Thomas Williams of Llanidan

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Thomas Williams
Thomas Williams of Llanidan.jpeg
Member of Parliament
for Great Marlow
In office
Preceded by William Clayton
Thomas Rich
Succeeded by Pascoe Grenfell
Owen Williams
Personal details
Born13 May 1737
Died30 November 1802(1802-11-30) (aged 65)

Thomas Williams (13 May 1737 – 30 November 1802) was a Welsh industrialist and Member of Parliament. At the time of his death, he was the richest man in Wales.


Life history

Thomas Williams was born in Llanidan, Anglesey, the son of Owen Williams of Cefn Coch in Llansadwrn. [1]

Llanidan community and village in Anglesey, in north-west Wales

Llanidan is a community in south-west Anglesey, Wales which includes the village of Brynsiencyn. The parish is along the Menai Strait, about 4 miles north-east of Caernarfon. The parish church of St Nidans is near the A4080 highway, a little to the east of Brynsiencyn. The ruins of an earlier parish church survive.

Anglesey Island in Wales

Anglesey is an island off the north coast of Wales with an area of 276 square miles (715 km2). Anglesey is by far the largest island in Wales and the seventh largest in the British Isles. Anglesey is also the largest island in the Irish Sea by area, and the second most populous island. The ferry port of Holyhead handles more than 2 million passengers each year. The Menai Suspension Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford in 1826, and the Britannia Bridge span the Menai Strait to connect Anglesey with the mainland.

In the 18th century, there was a significant shortage of food for labouring people. Williams, known to his Welsh speaking workmen as Twm Chwarae Teg ("Tom Fairplay"), once complained to the magistrate at Llanidan that the villagers on Anglesey raided his fields and stole the turnips intended for his cattle and used them to feed their families. His business rival, Matthew Boulton, called Williams the "copper king" – "the despotick sovereign of the copper trade". To his friend and agent he said, "Let me advise you to be extremely cautious in your dealings with Williams". He spoke of Williams as "a perfect tyrant and not over tenacious of his word and will screw damned hard when he has got anybody in his vice". Of the Cornish producers, Boulton said "they would not have submitted to be kicked and piss'd on by me as they have been by them" (Williams and his partner Wilkinson).

Turnip root vegetable

The turnip or white turnip is a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide for its white, fleshy taproot. The word turnip is a compound of tur- as in turned/rounded on a lathe and neep, derived from Latin napus, the word for the plant. Small, tender varieties are grown for human consumption, while larger varieties are grown as feed for livestock. In the north of England, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and eastern Canada, turnip often refers to rutabaga, a larger, yellow root vegetable in the same genus (Brassica) also known as swede.

Matthew Boulton English industrialist, business partner of James Watt

Matthew Boulton was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century, the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the mechanisation of factories and mills. Boulton applied modern techniques to the minting of coins, striking millions of pieces for Britain and other countries, and supplying the Royal Mint with up-to-date equipment.

Cornwall County of England

Cornwall is a county in South West England, bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by Devon, the River Tamar forming the border between them. Cornwall is the westernmost part of the South West Peninsula of the island of Great Britain. The southwesternmost point is Land's End and the southernmost Lizard Point. Cornwall has a population of 563,600 and an area of 3,563 km2 (1,376 sq mi). It is administered by Cornwall Council, apart from the Isles of Scilly, which are administered separately. The county town is Truro, Cornwall's only city.

Williams' tenacity as a lawyer was very evident when acting for the Hughes family of Llysdulas who were in an acrimonious dispute with Sir Nicholas Bayly of Plas Newydd concerning the Parys Mountain copper mine. This dispute, which ran for over nine years, involved the interpretation of that very unsatisfactory testamentary device called a moiety. At one stage the dispute involved four years of expensive litigation in the Chancery court with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General acting for opposing sides and was not finally settled until 1778. In that year Sir Nicholas leased his own copper mine to a London banker John Dawes (a secret associate of Williams) for 21 years.

Sir Nicholas Bayly, 2nd Baronet British landowner and Member of Parliament

Sir Nicholas Bayly, 2nd Baronet, was a British landowner and Member of Parliament.

Plas Newydd (Anglesey) house in Anglesey, north Wales

Plas Newydd is a country house set in gardens, parkland and surrounding woodland on the north bank of the Menai Strait, in Llanddaniel Fab, near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Anglesey, Wales. The current building has its origins in 1470, and evolved over the centuries to become one of Anglesey's principal residences. Owned successively by Griffiths, Baylys and Pagets, it became the country seat of the Marquesses of Anglesey, and the core of a large agricultural estate. The house and grounds, with views over the strait and Snowdonia, are open to the public, having been owned by the National Trust since 1976.

