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THE WILLIAMS FAMILY IN THE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES
by Nevil Harvey-Williams
THOMAS WILLIAMS AND THE FAMILY AT NOTTINGHAM
Toward the end of 1793, Thomas announced his intention of moving to Nottingham, where, according to Marsh, he ...'had been invited by a Mr Green, (mentioned earlier) a Stocking Manufacturer there, & intimate Friend of his, to enter into partnership with him on his Father's retiring from the Business, which he was to do in the following Spring. This of course gave us some concern, their Vicinity to Chichester being one of the principal inducements to our settling there, tho' it was to be hoped & indeed expected that this removal wo'd turn out greatly to their advantage.'
There may have been other reasons which persuaded Thomas to leave Gosport and move to Nottingham. Despite the business opportunities afforded by the presence of the Royal Navy in Gosport, a writer in 1777 said 'the town contains 5,000 inhabitants and is opposite to the sea. Except for the vicinity of the sea, Gosport can claim little that is attractive, for the town is not pleasant and the surrounding country has no peculiar charms. The town has the narrowness and slander of a small country town without its rural simplicity and with a full share of the vice of Portsmouth, polluted by the fortunes of sailors and the extravagances of harlots. To these evils are added the petty pride and sectarian bigotry of a fortified town'.
At that time Nottingham was regarded as a fashionable, elegant town. 'The situation is not exceeded by any in England', enthused Robert Sanders in 1772, 'and in the principal streets are many fine houses. ...The streets are broad and open and well paved. ...Many gentlemen of great fortune reside here, which is not to be wondered at, as the prospect from the streets over the fields, and the windings of the Trent are so delightful, that it even exceeds imagination.'
Another account, by Harry Gill, writing on 'Nottingham in the 18th Century', describes it thus: 'If not equal in importance to Bath, Epsom and Tunbridge Wells, this dear old town must have been a delightful place to dwell in with its numerous "mansions of the nobility" - the Pierreponts (Stoney Street), Plumtres (St. Mary's Hill), Gregorys (Fletcher Gate), Parsons (Short Hill), Babyngtons (Cheapside), Willoughbys (Low Pavement), Howes (Castle Gate), and the comfortable homes of civic dignitaries situate amid sylvan surroundings - beautiful gardens and fields on the one side and verdant meadows and the Duke's park on the other wherein the fallow-deer roamed at large.'
After about 1750 the population of England started to increase rapidly. In Nottingham, coupled no doubt with the growing migration of people from surrounding villages, the population at the end of the century had reached 29,000, about three times what it had been fifty years earlier. Building of new houses to accommodate the increase was not allowed on the fields to the north and south of the town, as the burgesses, or freemen of the town had grazing and other rights there. As a result, the gardens of some of the existing houses were built on, with houses crowded into alleys and courts. The gentry who could afford to do so left the town for more pleasant places in the surrounding countryside. In the old borough, their large houses were taken over by the hosiers, who not only lived in them but also used them for their businesses.
By the mid-18th century Nottingham's economy was dominated by the hosiery industry and the second half of the century was a period of great prosperity. It was no doubt these prospects which attracted Thomas Williams, and others such as Wright Coldham. Sadly, as will be seen later, the seeds of its decline were already taking root.
In early April 1794, John Marsh visited his sister in Gosport where she 'was staying with the younger Children at Mr Williams's Mother's, whilst Mr Williams was preparing for their reception at Nottingham, where he had taken part of a large House, called Plumptre House.' His former business in Portsea was now carried on by his late apprentice, Mr Knapp.
Some early letters written by Thomas Williams to his wife give a fascinating insight into the preparations for the move. Thomas left Gosport at the end of June 1794, accompanied by his nephew, Edward and one of his sons, John; the rest of the family remaining in Gosport with Mary, though they also spent some time at her brother's house, the Pallant, in Chichester. Thomas stayed initially at the house of his new partner, Mr Green, (in a letter to Mary dated 28th July 1794, he refers to 'my good and aimiable friend, Sam') and to begin with, relationships seemed quite cordial. 'Mrs Green is highly pleas'd with their company (the two boys) & is much surprized to find John is so tractable under my management for she had taken up a very erroneous opinion that I indulged & spoilt him, but she is now perfectly convinc'd such a representation of my conduct was scandalous defamation - they were out a visiting yesterday & tomorrow Mrs Green intends to invite two little Boys of Mr Huish to play with them & after Tea they are to go to Plumtre House to play in the Garden at Trap.' he writes at first. Then, 'Mrs Green is very friendly & obliging as possible.' However, by the end of July his views had changed dramatically. 'She is surely "a cruel thorn in the flesh" - She is verily "Satan sent to buffet him" (her husband) - I had no conception there could be such a difference betwixt women - poor fellow, I pity him most truly! With a grateful & overflowing heart I render thanks to the disposer of these events that my situation is so completely opposite to his. My remaining in this house is, I do assure you, most unpleasant indeed - I am very cautious & circumspect but I would defy the Archangel Gabriel, or if there is a similar being of the whole Angelic Host to live peaceably with this strange wayward woman - she is miserable, I am persuaded, & she is unpityed, for she is the Victim of her absurd Pride & suspicious evil temper.' Thomas seems to have moved into Plumptre House around the end of July and was eventually joined by Mary and the rest of the family a week or two later.
However, there were problems in store for Thomas Williams in his new business venture. Henry Green, the father, had, in 1788, challenged the system of co-option and promotion on which Nottingham operated and the Mayor's nominee to fill a vacancy was defeated by Henry Green, who became an Alderman, then Mayor in 1793, and in 1794 emerged as a rabid anti-Jacobin Tory, the most notorious Mayor in Nottingham annals since the Jacobite Hawksley had drunk to the ' King across the water' in 1715. Green was also profligate in his business activities, as Professor Stanley Chapman records in his book The Early Factory Masters.
'The largest overdraft held at Smith's bank at this period was allowed to Killingley, Green & Co., who had already borrowed £800 on bond in 1788 and had an overdraft of £90. When the firm built its Broadmarsh (Nottingham) Mill in 1790-92, the total debt to the bank rose rapidly to £9,318 by the end of 1792. It is interesting that Green negotiated the bank loans under three separate names, Killingley, Green & Sons; Killingley, Green & Co.; and Henry Green & Co. The loan was reduced to £7,470 by the end of 1795 but stood at £10,133 a year later. Abigail Gawthern records that Henry Green died, aged 65, in December 1796. She regarded him as 'the most loyal man in the Corporation, and the best magistrate.' In August 1797 the firm was declared bankrupt.
Just prior to his death, Abigail Gawthern notes in her diary; 'Nov 28. A bustle in the town, choosing two senior council; Mr Samuel Green and Mr William Huthwaite the loyal candidates, Mr Fellowes and a Mr Wylde the Corporation candidates; the next day the Painites dropped it, and Mr Green and Mr Huthwaite were chose[n]; the bells rang and the butchers rang their cleavers.' Samuel Green was clearly the son with whom Thomas Williams had gone into partnership when he came to Nottingham. Although he attained some eminence in the City's affairs, (he was also Sheriff in 1779) nothing further is known about him.
Thomas may well have been deceived by Green's apparent standing in the City and unaware of the burden of debt the business carried. There is no mention of this state of affairs in any other recorded source, so it is not known how the collapse of 1797 affected Thomas. Perhaps it was then that he went into partnership with Mr Whiter.
In one of his letters, Thomas expresses concern about Capt. Hutt, the naval officer who had brought Edward Thomas Marsh back from Jamaica. 'Do let me know in your next how Capt Hutt is - I very much fear for him - I see by the papers Col Balfour & Capt John Harvey are both dead.' Then, a little later in the same letter 'I am this moment return'd from Dinner & have seen the Star by which I am very concerned to see Capt Hutt is dead.' He was killed in Lord Howe's action of 'The Glorious First of June, 1994' whilst in command of H.M.S. Queen and is comemmorated by a monument in Westminster Abbey, together with his friend and fellow officer, Capt. John Harvey, of H.M.S. Brunswick. In a later letter, Thomas expresses his concerns on this event in a forcible manner. 'Poor Capt. Hutt! I hope and believe he is more purified from every imperfection & is contemplating with wonder & astonishment the folly & absurdity of mankind in suffering themselves to be the dupes of a vile system which has for its object the gratification of the lusts & passions of a few individuals at the expense of the blood of so many (servile?) millions of the human race.'
In August 1794, John Marsh went up to London with his son, Henry, who had just been appointed a 2nd. Lieut., to procure various items of equipment for him. Whilst there he went and dined with his Aunt Barton, with whom his Sister was staying, en route to Nottingham.
My Sister having found her late new Piano Forte (which she wo'd not let me get of any one but Broadwood) rather weak & tubby in the Bass & to want brilliancy of tone, now had it up to Town to exchange it for a new one, which Broadwood agreed to do on paying 3 Guineas. Finding however on trying several at his House, no one of the same kind, that we tho't much superior to it, I persuaded her to call & try some of Longman & Co's in Cheapside, which she accordingly did, & found them in general to be so superior to Broadwood's small ones, that she imediately determin'd on making the exchange there, Longman having agreed to the same terms provided he sho'd on inspecting it find it to be in the good condition we had mention'd. Having therefore had the Instrum't tuned by Broadwood & sent to a Mr Nias, Mercer in Cockspur Street (formerly Apprentice to Mr Williams) Longman sent to have it look'd at there & in consequence, let us have one of his that we chose, upon the terms agreed on, which was in the follow'g week sent to Nottingham, where Mr Williams was preparing matters for my Sister, who with Sydney, Lydia etc. & my Cousin Charlotte, [daughter of his Aunt Barton] were to go down in a few days.'
In March 1795 John Marsh was in London. 'On the next Morning (Sat'y 28.) I walked to my Aunts at St. Georges in the East, where I saw Mrs Green of Nottingham, Wife of Mr Green Partner to Mr Williams, & who being then separated from her Husband lodged & boarded with my Aunt, which had been brought about by Mr Williams under the Idea of its being an accomodation to them both. She was a very fine handsome looking Woman, but of so artful & intriguing a disposition, that as it turnd out, it wo'd have been happy for my Aunt & Cousin Ch: if she had never come near them.
As I shall not have occasion to mention Mrs Green again, I shall take this opportunity of saying that her boarding at my Aunts instead of being a benefit to her, turn'd out to be a great misfortune, as by her Intrigues with young Lyon, she quite broke off the Match between him & my Cousin Charlotte, who had been engaged to each other for some years, which was a cruel stroke upon her & which she did not recover from for some Months afterwards. I was also, I found, no favorite of hers, she having (as my Aunt afterwards told me) express'd herself as much disappointed in my not being the Man of Fashion she had expected to see.'
Plumptre House was a Georgian mansion in Stoney Street, next to St. Mary's Church. It was built in 1707 by the Plumptre family, who were prominent in Nottingham affairs over many generations. It was re-designed by Colen Campbell for the local M.P. John Plumptre, somewhere between 1723 and 1734. Campbell enlarged it into a Palladian mansion facing east. He rebuilt the east wing of the earlier 'H' shaped house and provided it with a new three-and-a-half storey front facing Stoney Street, where adjacent property was demolished to form a walled forecourt. Deering described it as exhibiting Italian taste on the exterior but English taste inside. It was the first recorded instance of an architect of national standing being employed on a private building in Nottingham. John Plumptre, the last member of the family to reside at Plumptre House died in London in 1791 at the age of 80. He owned, through marriage, the manor of Fredville in Kent and his only son, John, later bought the manor of Barson, (or Barfrestone), from Richard Harvey, the father of Capt. John Harvey, referred to earlier. The Plumptres were near neighbours of John Marsh at Nethersole and he describes the family as 'consisting of a fine venerable old gentlemen in a great wig, his son and daughter, now lady of Sir Richard Carr Glynn.' The Marshes, Plumptres and Harveys were all long established Kentish families and well known to each other. Several generations later, a descendant of this Richard Harvey was to marry a descendant of Thomas Williams.
An advertisement in the Nottingham Journal for 2nd April 1803, announcing that Plumptre House was to be sold, described it as 'A Capital Messuage, in Stoney Street in the Town of Nottingham, (now divided into two Houses) , with the coach-houses, warehouse, stables, buildings, yards, and garden; containing in the whole, 3,903 square yards, in the occupation of Mr. Davison and Mr Williams.'
In 1796, 'The time being now come for putting our scheme in execution of going to Nottingham, ...... we on this Day (Monday Aug'st 1st) after an early Dinner, sat off in a Post Chaise for Godalming. (Then via Ripley, London. and Leicester.) From hence we drove to Loughborough; a large Manufacture Town, where we drank tea & afterw'ds proceeded to Nottingham where we arrived at Plumptre House about 9 o'clock & found my Sister, Mr Williams & the little ones all well. The Dwelling in which they were now settled was the half of a very large Mansion adjoining to the Yard of St. Mary's, the principal Church, belonging to the Plumptre Family which with its Garden was divided in 2 as equal parts as possible, the other half of which was occupied by a Mr Davidson a Stocking Manufacturer & his family, who had almost all the Atticks, Mr Williams all the greatest portion of the lower portion of the House, with the great Hall & principal Entrance.
The next Morning (Monday 8.) I was impatient to sally forth & see the Town but not being able to get the Hairdresser to come & shave & dress me, was confined within 'till after 12 o'clock, when taking my little Nephew John to shew me the way, I went to the Market Place (with the spaciousness of which I was much pleased) & got myself dressed at the Shop. ------- In the Evening a Mr Hunt, a Stocking Manufacturer (a very pleasant, sensible Man) & his Wife, & Miss Hagen a very pretty & pleasing young Woman, came to tea with us, after which I meant to have taken a walk with John to the Trent Bridge about a Mile from Nottingham, over which we came the Evening before, but too late for the view of the Town from thence, & was therefore rather disconcerted at my Sister making it so late before Tea was ready, that it was almost dark when I sat out for my walk, which I did alone, John altering his mind & chusing to stay, being probably attracted by the charms of Miss Hagen.'
The next day, Marsh and Thomas Williams went to the races in Nottingham and over the next few days the Marshes were involved in a social round with friends of the Williams's. On one occasion, (Saturday 13.) 'we all drank tea at the Hunts after which we walked with them to the Castle, on our return from which we about 9 sat down to one of their Nottingham Hot Suppers & Setouts of several Dishes at which Mr Williams remonstrated, as he rather wished to sup with each other in a more neighbourly way. As the Hunts had ask'd us to eat our Bread & Cheese with them, Mr W. said that lest they sho'd expect such a Supper as they gave at his House when they came next he sho'd only ask them to eat a Crust of Bread.
On the next day (Sunday the 14.) we went to St. Mary's Church, which was a very large one in the form of a Cathedral, having a fine & large Organ, which was however played in a very mawkish & insipid manner by a Mr Wise, who had been Organist for many Years.
The romantic Village & Baths of Matlock being within 30 Miles of Nottingham, my Sister had heard much of them, & had wished to go there but defer'd it 'till we came, thinking that we sho'd of course when in that neighbourhood like to see them.' They went via Derby, where they spent some time. Travelling on to Matlock ......
'The next Morning (Thursday 18th) I took a Walk before breakfast with my Sister, Miss Hagen & John up a Hill just behind the Temple, called the Heights of Abraham, the steepness of which was taken off by the Pathway up it being made zig zag.
On the next Morning, (Sunday 21.) I walked with my Sister, Lydia & John to Matlock Church (about a Mile & half off) where our ears were regaled by a Band of rustic Singers, who besides the Psalm & an Anthem, sang the Te Deum etc. being accompanied on the Violincello by a Female generally known by the name of Phoebe, of whose Accomplishments, Music was not the only one, she being reckon'd to excel in many masculine Exercises, such as Cricket playing, Riding & even Horsebreaking, besides which, as she was a Woman of good Understanding she was so much noticed at Matlock that we had heard of her before our arrival there, of Mr Cramer at Derby.
On the following Morning John & I took a walk to Mr Arkwright the great Manufacturer's House [and in the evening they were all joined by a Mr Smith of Nottingham and by Thomas Williams who had ridden over on horseback from Nottingham. [The next day] ...... meeting with a Miner, Mess'rs W. & S. took it in their heads to descend with him into one of the Mines there, for which feeling no inclination myself, I left them & went to the Ladies ...... when my Sister & Miss Smith wishing to see them come out of the Shaft again in their Miners dresses (in which the Guide had equipt them) we went there about the time they were expect [sic] to emerge, when soon hearing them groping their way up, we stood round the Mouth of the Shaft, or opening. Mr Smith was calling to Mr Williams who was some distance before him & asking some question, the other politely replied "Ask my ------- " at which the Ladies (whom Mr W. little thought had been within hearing) burst out laughing, to his great surprize, tho' he was glad to find (as he said) that Mrs M. & Miss Hagen were not there, as he did not much mind the other 2 Ladies.' What could he have said?
They all returned to Nottingham on Wednesday 24th August. Marsh now paid a visit on his own to a cousin in Darlington and took the opportunity to visit Ripon, Durham, York and other places before returning to Nottingham at the beginning of September.
'On the Evening of the next day (Saturday 10th) Mr Green (Mr Williams's Partner) who had been some Months absent on business in the West of England, return'd to Mr Williams's, with whom he had lived ever since he was separated from his Wife.'
Later in the stay, 'Mr Williams having found fault on the preceed'g Saturday, with the Dinner being always much later than usual on that day (owing probably to the Maids being clearing House in the Morning) said he wo'd in future dine on Saturdays at a Mrs Killer's (who kept a Public House & was famous for dressing Beef Steaks in a very savory manner) which he accordingly did on Saturd'y 17h. with Mr Green, altho' Mr Pearson an eminent Music Master of the Neighbourhood, had been invited to dine with us that day, but who having sent no Answer & being rather an uncertain Man was very little expected & no extra provision was made. About 3. however he called, when my Sister by way of apologising for Mr W's absence telling him that they had hardly expected he wo'd come & that her Dinner was consequently rather short (to which however she invited him to stay saying that I dined at home) he took the hint (which I must say was a broad one) & complaining of a Head ache begged to be excused staying & accordingly march'd off directly, which I must own I did not wonder at, as it wo'd have been certainly as well if my Sister had defer'd apologising for her Dinner (of which there wo'd doubtless have been enough) 'till it was upon Table. On however Mr Williams hearing afterwards of his expressing some disappointment at his reception, he became very angry & said he wo'd never give him another opportunity of so complaining, by not asking him again.
The Williams's & Mrs M. being going to Meeting in the Evening (Sunday 18th.) to hear a Mr Medley, a Preacher of some celebrity, amongst the Dissenters, John (his son) & I went out to take a little walk, when passing by the Meeting & seeing a number of people at the doors, we look'd in, & finding the Preacher to be uncomonly energetic in his manner, we accompanied a Musical Gent'n of our acquaintance into a Pew, & were entertained with a Sermon deliver'd in the most quaint Language I ever heard, some parts of which were so ludicrous as to set some of the Congregation laughing, for which he reproved them from the Pulpit.'
On the evening of Saturday 1st October, 'the Williams's had a large party to drink tea, play at Cards & stay Supper, consisting of Mr Walker, a Dissenting Minister, & his Wife, Mr & Mrs Attenburrow, the Coldhams & several others, all of whom went away before 12, except Mr Walker (who seem'd to be a very sensible Man) & another Gent'n who (altho' it was Saturday night) staid to smoke a snug Pipe (as Mr Walker facetiously said) after the Women were gone.' George Walker was the Minister of the High Pavement Presbyterian Chapel and the Coldhams and Mr Attenburrow were subscribing members of the Society of Protestant Dissenters of the High Pavement Chapel.
The Dissenting movement was strongly established in Nottingham and much of its activity centred around the Presbyterian Chapel on High Pavement, (later to become the Unitarian Chapel). The first chapel was built around 1690 but even in its infancy, before the present chapel was erected in 1876, its congregations embraced some of the first rank families of the town; the Pierreponts, Plumptres, Sherwins and Musters and included many men influential in Nottingham's affairs, especially in the business of the Corporation.
In 1717, it is said, the congregation of the High Pavement Chapel numbered no less than 1,400, probably a sixth of the population of the town. Just over 100 years later, in 1833, it was estimated that just under 6,000 people attended Anglican services and 12,000 attended Nonconformist services. In 1774, the Rev. George Walker was appointed assistant minister at the Chapel and for the next twenty five years he held sway in Nottingham, the acknowledged leader of its religious and intellectual life. Walker was a noted mathematician, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a friend of Price and Priestley and well known even to Adam Smith. Four years after his arrival he was joined by Gilbert Wakefield, another great spirit of revolt, who came back to his native town and formed, with Walker and others, a literary club which met for discussion at the houses of the members. An account of early Presbyterianism in Nottingham says that 'The members of the club were generally of a description superior to what most provincial towns were capable of affording', and goes on to assert 'that Nottingham may claim to have made a worthy contribution to the stream which, rising from the rich source of Dissent, fed the intellectual as well as the industrial world with some of its finest leadership.'
Thomas was listed in the Nottingham trade directories as a hosier, in Stoney Street. The early hosiery industry, based on William Lee's knitting frame, was centred on London. A Framwork Knitters' Company was formed to maintain strict control over the number of apprentices accepted and also to ensure that only high quality goods were produced. Such controls, which included heavy fees and fines, were greatly resented, so that from the middle of the 17th century many knitters moved to the midland counties, away from the London hosiers who dominated the Framework Knitters' Company. The three counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire became the main hosiery making region of England. It has been estimated that by the first decade of the 19th century there were around thirty thousand knitting frames at work in England, of which twenty thousand were in these three midland counties; over 9,000 being in Nottinghamshire. By 1812, the number of Midland knitting frames comprised 85% of all the frames in the United Kingdom.
The framework knitting industry was probably unique in domestic handicrafts because of the amount of initial capital needed to set up the machines. Thus from its very inception it tended to fall into the hands of the small capitalist and this lead in due course to the evolution of the capitalist hosier. A combination of economic and technical factors favoured the large producer and the industry rapidly assumed all the features of capitalist organisation, except that instead of being concentrated in factories, which evolved later, production was dispersed in the homes and workshops of villages and towns. Under these conditions the industry was dominated by the capitalist hosier, who exercised an all embracing control over the livelihoods of those who worked in this predominantly family centred and scattered environment.
