WILLIAMS, Robert (1767-1847), of Bridehead, nr. Dorchester, Dorset; Moor Park, Herts.; 36 Grovesnor Square, Mdx. and 20 Birchin Lane, London
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Family and Educationb. 11 Feb. 1767, 1st s. of Robert Williams† of Bridehead and Moor Park and Jane, da. of Francis Chassereau of Marylebone, Mdx.; bro. of William Williams*. m. 28 Aug. 1794, Frances, da. of John Turner of Putney, Surr., 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1814. d. 10 Mar. 1847.
Alderman, London 1796-1801, sheriff 1797-8; prime warden, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1810-11; dir. Hope Assurance Co. 1820, chairman 1822-45.
Capt. Cornhill vols. 1797, maj. commdt. 1798; lt.-col. commdt. 1799; vol. London and Westminster light horse 1803-7.
Williams’s father and namesake, a self-made man, was descended from a cadet branch of the Williams family of Herringston, Dorset, and married the daughter of a French Huguenot refugee. He became a leading London banker and a director of the East India Company, purchased estates in Dorset and Hertfordshire and secured a seat at Dorchester in 1807. This Member, the elder of his two sons, had a brief spell on the corporation of London and in 1802 entered the Commons, where he was an almost silent supporter of successive Tory administrations.1 He was the principal beneficiary under his father’s will, succeeding in 1814 to his landed property, bank and three per cent stocks, and personalty sworn above £500,000.2 He also became senior partner in the family bank in Birchin Lane, which was then known as Williams, Moffatt and Company; it went through several changes of name in the following years.3 He had replaced his father as Member for Dorchester in 1812, when he was made a freeman of the town, and his acquisition of numerous properties there secured his unchallenged position as patron of one of the seats, which he continued to occupy himself.4 His brother William, who joined him in the House as Member for Weymouth in 1818, sided with opposition, but Robert, who was again returned unopposed for Dorchester at the general election of 1820, was later said to have voted ‘always with ministers’.5
Williams voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He divided in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He is unlikely to have been the ‘R. Williams’ who was listed as voting for revision of official salaries, 30 Mar.; he divided against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., but was credited with dividing for inquiry into the duties of the officers of the board of control, 14 Mar. 1822. He wrote offering his backing at the forthcoming Dorset by-election to the Tory Henry Bankes*, 10 Feb. 1823.6 His only recorded vote that year was against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823, and no parliamentary activity has been traced during the 1824 session. As he had on 28 Feb. 1821 and 30 Apr. 1822, he voted against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 10 May, pairing in the same sense on 21 Apr. 1825. His bank suffered a temporary suspension during the financial crisis at the end of that year.7 He appears to have been inactive during the 1826 session, but was re-elected for Dorchester that summer, when he explained that he opposed relief because of the remaining political power of the Catholics.8
The following week he wrote from Bridehead to Peel, the home secretary:
I find a great inconvenience in having two large places in the country, without time to be as much at either as I should wish, and have therefore thought of parting with one. This is my native county, and a favourite residence to myself and family, and, having lately added much to its extent by a large purchase and opportunity occurring of more, I have made up my mind to sell Moor Park and its appendages, which are, an estate in a ring-fence of about £5,000 per annum, exclusive of the park (500 acres), a large farm in hand and some fine woodlands. The house is very magnificent, fit for any man’s residence ... [and] 17 miles from Oxford Street.
Peel declined to make the purchase and it was soon afterwards sold to Lord Grosvenor.9 Williams’s name was among those proposed for baronetcies by the prime minister, Lord Goderich, in November 1827. George IV believed Robert to be ‘a most respectable loyal man, and always supporting the king’s government’, who was ‘not unworthy of such a mark of distinction’. Unfortunately, in his confusion, the king thought that the man being suggested was his radical brother William, and insisted that further inquiries should be made. Goderich therefore suggested that the matter be put off, and it was apparently not reconsidered.10
Williams voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He may have been the ‘Mr. Williams’ who spoke in defence of the board of lunacy, 19 Feb. 1828. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., presented a Dorchester anti-Catholic petition, 24 Apr., and again voted against Catholic claims, 12 May. In February 1829 he was listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation. In fact, he presented another anti-Catholic petition from his constituents, 3 Mar., and divided steadily against emancipation that month. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May 1830. He was returned unopposed for Dorchester, on the basis of his long service in defence of the principles of the constitution, at the general election that year.11 He was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, but was absent from the division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, which led to their resignation. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned unopposed for Dorchester with his anti-reform colleague Lord Ashley at the subsequent general election, when he condemned the bill for disfranchising so many voters and for depriving Dorchester of one of its seats. He signed the requisition to Bankes, and plumped for him in the Dorset contest that year.12
He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and, despite being granted one month’s leave because of a death in the family, 12 July, divided in favour of using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, and for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July 1831. He presented and endorsed a Dorchester petition for retention of both its seats, 28 July, when he admitted that at the time of his first election he had not owned a single house there. He divided against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He voted for Ashley in the Dorset by-election that autumn.13 He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but divided against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He attended the Dorset dinner in Bankes’s honour, 26 July, when he damned the intentions of what he dubbed ‘inconsiderate reformers, not to say mad, as I think them’. He was re-elected for Dorchester as a Conservative at the general election in December 1832.14 Williams, who was treasurer of the Society for Promoting the Religious Principles of the Reformation, retired from the House at the dissolution in 1834, but remained at the head of the London bank, which from the 1840s was called Williams, Deacon and Company. He died in March 1847 and was buried in Little Bredy church, with his mother and wife (who had both died in 1841). He was succeeded by his banker son Robert (1811-90), Conservative Member for Dorchester, 1835-41, whose heir Robert (1848-1943), Conservative Member for West Dorset, 1895-1922, was awarded a baronetcy in 1915.15
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. J. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. (1863), 187, 524-5; J.E. Cussans, Herts. Cashio, 127-8; HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 583-4.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 202; PROB 11/1552/104; IR26/627/67.
- 3. F.G. Hilton Price, Handbook of London Bankers (1890-1), 177.
- 4. C.H. Mayo, Municipal Recs. of Dorchester, 434; Dorset RO, Williams of Bridehead mss D/WIB P1; Dorset RO, Dorchester borough recs. DC/DOB 26/12, 13; Dorset RO, q. sess. recs. D1/OE 1; Oldfield, Key (1820), 50; Key to Both Houses (1832), 318.
- 5. Salisbury Jnl. 13 Mar. 1820; Black Bk. (1823), 203. Some of his ministerial votes were wrongly attributed to Sir Robert Williams, Member for Caernarvonshire and Beaumaris.
- 6. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL.
- 7. Dorset Co. Chron. 15 Dec. 1825.
- 8. Ibid. 8, 15 June 1826.
- 9. Add. 40387, ff. 129, 133; Cussans, 128.
- 10. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1422, 1423; Bucks. RO, Buckinghamshire mss O.100, Goderich to Geo. IV [Nov. 1827].
- 11. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 July, 5 Aug. 1830.
- 12. Ibid. 5 May 1831; Dorset Pollbook (1831), 26.
- 13. Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 44.
- 14. Dorset Co. Chron. 2 Aug., 13 Dec. 1832.
- 15. Ibid. 11, 18 Mar. 1847; Hutchins, ii. 187; Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 546-7; The Times, 13 June 1890, 17 Apr. 1943.