Joseph Powell Williams

Last updated

The Right Honourable
Joseph Powell Williams
Joseph PW 01.jpg
Financial Secretary to the War Office
In office
3 July 1895 1 January 1901
Preceded by William Woodall
Succeeded by Lord Stanley
Personal details
Born(1840-11-18)18 November 1840
Shrewsbury, England
Died 7 February 1904(1904-02-07) (aged 63)
London, England
Cause of death Apoplexy (probably stroke)
Spouse(s) Susannah Redford
Children Rowland Powell-Williams
Winifred Ethel Williams
Mary Dorothy Williams
Francis Powell-Williams
Occupation British businessman and politician.

Joseph Powell Williams (18 November 1840 – 7 February 1904) was an English Liberal and Liberal Unionist politician who was active in local government in Birmingham and sat in the House of Commons from 1885 to 1904. He was a close political associate of Joseph Chamberlain.

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade Peelites and Radicals favourable to the ideals of the American and French Revolutions in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.

Birmingham City in the English Midlands, 2nd highest population of UK cities

Birmingham is the second-most populous city in the United Kingdom, after London, and the most populous city in the English Midlands. It is also the most populous metropolitan district in the United Kingdom, with an estimated 1,137,123 inhabitants, and is considered the social, cultural, financial, and commercial centre of the Midlands. It is the main local government of the West Midlands conurbation, which is the third most populated urban area in the United Kingdom, with a population of 2,897,303 in 2017. The wider Birmingham metropolitan area is the second largest in the United Kingdom with a population of over 4.3 million. It is frequently referred to as the United Kingdom's "second city".

House of Commons of the United Kingdom Lower house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. Owing to shortage of space, its office accommodation extends into Portcullis House.


Origins and working life

Powell Williams was born in Worcester, the son of another Joseph Powell Williams. He attended Hazlewood School, Birmingham, which was founded by his father's cousin Thomas Wright Hill. On leaving school he worked for Graham & James, solicitors of Ludgate Hill, Birmingham. Business with this firm led him to travel to the United States where he was to represent this and other Birmingham interests. He considered staying, but the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 led him to return to Britain. He was also a partner in the firm of Hill, Evans & Co, vinegar manufacturers, [1] which (along with Lea & Perrins and Royal Worcester) was one of the industrial mainstays of the city of Worcester. Joseph's father had been one of the founders of the company (originally called Hill, Evans & Williams): it made not only vinegar, but what were then termed "British wines".

Thomas Wright Hill was a mathematician and schoolmaster. He is credited as inventing the single transferable vote in 1819. His son, Rowland Hill, famous as the originator of the modern postal system, introduced STV in 1840 into the world's first public election, for the Adelaide City Council, in which the principle of proportional representation was applied.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Hill, Evans & Co

Hill, Evans & Co Ltd were vinegar manufacturers based in Worcester, England. Founded in 1830 and at one time the world's largest producer of vinegar, the works closed in 1965.

On his return from the United States he accepted an appointment to the Post Office which, under the guidance of Rowland Hill (Joseph's second cousin), was undergoing a substantial revolution in the way it worked. While in the Post Office he had a share in setting up the Post Office Savings Bank. He also worked in the postal district to which Anthony Trollope was surveyor and struck up a friendship with Trollope - it is said that he read many of the proofs of the author's novels.

General Post Office postal system in the United Kingdom

The General Post Office (GPO) was officially established in England in 1660 by Charles II and it eventually grew to combine the functions of state postal system and telecommunications carrier. Similar General Post Offices were established across the British Empire. In 1969 the GPO was abolished and the assets transferred to The Post Office, changing it from a Department of State to a statutory corporation. In 1980, the telecommunications and postal sides were split prior to British Telecommunications' conversion into a totally separate publicly owned corporation the following year as a result of the British Telecommunications Act 1981. For the more recent history of the postal system in the United Kingdom, see the articles Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd.

Anthony Trollope English novelist (1815-1882)

Anthony Trollope was an English novelist of the Victorian era. Among his best-known works is a series of novels collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, which revolves around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and other topical matters.

Political career

Powell Williams' religious background was in dissent: the Williams family had played an active role in the Swan Hill Congregational Chapel in Shrewsbury. They had also had long associations with the craft based industries of the West Midlands conurbation where master often worked on the shop floor alongside their workers. Joseph's interests soon turned to joining the ranks of "Radical" Liberal politicians who sought to reshape the late nineteenth century political map of Britain.