A hosier owned a number of knitting frames, some of which might operate under his supervision in his own workshop, whilst others would be let out on hire to his workman working in their homes. Besides these, other stockingers, private owners of frames, were dependent on him for material and were his paid employees in all but name. During the greater part of the eighteenth century the stockingers appear to have brought their output at intervals of a week or fortnight to the hosier's warehouse, generally an attic or some other part of his dwelling house. The hosier kept the work in its rough state until he received orders from customers, who would typically be shopkeepers, pedlars or merchants for export abroad, when the goods would be dyed as requested. A degree of specialisation within each county had developed, with Leicestershire predominant in woollen knitting, Nottinghamshire in cotton and Derbyshire in silk.
Although Thomas had prospered, the seeds of decline in the knitting industry had been sown towards the end of the 18th century. Overmanning, due to the uncontrolled and excessive recruitment of apprentices, increasing competition arising from the enhanced output available from new machinery for the same input of labour, and changes in fashion which drastically reduced the demand for stockings, all contributed to the endemic problems of too many workers and not enough customers. The French Revolutionary wars from 1791 brought some relief by bringing in orders for the military, whilst the entry of men into the forces helped to reduce the overcrowding in the industry but this respite was short-lived. As G.M. Trevelyan observed, 'it was the poor who suffered by the war but at no period had the landed gentry been wealthier or happier, or more engrossed in the life of their pleasant country houses. The war was in the newspapers, but it scarcely entered the lives of the enjoying classes. The war proved a source of increased wealth to the landlords and of prolonged calamity to the wage-earner.'
Thomas Williams continued to make twice yearly business visits to the Gosport area usually in the early spring and in the autumn, sometimes accompanied by his son Sydney and on at least one occasion by his daughter Lydia. He usually called on his brother-in-law, John Marsh, and stayed for a day or two, though he made a point of always returning to Gosport for Sundays, most probably to attend the Meeting at the Congregational Chapel there. In August 1798, 'Mr Williams having been for sometime on a Journey of Business, to the Westward, & being now at his Mother's at Gosport who (it seem'd) had then made up her mind to return with him to spend the remainder of her Days at Nottingham, it occur'd to him that as they must go in Post Chaises, which wo'd take 3 for the same expence as 2 it wo'd be a good opportunity for my Sister to come at a moderate expence & see her friends once more in this part of the World. Accordingly she came down by the Coaches about the time we went first to Bersted & was then with Mr W. & his Mother at Gosport, from whence she & Mr W. proposed coming & spending 2 or 3 days with us before their return.'
In November 1799, Marsh reports, 'I had a Letter from Mr Williams, acquainting me of the Death of their third little Boy (Joseph) after a short Illness.'
It is apparent that Thomas had made some very influential relationships in Nottingham, perhaps even before he went there, through business and other connections. Volume VIII of the Records of the Borough of Nottingham list the following enrolments of Burgesses:-
|21st December 1790||George Nelson ||Hosier||Gratis|
|9th August 1796||Thomas Williams||Hosier||Gratis|
|11th October 1796||Wright Coldham ||Hosier||Gratis|
The early nineteenth century Corporation, which was Whig, created a large number of Burgesses merely in order to procure more Parliamentary votes in their interest. Gratis, or by gift of the Corporation, was a method used when they sought to honour a man - or secure his vote.
As an apprentice master, Thomas took on three apprentices; his nephew, Edward Thomas Marsh, (in 1800), and his two eldest sons, Thomas Sydney, (in 1801), and John, (in 1803). Having served an apprenticeship to a Nottingham Burgess, a man could qualify as a Burgess himself, enrolment usually taking place on completion of his apprenticeship, generally at the age of twenty one. Thomas Sydney became a Burgess thus, by servitude, in 1808, but neither Edward Marsh nor John were so enrolled.
A leading figure in Nottingham around this time was George Coldham, who held office as Town Clerk from 1792 until his death in 1815. The Coldham family were Presbyterians from Norwich. The Rev. William Enfield, LL.D, (1741-1797) was an eminent Unitarian minister of Norwich, being from 1785 until his death, pastor of the congregation of Protestant Dissenters in Dr. Taylor's distinguished Octagon Chapel there, the chapel where several of the Coldham family, including Wright Coldham's daughter, Marianne, were christened. His eldest son Richard was, in 1790, appointed the Town Clerk of Nottingham, at the age of 22, apparently on the recommendation of his father. When Richard died a year later he was succeeded by George Coldham (himself only 26 years old) and Richard's younger brother Henry was placed under George's care until he had served the remainder of his clerkship, which expired in 1796. In 1799 he became a partner in the firm of Coldham and Enfield. When George Coldham died in 1815 Henry Enfield took over as Town Clerk. It is clear from this that the Coldham and Enfield families must have been well acquainted in Norwich, as they were later in Nottingham.
George Coldham died intestate and the administration of his estate was first granted to his brother Wright Coldham and then, on the latter's death a year later, to Marianne Coldham, Wright Coldham's daughter, who, a little over a year after that, married Henry Williams, third son of Thomas Williams. Thomas clearly formed a close friendship with the Coldham family, as implied by John Marsh on his first visit to Nottingham. George Coldham was a staunch Whig and Thomas is recorded as having voted for the Whig candidate in the Parliamentary elections of 1802.
George and Wright Coldham were active members of the High Pavement Chapel and there are several entries in the baptismal register of the Chapel for children of Wright Coldham. As an aside, Abigail Gawthern recorded in her diary (p 149) 'Mrs Coldham, wife of Mr Wright Coldham, died in childbed. Jul. (1810). aged 36; has left eight children; he is mayor this year.' Edward Garrard Marsh describes Wright Coldham as 'an agent for a cotton manufactory at Nottingham' and a partnership agreement dated 1st July 1796, between Francis Hart and Wright Coldham, describes them both as hosiers.
Thomas Williams, however, whilst remaining a Dissenter, did not join the Unitarians. An account of the life of his son, William, written as one of a series of Brief Sketches of C.M.S. Workers, says of Thomas, 'He was a sincerely religious man, lively, active and intellectual; and though he was the friend of Dr. Priestley and other Unitarians, he was never shaken in his faith.' A very similar description, on which this 'Sketch' may well be based, by two of Thomas's granddaughters, says of him, 'He was a man of true religious principle, active and energetic, lively and intellectual, of warm affections. ...... His eldest daughter remembered with tender regret, half a century or more after his death, the happy Sunday evenings he spent with his family, part of which would be occupied by singing hymns, and part by his reading to them, with a depth of feeling that drew out the sympathy of the young, from the Bible, from Bishop Hall's Contemplations and other suitable books.' As John Marsh makes clear on his visit to Nottingham in 1796, Thomas Williams was already on friendly terms with the Coldhams and George Walker and it seems certain that he was a member of the literary circle referred to earlier.
Thomas's standing in the city is measured by other factors, also. For centuries, Nottingham had been governed by a self-perpetuating oligarchic council, forming in effect a 'close' corporation, consisting of mayor, aldermen and councillors. After 1606 the council comprised eighteen senior and six junior councillors elected by the mayor and burgesses at a special meeting. Aldermen and councillors were elected for life but in such a way that the electors choice of candidates was closely limited within a safe field.
There was a body known as the livery, or clothing, composed from those who had served in the office of Chamberlain or Sheriff and these officials, whose duties were light, were selected annually by the corporation itself from among the burgesses. That meant, of course, that the livery was a carefully chosen body whose members support could always be relied upon. The senior councillors were elected by the burgesses but they had to be members of the livery. The aldermen were nominated by the corporation, either from the ranks of the senior councillors or from the livery. The six junior councillors were originally intended to produce a more popular element and, in practice, they took a full part in the business of the corporation but they had long been effectively sealed off. Their presence was not strictly necessary, since the mayor, three aldermen and nine senior councillors formed a quorum; they had no access to the various municipal offices and they were in a hopeless minority. In 1789, however, they rebelled and successfully invoked the Corporation Act, which prohibited anyone from holding any office who had not complied with the Test Act on religious observance, against Mayor Smith, who, unlike most of Nottingham's Non-conformist Mayors, was unwilling to make his token act of conformity. This produced a furious response from Gilbert Wakefield, a prominent Dissenter, defending the right of Dissenters to ignore the law if it conflicted with their own deeply held religious beliefs. A summary of his tirade is given in an Appendix, as is a more extensive account of the way Nottingham's oligarchy operated. Wakefield's fiery oratory landed him in serious trouble on another occasion. In 1799 he was sentenced to two years in prison for seditious libel; he had characterised Pitt's government as ' the most pestilential ministry ever commissioned by the wrath of Heaven to sink a great but guilty nation in the gulf of disgrace and misery.'
Thus power remained in the hands of a small clique which monopolised the main seats in the corporation and decided who should be admitted into the livery. In fact, recruitment became little more than a process of co-option, in which family and other interests inevitably played a prominent part. A great majority of the members of the corporation, for instance, were drawn from the dissenting chapels of the town, and in 1833 it was reported that the town clerk, twenty members of the livery and four or five of the officers of the corporation belonged to the High Pavement Chapel alone. During the eighteenth century the Corporation of Nottingham had been largely monopolised by the "old" presbyterian nonconformity at High Pavement Chapel, a congregation established by a group of wealthy and influential burgesses during the Commonwealth. This influence reached its zenith during the last quarter of the eighteenth century when among fifteen men who shared the mayoralty by rotation, twelve are known to have been leading members of High Pavement. As far as the leading citizens were concerned it was virtually a necessity for taking any public office that a man should attend one of the three leading Chapels; High Pavement Unitarian, George Street Baptist or Castle Gate Independent.
During the first three decades of the nineteenth century the Evangelicals gradually manoeuvred themselves into the position of leadership in the Corporation once occupied by the Presbyterians. During the first thirty-four years of the century there were six mayors who are known to have been Evangelicals; between them these six took the mayoralty fifteen times. The most influential political figure outside the Corporation, though intimately connected with it, was Charles Sutton (1765-1829), the Radical owner of the popular Nottingham Review. Sutton was a leading member of the Methodist New Connexion. He was closely associated, with Alderman William Wilson (1769-1833), the leading Evangelical in the Corporation. Wilson was a wealthy hosier and cotton-spinner and a member of Castle Gate Chapel, which came under Methodist influence towards the end of the eighteenth century. Both Sutton and Wilson had been members of High Pavement, but had renounced their former connections; both were radical in their political and religious beliefs; both were enthusiasts for popular education. They sought to bring both spiritual and political enlightenment to Nottingham's proletariat.
In the 9th century, Nottingham was a Danish settlement. After the Conquest, the arrival of the Normans created a division between the French newcomers and the existing Anglo-Saxon community, which ultimately lead to the formation of two boroughs, the French to the west and the English to the east. A new charter granted to Nottingham in 1449 by Henry VI gave the town county borough status. Amongst the changes arising from this was that two sheriffs were to be appointed, nominally, one for the French borough and one for the English, though these distinctions gradually disappeared.
Thomas attended the Castle Gate Chapel and he was elected one of the two Chamberlains of the town on Michaelmas Day, (28th September), 1802, and one of the two Sheriffs of Nottingham on Michaelmas Day, (29th September), 1803. His co-Sheriff was George Nelson, the older brother of James Nelson, the father of Jane Nelson who was later to marry Thomas's son, William. Both George and James Nelson were members of St. Mary's Gate Independent Chapel. As a relative newcomer, and without any dynastic claims, it is likely that Thomas had only reached the fringes of this elite group but with his personality, his business contacts and his connections with such as the Coldhams and the Nelsons, it is intriguing to speculate what the future might have held for him if he had not died so early.
