Merthyr Tydfil (UK Parliament constituency)

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Merthyr Tydfil
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Replaced by Merthyr
Created from Glamorgan
Replaced by Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney
Created from Merthyr

Merthyr Tydfil was a parliamentary constituency centred on the town of Merthyr Tydfil in Glamorgan. From 1832 to 1868 it returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and in 1868 this was increased to two members. The two-member constituency was abolished for the 1918 general election.

A single-member constituency (known as Merthyr) existed from 1918 until 1945 and, by the 1950 general election, it had been renamed Merthyr Tydfil. The constituency was abolished for the 1983 general election, when it was largely replaced by the new Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney constituency.


Merthyr was regarded as a Liberal seat throughout the nineteenth century and particularly after the landmark election of 1868. There were tensions within the constituency, however and these were manifested by the rivalry between Merthyr and Aberdare, which became more pronounced as the latter grew in importance after 1850. Increasingly, also, the constituency was affected by the debate about working-class representation. Thomas Halliday contested Merthyr as a 'labour' candidate as early as 1874 and the return of Keir Hardie in 1900 was a notable landmark in the growth of the Labour Party. From 1922 onwards, Merthyr was a safe Labour seat.


The Great Reform Act of 1832 was the first significant review of the arrangements for the election of MPs to the House of Commons, Patterns of representation had remained essentially unchanged for centuries and no recognition was given to the growth of urban settlements in the wake of the industrial revolution. The discontent of the late 1820s, culminating in serious disturbances in 1831, including the Merthyr Rising persuaded the government to take action in favour of reform. Within the Act of 1832 the one significant change in Wales was the carving out of a new parliamentary constituency, centred at Merthyr Tydfil, from the county of Glamorgan.

The Parliamentary Boundaries Act 1832 defined the new Parliamentary Borough of Merthyr Tydvil in great detail:[1]

From the Point on the North of Merthyr Tydvil at which the Northern Boundary of the Hamlet of Gellydeg meets the River called the Great Taff, Northward, along the Great Taff, to the Point at which the same is cut by the Southern Fence of Cilsanos Common; thence, Eastward, along the Fence of Cilsanos Common to the Point at which the same cuts the Brecon Road; thence, Southward, along the Brecon Road to the Point at which the same meets the Vainor Road; thence, Eastward, along the Vainor Road to the Point at which the same meets a Bye Road leading to Cefn-coed-y-Cwymner; thence in a straight Line to the Point at which the Little Taff would be cut by a straight Line to be drawn from the Point last described to the Southern Mouth of a Culvert on the Eastern Side of the Little Taff; thence, up the Little Taff, along the Boundary of the Parish of Merthyr Tydvil to the Point at which the Cwm Bargoed Stream is joined by a little Brook from the Coli Ravine; thence in a straight Line to the North eastern Corner of the Stone Fence of Pen-dwy-cae Vawr Farm; thence along the Road which passes Pen-dwy-cae Vawr Farmhouse to the Point at which the same meets the Mountain Track from Dowlais to Quakers Yard; thence, Southward, along the said Track, between the Farms of Pen-dwy-cae Vach and Pen-dwy-cae Vawr, to the Point at which such Track meets a Road running nearly due West, by a Stone Quarry, to Pen-y-rhw Gymra Cottage; thence along the last-mentioned Road to the Point at which the same reaches the Southern Side of Pen-y-rhw Gymra Cottage; thence in a straight Line to the Point at which the Southern Boundary of Troed-y-rhw Farm meets the Cardiff Road; thence along the Southern Boundary of Troed-y-rhw Farm to the Point at which the same meets the Great Taff; thence in a straight Line to the Bridge over the Cardiff Canal called Pont-y-nant Maen; thence, Northward, along the Cardiff Canal to the Point at which the same is intersected by the Cwmdu Brook; thence along the Cwmdu Brook to its Source; thence in a straight Line drawn due West to the Boundary of the Parish of Aberdare; thence, Southward, along the Boundary of the Parish of Aberdare to the Point at which the same meets the Boundary of the Hamlet of Gellydeg; thence, Eastward, along the Boundary of the Hamlet of Gellydeg to the Point first described.

Electoral Politics 1832-67[edit]

The first member for Merthyr Tydfil was Sir Josiah John Guest who served, albeit with some opposition until his death in 1852.