Nonconformist Protestant Christians in Wales and England who did not follow the established Church of England

In English church history, a Nonconformist was a Protestant who did not "conform" to the governance and usages of the established Church of England. Broad use of the term was precipitated after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, when the Act of Uniformity 1662 re-established the opponents of reform within the Church of England. By the late 19th century the term specifically included the Reformed Christians, plus the Baptists and Methodists. The English Dissenters such as the Puritans who violated the Act of Uniformity 1559—typically by practising radical, sometimes separatist, dissent—were retrospectively labelled as Nonconformists.

Congregational church religious denomination

Congregational churches are Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition practicing congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.

Shrewsbury County Town in England

Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire, England. The town is on the River Severn and the 2011 census recorded a town population of 71,715.

On the death of his father in 1873 he returned from London to Birmingham. He had long associated himself with the Liberal Party in Birmingham and in 1877 he was elected as Councillor of St. Thomas's Ward. He joined Birmingham Council during the Mayoralty of Joseph Chamberlain and he was to shape his political career within the group that surrounded Chamberlain. During this time he was Honorary Secretary to the Birmingham Liberal Association and, later, and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Birmingham City Council.

Joseph Chamberlain British businessman, politician, and statesman

Joseph Chamberlain was a British statesman who was first a radical Liberal, then, after opposing home rule for Ireland, a Liberal Unionist, and eventually served as a leading imperialist in coalition with the Conservatives. He split both major British parties in the course of his career.

In 1885 Powell Williams entered Parliament for Birmingham South as a Liberal. He joined a group of mainly Birmingham based MPs, led by Joseph Chamberlain. This group disagreed with William Ewart Gladstone on a number of issues, their central platform being opposition to Gladstone's Irish policies. To this end they created the Liberal Unionists in 1886 which were to split from the Liberal Party and side with the Conservatives. Powell Williams went on to serve in the Unionist administration of Lord Salisbury as Financial Secretary to the War Office from 1895 to 1901, and on leaving that post was sworn into the Privy Council in November 1901.

Birmingham South was a parliamentary constituency in Birmingham which returned one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1885 until it was abolished for the 1918 general election.

William Ewart Gladstone British Liberal politician and prime minister of the United Kingdom

William Ewart Gladstone was a British statesman and Liberal Party politician. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served for twelve years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times.

Irish Home Rule movement movement that campaigned for self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

The Irish Home Rule movement was a movement that campaigned for self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was the dominant political movement of Irish nationalism from 1870 to the end of World War I.

He is said to have played a key role in Chamberlain's success in Birmingham, and one source states that he and Jesse Collings acted as Chamberlain's "political bodyguards". He is stated to have acted as a "ghost" for Chamberlain's proposals on the Irish question and his article on the "Radical Programme". He was liked for his humour on the floor of the Commons, and reported by The Times to be "greatly esteemed by lobby journalists and officials", but he was probably more at home in the committee room and the back lobbies. His time as Financial Secretary to the War Office was not always a success and the Daily Chronicle stated that he was a "square peg in a round hole", his office full of "blunders and bulls", but "good humoured about them". Despite his early uneasiness about the alliance between the Liberal Unionists and the Conservatives, the Birmingham Post said that "He kept the Liberal Unionist seats going and the alliance with the Conservatives alive."

Later life and death

In his later life, alongside his political career in Birmingham and Westminster, Powell Williams held a number of positions including the chairmanship of the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.

In February 1904 he suffered a stroke in the lobby of the House of Commons from which he later died, aged 63. He was buried in Key Hill Cemetery, Hockley, Birmingham. [2]

Personal life

In 1870 Powell Williams married Anne Elizabeth Bindley. They had two sons, Francis, who became an Electrical Engineer and was Secretary to the Institute of Engineers (India) from 1921 to 1931, and Rowland, who became a barrister and played first-class cricket; and two daughters, Mary Dorothy and Winifred Ethel.

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  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 November 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  2. Manning, E. H. (1924) [1915]. Handbook of the Birmingham General Cemetery: together with biographical notes on those interred therein. Birmingham: Hudson & Son. p. 58.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Birmingham South
1885 1904
Succeeded by
Viscount Morpeth
Political offices
Preceded by
William Woodall
Financial Secretary to the War Office
Succeeded by
Lord Stanley