The Shire Hall on High Pavement (strictly, the King's Hall) was where the King's local representative, the Shire's Reeve, or Sheriff upheld the King's law prerogative. Its history goes back many centuries but, over the years, the building has suffered much neglect and many vicissitudes. It was demolished and rebuilt, opening again in 1770. Since then it has been considerably modified. In 1876 it suffered major damage in a fire but was restored. Later, it became the County Police Headquarters but these have now moved elsewhere.
Sadly, these former centres of political power have suffered almost humiliating declines from their former pre-eminent status. The High Pavement Chapel no longer exists in its previous form. By the late 1990s it was in use as a museum for the long defunct Lace Market but it did not survive long in this role. It has now (2007) been converted into a prestigious restaurant, the new congregation comprising upwards of 600 diners. The pre-dinner waiting area, equipped with comfortable seats and a wall mounted television, is sited where the altar used to be, near to the pulpit from which Gilbert Wakefield thundered his rousing sermons in the heyday of the Chapel's status as the epicentre of Nottingham's religious and political influence. (Well, not quite, perhaps. The Chapel that stands there now was rebuilt in 1876, some 75 years after his death, but I am sure that his spirit still inhabits his old haunts!). St. Mary's Gate Independent Chapel, attended by the Nelson family, has been demolished, and in its place there is an open piazza. Only the Castle Gate Chapel remains to serve its original purpose, although it is much changed from its original form; the present building dates from 1863. The future role of the Shire Hall remains undecided.
Some of the office holders whose names appear in this narrative are listed here, taken from the Records of the Borough of Nottingham:-
|Sheriffs of Nottingham|
|1785-6 ||John Heath; Hosier || |
|1787||John Davison||Thomas Nelson|
|1798||Wright Coldham ||William Wilson|
|1803||George Nelson||Thomas Williams|
|1807||John Bates||Wright Coldham|
|Mayors of Nottingham|
|1809||Wright Coldham|| |
John Heath was described in Edmund Sydney Williams's diary as a hosiery manufacturer who lived in Beeston. Thomas Sydney later married his daughter, Caroline.
In March 1801, Marsh recalls, 'On the next day (Friday the 6h.) Mr Williams & his Daughter Lydia (whom we had not seen for 4 Years & a half & was grown up a fine tall Girl) came to us to Dinner from Gosport, staid with us 'till the next Afternoon, when they return'd there; Mr W. being on his usual Journey of Business.'
In August of the same year, the Marshes paid another visit to Nottingham. 'On arriving at Nottingham we found my Sister Mr W. & all the young ones well, of whom the latter (except Lydia whom we had seen in the preceeding Spring) were all grown almost out of Knowledge, Edw'd [Thomas Marsh] who was almost a Child when we were there 5 Yr's before, being now a steady young Man of 16 attending the Warehouse, & much alter'd in his appearance. Rebecca too who was an Infant when we were there last was now a fine Girl of 6 Yrs & ½ old, there being now 2 younger than her, viz. Catherine, about 4 Yrs old, & Pet of the family, & Will'm near 2. The young Men Sydney, John & Henry were also proportionally grown & alter'd.
On the Saturday follow'g (the 8h.) a large party dined at Mr W's viz. Mr Dennison & 2 Sons, Dr Pennington & his Brother, Mr Whiter (Partner to Mr Williams) [It is not known when Thomas and Mr Whiter went into partnership together but it seems a strong possibility that this occurred after the bankruptcy of Henry Green & Co. in 1797] Mr Harris (Sydney's Schoolmaster) & Mr Bogue Dissenting Minister of Gosport, who being on a Journey back from Scotland, came to stay a few days at Mr Williams's during which Visit we had prayers in the family twice a day, which he deliv'd extempore. On the next day (Sunday) I went with Mrs M. & Edw'd in the Morning to St. Mary's Church & in the Afternoon with them & the Williams's to Castlegate Meeting at which Mr Bogue officiated, with whose Sermon we were much pleas'd.
Having been disappointed of going to Southwell to see the Collegiate Church there the last time I was at Nottingham owing to the Inflammation in my Leg, I now got a Horse for Mr Williams's Chaise, in which I on Monday the 10th. drove Edward there before breakfast, immediately after which we went to the Church, in the first appearance of which I was much disappointed owing to the 2 Spires at the West end (which I had seen represented in Prints of the Church) having been from their ruinous state, recently taken down. Having attended the Choir Service, which was perform'd in as bad a manner as I ever heard we went into the Chapter House & up the Tower, after which we took a walk about a Mile out of Town tow'ds Newark, the lofty spires of which Church we saw as we did the Cathedral of Lincoln the latter of which however being at a great distance.' (Newark is some 7 miles from Southwell, as the crow flies, and Lincoln about 20.) 'On our return we dined at the Inn (the Saracen's Head perhaps? Originally the King's Arms, where on 5th May 1646 Charles I dined and rested, before surrendering himself to the Scottish Commissioners. The name of the Inn was changed to the Saracen's Head in 1651) & at 4 went to the Afternoon Service, when I went into the Organ Loft & played the Chant & Voluntary, the rest of the Service being played in a slovenly manner by a Boy, the Apprentice to Mr Spofforth the Organist. At 5 we sat out on our return to Nottingham, where (tho' the distance was but 14 Miles) we did not arrive 'till after 8 the Road being in general heavy & hilly, & our Horse a very lazy one.
On the next day (Tuesday 11th) the Races began to which however none of us went (except the Boys) but in the Evening all went to the usual Tuesday Evenings Lecture at Castlegate Meeting which was this Evening deliver'd by Mr Bogue who afterw'ds supped with Mr Williams at Mr Alliott the Dissenting Minister's, besides which they also this day breakfasted & dined out.
On the next Morning Mr Pearson the Music Master who occasionally gave Lydia a Lesson came to call on me, with whom I sang some Glees etc.' after which he, with Edward and Mr Pearson, went to the Races. 'On our return we found a Mr & Mrs Rawson at Mr Williams's who, with Mr Pearson supt with us, previous to which Mr Bogue said prayers, which fixt the unwieldy Mr Pearson upon his knees for a longer time than I believe he was used to, as he told Mr W. the next Morning he co'd have excused about half the Prayer. ...... On this day (Wednesday 12th) Mr Bogue left us & sat out on his return to Gosport.
On Friday the 21st Edw'd with his Cousins Edw'd [Thomas Marsh] & Sydney went & had a days fishing with Mr Whiter on the Trent, ......
On the next day (Wednesd'y the 26h.) the Dancing Master (Mr Keys) came to the young people, who danced in the long Gallery the whole Afternoon & Evening, after which Mr Keys staid & supp'd with us.
Having the last time we were at Nottingham spent a delightful week at Matlock, we were now determin'd on spending another Week there, & accordingly proposed it to the Williams's soon after we came, who readily agreed to accompany us there, & the more so, as Mr W. who had for sometime had a little obstinate cough hanging upon him, seem'd to think that a little change of Air, more Exercise than he was in the habit of taking at home, might be of service to him. We were therefore to have set off on Monday the 17th. but his Cough having then rather worse'd Dr Pennington seem'd to think it hardly proper for him to encounter a public Table & therefore advis'd his deferring it a week. Monday the 24h was therefore then, & at length, Thursday the 27th fixt for the Journey, on which day we went by way of Ripley, Mrs M. Edw'd & I in one Chaise & Mr, Mrs Williams, Sydney & Lydia in another, & arriv'd at Matlock time enough to dine at the public Table at Leedham's Hotel, late Mason's, which we found much enlarged since we were there in 1796, there being a new Dining Room built, & the old one now serving as a public Tea, Dancing & Drawing Room, which was much wanted before. ...... In the Afternoon [of the following day, Friday 28th] the 2 young Men hav'g walked out, Mr Williams & I thought we descried them labouring up the steepest part of the Hill to the left of the Zig-zag walks to the Heights of Abraham, up which latter we then walk'd to the Alcove, where Sydney join'd us having separated from his cousin Edw'd whom we afterwards discovered near the bottom of the Hill, where he joined us on our return.'
On Sunday 30th, Marsh, with his wife, sister and Edward walked to Mr Arkwright's new Chapel at Cromford and Mr Williams, accompanied by Sydney and Lydia went to a meeting in the same village. Mr Arkwright's gardens being open on Mondays and Thursdays, they all went there on the Monday, admiring the variety of views through the shrubberies. On the Tuesday they visited the so-called Petrifying Well. Over the next couple of days they made two more climbs up to the Heights of Abraham.
'On the next morning (Sat'y 5h) I went with Edw'd & Mr Sikes into the principal Cavern or Spar Mine, called the Cumberland Cavern, which we explored entirely, & were much gratified with it.'
Eventually, having stayed at Matlock a week longer than they had originally intended, they left on Thursday 10th September and returned to Nottingham, via Derby.
Early in 1802, Marsh reports, 'On Friday April 2d. in the Evening, Mr Williams pop'd in upon us, from Gosport, whom we had been sometime looking out for (it being past the time of his usual Journey of business this way) ...... As he always, when in this Neighbourhood, spent his Sundays at Gosport, we co'd not prevail on him to stay but 'till the follow'g Afternoon when he returned there again, after taking an early Dinner with us.'
It is relevant at this point to reflect further on the dissenting convictions of the Williams family and their later evolution into evangelism. The minutes of the Castle Gate meeting in Nottingham record that Thomas was an occasional communicant there but even when, in January 1801, he was specifically requested 'to come into full communion', it was not until more than a year later, on 30th May 1802, that he was received as a member 'by dismission from Gosport'. Was it a continuing admiration for the causes pursued with such vigour by David Bogue that made Thomas so reluctant to relinquish his ties with the Gosport Chapel?
The missionary zeal was active in Nottingham also. In early 1795 the Rev. Richard Alliott took over as pastor of the Castle Gate Chapel. In September of that year the London Missionary Society was formed and a fortnight afterwards the members of Castle Gate took a collection for the Society at an afternoon service at which Mr. Alliott preached a sermon 'suited to the occasion'. In April 1798, 'The rev'd Mr. Burder of Coventry preached a Sermon for the benefit of the Missionary Society; the Collection (which was made both in the afternoon and evening) amounted to fifty six Pounds'. In 1814 closer links were forged by the formation of a local 'auxiliary' to the missionary society and later still 'Mr Alliott's
abiding interest in the missionary cause was recognised when, in 1828, he was asked to preach in Surrey Chapel at the thirty-fourth anniversary of the London Missionary Society.' When he died it was said of him that 'the whole course of his ministry was eminently evangelical.'
It may be of interest to note here that when David Bogue died, on 25th October 1825, he was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Alverstoke, within twenty yards of the tomb of the Rev. Thomas Williams.
Some time after Thomas had been prevailed upon to join Castle Gate, the minute book for 27th December 1803 records that 'at the quarterly Church meeting (after prayer) it was agreed that it would be for the good of the Church and Congregation to have a Committee chosen every year to conduct the affairs of the Church & C. and to assist the Deacons with their advice and C. when any cases occurred out of the ordinary way, respecting seats, Begging cases, repairs & C. The following persons were appointed: Mr Williams, Mr Thos Simson, Mr Wilson & Mr Gill.' S.D.Chapman, writing on 'The Evangelical Revival & Education in Nottingham', describes Alderman William Wilson as a wealthy hosier and cotton spinner and a member of Castle Gate Chapel, 'which came under Methodist influence towards the end of the eighteenth century .' He was regarded as the leading Evangelical in the Corporation, a group which by 1833 had gradually manoeuvred itself into the position of dominance in the Corporation once occupied by the Presbyterians. Wilson was Mayor in 1811, 1816, 1823 and 1830. Another member of Castle Gate, Edward Swann, also regarded as an Evangelical, was Mayor in 1805 and 1812.
