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Welsh History Review


Vol. 9, nos. 1-4 1978-79

Richard Davies and nonconformist radicalism in Anglesey, 1837-68 : a study of sectarian and middle-class politics /

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Methodists (alongside the more politicized Independents) as
participants in this contest was of profound importance in two
respects: it signified the emergence of a coherent political conscience,
and it served as a political apprenticeship in an age which put a high
premium on leadership. Educational controversy leading to local
disputes between church and chapel in mid-century provided a further
catalyst. It sharpened public attitudes and gave extra prestige to those
who acted as spokesmen in defence of Nonconformist rights. And
invariably it was the religious leaders in the community, more often
than not members of the emergent middle-class, who gave the lead.
A coterie of merchants, shopkeepers, traders, professional men,
farmers and ministers of religion, independent in economic status
as well as in religious spirit, occupied the central stage. As J. F. C.
Harrison has noted, 'Time and again the historian is impressed by
the frequency with which the same men turn up as the leaders,
especially at the local level, of successive reform movements'.5
Their achievement was nothing less than a political revolution6 in
that they successfully liquidated a parliamentary tradition which
spanned three hundred years. The political rule of a minority, landed
aristocracy was replaced by a more popularly-based middle-class
grouping owing a common allegiance to Nonconformity. With an
alignment of forces based primarily on religion only rarely did party
affiliation cut across sectarian lines.
Taken in its context, the return of Richard Davies in 1868 was but
the logical outcome of a gradual process-although the actual
victory itself turned out to be more the product of special cir-
cumstances. Be that as it may, sooner or later, someone was destined
to reap the fertile harvest of radical dissent. Press and platform
polemics, issues such as the payment of Church rates, disestablish-
ment and the removal of civic and religious disabilities, the struggle
to establish non-sectarian British schools, resentment against
government bias towards Church schools, the bid to democratize the
endowed grammar school at Beaumaris, and the role of the Liberation
Society had each played its part in the evolution of radical con-
sciousness and Nonconformist militancy by the mid-1860s. But in
the final analysis, it was local leadership which proved to be the main
determinant of political change. Political influence and the ability to
5 J. F. C. Harrison, The Early Victorians, 1832-51 (London, 1971), p. 174.
That this terminology was current in contemporary radical minds is evident from
Henry Richard's speech at Liverpool in 1868. He declared that reformers should work to
revolutionise the whole of the representation of North Wales': Caernarvon and Denbigh
Herald (C.D.H.), 6 June 1868.
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