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13 December, 2016

Obituary: William Blizard Williamson (the elder) of Worcester

The following is a transcript of the obituary (and associated reports) for William Blizard Williamson (the elder) of Worcester. He was (via the adoption of my mother) my Great Great Grandfather and lived from about 1811/12 until 15 September 1878.

The transcript was prepared by me from an image on Findmypast.co.uk of part (columns 1 & most of 2) of page 8 of the Worcester Chronicle of Saturday 21 September 1878. The image reference is http://search.findmypast.co.uk/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0000350%2f18780921%2f036 and the copyright in the image is held by the British Library.

Obituaries are always interesting, not just because of the hard facts about the person but because of the “colour” that they can add to the record. Trying to judge this “colour” is, however, difficult because of the tendency not to “speak ill of the dead” and because you don’t know if the obituary was written by an “independent” journalist or possibly by a family member or acolyte.

This obituary is very much a biography of the deceased than a mere death notice. It is clearly written either by someone who personally knew William Williamson, or by someone who had access to either the family or close friends.

I somehow suspect it was written by a family member due to the absence of any specific reference to members of his family. They are only mentioned in describing the circumstances of the death (and then not named) and in listing the mourners (but even then it seems that their relationship to the deceased does not need to be mentioned).


It is our melancholy duty to record the very sudden death, early on Sunday morning last, of Mr William Blizard Williamson for many years a member of the Town Council of this city, and founder of the extensive Tin-plate Works in Providence-street. Mr. Williamson although able to attend to his business affairs, and join the Corporation in attending the opening service of the Musical Festival last week, had been ailing for some time past, and the indisposition which he felt was much increased last Thursday by the discovery of grave misconduct on the part of one of his employees, which caused him to be greatly excited — so much, indeed, that when he reached home that night he complained of being very unwell. The next day (Friday), and also on Saturday, he remained in bed, feeling disinclined to get up, though asserting that there was nothing serious the matter with him, talking with members of his family without apparent distress, and insisting that he did not require the service of any medical gentleman. So confident did he appear in his belief that the indisposition which he suffered was only of a slight and temporary nature, that on the Saturday he expressed his intention to rise on the following morning and attend the anniversary service at Angel-street Chapel with which place of worship he had long been connected.1 But he was destined never to rise from his bed again. Nothing serious was anticipated either by himself, his wife, or two sons, who retired to bed on Saturday night quite unapprehensive of never again seeing him alive, and leaving an attendant in charge to look after his wants. In the first hour on Sunday morning, however, the end came in an extremely sudden manner. Mr. Williamson asked for some water, and a draught was handed to him; he partly raised himself up in bed to drink it, but had scarcely tasted it when he fell back dead. Immediately wife and family were summoned, and medical assistance obtained but to their great grief and sorrow the vital spark had fled before any one could reach his bedside. He was in the 68th year of his age. The sudden and quite unexpected news created the most profound impression among a large circle of friends and acquaintances whom the deceased, during his long residence in the city, had made amongst all classes of the community, and his workpeople, in particular, were quite grief-stricken by the sad intelligence.

Mr. Williamson was in many respects, a most remarkable man. He was born in the City of Cork, in the year 1811.2 From his boyhood he was conspicuous for his energy and ability, and, when quite a youth, his skill in the water was notorious, he having been instrumental in saving many persons from drowning. For this, contrary to the usage of the present day, he never received any honourable reward; but on one occasion, when be rescued a man who had fallen into the river under the influence of drink, he was invited by the said man, when sober, to “have a fight,” the reason assigned for the proposed combat being that his hair had been pulled too hard in getting him out of the water! On another occasion, a companion named Sarsfield had fallen into the river and drifted under a raft of timber. Mr. Williamson, without a moment’s hesitation, leaped from a high wall into the water, put his hands on the raft of timber in his descent, threw his legs and body under it, and caught Sarsfield’s head between his heals, drew him out, and with some assistance landed him on the raft. For this act, which was considered most daring and skilful by those who saw it, he received a threshing from Sarsfield’s father,  some busy-body having told that gentleman that Willie Williamson had thrown his son into the water. It is only right to say that when Mr. Sarsfield ascertained the truth of the matter he apologised fully to Mr. Williamson for his mistake, and then threshed his son for falling in and wetting his clothes.3

