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William Thompson (1793-1854)

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Alderman William Thompson M.P. (1793-1854), ironmaster and financier

1793 Born at Grayrigg Head, near Kendal, Westmorland, the second son of James Thompson.

He was educated at Charterhouse before joining the business of his uncle, William Thompson, who had been a partner with Richard Crawshay in a leading firm of iron merchants in the City of London.

1799 After Crawshay's death William Thompson formed a new merchant house with Samuel Homfray and William Forman of the Penydarren ironworks - Thompson, Forman and Homfray

1799 The elder William Thompson developed major interests in south Wales iron furnaces; he leased the Tintern Abbey Ironworks.

1800 Samuel Homfray leased coal and iron ore from the Tredegar estate and formed a partnership with Thompson and others to establish the Tredegar Iron Works with a capital of £30,000.

1801 Homfray was also involved in establishing the Aberdare Ironworks in 1801 and was a partner in the Penydarren Co at Merthyr Tudful (Merthyr Tydfil) where Thompson acquired an interest.

1806 Thompson purchased three-tenth shares of the Redbrook and Lydbrook Ironworks.

After the Homfray family withdrew, William Forman became co-owner of the Penydarren Ironworks with William Thompson of London.

1817 The younger William inherited his uncle's fortune, and in 1817 he married Amelia (d. 1861), the second daughter of Samuel Homfray and niece of Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar.

Thompson was a leading figure in the City of London and public life.

1821 he became an Alderman of the City

1824 Thompson owned less than half but more than a third of the Penydarren works[1]

By the early 1820s Thompson was the sole owner of Penydarren

Thompson retained his position in the City until his death; he was Lord Mayor in 1828–9.

Thompson died on 10 March 1854 at Bedwellty House, Monmouthshire.


1855 Obituary [2]

MR. ALDERMAN WILLIAM THOMPSON, M.P., the second son of Mr. James Thompson, of Grayrigg Head, Westmoreland, was born at that place in the year 1793, and after receiving there the first rudiments of his education, was removed at about fifteen years of age to the Charter House School, London, and was in due time placed in the counting-house of his Uncle, the late Mr. William Thompson, then the head of the eminent iron firm of Thompson, Forman, and Homfray, married the daughter of the latter gentleman, and at the death of his Uncle, succeeded to his position as head of the firm, inheriting at the same time a considerable sum of money, the foundation of the colossal fortune which he amassed, and left chiefly to the family of his only Daughter, married in 1842 to the Earl of Bective, a Nobleman of amiable character and estimable qualities, who has recently succeeded his Father-in-law in the representation in Parliament of the County of Westmoreland.

Under Mr. Thompson’s energetic direction, and with the skilful co-operation of Mr. W. H. Forman and Mr. S. Homfray, the Iron Works at Penydarren and Tredegar, South Wales, soon became flourishing and extensive concerns; he also embarked in lead-mining in Westmoreland, and became a very considerable shipowner, besides taking interests in many other commercial undertakings. His remarkable commercial foresight and tact rarely failed in discovering the opportunities for the successful employment of his large capital, and he soon acquired an eminent position in the mercantile world.

At an early age he sought and obtained Parliamentary honours, for in 1820, when in his twenty-seventh year, he was returned as Member for Callington, in Cornwall. He did not, however, remain for any lengthened period in the representation of that Borough. His business habits, and the commercial standing of his firm, pointed him out as a fit representative for the City of London; and at the general election in 1826, he was returned as one of its Members. He remained in the representation of London till 1832 ; but in the following year he was returned for Sunderland, which he continued to represent till 1841, when he became the representative of his native county, Westmoreland, where he was the possessor of large estates.

In the years 1828 and 1829 he was consecutively chosen and elected Lord Mayor of London, - an honour of rare occurrence, - and in those years the late Sir Felix Booth, Bart., and Mr. Alderman Copeland served the office of Sheriff. He had been elected in 1821 the Alderman of the ward of Cheap, the gown of which he retained until his death.

The line of politics he adopted was very marked ; he not only strongly opposed the commercial policy introduced in 1847 by Sir Robert Peel, but he was one of the fifty-three Members who refused even the modified adherence to free-trade principles implied by Lord Palmerston’s amendment, in 1852. He emphatically denounced any change in the Navigation Laws, and to the last adhered to the opinion, that the absence of the predicted disastrous effects from the change of the commercial policy of the country, must be attributed entirely to extraordinary and exceptional causes. Nearly the last time of his speaking in Parliament was on the inquiry into the Customs’ Department, with the working of which he expressed considerable dissatisfaction.

Although endowed with considerable fluency of language, he was not a frequent speaker in Parliament. His energy and talents were, however, duly recognized, and as he never hesitated to take an onerous share in the working of the legislative business, he was often selected for important Parliamentary Committees, - especially those relating to monetary and commercial matters.

Probably few men worked harder than he did, till the pressure of illness compelled him to pause; but hew as enabled tog et through a large amount of business by his habit of early rising, his punctuality, and the systematic manner with which he pursued any object. His vigour and activity appeared to be inexhaustible ; and his unremitting attention to his Parliamentary duties was remarkable, when it was remembered, that he had to undergo the labour, not only of his own particular business, but also that which was entailed upon him by the great mercantile corporations in the direction of which he was actively engaged.

It will suffice to enumerate a few of the leading companies in which he took an active part: - He was a Director of the Bank of England, - of the Chester and Holyhead Railway Company, - of the Blackwall Railway Company, - of the Rhymney Iron Company, - and of the Globe Insurance Company. He was Chairman of the - St. Katherine’s Dock Company, - of the Society of Merchants Trading to the Continent, - and of the Royal National Shipwreck Institution, in which latter he took great interest, - Treasurer of King’s College Hospital, - Deputy-Lieutenant of London, and Vice-President and Colonel of the Honourable Artillery Company. He was also for some time Chairman of the Committee for Lloyd’s.

But that which he considered one of his most important and honourable offices, and in which he took peculiar pleasure, was that of President of Christ Hospital, which post he filled for twenty-six gears, with much advantage to that national educational institution.

He was connected with several of the Scientific Societies of the Metropolis, joined the Institution of Civil Engineers, as an Associate Member in 1843, and though, on account of his numerous engagements, he was rarely able to attend the meetings, he always evinced great interest in the prosperity of the Society, and was ever ready to communicate information to the Members and to cooperate in measures for its advancement.

In his personal habits he was plain and unostentatious,-was accessible to all, and in his public position, as in private life, his sterling integrity, and the urbanity and kindliness of his disposition were generally admitted. His decease occurred at Bedwelty House, Monmouthshire, on the 10th of March, 1854, in his sixty-second year, in consequence of a cold caught whilst visiting his extensive iron-works in that district, where his loss was sincerely deplored, and his remains were interred at Kirkby Lonsdale, in his native County, where he had acquired great influence, and where his memory will long be cherished.


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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 23 October 1824
  2. 1855 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries