Merioneth was a predominantly Welsh-speaking constituency,3 and primarily agrarian, though at the turn of the century almost a quarter (23.4 per cent) of its occupied male population was employed in the slate and limestone quarries4 and it contained several important copper mines. In 1886 T. E. Ellis was elected the county's Liberal M.P., a startling departure from the well-estab- lished pattern of Welsh parliamentary politics at a time when the middle-aged, well-heeled bourgeois remained the conventional Welsh M.P. Ellis was only twenty-seven years of age, the son of a tenant farmer, thoroughly Welsh in speech and background, and he had conducted his election campaign almost entirely in his native tongue. Moreover, his occupational background was most unusual in that he lacked a profession, having earned his living partly as a tutor and private secretary, and partly as a journalist. An acrimonious dispute over his initial nomination in 18865 had, it is claimed, led many disenchanted Radicals from the Ffestiniog area to support his Tory rival; but the Conserva- tive vote remained below 30 per cent in all subsequent elections. Indeed, Merioneth's average Conservative poll of 26.8 per cent in elections between 1885 and December 1910 was almost the lowest in the whole of Wales and made the county one of the safest Liberal seats in the principality.6 Ffestiniog and Corwen, the county's slate-quarrying heartlands, remained resolutely and impregnably Liberal. Ellis, though facing formidable Conservative opponents, was thus convincingly re-elected in both 1892 and 1895. His 'startlingly sudden death' (in the words of the Cambrian News) in April 1899 'was received all over Wales with incredulity'.8 Ellis's election thir- teen years earlier had marked 'the beginning of an epoch' when the people of Merioneth had secured in 'this son of a farmer' 'a representative after their own heart'. He had, moreover, 'retained his hold upon their affections to the last'.9 Almost immediately attention began to focus on a successor capable of continuing and extending Ellis's work. The local Liberal paper, Y Seren, noted the characteristics it considered essential in Ellis's successor: he should be a native Welshman, a son of the common people, a devoted nonconformist, steeped in the recent Welsh national awakening, and warmly embracing nation- In the 1901 census only 6.2 per cent of its population was monoglot English-speaking, the lowest proportion of all the Welsh counties. See Henry Pelling. Social Geography of British Elections. 1885-1910 (New York, 1967). p. 364. see J. Vyrnwy Morgan (ed.), Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era (London. 19081- pp. 384-85. 6 Pelling. op. cit.. p. 363. J. V. Morgan, op. cit., pp. 384-85; Cambrian News, 28 January 1910. Cambrian News, 7 April 1899. 9 Ibid.