Parys Mountain 147m high mountain in Wales

Parys Mountain is located south of the town of Amlwch in north east Anglesey, Wales. It is the site of a large copper mine that was extensively exploited in the late 18th century.

Williams emerged from the dispute as the managing partner with the Revd Edward Hughes and John Dawes in the Parys Mine Company. This under Williams control was cheap to run and extremely productive. His great problem was to obtain an attractive price for the copper. He faced a cartel of copper smelters whose aim was to buy cheap and sell dear. He moved decisively to establish his own smelting facilities and quickly entered into an agreement with John Mackay to establish an industrial complex at Ravenhead near St Helens in Lancashire. He also established warehousing and copper manufacturing and finishing facilities, and even a mint – thus creating a vertical organisation. In 1788, Williams purchased the Temple Mills at Bisham in Berkshire. He built himself a fine mansion there called Temple House and used the mills for smelting copper brought from his Welsh mines. He became MP for the nearby town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire. [2]

Ravenhead human settlement in United Kingdom

Ravenhead is an area of St Helens in the North West of England. It is bordered by Thatto Heath, Sutton, Eccleston and the Town Centre. The area is thought to take its name from a farm once located nearby, while the 'head' portion of the name represents its location at one of the higher points of the town. In this respect, Ravenhead joins other local placenames such as Burtonhead, Micklehead and Eltonhead.

St Helens, Merseyside town in Merseyside, England

St Helens is a large town in Merseyside, England, with a population of 102,629. It is the administrative centre of the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens, which had a population of 176,843 at the 2001 Census.

Bisham village in the United Kingdom

Bisham is a village and civil parish in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England. The village is located on the River Thames, around one mile south of Marlow in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire, and around three miles northwest of Maidenhead. According to the 2001 Census, the population of the parish was 1,149, reducing to 1,099 at the 2011 Census.

He also acted quickly to absorb or control other producers – notably the Cornish mines to produce a complete response to the cartel. Although always the driving force, Williams built up and controlled a major commercial organisation and surrounded himself with able staff. The Revd Edward was always a sleeping partner but younger brother Michael Hughes was an able manager. Other partners and staff included The Earl of Uxbridge, Owen Williams, and Thomas Harrison.

His business organisation was first rate. He developed the technique of establishing his various businesses in separate companies. Thus the Parys Mine Company controlled its own smelting in South Wales, Lancashire and copper manufacture at Holywell and Wraysbury. Likewise the Mona mine (adjoining Parys) output was smelted by the Stanley Company in both Lancashire and South Wales. Other Companies dealt with manufacture at Greenfield near Flint and in the Thames Valley, Chemical Works (vitriol) at Garston Liverpool and still others with warehousing and banking.

Holywell, Flintshire fifth largest town in Flintshire, Wales

Holywell is the fifth largest town and a community in Flintshire, Wales. It lies to the west of the estuary of the River Dee. The community includes Greenfield.

Wraysbury a village located in Windsor and Maidenhead, United Kingdom

Wraysbury is a village and civil parish in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in England. It is under the western approach path of London Heathrow airport. It is located on the east bank of the River Thames, roughly midway between Windsor and Staines-upon-Thames, and 18 miles (29 km) west by south-west of London.

Williams had built copper works at Flint and Penclawdd where he made copper and brass products. Many of these materials were for use in the African slave trade. These copper trinkets etc. were largely exported to Africa for use as payment for slaves, who were then transported to the West Indies and sold. The proceeds were then used to purchase commodities for import into Britain. Williams claimed to have invested £70,000 in this trade and petitioned parliament in 1788 when a bill was being discussed to prevent British ships from carrying slaves. Williams is said also to have introduced the use of copper bolts to fix the copper sheeting to naval vessels and it would appear that he sold them to all sides in the naval conflicts. When he died in 1802, 1,200 people were employed in his Parys and Mona mines, but five years later the number had dropped to 120. This owing partly to the collapse of copper prices, but also to the exhaustion of the known local copper deposits – but no doubt largely resulting from the death of the firm's great driving force.

He was High Sheriff of Anglesey for 1790–91. [2]

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  1. Richard Thomas. "Williams, Thomas". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  2. 1 2 "WILLIAMS, Thomas (1737-1802), of Llanidan, Anglesey and Temple House, Berks". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  1. J. R. Harris (1964) The Copper King: A biography of Thomas Williams of Llanidan. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

See also

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Clayton
Thomas Rich
Member of Parliament for Great Marlow
With: William Lee-Antonie 1790–96
Owen Williams from 1796
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Member of Parliament for Great Marlow
With: Owen Williams
Succeeded by
Pascoe Grenfell
Owen Williams