Born in January 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 January 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; 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, and are now in the Cardiff City Library; a selection was edited by John Fisher 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 married Eloise, daughter of Colonel (Baron) Pillet de Moudon, of Swiss birth but settled in England. He died at Plas Glyn-y-mêl, Fishguard, early in November 1821, and was buried at Manor Owen, near Fishguard.
Published date: 1959
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