General Election 1837: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Sir Josiah John Guest 309
Liberal John Bruce 135
Liberal hold Swing

Guest was succeeded by Henry Austin Bruce who, again, served with little opposition until the Second Reform Act of 1867. Bruce was a prominent Liberal although associated with the less radical wing of the Liberal Party and was criticised for his role in events such as the 1857 Aberdare Strike.


The Representation of the People Act 1867, which increased the number of members returned to two, also widened the constituency boundaries. To the existing parliamentary borough were added some additional parts of the parish of Aberdare, part of the parishes of Merthyr and "Faenor" (Vaynor), and part of the district of Mountain Ash.[2][3]

The same boundaries were retained in 1885, and can be seen on the boundary commissioners' map.[4]

1868 General Election[edit]

Merthyr Tydfil saw one of the most remarkable contests of the 1868 General Election. Resulting directly from a tenfold increase in the electorate. Henry Richard was returned at the expense of the sitting member, Henry Austin Bruce.

Bruce had served as member since 1832 and his position was secure until the reforms of 1867. Even thereafter, the immediate interest appeared to be in who would occupy the second seat rather than whether or nor Bruce would be re-elected. The Merthyr element of the constituency had dominated the representation from the outset but there was a strong view in the neighbouring Aberdare valley, where the population was rapidly increasing as a result of the development of the steam coal trade, that they should determine the identity of the second member. The Merthyr electorate had been far larger than that of Aberdare since the seat was created. However, by 1868, Aberdare's electorate formed almost half the total (11,446 in Aberdare; 13,329 in Merthyr).[5]

The commercial interests of the Aberdare Valley, together with the key figure of Thomas Price, minister of Calfaria, Aberdare rallied around Richard Fothergill, owner of the Aberdare Ironworks and also a figure of some influence in Merthyr due to his ownership of the Plymouth Ironworks. It was confidently expected that Fothergill would be returned alongside Bruce until Henry Richard entered the fray.

Richard's candidature was also opposed by members of the Irish community, on account of alleged comments by Richard about the Pope during a speech at Brecon.[6]


Richard and Fothergill were re-elected in 1874. By 1879, however, Fothergill was in financial difficulties and there were calls for him to step aside. A deputation of tradesmen and working men who attended a meeting at Swansea to request to offer himself once again as a candidate but he eventually declined.[7] He was replaced by Charles Herbert James. member of a long-standing politically active family in Merthyr. Both served until 1888 when Richard died and James stood down, leading to two by-elections within a twelve-month period. These led to the rteurn of David Alfred Thomas and William Pritchard Morgan. Thomas and Morgan had much in common. Both were nonconformists, both were wealthy industrialists and both placed Welsh issues high on their list of political priorities. However, they also shared 'a hearty loathing' for each other.[8]

Morgan's return, in particular, was significant, in view of the fact that he defeated Foulkes Griffiths, the official candidate of the Liberal Association. The result was also regarded as a defat for the Cymru Fydd element in the Welsh Liberal Party. The Merthyr Liberal Association broke up after this election and did not function again until 1909.[8]


Relations between Thomas and Morgan were not good, leading ultimately to a Liberal split which contributed to the success of James Keir Hardie at the 1900 General Election. For the first decade of the twentieth century Merthyr was represented by the unusual combination of David Alfred Thomas and Hardie. In 1910, Thomas chose to contest Cardiff instead and was succeeded bt Sir Edgar Jones.


The two-member Merthyr Boroughs constituency was replaced at the 1918 General Election by two separate constituencies, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil.


Merthyr Tydfil Borough Constituency, created by the Representation of the People Act 1948, had an identical area to the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil.[9] The seat was first contested at the 1950 general election. The boundaries were unchanged until 1983.

Members of Parliament[edit]

MPs 1832–1868[edit]

Election Member Party
1832 Sir John Josiah Guest
1852 Henry Austin Bruce Liberal
1868 representation increased to two members

MPs 1868–1918[edit]

Election 1st Member 1st Party 2nd Member 2nd Party
1868 Henry Richard Liberal Richard Fothergill Liberal
1880 Charles Herbert James Liberal
1888 by-election (Mar) David Alfred Thomas Liberal
1888 by-election (Oct) William Pritchard Morgan Liberal
1900 James Keir Hardie Labour
1910 (Jan) Sir Edgar Rees Jones Liberal
1915 by-election Charles Butt Stanton Independent Labour
1918 constituency abolished: see Merthyr and Aberdare

MPs 1950–1983[edit]