Mr. Williamson served his apprenticeship to the tin-plate working at Cork, and there joined an Orange Lodge,4 and soon assumed a prominent position in the order, his zeal in those troublesome times sometimes leading him into great peril. He came to England in the year 1836,5 and travelled throughout the kingdom, seeking and obtaining an insight into every department of his business. As a handicraftsman, at a time when very little machinery was used in the trade, he had few equals, if any, as has often been heard from the lips of skilled artizans who worked with him and knew him well at that period of his life.

In 1842 he went to London,6 and his aptitude for looking after his fellow-workmen’s affairs soon placed him in the position of a leader in the Tin-plate Workers’ Association.7 In the year 1846, the trade of the country then being in a very disturbed condition, a mass meeting of the representatives of various trades was held in London, under the presidency of Mr. Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, MP.,8 and an association was formed and called “The National United Trades Association.”9 The code of rules, which were to be the laws of the association, gave rise to an animated discussion, which lasted over two days. Late on the evening of the second day, when the representatives of the various trades were growing weary of talk, and hopeless of agreeing upon a practical and working programme which should bind the various trades together in a common bond of unity, Mr. Williamson rose and spoke for more than an hour to a hushed and approving audience. He recapitulated the causes which had brought the conference together, showed the power of union on the part of the masters, the weakness of the working men for want of it, the futility of isolated unions, and the necessity for combined action under the guidance of a clear and able mind. He then sketched the programme of a basis upon which all trades might join for their mutual amelioration in so clear and lucid a manner that, at the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Thomas Slingsby Duncombe rose and stated that the suggestions contained in Mr. Williamson’s speech were the most practical and workable he had heard, and suggested that a committee be at once formed to embody them in a code of rules. This was unanimously acceded to, his suggestions were carried out, and the National United Trades Association became one of the most powerful organisations of the day. For two years Mr. Williamson travelled through England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, acting as an arbitrator between masters and men in trade disputes, and it has often been the pleasure of many to hear him discourse for hours together upon the circumstances of  that eventful period of his life. To carry out the will of the association he had often to run no little personal risk, but he was not the man to swerve from any line he had taken up if he felt it his duty to persevere. In the course of these two years he was the means of settling no less than 30 disputes between employer and employed, often averting strikes, and it is remarkable that the settlement was in every instance favourable to the employed. Although instrumental in gaining many victories for trade unions, he was also the means on several occasions of averting riots and bloodshed. Notably at Dudley, in the year 1847, when the miners were on strike, and becoming dangerous in their demeanour, Mr. Williamson called a mass meeting, addressed it from a pit bank side, while a troop of horse soldiers with drawn sabres, stood close by to suppress any breach of the peace.10 By solid reasoning the people were induced to act in a quiet and constitutional manner, and the district, which before had been in great alarm, was free from danger. The incessant labour and fatigue of travelling in all weathers, by night and by day, the harass of addressing mass meetings in all parts of the country, and the responsibility which he felt, so much depending on his care and judgement, at length wore him down ; and with shattered health, he had to give up work of which he had ever since been proud, regarding it as the best and most useful of his life.

