William Madocks memorial, Porthmadog

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This memorial, by the High Street entrance to the park, commemorates William Madocks MP, democracy campaigner (see below) and founder of Porthmadog. His portrait is shown here courtesy of the National Library of Wales.

He was born in London in 1773. His father John was a lawyer with medieval family roots in North-east Wales. John had inherited Llay Hall, north of Wrexham, from his father, a successful Ruthin tobacco dealer.

Portrait of William MadocksWilliam studied at Charterhouse School and Christ College, Oxford. His inheritance after John’s death was relatively small, as he had two older brothers. He bought Dolmelynllyn, near Dolgellau, but his attention soon turned towards Traeth Mawr, the sandy expanse at the mouth of the Glaslyn. His purchases of adjoining land entitled him to drain Traeth Mawr to create valuable agricultural land.

His first project was the model settlement of Tremadog, enabled by construction of an embankment and drainage channel. He bought Tan-yr-Allt, a nearby cottage, and enlarged it, with new windows facing the view over Traeth Mawr and the emerging village. He provided employment by building a textiles complex, including a five-storey Manufactory.

In 1802 he was elected MP for Boston in Lincolnshire, a county with a long record of land drainage. He decided to build a 1.5km embankment, familiar to us as Porthmadog Cob. He left his faithful land agent John Williams to oversee the project, which was more challenging than expected. William used various tactics to hold off his creditors, and couldn’t be jailed for debt because he was an MP.

The Cob was finished in 1811. Repairs after the sea broke through in 1812 caused further financial difficulties, eventually solved when William married Eliza Anne Hughes, an heiress from Trefeca, Powys, in 1818.

The Glaslyn created a deep channel where it had been diverted west of the Cob, and William had harbour walls built alongside in the 1820s. He died in Paris in 1828, before the railway he wanted to bring slate to the quays came to fruition in the form of the Ffestiniog Railway. The town of Port Madoc (now Porthmadog) grew as the slate trade boomed.

As a young Radical MP, William helped campaign for Parliamentary reforms including abolition of “rotten boroughs”. These were sparsely populated constituencies (fewer than 50 voters in many cases) which gave aristocrats and the Crown influence over government; MPs in such seats had to vote in the House of Commons as their patrons ordered. William also urged repeal of the tax on coal transported by sea (but not over land), which was unfair to communities reliant on coastal shipping.

Sources include the National Library of Wales, and ‘Madocks & the Wonder of Wales’ by Elisabeth Beazley, Faber & Faber, 1967

Postcode: LL49 9LR     View Location Map

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