Election Member Party
1950 constituency re-established
1950 Stephen Owen Davies Labour
1970 Independent Labour
1972 by-election Ted Rowlands Labour
1983 constituency abolished: see Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney

Election results[edit]


General Election 1979: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Edward Rowlands 22,386 71.32
Conservative AR de Wilde 4,426 14.10
Plaid Cymru Eurfyl ap Gwilym 2,962 9.44
Liberal RD Oliver 1,275 4.06
Communist CC Dennett 223 0.71
Workers Revolutionary GT Gould 114 0.36
Majority 17,960 57.22
Turnout 79.10
Labour hold Swing
General Election October 1974: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Edward Rowlands 21,260 70.61
Plaid Cymru Emrys Roberts 4,455 14.80
Conservative LJ Walters 2,587 8.59
Liberal D Bettall-Higgins 1,300 4.32
Communist T Roberts 509 1.69
Majority 16,805 55.81
Turnout 75.82
Labour hold Swing
General Election February 1974: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Edward Rowlands 20,486 64.07
Plaid Cymru Emrys Roberts 7,336 22.94
Conservative Michael Knowles 2,622 8.20
Liberal D Bettell-Higgins 1,002 3.13
Communist A Jones 369 1.15
Workers Revolutionary R Battersby 160 0.50
Majority 13,150 41.13
Turnout 81.06
Labour hold Swing
By Election 1972: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Edward Rowlands 15,562 48.58 +19.89
Plaid Cymru Emrys Roberts 11,852 37.0 +27.44
Conservative Christopher Barr 2,336 7.29 -2.56
Communist Arthur Lewis Jones 1,519 4.74 N/A
Liberal Angus Donaldson 765 2.39 N/A
Majority 3,710
Turnout 32,034
Labour gain from Independent Swing

NB: If one combines the totals for Labour and Independent Labour from the 1970 election the total was 80.59% making a loss of 32.01% of the vote.

General Election 1970: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Independent Stephen Owen Davies 16,701 51.90
Labour TJ Lloyd 9,234 28.69
Conservative E Jones 3,169 9.85
Plaid Cymru Chris Rees 3,076 9.56
Majority 7,467 23.20
Turnout 77.92
Independent gain from Labour Swing


General Election 1966: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 21,737 74.49
Conservative GL Preece 4,082 13.99
Plaid Cymru Meic Stephens 3,361 11.52
Majority 17,655 60.50
Turnout 73.92
Labour hold Swing
General Election 1964: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 23,275 75.27
Conservative SW Doxsey 4,767 15.42
Plaid Cymru IB Rees 2,878 9.31
Majority 18,508 59.86
Turnout 76.27
Labour hold Swing


General Election 1959: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 26,608 77.14
Conservative MMM Greenaway 7,885 22.86
Majority 18,723 54.28
Turnout 81.83
Labour hold Swing
General Election 1955: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 25,630 77.25
Conservative A. Arnold 7,548
Majority 18,082 54.50
Turnout 77.28
Labour hold Swing
General Election 1951: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 28,841 79.57
Conservative JF Lynam 7,405 20.43
Majority 21,436 59.14
Turnout 84.42
Labour hold Swing
General Election 1950: Merthyr Tydfil
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Stephen Owen Davies 29,210 78.91
Conservative LF Haddrill 6,294 17.00
Plaid Cymru T Morgan 1,511 4.08
Majority 22,916 61.91
Turnout 85.77
Labour hold Swing


  1. ^ Schedule O, Parliamentary Boundaries Act 1832, c.64
  2. ^ Mair, Robert Henry (1870). Debrett's Illustrated House of Commons and the Judicial Bench (PDF). London: Dean & Son. p. 341. Retrieved 12 May 2009. 
  3. ^ "Electoral registers for Merthyr Tydfil: Summary of the Merthyr Tydfil Electoral District". Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. Retrieved 4 June 2010. 
  4. ^ "Glamorganshire. New Divisions of County". Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales. 1885. 
  5. ^ Jones. "Thomas Price (Part Two)". p. 251. 
  6. ^ "Helyntion yr Etholiad". Gwladgarwr. 26 September 1868. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Representation of Merthyr. Conference at Swansea.". Merthyr Telegraph. 1 August 1879. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Morgan. "Democratic Politics". pp. 10–11. 
  9. ^ First Schedule: Parliamentary Constituencies, Part II: Wales, Representation of the People Act, 1948 (11&12 Geo. 6.) C. 65