Saturday, 16 January 2016

32 C.R.M.Talbot of Margam

32. C.R.M. Talbot (photos: Margam Castle, Penrice Castle) - 16 January 2016

The town of Port Talbot is named after Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, eldest child and only son of Thomas Mansel Talbot, who had built the mansion of Penrice Castle in the 1770s.  C.R.M. Talbot was born there in 1803, went to Harrow School and on to study at Oxford University, obtaining a first-class honours degree in Mathematics.  

Talbot inherited the estates of Penrice and Margam, but unlike his father he chose not to live in remote Gower.  In the early 1830s he built in Tudor Gothic style the mansion of Margam Castle, of which the daguerreotype taken on 9 March 1841 by Calvert Richard Jones is the earliest known photograph in Wales.  Links with early photographers proliferate, for Talbot was a cousin of pioneer photographer W. H. Fox Talbot of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, and Emma, the youngest of Talbot’s seven sisters, married photographer J.D. Llewelyn of Penlle’rgare at Penrice Church.  Both Talbot and J.D. Llewelyn were founders of the Royal Institution of South Wales, which built Swansea Museum.

Talbot realised that improved transportation could stimulate industrial growth, and, having succeeded his stepfather Sir Christopher Cole as Liberal MP for Glamorgan, he introduced a Bill in 1834 to improve the old harbour at Aberafan, with the river diverted.  Two years later another Bill facilitated its expansion, and in his honour its name was changed to Port Talbot.  Subsequent decades saw significant industrial and population growth for the area.

From the outset Talbot was a shareholder in the South Wales Railway, and ensured that the railway track was laid across Margam Moors, so that trains could not be heard from Margam Castle.  He became chairman of the South Wales Railway from 1849, and later gave the company £500,000 to complete the line to Milford Haven, for which he had great hopes as a deep water harbour.  When travelling on the Great Western Railway he once remarked to I.K. Brunel: ‘I am always glad when we have passed the points at Reading, as they are so complicated’.  He had hoped for a reassuring reply, but Brunel merely answered ‘So am I’. 

As a shareholder Talbot was very interested in the building of Brunel’s gigantic PSS Great Eastern, though it was commercially unsuccessful and its major impact was laying transatlantic cables.  When the South Wales Railway merged with the Great Western Railway in August 1863, Talbot became a director of the GWR.   

As a young person he had enjoyed fox-hunting in Parc le Breos, and kept a pack of hounds in the ruins of Penrice Castle.  After some falls he ceased hunting, and took up yachting.  He was a fine pianist and with his mathematical expertise a skilled chess player.

But Talbot’s wealth could not exempt him from tragedy – he was only ten when his father had died; his wife Charlotte died of consumption aged 37 at Malta in 1846 when the Talbots were on their yacht Galatea, and his only son Theodore died in 1876 - having fallen from his horse while fox-hunting: St Theodore’s Church in Port Talbot was built in his memory.  The eldest of Talbot’s three daughters, Emily, would later inherit the estates.

It was Emily who opened Swansea’s South Dock (now The Marina) in 1859 amid much ceremony when her father was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.  His yacht Lynx was one of the first vessels to enter that dock, and ten years later in the Lynx he attended the opening of the Suez Canal.
Talbot continued in Parliament, becoming ‘Father of House of Commons’ from 1874, but declined a peerage three times.  He died at Margam Park in 1890 at the age of 87, and C.R.M. Talbot, after whom Port Talbot was named, was buried in the family vault at Margam Abbey.

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