James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

The Situation James Inherited

Before looking at James's personal and family life in Llanidloes, the next section provides an insight into James's work.

Some of the comments that had been made in a Municipal Commissioner’s Report of 1833 enable us to understand better the role James was required to play in Llanidloes. It said of the unsalaried [parish] constables of Llanidloes at that time, four would be sufficient with the aid of the serjeants, who act within the town when called upon, if they were efficient, but they are very negligent ... There is a good deal of disorder, and drunkenness; drunken rows are a frequent occurrence, with great noise and disturbance. There may be petty thefts but there are very few serious crimes; no felony has been committed within the borough for a great while; poaching is common, but it is unpunished. There had been several recent occasions when unrest necessitated the swearing in of several special constables.

The report recognised the need for an experienced and efficient officer of police but suggested, to defray the cost, such an officer might be shared between several towns. The report later noted: There are eighteen public houses within the borough, … and two beer shops within the old limits, and a third within the new. It commented on the bad effect these beer houses had had; It is fair, however to recollect that the borough has no municipal magistrates, no available prison, and a police notoriously negligent and inefficient. Under such circumstances, and amidst a turbulent rabble, that new thing must be admirable indeed which does not turn to evil!

In 1839, the year before James took up his duties, Llanidloes had been a focal point of industrial unrest prompted by problems in the local textile industry; the Chartists sought electoral reform. The Trewythen Arms Hotel in the town was the scene of a pitched battle to release imprisoned local Chartists and one of three policemen summoned from London to help to quell the riot was severely beaten. Three hundred special constables were recruited. More than thirty Chartists were arrested and sent to Montgomery jail. Three Llanidloes men were transported to New South Wales and a military garrison was maintained in the town until the summer of 1840.

This was the climate into which James was thrust as a police constable.