Thomas's son, William, later to take up missionary work in New Zealand with his brother Henry, was baptised at Castle Gate. Mary Williams, his wife, was admitted to membership in 1804, as were Sidney Williams, Miss Williams, (almost certainly, Lydia), and, in 1806, Edward Thomas Marsh. Whilst Henry did not become a member, the account of his life in The Dictionary of National Biography records that his mother's 'dissenting piety and strong character, together with the example of her three naval-officer brothers, are said to have been major influences on the young Henry.' (As a matter of strict record it should be noted that Edward, one of John Marsh's younger brothers and, like his other two brothers, a naval officer, died in Jamaica in 1786, some six years before Henry was born, so it was unlikely that he exerted much influence on Henry!)
Plumptre House was situated in Stoney Street and parallel with this, running behind St. Mary's church, is St. Mary Gate, where the St. Mary's Gate Independent Chapel was located. Seven children of James and Anna Maria Nelson were christened there between 1793 and 1805. One of these was Jane Nelson, later to marry William. As noted earlier, Jane's uncle, George Nelson, was also a member of St. Mary's Gate Chapel, and held office as Sheriff jointly with Thomas Williams, so the two families must have been closely acquainted with each other. Thus, when Jane was engaged, many years afterwards, at the age of sixteen, as a pupil at Mary Williams' school in Southwell, it would have been as the result of a long standing family friendship.
During February 1803 Thomas Williams went on an extended business journey through Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, down as far as Plymouth and Truro. He wrote frequently and with great warmth to his wife, Mary. On one occasion he writes yearningly 'I had (a) most delightful ride today to this place - I wish'd for your company most heartily - the weather was so mild & the views so beautiful - I do not like these solitary enjoyments - it is not pleasant.' At times, however, the weather was bitterly cold and there were signs that there was a chill in the business climate as well. In Bath, he recounts that 'I am sorry to say I can do but little here; there are several people selling Hosiery lower than we can make them & besides the ground is covered with Hosiers & moreover the season is more than half over. All my Customers are at least civil so that I have ground to go on another time, with which I must be content for the present.' And later, at Plymouth, 'Things are so extremely flat there that I shall stay no longer than I can possibly help'.
In April 1803 Thomas Williams travelled to the south again and John Marsh's account of the trip reveals another aspect of Thomas's character. 'Altho' from the Voke's information at Gosport, I expected to have found Mr Williams & Lydia at Sarum (where Marsh was on a brief visit) on my arrival, yet they did not get there 'till this Afternoon, a short time before the Concert began, to which we took Lydia with us; who spent almost the whole of the following day with us at John's Lodgings, in the course of which I took her to the Cathedral in Service time, with which she was much pleased, ...... As to Mr Williams he declined dining with us, in consequence of having some of his Customers to entertain at the Spread Eagle, & did not come to Tea on account of his being but just recovering from a bad Cold, which prevented his being out of an Evening. As however he was, we found, to set out early the next Morning, with Lydia in his way to Gosport, we all went & sat an hour with him at the Spread Eagle in the Evening, where we discuss'd a matter I had long wish'd for an opportunity of doing with him; to explain which I must go back to the time when my Brother W'm. was staying with us, when in a walk together in January, on our conversation happening to turn upon the Williams's, & my expressing myself as rather displeased at Mr W. with Sydney & Lydia not staying to see us when they were at Chichester on the day of our return from Worthing in the preceeding Sept'r, he observ'd that there seem'd to be some misunderstanding between us, as on their returning to Nottingham soon after that time (where he with my Brother Henry were then staying) Mr W. had express'd himself several times as displeased with us on account of my son John having told him at Salisbury, in his way to Chichester that we sho'd be glad to see him & the young people with him, when they came to Chichester but co'd give them no beds, on account of Henry & Edw'd (his other sons) being then with us. As I co'd by no means account for John's saying this of his own accord, as he must have known we had Bed enough notwithstand'g his Brothers being then at home, I now wrote to ask if he co'd recollect exactly what had passed between him & Mr W. upon the subject, who in his answer said he had no recollection of having said anything of the kind & apprehended it must be a mistake of Mr W's. Thinking however it possible that the mistake might be Williams's, who from his deafness might hear only a partial account of the matter, I wrote to my Brother Henry at Sandwich for his account of it, who in reply said he co'd not recollect by whom it was Mr W. was told we had no Beds for them but that my Sister had told him the principal reason of his displeasure was on account of our having taken no notice of Lydia who after they left Chichester in September, remain'd a Month afterwards at her Uncle & Aunt Vokes at Gosport. As however the only message left by Mr Williams when at Chichester was "that they were obliged to return to Gosport without staying to see us, as on the day but one afterwards he had settled to be at Winchester on his return homeward" we therefore had no more reason to know of Lydia's being to be left at Gosport than we had of Sydney's being left, & indeed we remain'd totally ignorant of her being so near us, 'till we receiv'd a Letter from my Sister a little before my Bro'r Will'm came to us in Nov'r in which she mention'd Lydia's having been staying a Month at Gosport for the sake of the sea bathing, which not agreeing with her, she had gone back to Mr Townsend, at Pewsey, where she had been staying before. I therefore thought I sho'd at once be able to set matters to rights between us, by simply relating the fact, that we were totally ignorant of Lydia's being left behind & not returning with her Father & her Brother in Septemb'r to Notting'm but as Mr W. seems at all times fond of protracting a debate, & always maintains his point whether right or wrong, we continued the discussion for near an hour, at the end of which we parted, seemingly little satisfied with each other, Mr W. instead of closing the discussion imediately on my declaration, seeming to think we must have known of her not returning home with him, & entering into much extraneous matter. As to the affair of the Beds, that was soon got over, the mention of John's being concern'd in it, being a blunder of my Brother Will'm's it being Edw'd who in a Latin Epistle to his Cousin Sydney from Worthing in Aug'st said he hoped when they came to Chichester we sho'd see as much as possible in the day time, as Henry being then with us we sho'd not he thought be able to give them all Beds, which Mr W. had no doubt but he mention'd in the simplicity of his heart, thinking they wo'd want 3 beds, in fact one more than we co'd have given them.' Matters were soon smoothed over, however. 'On this day (Good Friday, 8th April) Mr Williams & Lydia came to us from Gosport before Dinner, & staid with us 'till the Afternoon of the next day the latter of whom (who was now quite recover'd from her late Indisposition) we wish'd to keep with us 'till the Easter Ball on the Tuesday following, on the day after which I offer'd to take her back myself to Gosport, but co'd not prevail on Mr W. to leave her, he being to go on the Wednesday after to Winton (Winchester) in his way home. He however now seem'd in very good humour & to have got rid of the displeasure he seem'd lately to have felt against us on Lydia's account.'
In August, 'Mr Williams being now on his usual autumnal journey, & having arriv'd at Sarum the day after Edw'd & I left it, came to Gosport on the Saturday after, & on Monday the 29. came on to Chichester time enough to breakfast & spend the day with us, in the afternoon of which, after an early dinner I drove him to the Signal Station (to which Edw'd walked as usual) & drank tea with Henry; on the morning after which he return'd to Gosport.' (John Marsh's brother Henry had been on half pay as a consequence of the peace treaty with France in 1802, which resulted in much of the active services being stood down. He had solicited further employment from the Admiralty, if possible to a station near Chichester and had been appointed to take charge of a Signal Station at Barn Rocks, between Pagham and Bognor.)
'On the 19th (November) we heard a piece of news at which we were much concern'd, viz. the death of Mr Whiter, Mr Williams's partner, of Nottingham who died at Edingborough, to which place Mr Williams went post with Mrs Whiter imediately on hearing of his illness, but they arrived too late to see him alive.'
In the first few days of January, John Marsh was occupied with some training activities of his volunteer battalion, when ' At the beggining of all this bustle I receiv'd a piece of News, as afflicting as it was unexpected, viz. an account of the death of my Bro'r in Law Mr Williams of Nottingham, of whose previous illness we had not heard. The Letter arrived just as we had done breakfast, & was from Mrs Whiter, Widow of the late partner (who had died only about 6 weeks before) & mention'd that he had about a fortnight before been taken with a rheumatic fever attended at times by delirium, from which however he had seem'd recovering, & was thought out of danger when he was seized with a violent hiccough that no medicine co'd relieve, which soon carried him off.' Because various friends and acquaintances were due to visit and dine with them that day, he withheld the news from his wife until the evening, when 'she was much shock'd & concern'd for my Sister.'
'On the next day I answer'd Mrs Whiter's Letter & soon afterw'ds wrote to my Sister, offering to go to Nottingham if I co'd be of any use in sorting or arranging papers or ballancing accounts etc. or to take any of the Child'n off her hands, sho'd she wish to lessen her family for a time.'
In February, 'My Brother Henry thinking he co'd be of great service to my sister, now a Widow, by going to Nottingham & attending the Warehouse & looking over the books etc. for her; & finding the profits of his station to be very short of what they used to be when he was at Beachy head in the last War (owing to the great oeconomy of the present 1st Lord of the Admiralty, who had taken off their half pay & much reduced their allowances for Coals, Candles & Stationary) he had lately applied to be superceded, which was done on Sunday 4h. ...... & on the Tuesday following came to stay a few days with us, previous to his going to Nottingham.'
A diary kept by a journalist of the period, Abigail Gawthern, records that on 9th November 1803, 'Mr Whiter, a hosier, and in partnership with Mr Williams of Plumbtree House, died at Edenborough; he was out on business and caught a fever.' Then on 6th January 1804, Abigail Gawthern notes: 'Mr Williams, a hosier in Fletcher Gate, died; he was buried at Sneinton the l2th; a neat tombstone erected in the church yard; a man much respected (a dissenter).'
Other accounts say that Thomas caught typhus fever through visiting his sick partner and they both died within a few days of each other but these are not consistent with the versions given by John Marsh and Abigail Gawthern. In spite of his standing in the city, the Nottingham Journal dated 7th January 1804, records simply, under its dateline for Friday evening, 6th January, 'This morning died Mr. Williams, a hosier, and one of the Sheriffs of this town,' The Records of the Borough of Nottingham note that on 8th March 1804 Jonathan Dunn was elected Sheriff 'in place of T. Williams, deceased.' He had previously held the office of Sheriff himself in 1799/00.
Even John Marsh's version of Thomas's death cannot be wholly relied on. A codicil to Thomas's Will, dated 3rd January 1804, was clearly drawn up in the face of impending death. As he must have been 'of sound mind' at this point, in order for the codicil to be considered valid, it rather suggests that his condition was felt to be terminal much earlier, and deteriorated over a period of days; in fact he survived another three days after the codicil had been enacted, in contrast to the account given by John Marsh, that he 'was thought out of danger when he was seized with a violent hiccough that no medicine co'd relieve, which soon carried him off.' It bequeathed five guineas apiece to his sister Rebecca and her husband John Voke, and to Dame Lydia, the wife of the Rev. Joseph Townsend of Pusey in the County of Wilts, for the purchase of mourning rings. Dame Lydia was his second cousin, daughter of James Hammond, whose title of Dame came from her first husband, Sir John Clerke R.N. One of the witnesses to the codicil was George Coldham, whose firm, Coldham & Enfield, acted as solicitors to the family. The C.M.S. Sketch mentioned previously describes Thomas as 'successful in business and having the prospects of riches before him.' In spite of this, when his Will was proved, his assets were stated as less than £1,000.