In 1855 Mr. Williamson came to this city as a journeyman, obtaining employment with Messrs. Sparkes and Co., of High-street ; from thence he removed into the service of the late Mr. Thomasson, of New-street ; and afterwards he served Mr. J. D. Clark, of High-street first as a journeyman, and then as a foreman. While in the latter gentleman’s employ the talents of the deceased were highly appreciated. His high sense of honour and strict business integrity, associated with remarkable energy, together with great genius, secured the fullest confidence and admiration of his employer, and a life-long friendship was thus formed. In 1858 he determined to make a start in business on his own account, and accordingly took premises in Lowesmoor. Here he commenced to make tin goods in large quantities for a local firm, and the excellence of his work, combined with moderate changes, enabled him to secure a monopoly of the home tin goods against distant manufacturers. In 1859 he removed into Sidbury, where his business so much increased that he felt it necessary to acquire larger premises, and in 1863 having erected a small portion of the Providence Tinplate Works, in the Blockhouse, thither he removed, and the concern has since grown at so rapid a pace that constant extensions have been necessary. He has developed the business to a marvellous extent, and the number of patents in the production of tin goods taken out by him and the firm have made them famous in various parts of the civilised world.11 His success in life has been rapid and brilliant. The practical knowledge of the various branches of  his business, and experience of men and things gained by so many years of labour, travel, and observation, enabled him to build up a business on a solid foundation; and he succeeded in gaining a large trade connection, acquiring a reputation and making an independency. His indomitable perseverance, and the employment of the talents with which he was endowed, afford an illustration of the distinguished position to which a diligent man may attain. For strong common sense, sound judgement, and a faculty for at once diving to the root of a matter, he was held conspicuous amongst those who knew him.

Mr. Williamson was, in every sense a men of progress, and as such he was an advanced Liberal in politics. Into the various Municipal and Parliamentary Election contests of late years he has thrown his interest with all that energy which has distinguished his business career. Whatever he undertook he did “with both hands earnestly,” and hence the secret of his success. His place in the Liberal ranks is one which will not easily be filled up. In his own Ward (All Saints’) he was a tower of strength, as may be gathered from the fact that in 1868 he was elected unopposed to a seat in the Town Council, and to the time of his death he retained that honourable position.12 For many years he had also been a Guardian of the Poor ; and the poor indeed will lament that by his death they have lost a true friend – one who sympathised with them and helped them in their distress.

It was probable that had Mr Williamson survived until the 9th of November next he would have been selected for the office of Sheriff of the city, having recommended himself to notice by his active and energetic conduct in public business, and established a solid claim upon the Liberal party by his devotion to Liberal interests in person and in purse, and constant enlightened advocacy of progress.

As an employer he was full of generous sympathy for those about him; and the interest and comfort of his workpeople he had constantly in mind. He was generous to a fault, but withal possessed a strong sense of equity and justice which nothing could impair. To know him intimately was to admire him, and those who knew him best will ever cherish recollections of many noble traits and generous deeds which helped to distinguish him as a remarkable man.

The funeral was fixed to take place on Wednesday last, and the workmen all assembled at the Providence Tin Plate Works, where, having received refreshment and a pair of black kid gloves each, they repaired to the deceased gentleman’s late residence in the London-road, and the funeral cortège proceeded from thence to the Cemetery, in the following order :—

Coach containing Officiating Minister:
Rev. S. March.
Mourning Coaches containing Pall-bearers:

Ald. J. Wood | Mr. J. F. Airey
Mr. J.E. Pugh | ” Townshend
” W. Joseland | ” Hancock
” Edmunds | ” Richard Wood
Bearers. HEARSE Bearers.

Mourning Coach containing
Mr. W. B. Williamson, jun., Mrs. W. B. Williamson, sen,
Mr. G. H. Williamson.

Mourning Coach containing

Mr. J. D. Clark | Mrs. W. B. Williamson, jun.
” R. Kendall | ” G.H. Williamson

Workmen of Deceased
Three abreast, numbering between 50 and 60.

