WILLIAMS, Thomas (1737-1802), of Llanidan, Anglesey and Temple House, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 13 May 1737,1 1st s. of Owen Williams of Treffos Anglesey by Jane, da. of Thomas Lloyd of Hendre Howel, Carm. educ. trained in law by John Lloyd, attorney, of Caerwys, Flints. m. c.1763, Catherine, da. of John Lloyd of Llanfihangel-tre’r-Beirdd, Anglesey and Plas-yn-Rhual, Flints., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1786.
Sheriff, Anglesey 1790-1.
Through good fortune and innate business acumen, applied with ruthless determination and ferocious energy, Williams transformed himself in less than 20 years from a prosperous Anglesey solicitor into what Matthew Boulton described as ‘the despotic sovereign of the copper trade’. The turning point in his career was his retention in 1769 by the two local families of Lewis and Hughes, to fight a legal action against Sir Nicholas Bayly, father of the 1st Earl of Uxbridge, over possession of the recently discovered Parys Mountain copper mine at Amlwch. When the litigation ended in 1778, Williams emerged as the active partner in the Parys Mine Company. The following year he established smelting works in south Lancashire and Swansea and a manufacturing plant in Flintshire. After fighting a battle with the smelters’ cartel and perfecting the production of copper for sheathing ships, Williams secured in 1785 the management of the second great Anglesey mine, by becoming the active partner of Lord Uxbridge in the Mona Mine Company, which he made the basis for a new manufacturing organization parallel to that of the Parys Company. In the same year he concluded a cartel agreement with the Cornish Metal Company and, on the failure of the latter in 1787, assumed administration of the cartel. From this point until 1792 Williams was virtual dictator of the British copper trade. As his power was subsequently reduced by the loss of his Cornish ores and declining output from the Anglesey mines, he was forced to purchase copper in an attempt to maintain his position, and between 1799 and 1802 his business concerns underwent some reorganization. Yet even in 1799 they had a capital of almost £1,000,000. In 1792 he established with Edward Hughes, his partner in the Parys Mine Company, the Chester and North Wales Bank.
Four years earlier Williams had purchased the Temple Mills copper works near Marlow, where he took up residence. In 1790 he was returned unopposed for the borough and by the following general election had gained control of both seats with the aid of further purchases of property in and around the borough. He took a keen interest in the electoral politics of north-west Wales and acted as Uxbridge’s agent in arrangements in Anglesey, Caernarvonshire and Caernarvon in the 1790s. Lord Bulkeley told Sir Robert Williams, 28 Nov. 1801, that ‘Tom Williams boasts of six Members of Parliament in the next Parliament’;2 and, as well as himself and his son, who was returned for Marlow, candidates promoted and possibly financed by Williams were successful at Wallingford and Windsor at the 1802 general election.
Williams, who was listed hostile to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791 and voted against the abolition of the slave trade on 15 Mar. 1796, does not appear in opposition to government in the 1790 Parliament. He signed the London declaration of support for Pitt’s measures, 2 Dec. 1795, was marked ‘pro’ in the ministerial election survey for 1796 and subscribed £50,000 to the 1797 loyalty loan; but he voted for Grey’s parliamentary reform motion, 26 May 1797, and did not support the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. His relations with government took an unpleasant turn in March 1799 when they took steps to deal with the rising price of copper which they were inclined, at the prompting of Birmingham hardware manufacturers, to attribute to Williams’s alleged monopoly of the trade. He retorted by laying responsibility for the rise in price on government and by observing that, if their proposals were implemented, ‘not above half of the mines of the kingdom, so valuable to its interests, could possibly be worked’. When legislation was introduced in April 1799, Williams secured the appointment of a select committee of inquiry into the copper trade. A failure or reluctance on the part of the committee to probe searchingly into Williams’s activities since 1792, and his own adroit handling of their interrogations, left the case against him unproven. During the inquiry he repeated his criticism of the government for crippling industry and enterprise with ‘restrictions, prohibitions and taxes without end’.3 When, in the course of later legislation, both Pitt and Lord Hawkesbury hinted at their undiminished conviction that Williams had been guilty of monopolizing the trade, the Whig George Tierney came to his defence, 4 Apr. 1800, with the comment that
he had not thrice spoken to Mr Williams in his life, nor was he in any way connected with him, but he felt the highest respect for him, and if those, who from small beginnings had, with an unblemished reputation, amassed a large fortune, were not to be respected and esteemed in this commercial nation, he was at a loss to conceive what class of society had a title to respect and esteem.
Williams voted against government in support of Grey’s motion, 25 Apr. 1800, to consider the independence of Parliament in relation to the Act of Union. There is no evidence of his having opposed Addington’s ministry.
At his death on 29 Nov. 1802 Williams’s personal wealth amounted to at least £500,000. His associates, Pascoe Grenfell* and Michael Hughes, were agreed that, ‘take him all in all, it is hardly to be expected that we shall meet his like again’.4