Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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FENTON , RICHARD ( 1747 - 1821 ), poet and topographical writer ;

b. [in Jan.] 1747 at S. Davids , son of Richard and Martha Fenton . He was educated at the Cathedral school , S. Davids , and Magdalen College , Oxford [but Foster has no record of his matriculation. For many years he was a civil servant , at the Custom House in London , but in 1774 he had joined the Middle Temple ], and in Jan. 1783 he was called to the Bar . He went on circuit in Wales for several years, but became increasingly interested in literary rather than in legal pursuits. His friends included Goldsmith and Sir Richard Colt Hoare (q.v.) ; at Hoare 's suggestion he wrote his Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire ( 1810 , 2nd ed. Brecon , 1903 ). He also wrote A Tour in Quest of Genealogy ( 1811 ), Memoirs of an Old Wig ( 1815 ) — witty anecdotal works published anonymously — and two volumes of poems ( 1773 and 1790 ); and he left many works in manuscript. [These manuscripts were bought in 1858 by Sir Thomas Phillipps (q.v.) , and are now in the Cardiff City Library ; a selection was edited by John Fisher (q.v.) and published in 1917 as Tours in Wales, 1804-1813, by Richard Fenton . When in London , Fenton was a member of the Cymmrodorion and in 1778 was one of its two librarians ; there is a kindly reference to him in a letter of 1779 from Richard Morris to Pennant ( N. L. W. Jnl. , vi, 193) — ‘I am endeavouring to make him a good Welshman, … he is deficient that way, but comes on bravely.’ In 1776 Fenton had become also a member of the Gwyneddigion Society ( Leathart , Origin … of the Gwyneddigion , 62); he was a friend of William Owen Pughe 's; in 1795 and 1796 (in the Cambrian Register ) he edited George Owen 's ‘ Description of Pembrokeshire .’]

Fenton was a good linguist , described by a contemporary as a person ‘of indefatigable industry of a fine poetical fancy,’ and as ‘having the best information on almost every subject.’ He was, by reason of his knowledge of Welsh affairs and dialects , employed by government departments to report upon matters connected with the social and political conditions of Wales . He lived for a few years ( c. 1788 ) near Machynlleth in order to facilitate his tours in Wales and studies of Welsh records , returning to Pembrokeshire in 1793 in order to be near his uncle, Samuel Fenton , whose mercantile fleet he subsequently inherited, and continued to operate. In 1799 he brought grain from the Mediterranean , free of freight charge, and sold it at cost price to local people impoverished as a result of the failure of the fish harvest in 1799 .

He m. Eloise , daughter of Colonel ( Baron ) Pillet de Moudon , of Swiss birth but settled in England . He d. at Plas Glynamel , Fishguard , early in Nov. 1821 , and was buried at Manor Owen , near Fishguard .


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • Life in A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire , 2nd ed., 1903 , ix-xxxi;
  • [ J. Fisher , preface to A Tour (Tours) in [North] WalesPennant, Thomas (above);
  • Y Cymmrodor 1951 , 60, 99].


Frederick John North, O.B.E., D.Sc., F.G.S., F.S.A., F.M.A., (1889-1968), Cardiff

Published date: 1959