Thomas's burial on 12th January 1804 is recorded in the register of the church of St. Stephen with Alban, Sneinton, which is about half a mile from the site of Plumptre House. The church that stands there now was partly rebuilt in 1837-39 and further reconstruction was carried out in 1912. Whereas in Thomas's time it was outside the city boundaries, it has since been engulfed by the mid-Victorian development eastwards, which in turn has become a rather run down part of Nottingham. Thomas Williams's 'neat tombstone' does not appear to have survived.
The advertisement in the Nottingham Journal for 2nd April 1803, alluded to earlier, announcing that Plumptre House was to be sold, seems to suggest that Thomas and Mary had moved elsewhere sometime during that year. Thomas Bailey, in his Annals of Nottingham, written in 1855, said that ' Mr Davison occupied Plumtre House and carried on his business in the premises .... He had been at one time among the principal manufacturers of hosiery in Nottingham but perished before the new principles of trade and manufacture introduced by youthful competitors'. John Davison was Mayor in 1801 and died in January 1804. At any rate, Plumptre House had a number of other occupants following the deaths of John Davison and Thomas Williams. William Wilson who was Mayor of Nottingham on four occasions between 1811 and 1830, took up residence in the 1820s, and died there in 1833. He was a cotton spinner but unlike John Davison he remained successful, leaving an estate of £25,000 when he died. Like Thomas Williams, he was a member of Castle Gate Independent Chapel.
By 1851 the premises were used as a girl's boarding school. The census return for that year tells us that Mrs Anna Eliza Treffry, a widow aged 46 was the proprietor, with three daughters of her own as pupils, together with twelve other girls aged from twelve to seventeen.
Plumptre House, which had been such a notable feature of Nottingham's earlier 'garden-city' appearance, did not suit the need for the more factory-style operations of the burgeoning lacemaking industry. It was demolished in 1853, having been sold to Alderman Richard Birkin for £8,410, who built a warehouse and factory premises on the site. With adjoining land, Richard Birkin, together with his son Thomas Isaac Birkin, built not only a new set of warehouses but had a new street, Broadway, laid out between St. Mary's Gate and Stoney Street. These still exist, though occupied by a different business. Richard Birkin came from a humble family in Belper in Derbyshire to New Basford in the 1820s during the bobbin-net 'fever'. He soon built up a thriving business there, in partnership with Richard Biddle.
A very eroded coat of arms of the Plumptre family has been placed on the wall of the covered entrance to the Birkin factory, off the south side of Broadway. A fine wrought iron arch from Plumptre House is now the Buttery Bar of the Castle Museum. The top section of it is decribed as early to mid 18th century; the lower section reconstructed in the late 19th century.
The minutes of the Castle Gate Congregational chapel record that Mary's membership lapsed when she 'left the town' in 1804. John Marsh tells us later that she was living in Beeston, a suburb of Nottingham, where she continued to attend Congregational meetings after Thomas's death. The reason for them leaving Plumptre House is not known; perhaps the lease had expired, but it seems possible that they were living in Beeston when he died. Abigail Gawthern refers to 'Mr Williams, a hosier in Fletcher Gate, ...'The Nottingham directories for 1805, 1809 and 1811 show the business of 'Williams and Co. Manufacturers of Hosiery. Pilchergate.' which may offer further confirmation of the move.
THE COLLAPSE OF THE BUSINESS
When Thomas decided to move up to Nottingham he was no doubt encouraged by two factors. One has been alluded to earlier - the attractions of Nottingham as 'a fashionable elegant town', as opposed to the disadvantages attached to Gosport. The second factor was its reputation as a thriving centre for hosiery manufacture. Both these considerations no doubt also applied to Wright Coldham.
For nearly 150 years the growth of Nottingham had been intimately related to the prosperity of the hosiery trade. But dark clouds were looming over the industry. A devastating blow was dealt by a simple change in men's fashions. Inspired by the uniform of Prussian officers during the Napoleonic wars, men began to abandon stockings and knee breeches for trousers. For the first time, the industry was clearly over-equipped with stocking frames. One of the targets of popular resentment was the wider stocking frame that, since 1776, had been built to cater for new fashions in hosiery. To put a vertical stripe in stockings it was easier to knit them length-ways on the frame rather than in the traditional vertical manner. When these stockings were no longer in demand, 21% of the industry's investment suddenly appeared to be redundant.
There were other factors influencing the situation. G.M. Trevelyan, in his treatise English Social History, refers to the 'twenty years of war with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1813)'. 'Coming at a critical moment in our social development, the long war was a grave misfortune. With its violent disturbances of economic life, and its mood of "anti-Jacobin" reaction against all proposals for reform and all sympathy with the claims and sufferings of the poor, the war formed the worst possible environment for the industrial and social changes then in rapid progress. The modern English slum town grew up to meet the needs of the new type of employer and jerry-builder, unchecked and un-guided by public control of any sort. A rampant individualism, inspired by no idea beyond quick money returns, set up the cheap and nasty model of modern industrial life and its surroundings. Town planning, sanitation and amenity were things undreamt of by the vulgarian makers of the new world, while the aristocratic ruling class enjoyed its own pleasant life apart, and thought that town-building, sanitation and factory conditions were no concerns of government.
Since municipal lethargy and corruption had long lost all touch with the civic traditions and public spirit of mediaeval corporate life, the sudden growth of the new factory quarters did not disturb the slumbers of the town oligarchies, who were so well accustomed to neglect their old duties that they were incapable of rising to a new call.
The course of the Napoleonic Wars, with blockade and counter-blockade, made business a gamble. There was every incitement to manufacturing enterprise, except security. The European markets were alternately opened and closed to British goods according to the vagaries of diplomacy and war. One year an allied State would have its armies clothed and shod by British workmen: next year it might be under the heel of France, a part of Napoleon's "continental system." The unnecessary war with the United States (1812-1815) was another element of disturbance to trade. The suffering of the English working class were increased by these violent fluctuations of demand and employment; and unemployment was worst of all during the post-war slump after Waterloo.
In addition, hosiers were slow to adapt to changing conditions occurring elsewhere. The rapid population growth of the later 18th century continued, stimulated now by the expansion of the town's newest industry, machine-made lace making, but for the town's older staple industry, hosiery, these were years of depression and decline. Lace-making had adopted the factory system, pioneered by Richard Arkwright, in which its workers combined in purpose built premises integrating all stages of production. By contrast, hosiery manufacture remained a cottage industry, with the goods being produced by individual knitters working from their own homes. The manufacture of knitted goods was the last branch of the textile industry to adapt to mechanical power. By 1816 the hosiery trade had slipped into a deep trough. The stream of new ideas dried up while promising new technology gathered dust. Despite falling yarn prices, investment in hosiery machinery was desultory.
At the end of the 18th century, many stocking knitters were living at subsistence level. The capitalist nature of the business, as described earlier, and exploitation by the hosiers, increased the pressures on them, already affected by the shortage of work. Iniquitous practices such as 'truck' and 'stinting' were imposed and a knitter still had to pay the hosier the full weekly rent for his frames, though the frame might be idle for several days. Disastrous harvests in 1809 - 1812, coupled with a trade embargo by America, which reduced British exports there from more than £11 million in 1810 to less than £2 million a year later reduced the knitters to penury. Threatened with starvation, framework knitters turned to the well tried and often successful means of protest; violence against the machinery whose misuse was creating their suffering. What started as a few isolated and unco-ordinated actions developed in early 1811 into organised attacks on a much larger scale, which became know as the Luddite rebellion. Rewards were offered by the frame owners to anyone giving information which would lead to the conviction of the criminals; no arrests, however, were made and public sympathy lay with the rioters.
As the sabotage and the violence associated with it increased, there was mounting concern over the threat to law and order, at both local and national levels. The Nottingham Town Clerk, George Coldham, was in constant and anxious communication with the Home Office about the worsening situation. 'The great body of the present Mischief,' he wrote, 'arises from the endeavours of the labouring Classes by terror to compell their Employers to increase the price of their labour and otherwise conduct the Manufactory in a manner more agreeable to the Interests or prejudice of the Artizan and this System must be kept down by Force before we can expect the restoration of Public Tranquillity. ...... Since the first origin of these disturbances which have now existed more or less Six or Seven Months the great Engine of Terror with the people has been to destroy the Stocking Frames of those Manufacturers who have been most odious to their Eyes and it is supposed that in the whole about Eight hundred Frames have been destroyed of the value of Eight thousand Pounds, depreciated as this species of Property is by the dreadful state of the Manufactory. ...... If the People are once taught that they can accomplish the objects of their wishes by a system of Terror I feel assured that they will proceed further than breaking Frames and it is difficult to say who may be the next Objects of their Vengeance.' George Coldham, it is worth remarking, was also Secretary of the Hosiers' Association.
These, then, were the circumstances facing the family business after Thomas Williams's death. There are conflicting accounts of its decline and eventual demise. One, in the C.M.S. Sketch, says that 'his eldest son, with the help of a cousin, (the latter was Edward Thomas Marsh) tried to conduct the business; and, to his pride and delight, was able for a few years to support his widowed mother. But this son was very young, and it was therefore not surprising that the firm of Williams fell at the next period of commercial depression.' Thomas Sydney's younger brother, John, nearly 15 at the time of his father's death, was also listed as a partner when the family business was finally dissolved in 1809 but John Marsh makes no mention of him, and it seems unlikely that he played a significant role.
For a time, the family tried to continue as normal. John Marsh recalls, 'On Wednesday the 4th April,  my Nephew Edward of Nottingham who had now been for sometime out upon his first Southern journey (Sydney Williams, with his Uncle Voke having taken the northern one) came to us from Portsmouth & spent the day with us. We had been for some days expecting him & he at last unluckily came on the day of the quarterly Meeting of the Book Society ...... We were in hopes he wo'd have spent another day with us, but as he had been longer out than my Sister expected she was impatient for his return & beg'd he wo'd stay but one day with us, so that on the next morning he return'd to Gosport.' Subsequently, Sydney continued the twice yearly business journeys previously carried out by his father, and often his sister Lydia came with him. They invariably visited their uncle John Marsh and Lydia would go on to stay with either the Vokes in Gosport or her Aunt, Lady Clerke, married to the Rev. Joseph Townsend at Pewsey. (Although Lady Clerke was always referred to as Lydia's aunt, she was more exactly the second cousin of Thomas Williams and Lydia's aunt Rebecca Voke; her mother, Lydia Hammond, neé Isger, being the elder sister of Rebecca, the wife of the Rev. Thomas Williams.)
However, finances were soon beginning to get tight. In April 1804 John Marsh was in London at the beginning of another of his visits to East Kent. He went to his Bank and sold out £1000 Stock in the Reduced, 'in order to accomodate my Sister with £600 she then had occasion for, to keep up her credit with her Banker.'
In September, having been away from home, with his son Edward, Marsh returned to find 'my Nephew Sydney Williams who came over that morning from Gosport.' He stayed for a couple of days '& in the afternoon he return'd to his Aunt Voke's at Gosport, who wo'd by no means permit him to stay longer, & especially the Sunday with us, which otherwise he sho'd (he said) have been very glad to have done, not seeming to relish the rigid & austere manners of his Aunt at all.'