The Rev. S. March conducted the funeral service, commencing by reading a selection of appropriate passages of Scripture, offering prayer in the chapel,13 and at the grave. After consigning the body to the earth he closed with prayer full of sympathy, commending the widow and her sons to the care and protection of their Heavenly Father. Among the large company at the Cemetery who had assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to the deceased gentleman we noticed — The Mayor (F. Dingle, Esq.), the Sheriff (W. Holland. Esq.), the Town Clerk (T. Southall, Esq.); Aldermen M. Jones, R. E. Barrett, and W. Lovsey; Councillors W. H. Hughes, W. Caldicott, P. Foxwell, E. L. Pugh, H. J. Munt, J. Ll. Bozward, C. E. Simes, Jos. Fisher, E. Davies, and C. H. Birbeck; Messrs. A. M. Baylis, C. Baldwyn, and John Woodward (Guardians); Mr. M. Power (Chief of Police); Messrs.  John Jones, J. Thomasson, H. Day, T. Whiteman, E. J. Porter, H. Charge, S. James, Revs. S. Naish, C. H. Buxton, &c. A large number of young women in the employ of Messrs. Williamson and Sons, together with many wives of the workmen, most of whom were clad in mourning, also attended at the Cemetery to show their respect for the memory of the deceased.The coffin was a very handsome one, being made of polished oak, with brass shield and furniture. Previous to the body being lowered into the grave, wreaths and bouquets of flowers were placed upon it as last tributes of regard. The funeral was conducted most efficiently by Mr. C. C. Whitney Griffiths, undertaker, of High-street, in this city.

—— — * — — —

On Monday, at the annual dinner of the Court “Sylvan and Pride of the Park”,14 held at the Three Tuns Hotel, and it which Mr. Williamson was to have officiated as vice-chairman, Ald. Willis, who presided, before commencing the toast list, said that he could not begin the actual business of the evening without referring to the melancholy event which had occurred and cast such a great gloom over their meeting that night. He alluded to the very sudden decease of their esteemed friend Mr. Councillor Williamson. His death taught them the uncertainty of human life, and the necessity of learning the greatest of all lessons, namely, the way to die. He could honestly say that no body of his fellow citizens would regret his unfortunate death more than the Foresters and the gentlemen present upon that occasion. He thought at first that it would be better if their hospitable gathering had been deferred, but on the other hand, considering that there was a time for all things, ant that their meeting at night would bear the cool reflection of the morning, he thought it better not to postpone it. He would take upon himself the liberty of saying that they all very heartily sympathised with the loss which Mr. Williamson’s widow and family had sustained. Might he rest in peace. — Later on, the Vice-chairman, Councillor Airey, remarked that the company would be aware that he occupied the position of vice-chairman that night owing to the unfortunate and lamentable death of their friend Mr. Councillor Williamson. He could only endorse the sentiments which the chairman had so ably expressed and join with them in the deep regret they felt at the loss of an excellent citizen and a worthy man. Mr. Airey also spoke of Mr. Williamson as an intimate friend. Upon many questions which came before the public Mr. Williamson and himself were agreed. They were not always of the same opinion, but upon many questions of importance they were of the same mind, as would be seen by the division lists. For the last year or two Mr. Williamson had been a constant visitor at his shop, and only very late in last week he called with reference to the property in St. Paul-street, and they drew up a resolution about it, which he (the speaker) was to move at the October meeting of the Council, and which Mr. Williamson was to have seconded. He little thought then he should see his face no more, and now he would have, to seek for another seconder to his resolution. Mr. Williamson was a thoroughly honest man, and he was also an uncompromising man. Once let him be convinced he was right, and no power on earth would move him. He was one of those men who, if they had a railway to make over the biggest hill in creation, would either go over it or make a tunnel through it. He also proved his business capacity by raising himself from the position of a poor man,15 and leaving to his family an example which they need not be afraid to emulate. The Corporation of Worcester by his death had lost one of its most honest men, and the city had lost a useful citizen whose place would not be easily filled. — Mr. T. Rofe, in the course of a speech which he made, said he could not sit down without expressing in his own name, and on behalf of his brother Foresters, the deep feeling of regret with which they all regarded the loss of one who made himself eminently useful amongst his fellow citizens, and who had been so sadly and suddenly called away from their midst and summoned into the presence of the great Chief Magistrate of the Universe. He had always admired Mr. Williamson’s manly, straightforward, and thoroughly English dignity, for he was a man who advocated the principles which he believed to be right without courting the smiles of his supporters or fearing the frowns of his opponents. Along with all classes of his fellow citizens they deeply sympathised with his wife and family.

