Thomas Williams and the Coldham Family

by Nevil Harvey Williams

  Much of this page has been collated from the main article on the Williams Family in the 18th & 19th Century (see home page), and is presented here in order to emphasize the relationship between Thomas Williams, the Coldham's, and both family's involvement in business, politics and the Dissenting movement. Thomas's son Henry, married Marianne, the daughter of Wright Coldham.


  Toward the end of 1793, Thomas Williams announced his intention of moving to Nottingham (from Gosport) where, according to John Marsh, he ...'had been invited by a Mr Green, 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.'... He had taken residence in part of a large House, called Plumptre House, a Georgian mansion in Stoney Street, next to St. Mary's Church, described as, ...'A Capital Messuage, (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, John Marsh visited the family in Nottingham. '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, ... 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.'

  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). 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 intelectual 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 Framework 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.

  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     HosierGratis
9th August 1796Thomas Williams      HosierGratis
11th October 1796Wright Coldham HosierGratis

  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.

  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, was an eminent Unitarian minister of Norwich. 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 there must have been a close association between the Enfield and Coldham families in Norwich, as there was later in Nottingham.

  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.

  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.

  Thomas Williams' 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 they tried to rebel by invoking the Corporation Act which prohibited anyone from holding any office who had not complied with the Test Act on religious observance. 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.

  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. 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.

  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 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. (He died on 6th January 1804, whilst still in office as Sheriff.)

  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  
1787John DavisonThomas Nelson
1798Wright Coldham William Wilson
1803George NelsonThomas Williams
John Bates
Wright Coldham
Mayors of Nottingham
1809Wright Coldham 

  Thomas Williams's association with the Coldhams and the other members of the High Pavement Society of Protestant Dissenters emphasises his involvement with the non-conformist cabal controlling the politics of Nottingham at that time.


Extracts from the I.G.I. and other sources

George Coldham, of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, married Dorothy Wright of Diss by licence on the 23rd April 1765. Witnesses: Elizabeth Dyson, William Taylor and Sarah Taylor. (Parish Register, Diss - Marriages)

George Coldham, son of George Coldham/Dorothy, christened at Octagon-Presbyterian, Norwich 9th May 1766.

Dorothy Coldham, daughter of George Coldham/Dorothy, christened at Octagon-Presbyterian, Norwich 16th August 1767.

Wright Coldham, born 22nd January 1770 in the Parish of St. Stephen, Norwich.

Marianne Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Anne, christened at Octagon-Presbyterian, Norwich 28th December 1793.

Caroline Humphrey Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened at High Pavement Presbyterian Chapel 2nd March 1800.

Frances Fletcher Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened at High Pavement Presbyterian Chapel 26th December 1800.

Frances Fleming Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened 19th December 1802.

Sara Elizabeth Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened 22nd October 1804.

Maria Matthew Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened 16th April 1806.

Emily Temple Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened 30th August 1808.

Ann Coldham, daughter of Wright Coldham/Ann Temple, christened 2nd November 1810.

N.T. Harvey Williams

November 2006

© Nevil Harvey-Williams