In September 1805, Marsh relates 'Having invited my Cousin Charlotte Marsh to come & spend some time with us after our return from Bognor, she fix'd on Saturday the 28h. for coming. As therefore we thought it a pity that Lydia, who had not seen her cousin for 10 years, sho'd leave us about 3 hours before her arrival; we therefore let Sydney (who co'd not himself stay any longer) go to Gosport by himself on that afternoon, & kept Lydia to see her cousin, who accordingly came between 7. & 8. in the evening. We co'd not however venture, without risquing her Aunt Voke's displeasure with her, to keep her longer than 'till the Monday morning following, when she went in the coach to Portsmouth, where she was met by her brother.'
The comments about 'Aunt Voke' are amusing. In a letter written by Mary Williams to her son William in April 1831, she is looking forward to the imminent arrival of her son John. 'To add to our happiness we hope John will join our party next week for he has obtained leave of absence for three weeks, and is now gone to visit his new friend Aunt Voke, who has become very fond of him, and at her desire his baby is named Rebecca Isgar. I hope John has told you all about it, for it is a very pretty entertaining story, and I could hardly refrain, but thought it would be unfair to take it from him. I fear he will find it difficult to keep in her good graces for she seems to have fallen out with every body, and told John she intended to leave the greatest part of her money to charitable uses. We don't know of one relation she is on good terms with, except John.'
In November, Marsh recounts that 'on Monday the 26. we at length heard of the death of my old Mother in Law, which happen'd on the Saturday before, in consequence of which my Sister came into possession of about £500 Stock in the Consols, & some old household goods, Plate, Books etc.' Presumably, this occurred in Nottingham and, if that was so, she would probably have been buried in Nottingham - perhaps with her son, at Sneinton?
Henry Marsh seems to have remained at Nottingham, helping his sister with her affairs, until February 1808, when he returned south with the intention of finding somewhere to live in the Emsworth area, near Chichester. He eventually found a cottage in West Bourne. In March 1809, John Marsh reports; 'On the next morning (Tuesday 21st.) my nephew Sydney came to us, but having little business to do at Chichester, returned the same evening to Emsworth, as my bro'r wished to have some conversation with him on their affairs at Nottingham as, owing to my Sister having extended her business, & other causes, she had so overdrawn upon her Banker, that she had lately got me to give a Bond by way of additional security for £1000 & each of my brothers to give the same for £600 & now wished me to extend mine for £500 more & also to advance £500. As however I soon after Mr Williams's death advanced £600 which was still owing to me, I declined now advancing £500 & giving security for that sum too, as without the latter, by only advancing £500 I sho'd with the preceeding £600 & security for £1000 make myself answerable in case of accidents, to the amount of 2000 guineas in the whole, which, considering the claims my Sons, & particularly John & his large family had on me, was quite as far as I thought it proper to go.'
On Saturday 29th April, he was in London and 'I went to the Bank to sell out 500 stock in the 4 per cents in order to lend my Sister £500 ...... '
In May 1809 John Marsh visited his son Edward at Nuneham and 'In the evening after tea Edward mentioned an affair I little expected to hear of viz. his attachment to his Cousin Lydia Williams, which began when she was staying at Bognor with us in 1805 & had continued ever since, tho' he had never mentioned it to her, from not being likely to be in a situation to maintain a Wife without his fellowship at Oriel. As however he now thought that with his curacy, & taking 3 pupils at about £120 a year each, he might raise a sufficient income, he thought, if I had no objection of taking the opportunity of making a proposal to her in the course of the ensuing summer in which it had been recently settled that she & my cousin Charlotte Marsh were to meet at Nuneham in their way to Nottingham, to which they were then to proceed together, & whom Edw'd wo'd probably then join, sho'd the proposal be accepted. As however a great many objections in point of income were to be made to this, provided a marriage was to take place before Edw'd got a living or Lydia had anything settled on her by her aunt Lady Clerke, with whom she had been staying ever since she was with us in 1805, we discussed the matter then & again the next morning at breakfast, when it was settled that I sho'd at my return home mention the matter to his mother & let him know the result of our conference thereon.'
Lydia was clearly a great favourite of her aunt, Lady Lydia Clerke, and as mentioned here and elsewhere in the narrative, in particular the letters written by Thomas to his wife in 1803, seems to have spent a lot of time at the Townsend/Clerkes.
In the middle of the year Mary wound up two partnerships trading as 'Williams & Sons' and 'Williams & Co', as recorded in the Nottingham Journal for 24th June, lst and 8th July 1809; one notice being as shown below:-
WE, MARY WILLIAMS, THOMAS SYDNEY WILLIAMS,|
and JOHN WILLIAMS, all of the Town of Nottingham,
Hosiers, and ABIJAH BOND, of Snenton, in the County of
Nottingham, Hosier, do hereby give Notice, that the Partnership
Trade heretofore carried on under the Firm of "Williams and Sons,"
was this Day dissolved by mutual Consent.
Nottingham, June 1, 1809.
THOMAS SYDNEY WILLIAMS,
Witness, S. PARSONS.
(From a comment made by John Marsh when he visited his
sister later that year,it seems that Abijah Bond was her Foreman.)
From a comment made by John Marsh when he visited his sister later that year, it seems that Abijah Bond was her Foreman. Although John Williams is listed here as a partner, he is not mentioned in this role by John Marsh, and it seems unlikely that he played a significant part in the running of the business. Indeed, the cousin, Edward Thomas Marsh, (John Marsh's nephew) appears to have been more actively involved in its operations.
John Marsh had promised to go and see his sister again, at her new home in Beeston, some three and a half miles west of Nottingham and postponed his trip until the end of September 'on account of there being a music meeting upon a grand scale there fixed for the 1st week in October.' Eventually arriving on Saturday 30th, he 'found them all well, & my younger nephews & nieces grown out of all knowledge. On the next day, Sunday, Oct. the first we after an early breakfast, all walked to Nottingham where they went to Meeting & I to St. Mary's church, hoping to hear Mr Pearson on the organ, but it being tuning for the music meeting, it was not used. On the following morning I walked to Nottingham with my Sister & some of the young people, to see the humours of Goose Fair, for which purpose we called at Mr Attenborough's in the market place.
On the morning after I walked again to Notting'm with my niece Kate & nephew Will'm & went to some of the rehearsal of the music at St. Mary's on our return from whence we found Mr & Miss Dennison, with ano'r gent'n & Lady & a Mr Tillard from Notting'm who were come to dine with us, the latter of whom staid all night & joined in some Glees etc. with my Sister, Lydia & Sydney (who had a very good counter-tenor voice) & also sung Clarke's "Last words of Marmion", & other Songs.
On the next morning, Wednesd'y the 4th. I walked again to Notting'm with my Sister, Rebecca & John, with whom I went to the Service & Charity Sermon for the Infirmary at St. Mary's, ...... After this we all dined at Mr W. Coldhams, with whom & Mrs C. I went in the evening to the concert at the Theatre, which did not go off so well as the morning performance, & the orchestra being badly lighted occasioned a clamour for lights from several parts of the house. Hence we returned to Mr Coldhams to supper, where my Sister, Lydia & Rebecca slept, & I took a bed at Mr G. Coldham's where I breakfasted the next morning with him & his mother, after which my Sister, Lydia, Rebecca & Sydney went to the Messiah at St. Mary's, & John to glean what he co'd of the choruses from the outside of the church. On this day we all, & Mrs Coldham, dined at Mr Hancocks in St. Mary's gate & supped at Mr G. Coldhams, where I slept again.
On the next morning I went with my Sister, Lydia, John & Rebecca (who had a ticket from Mrs Coldham) to a selection of Sacred Music from Haydn's Creation & Handel, when we sat in the north gallery & were all much pleased (my Sister & co. having never heard any of the Creation before, ......
As my Sister's family was numerous & the tickets half a guinea each, or a guinea for the 3 mornings, my Sister & I each took 6 of which I used but 2 for myself & gave the rest amongst my nephews & nieces, besides which I gave one to John for that morning. In the afternoon we all returned to a late dinner at Beeston except Sydney who had staid to go to a Ball on this night, which concluded the performances. ...... On the following morning, Sunday the 8h. we walked to Nottingham by the lower way, & went to Mr Alliott's Meeting, after which we dined as on the preceeding Sunday, at Mr Coldham's house, upon some cold Beef etc. my Sister had sent over, & in the afternoon I went to St. Peters (where I was much disconcerted with a vulgar stentorian Singer in the gallery) the organ not being yet used at St. Mary's, owing to the front of the organ gallery hav'g been removed & not yet replaced. In the evening my nephew John & I looked in at the Methodist meeting opposite Mr Coldham's, after which he returned to Beeston & my Sister, Lydia, Rebecca & I spent the even'g at Mr W. Coldham's, where they slept, & I took my former bedquarters at his brothers.
Lady Clerke having written to hasten Lydia's return to her, she on the next day took the opportunity of joining 2 Ladies in P.Chaises to London, whence on the Friday following she was to go to Pewsey by the Marlborough coach. On this morning (Monday the 9th) I went with my Sister to hear her foreman Mr Bond's Son, a blind boy, play on the Piano Forte, who wishing to get a small organ I promised to look out for one for him. We afterwards walked back to Beeston ...... & in the even'g drank tea at Mr Heath's just by, with whom I had a long conversation on my Sister's affairs, whose principal inconvenience he said was the want of Capital, which had occasioned her late embarrassments, which he told me were likely to be renewed by the calling in of £1500 originally lent to Mess'rs Williams & Whiter by the Sheldons, Sisters of Mr Green the former partner deceased, on a mortgage of all the Stocking frames then in use. As £700 of this had now just been paid off, & the remaining £800 was demanded to be paid before Christmas, he said that if I wo'd advance £1000 for this purpose, the assignment, or a fresh mortgage of all the Stocking frames which were worth more than double that money, wo'd be an ample security, I therefore promised to take the matter into consideration & consult my Son John (who was a solicitor) upon it on my return home.
'Having agreed to return to London thro' Northampton, ...... I the next morning rose very early & walked with my nephews Sydney & John to Nottingham & at 8 set off in the coach thro' Leicester to Northampton, ...... '
It is remarkable how casually he mentions walking between Beeston and Nottingham, a distance by his own estimation, of 3 ½ miles, often accompanied by his nephews and nieces, of whom the youngest, Rebecca, Catherine (Kate), and William were at that time, respectively, 14, 12 and 9 years old. He must also have travelled very lightly; he refers to 'his bundle' when he met his son Edward in Northampton but he carried this also from Beeston to Nottingham when he set out to catch the coach!
In May 1810, John Marsh was in London. 'On this morning arrived my bro'r Henry in his way to my sisters at Beeston, where he was going to pay a visit to look into their affairs.' In June, 'As my brother Henry returned to West Bourne from Nottingham, ...... he wished John (John Marsh's son,) & I to spend a day with him to talk over the Nottingham affairs, but not being able conveniently to go myself ...... John ...... went on Monday the 17h. by himself & meeting with his uncle at Emsworth ...... & in the evening he returned to Chichester, bringing as good an account from Nottingham as co'd be expected, considering the badness of the times for Trade & manufactures, except as to my neice Lydia who was then with her Mother & in a very poor state of health.'