—— — * — — —

At the Town Council meeting, on Tuesday, the Mayor observed that, before commencing the business, he was sure all present would sympathise with him in the regret which he wished to express at the loss which the public had sustained by the death of their late colleague, Mr. Councillor Williamson, on Sunday morning last. (Hear, hear.) He wrote, on Monday morning, a letter of condolence and sympathy to the widow, and in that letter said that he wrote on behalf of the Corporation as well as himself. (Hear, hear.) He (the Mayor) understood the funeral would be at the Cemetery gates 1.45 to-morrow (Wednesday). The Corporation would not go in any formal way to the funeral; but he hoped to show a mark of respect to his colleague by being there himself, and any member of the Corporation who wished to join him could do so at the Cemetery gates at 1.45. — Mr. Bozward begged to be allowed to say that the respect due to the deceased gentleman’s memory, and to the large constituency which he represented, demanded from the Council some recognition of his services; and, while making allowance for what the Mayor had done, he thought a message of condolence and sympathy, coming officially from the Corporation, should be addressed to the sorrowing widow and family in the affliction which had overwhelmed them. He moved that such a message be sent. — Mr. Carter seconded the proposition, which was carried unanimously.

—— — * — — —

At the weekly meeting of the Board of Guardians yesterday (Thursday), the chairman (Ald. R. E. Barnett) said that before they commenced the business perhaps they would permit him just to allude to the loss they had sustained by the death of Mr. Williamson (who was a member of the Board). He had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship for a number of years, and he could say a truer friend he never had in his life. He would be very much missed, not only by his workpeople, by whom he was revered, esteemed, and loved, because he was an excellent master, a kind friend, and a fond and affectionate husband and parent, but by all who knew him as a fellow-citizen; as a public man was clever, talented, and astute, a man who always endeavoured to discharge his duties to the best of his ability, and who gave all the time he could apart from that required by the large business in in which he was engaged, for the good of his fellow citizens. As a Guardian, they would all agree with him that he was always extremely anxious to ameliorate the condition of the inhabitants of the workhouse, and further the interest of the children. Amongst the last words he heard him speak was in suggesting that they should alter the clothing of the children so as to make it less conspicuous. He was at all times extremely anxious that the children should be well attended to and well cared for. Taking him all in all, he was a most estimable citizen, whose loss they all very much deplored. He would suggest that the clerk should send a letter of condolence to his bereaved wife and family. — This suggestion of the chairman’s was unanimously agreed to, and Mr. Knott was instructed accordingly.


