WILLIAMS, William (1774-1839), of Belmont House, South Lambeth, Surr. and 37 Portland Place, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Mar. 1774, 2nd s. of Robert Williams† (d. 1814) of Bridehead, nr. Dorchester, Dorset and Moor Park, Herts. and Jane, da. of Francis Chassereau of Marylebone, Mdx.; bro. of Robert Williams*. educ. Wormley, Herts.; St. John’s, Camb. 1791; I. Temple 1792, called 1798. m. 30 Nov. 1797, Anne, da. of John Rashleigh of Penquite, Cornw., 5s. (4 d.v.p.) 1da. d. 8 Feb. 1839.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1803-21.
The barrister William Williams, who in 1796 went on a walking tour in Wales, was installed as provincial grand master of Dorset in 1812 and three years later published a volume of masonic Constitutions.1 He inherited £60,000 on the death of his father in 1814, and thereafter became a partner in the family bank in Birchin Lane, London, which was taken over by his elder brother Robert, Member for Dorchester. He was also a principal in the Dorchester bank of Williams and Company, and later held several directorships.2 An advanced Whig, he was returned for Weymouth at his fifth attempt at the general election of 1818, when (with the social reformer Thomas Fowell Buxton*) he forced a compromise for the ‘town’ interest on Masterton Ure*, who represented the ‘trustees’ of the Johnstone family. Under this agreement he was re-elected unopposed at the general election two years later, when he stood on the same independent principles.3 His refusal to fulfil the ‘union’ arrangement to purchase the fee farms in Weymouth created additional problems in 1820 for Ure and the other electoral managers, who were concerned that these properties would be threatened if Williams secured the passage of a bill, which had failed the previous year, to prevent the fraudulent splitting of votes.4 He retained his early sympathies for radicalism, expressing to Sir Francis Burdett* his support for the cause of ‘popular election’ during the Westminster contest in 1820, and attending the trial of John Cartwright later that year.5 He was active in the House and, although he never joined Brooks’s, spoke and voted frequently with the Whig opposition on all major issues, notably on motions for economies and retrenchment in the early 1820s.6
Williams commented on the validity of Henry Ellis’s election for Boston during his absence abroad, 25 May, spoke for inquiry into the practice of returning paupers to Ireland, 6 June, and said it was unjust that the Irish should pay a ten per cent duty on necessary commodities, 14 June 1820. He promised to consider the complaints made against the splitting of votes at Lichfield whenever he should reintroduce his bill on this subject, 16 June.7 Stating that he had intended to frame a motion on the Queen Caroline affair, though not as a ‘party man’, 22 June, he urged the restoration of her name to the liturgy and voted against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution that day. He argued that Thomas Ellis should not be allowed to take his seat for Dublin while continuing to serve as an Irish master in chancery, 30 June. He praised the East India Company’s volunteers bill on the ground that a militia was ‘the most constitutional force that could be used for the preservation of the public peace’, 11 July, and objected to the law officers having a vote on the bill of pains and penalties if it reached the Commons, 12 July. During the general jubilation over Caroline’s acquittal in November 1820, it was reported from Weymouth that ‘Williams is here with his family but doing nothing to appearance’.8 He spoke for revising the criminal laws at a meeting there, 20 Jan. 1821.9 He presented petitions for reinstating the queen’s name in the liturgy from Lambeth, 26 Jan., and Eye, 13 Feb., and voted for this, 23, 26 Jan., 14 Feb., and to censure ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. He insisted that ‘he would not be put down by a laugh or a cough’ while supporting the reduction of the army by 10,000 men, 14 Mar. He was listed among the stewards of the Friends of Reform dinner in London on 4 Apr.10 He divided to disqualify civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., stated that he had supported parliamentary reform ‘from his earliest days’ and that nomination boroughs gave ministers excessive influence in the Commons, 17 Apr., and voted for reform, 18 Apr., 9 May. He divided for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, 4 June. He reintroduced his occasional votes bill, 24 May, which had its first reading the following day, but was then allowed to lapse.11 He laid the foundation stone of the new Weymouth bridge ‘with masonic form’, 14 Sept. 1821.12
He voted for inquiry into the Scottish royal burghs, 20 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. 1822. He criticized the proposed alteration of the rates of return on navy five per cent stock and condemned government for mismanagement of the sinking fund, 25 Feb., 8, 11, 27 Mar. He expressed willingness to introduce measures to remove army officers from the Commons, 12 Mar., and to equalize county rates, 25 Mar.13 He called for the creation of an effective sinking fund, 1, 24 May, and for the opening of the trade in sugar, 17 May, and abolition of the salt tax, 24 June 1822.14 He again divided for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. He was critical of government’s attitude towards French aggression in Spain, 18 Mar., and explained on 30 Apr. that he could neither condone ministers’ weak handling of the crisis nor vote for Macdonald’s censure motion because he feared this would lead to hostilities. He suggested the introduction of an ad valorem tax on beer, 24 Mar. 1823. He strongly supported Abercromby’s motion complaining of a breach of privilege by the lord chancellor, 1 Mar. 1824, when he objected to the cost of completing the new courts of justice. He attacked the West India Company bill as an obstacle to the abolition of slavery, 10 May 1824. He called the Catholic Association ‘most inimical to the interests of the Catholics of Ireland’ and gave his support to the Irish unlawful societies bill, 11 Feb. 1825, when he declared himself to be in favour of Catholic relief. He was not, however, listed in any of the majorities in its favour that session. He brought in a bill to enable the Cape of Good Hope Banking Company to be sued in the names of its secretary and governor, 30 Mar., and objected to sharp practices by the promoters of the Western Ship Canal bill, 3 June.15 As a result of the banking crisis, Williams’s establishment in Dorchester temporarily suspended trading in December 1825.16 He voted for the bill to disfranchise non-resident voters in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., and to abolish flogging in the army, 10 Mar. 1826. He retired from Parliament at the dissolution that summer. In a valedictory address on the hustings at Weymouth, 10 June 1826, he vindicated his conduct in the Commons and apparently gave expression to the anti-Catholic sentiments that the electors expected; that day and the next, when he proposed Buxton, he praised the independent interest.17
Williams was described by George IV in 1827 as ‘one of the worst of radicals, invariably opposing the king and his government in every instance; in short one of the staunchest, bitterest and very worst of Whigs, a friend of [Henry] Hunt’s*, etc., etc., etc.’18 Williams, who made no further attempt to gain a seat in Parliament,19 again nominated Buxton for Weymouth at the general election of 1830.20 During the ‘Swing’ riots that autumn he led a group of special constables from Cerne Abbas, near his residence at Castle Hill, Dorset.21 In Weymouth, 3 May 1831, he complained of having been silenced at a meeting of the inhabitants on 17 Mar. and again spoke in favour of Buxton as a reformer; he added that in the House ‘he had made himself a slave to his duty, but now, after he had tasted the happiness of a quiet and retired life, not all the wealth of India should induce him to come forward as a parliamentary candidate’.22 He voted for the reformers Edward Portman* and John Calcraft* in the Dorset contest that month, and for William Ponsonby* in the county by-election in late 1831.23 Williams died in February 1839, leaving two surviving children, and was buried in Little Bredy church, where a commemorative tablet was erected by his masonic brethren.24
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. E.R. Sykes, ‘A Walking Tour in Wales in 1796’, Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxiv (1942), 84-91; H.P. Smith, Hist. Lodge of Amity no. 137, Poole, 202; William Williams, Constitutions of Antient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, pt. 2 (1815).
- 2. PROB 11/1552/104; IR26/627/67; Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 202; The Times, 7 Feb. 1825.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 586-7; Western Flying Post, 28 Feb., 13 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/S76/40/2, 5.
- 5. Add. 47222, f. 23; Life and Corresp. of Cartwright ed. F.D. Cartwright, ii. 186.
- 6. Black Bk. (1823), 203; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 491.
- 7. The Times, 17 June 1820; Hatherton diary.
- 8. Middleton mss S76/40/38.
- 9. Salisbury Jnl. 29 Jan. 1821.
- 10. The Times, 14 Feb., 15 Mar., 4 Apr. 1821.
- 11. CJ, lxxvi. 376, 378, 413, 423.
- 12. Salisbury Jnl. 17 Sept. 1821.
- 13. The Times, 12, 26 Mar. 1822.
- 14. Ibid. 25 June 1822.
- 15. Ibid. 31 Mar. 1825.
- 16. Dorset Co. Chron. 15, 29 Dec. 1825.
- 17. Ibid. 8, 15 June 1826.
- 18. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1422.
- 19. The defeated candidate at Seaford in 1830 was William Williams of Aberpergwm, Glam. Another namesake, the son of Thomas Williams of Llanpumsent, Caern., was Liberal Member for Coventry, 1835-47, and Lambeth, 1850-65.
- 20. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 Aug. 1830.
- 21. B. Kerr, Bound to the Soil, 114.
- 22. Dorset Co. Chron. 24 Mar., 5 May 1831.
- 23. Dorset Pollbooks (1831), 34; (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 46.
- 24. Dorset Co. Chron. 14, 21 Feb. 1839; Gent. Mag. (1839), i. 661-2; J. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. (1863), 187.