However, the situation in Nottingham was rapidly starting to unravel. 'On Thursday the 29th. August  my nephew Sydney Williams came to us, to meet whom my Son John came to dinner.' After staying for a day, 'On the next morning Sydney left, previous to which he paid me £300 for which sum I had in May given my Sister's Banker a bill at 3 months date, which I now at Sydney's request renewed for 3 months more.' Then in October, 'On this day my Son John received a letter from my nephew Sydney Williams to renew an application he had made when last at Chichester, for me to join in a bond with him & my Sister to their Bankers, who required more security, for want of which he threatened to cease discounting their bills, they having overdrawn to the amount of £3000 on which I had in 1809 joined in a bond for £1000 & my bro'r Will'm for £600. Having told Sydney that I sho'd not object to join with them & their other friends, Mr Townsend, Lady Clerk & the Vokes (who must have been equally concerned with me in their avoiding a Bankruptcy) he now wrote from Bath where he had seen Mr Townsend, who declined joining in either giving security or advancing money for their relief; & to the Vokes he knew it wo'd be needless to write. On the next day therefore I drove my Son John to Nutbourne, whence we walked to my brother's at Westbourne, to consult him upon the subject, who was of the same opinion we were, that my giving security by myself for £1000 more, wo'd be risquing the loss of the whole, wihout any certainty of its being of any permanent advantage to them.
On the follow'g day therefore John answered Sydney's letter at large, telling him my reasons for declining to sign the bond he had actually sent from Bath, which he now returned unexecuted to him at Nottingham.'
By mid-1812, the situation was even more serious. 'In the evening (of Friday 10th. July) my nephew Sydney Williams & Edw'd T. Marsh (also, of course, his nephew!) arrived at Chichester, with whom & my bro'r Henry (whom Sydney the next day fetched over in his gig) John & I had a long conference on my Sisters affairs, which now seeming to become very critical, they proposed gradually getting out of the hosiery manufactory & doing business by comission instead, in which line Sydney & Edw'd had both had offers. They having however 2 or 3 very urgent creditors, of whom they were then much afraid, they requested me to accept a bill of £500 at 3 months date, in order to satisfy them & prevent Bankruptcy, which otherwise must imediately have happened, my Sister having already (as they said) been arrested for a small debt. This after a long debate, I at length agreed to, as the least of 2 evils, & to prevent Sydney from being also arrested the moment he returned to Notting'm where he was now recalled, Edw'd being to continue his journey to the eastward. On the day after they set off, Sydney in the mail for Notting'm & Edw'd to Arundel.'
Edward Garrard Marsh's interest in his cousin Lydia continued and in July 'Having given our niece Lydia Williams an invitation to come & see us & bathe, at Bognor, which Edw'd had suggested might be of service to her health, she having been for sometime in a weak state; my Sister wrote word that she wo'd accordingly arrive at Chichester on Thursday evening, the 27h.'
In September, Henry Marsh proposed going to Nottingham again 'where he was going to look into my Sister's affairs. ...... A day or two later, Lydia also went up to London, where her sister Rebecca was staying, from whence she was to go on to Nottingham with her uncle Henry.'
The plight of the business had now become precarious in the extreme. 'On this day [Thursday 14th October 1812] I received a letter from Mr Townsend of Pewsey concerning my Sister & her Son's affairs, to whom he, as well as myself, was a principal creditor, on which I wrote to propose meeting with Mr Voke & him at Winton (Winchester) to talk matters over & settle some plan of proceeding for ourselves, assuring him at the same time that I never had given my consent to any disposition of their effects, but in full co-operation with them. ...... On the evening of Wednesday the 4th (of November) my bro'r Henry arrived from Nottingham & London, ...... On Saturday the 7th my brother left us & returned to West Bourne, previous to which my Son & I had a long conversation with him upon my Sister's affairs, which seemed fast coming to a crisis.
On Sunday the 6h. (December) I rece'd a letter from Mess'rs Coldham & Enfield, Sollicitors of Nottingham informing me that Mr Townsends sollicitors had written to stop Sydney Williams from paying off any more of the creditors & insisting that the relations & all sho'd share equally; Sydney having of his own accord & without any authority from Mess'rs Townsend, Voke, my brothers & me, paid off some of the trade creditors in full & promised the others that they sho'd also be paid. Mess'rs C. & E. said that therefore much irritation was now excited amongst the creditors from the promises of Sydney not being likely to be carried into execution, on which he suggested that my giving up the mortgage of the Stocking frames & sharing equally with the rest, wo'd be a likely means of inducing them to agree to an assignment of the effects of the firm for the equal benefit of all the creditors, which I at length agreed to, provided Mr Voke gave up a bond of judgement he had.'
In April 1813, John Marsh reflected ruefully on what the disaster in Nottingham had cost him. 'Having in the year 1809 given a bond for £1000 to Mess'rs Smith, Bankers to my Sister & the firm at Nottingham, who had then so much overdrawn on them that they refused discounting any more of their bills, without such security being given to them; & also £600 more which was then given them by a bond from my brother William; at the beginning of this year my brother & I were called in for payment of the same, which we accordingly did. In addition to this, I was in Feb'y 1812 prevailed on to give another bond of £500 to them, to guarantee the payment of £1400 the amount of goods of my Sisters sold at the Brazils (which the Banker was to receive) by Feb'y 1813. This Bond, according to Sydney Williams's representations, I appeared to be very safe in executing, as sho'd the money not arrive from the Brazils merchants within the year, there wo'd within that time be receipts enough from other quarters to cover it. It was also a matter of some necessity, as it prevented the Smiths from imediately calling in the former bonds. I then indeed little thought the penalty of both bonds wo'd be called in so soon as in March this year more than £500 remaining unpaid of the Brazils money, I was called on for payment of the £500 upon the second Bond, which I therefore did at the beginning of this month. To enable myself to pay off these bonds I sold out £500 stock in the reduced, & called in £1000 part of £3000 Mr Hammond owed me upon bond, as part of the purchase money of Old Court farm, Kent.
My Losses on my Sister & family's account therefore now stood as follows: £600 lent in May 1804, £500 more lent & £1000 in 1809 on mortgage of the Stocking frames, amounting together to £2100 for which I received interest till Feb'y 1812 after which it stopt. In addition to this £2100 I in May 1811 advanced £300 as a more temporary accomodation, which was to be replaced in 3 months, & £500 in July 1812 to prevent an imediate bankruptcy, of which I only received £50 instead of the whole in 3 months as I was given to understand & made fully to rely upon by my nephews Sydney Williams & E.T. Marsh. So that my whole debt to this time stands thus:-
|Advanced in 1804 on bond||600|
|Do. --------- 1809||500|
|Do. --------- 1810 on mortg'e||1000|
|Do. --------- 1811 on bond||300|
|Do. --------- 1812 on bond||1500|
|Rec'd in part of the last £500 || 50 |
In addition to this heavy loss I was induced to agree to leave £300 of my dividend from their effects, under the assignment proposed for the benefit of their creditors, in order to enable my sister to retain her household goods & effects to that amount, which otherwise must have been imediately sold by auction. The Stock & effects of my Sister & Son being thus transferred to assignees, she, with her daught'rs Lydia & Katherine removed to Southwell where they took a roomy house & began keeping a school, for which they had 10 day scholars at £10 a year each & 3 boarders, including the 2 Miss Grays, (daughters of my cousin Eliz. Gray) to begin with, soon after which my Sister's friends (particularly Mrs Evans, near Beeston) recomended some more boarders, & she was like to do very well.'
Intriguingly, the Nottingham Journal carried an advertisement in February 1814 announcing the sale of eleven newly built and substantial freehold tenements to be sold by auction. These included six freehold tenements in the occupations of Wm. Pratt, Thos Pratt, Mrs Williams, Mr Attenburrow, Mrs Wilcocks, and Mr Wise. Very pleasantly situated in Plumptre Place, Nottingham now let for the Yearly Rent of £35. 4s. Plumptre Place is just across the road, off Stoney Street, from the former site of Plumptre House.
Mr Attenburrow was well known to the Williams family from their earliest days in Nottingham and Mr Wise was the organist at St. Mary's Church (referred to rather disparagingly by John Marsh!). Had Mary returned to Nottingham before her move to Southwell?
In fact, Mary Williams's total indebtedness appears to have exceeded these figures by a considerable amount.
|In April 1804, John Marsh lent her ||£600|
|In March 1809, John Marsh lent her on bond,|| £500|
|having previously lent her on bond,||£1000|
|together with £600 from each of her other two brothers|
|In November 1810, mortgage on stocking frames||£1000|
|In 1811, John Marsh lent her on bond||£300|
|In February 1812, John Marsh lent her on bond||£500|
|In July 1812, to stave off impending bankruptcy||£500|
|Paid to Messrs Smith, bankers|| £1500 |
|Refunded|| £50 |
|Plus unspecified amounts from Mr Voke, Mr Townsend and Lady Clerke.|
Plus unspecified amounts from Mr Voke, Mr Townsend and Lady Clerke. At 2008 values this equates to something of the order of £340,000.
Three months later 'on Thursday, the fourteenth, (October 1812), I received a letter from Mr Townsend of Pewsey concerning my sister and her sons affairs, to whom he as well as myself was a principal creditor; on which I wrote, to propose a meeting with Mr. Voke and him at Winton, to talk matters over'. According to Lady Lydia Clerke's Will, the amount lent by Joseph Townsend in the affair was one thousand two hundred pounds.
All these misfortunes caused further trouble for Sydney Williams and Edward Thomas Marsh. As mentioned earlier, both had been admitted as members of Castle Gate Chapel but the church now showed its severe displeasure at the way the youngsters had been trying to cope with their predicament. The church minute book records that:-
'At a church meeting the following resolution was unanimously agreed to.
The peculiar exigencies of the times having produced many instances of insolvency and some cases having occurred of this kind among professors of religion, in which there appears to have been a culpable continuance in business, after it ought to have been given up, and an expenditure continued in, which must have been at the cost & loss of the creditors, the Church has thought it necessary in order to express its sentiments on the subject to resolve, that if any member of this Church shall hereafter become insolvent, such person shall be suspended from the communion of the Church, until such time as he shall either convince the Church that he is not guilty of wilful negligence, delay or extravagance, or has expressed such contrition and repentance as the nature of the case renders necessary.
It was then resolved that as Mr. S Williams and Mr Marsh, both members of the Church, have for a long time neglected to attend on any of the ordinances of religion amongst us, and reports being in circulation unfavourable to the Christian character of the former, the brethren Green & Wilson be requested to converse with them and report the result of their conversation to the Church. (After several discussions Messrs Williams and Marsh resigned their connection with the Church).'
Mary Williams cannot be blamed for this debacle. When Thomas died, she was left with a heavily mortgaged business and little capital outside her own limited resources. Her husband's partner had died just eight weeks before he did and she only had her two eldest sons, Thomas Sydney, aged 18, John, aged 15, and a nephew aged 19, still serving their apprenticeships, to help her run it. Although John was listed as one of the partners when the business was dissolved in 1809, it is unlikely that he played an active part in the conduct of its affairs and he does not feature in the account of its collapse.There was probably, at this time, considerable prejudice against women engaged in business and she had five other children between the ages of 4 and 16 to care for, although Henry, the third son, joined the Navy as a midshipman two years later. The final nail in the coffin was the extreme depression that hit the industry in the first few years of the 19th century, culminating in the Luddite riots of 1811 described earlier.
© Nevil Harvey-Williams