  1. “Angel-street Chapel” was a Congregational Church Meeting and Rev Septimus March was its minister at the time of William Blizard Williamson’s funeral. Nonconformity in Worcester : with an account of the Congregational church meeting in Angel street chapel, and an appendix of lists of ministers throughout the county, and extracts from the non-parochial registers by Urwick, W. (William), 1826-1905 Accessed from the Internet Archive. There is a story that when in Ireland he was a member of The Brethren; Congregationalism would be consistent with such a non-conformist background.
  2. “He was born in the City of Cork, in the year 1811” is consistent with information seen in census records, but with the added information that his birthplace was the city, not county, of Cork and that the year of birth was 1811 – close enough to the 1812 date derived from the census records.
  3. The stories of river rescues presumably originate in Cork. Although I cannot find any newspaper record of these exploits, the name Sarsfield does appear to be a well established name in Cork. I assume that the stories were related by William Williamson himself either to his wife and sons or to acquaintances and thus the writer of the obituary (if not one of his sons) would have gained the stories from them.
  4. Orange Lodge membership.
    • Cork was a Jacobite city in 1690 when the Williamites besieged and took the city. After the city was taken there were reprisals against Catholics. (John O’Driscol, History of Ireland (1827), Volume 2 pages 188-195) Orange Lodge membership therefore may well have been seen as membership of a sectarian group.
    • At the time when William Williamson might have been a member its existence was problematic (see Hansard HC Deb 12 February 1836 vol 31 cc332-45, HC Deb 23 February 1836 vol 31 cc779-861, & HL Deb 07 March 1836 vol 31 cc1258-300 “The Orange System in Ireland”). “The Order supported a plot in 1836 by Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Imperial Grand Master of the Orange Order, to take the throne in place of Victoria; once the plot was revealed the House of Commons called upon King William IV to disband the Order. … the King indicated measures would have to be taken and the Duke of Cumberland was forced to dissolve the Orange lodges [HC Deb 26 February 1836 vol 31 cc946-7].” (Wikipedia citing: “The Cumberland Plot” New Zealand Tablet, Volume XXIX, Issue 5, 31 January 1901, Page 3 and Murphy, James H. Abject Loyalty: Nationalism and Monarchy in Ireland During the Reign of Queen Victoria The Catholic University of America Press (2001) p18)
    • Reports within our family (see comment on another post) that Williamson left Ireland because of persecution and because he was beaten up might have something to do with these events. (On the other hand reports of being beaten up might relate to one of the river rescues!)
  5. “He came to England in the year 1836”
    • This is in apparent conflict with his first son being born in 1840 in Ireland – unless they were travelling to and from Ireland, or for some reason the birth place of William Blizard Williamson (the younger) is consistently miss-recorded. For a mother to return to her mother for the birth of her first child is not unknown – but this usually involves going to the neighbouring parish rather than the neighbouring country.
    • Alternatively, William (the elder) may have come to England in 1836 leaving his wife in Cork and only sent for her and their infant son around 1840. (Presumably he and his wife would have been together at some time in 1839!)
    • If my suspicion that the obituary was written by one of the sons is true, we would expect that the 1836 date is right. Likewise we would expect the younger William’s date and place of birth to be reported correctly in census records (1840 in Ireland) in all censuses between 1841 and 1891, other than 1851 (record not found) and 1861 (when the date is probably transposed with that of his brother)
    • Again reports within the family (see comment on another post) had an early Williamson running off to London from Liverpool, and that his wife pursued him with the family and obliged him to face up to his responsibilities.
  6. “In 1842 he went to London”. The 1841 Census has the family “residing” at Canbury Field, Kingston upon Thames. In 1841 Kingston would not have been seen as part of wider London.
  7. “Tin-plate Workers’ Association” is more likely to refer to United Tin Plate Workers’ Union of the United Kingdom and Ireland (a Trade Union type organisation) than the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers alias Wire Workers (a livery company).
  8. “Mr. Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, MP.”, Chartist MP for Finsbury – “he was involved in the calling of a ‘Labour Parliament’ at Easter 1845 which led to the foundation of the National Association of United Trades – a loose federation of trade unions linked to the Chartist cause, serving as its president until 1852.” Chartist Ancestors, 29 April 2016, Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, 1796 – 1861, Chartist MP Other sources refer to him as a Radical MP or a Liberal MP.
  9. “The National United Trades Association.” – National Association of United Trades (see above). I suspect it is the obituary that is in error in dating its formation to 1846.
  10. 1847 Dudley Miners’ meeting. To date I have not found newspaper reports of this rather dramatic meeting. Indeed the whole period between 1841 (Census at Kingston showing him as an “I Tinman” – “I” probably being for “Itinerant”) and  1861 (Census at Worcester showing him as a “Tinplate manufacturer employing 3 Men and 4 boys”) seems to be undocumented other than in this obituary.
  11. Patents (see this post)
  12. Worcester Town Council. Both his sons went on to become mayors of Worcester, and George Henry was “almost an MP“.
  13. The funeral was at the cemetery chapel and conducted by the Congregationalist minister from Angel Street, Rev. Septimus March. (see 1 above)
  14. “Sylvan and Pride of the Park” The later reference to members as “Foresters” makes me think this was a friendly society like the The Ancient Order of Foresters.
  15. “raising himself from the position of a poor man” – this comment made at the meeting of the above organisation indicates that he probably “made good”.

1 Comment »

  1. […] been born in 1840 in Ireland, which would imply they have left Ireland within the last year. The obituary of William Williamson says he left Ireland in 1836. It is possible that they were travelling to and fro or that he left […]

    Pingback by William Blizard Williamson of Cork « Faulder Family Genealogy — 24 December, 2016 @ 1:50 am

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