lewis Weston Dillwyn 1832–1837
Viscount Adare 1837–1851
Sir George Tyler 1851–1857
Sir Henry Vivian, Bt 1857–1885
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Mid Glamorganshire
Succeeded by
Sir Samuel Thomas Evans
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Marquess of Bute
Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan
Succeeded by
The Lord Windsor
Preceded by
George Weld-Forester
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Charles Pelham Villiers