A Frosty Morning JMW Turner

A Frosty Morning JMW Turner
A Frosty Morning is one of my favourite Turners. With thanks to Tate Britain

The Williams family background

The business of the production of printed matter was, in a round about way, in William Smith Williams's DNA. His family had, for generations, been dealers in hides in Oxforshire. Hides from sheep, not cattle and they had many fine uses. One was the manufacture of parchment.

‘Wheatley in the Valley is six miles from Oxford and is shielded by Shooter from the city, with hills rising steeply from all sides except the east, where the land gradually falls away to the river Thames. Roman dwellings and Saxon burial grounds have been found on both sides of Coombe Wood. At the heart of the village, High Street has pleasing seventeenth century stone buildings on either side.’ It was the house numbered 90 High Street, now called The Robins, where the Williams lived.

‘It was sold by Richard Haysey to Richard Williams in 1752 for £38. In 1775 he advertised for 2 parchment-makers in Jackson's Oxford Journal. He died in 1779. In 1787 John Turner, who had worked for the Williams family, absconded, leaving a quantity of frames unfinished. In 1795 Katherine inherited the property on the death of her mother, Ann, but "it appears that her brother William Williams must have been allowed to live there." It remained in the Williams family until in 1819, when it was sold by Katherine Williams to Noah Crook (fellmonger, tanner and parchment maker)for £60.’

Wheatley seems to have been a little more than just an Oxfordshire village as is apparent from a book entitled The Most Difficult Village. ’The people of Wheatley will have been as well-informed as any about current affairs. The village lay on the road between the capital, London, and the alternative capital, Oxford, where the king made his headquarters during the civil war and parliament met in 1681. The route ran the length of the High Street over the top of Shooter Hill.’

Wheatley lay in the ecclesiastical parish of Cuddesdon which was in the vast diocese of Lincoln until Henry VIII placed the church in Oxfordshire under a new bishopric at Oxford. A Bishop’s palace was built at Cuddesdon and the Bishop himself was vicar until the late 19th century. The people of Wheatley clearly wanted their own church building and refused to contribute to the cost of repairs of Cuddesdon church in 1630. By 1742 it was said that ‘all’ christenings took place at Wheatley chapel and wedding sometimes too. It was a village with civic pride. But there was another side to the story.

‘Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford from 1845 to 1869, described Wheatley as “the most difficult village” in his diocese. It was a place beset with social problems which in our day we might more commonly associate with the inner city. The inhabitants at this time suffered more than many in terms of poverty, unemployment, and the social ills resulting from drunkenness and a lack of education.’ If these problems stretched back into the late 18th century it may explain why Willam Smith Williams’s father moved to London in the late 1790's.

William Smith Williams’s great great grandfather was Richard Williams. He, with his wife Ann, had had nine children. Katherine was the eighth born in 1752. WSW’s grandfather was William Williams, born in 1753. William Williams had three children, Richard in 1770 and twins Laurence and Rebecca five years later. There is no record of his wife’s name.

With thanks to Norman Penty and the Bronte Museum for the family tree, to John Prest and the Nuffield Press for the book The Most Difficult Village, to Marion Gunter and Alan Sutton for Around Wheatley and to the Wheatley Archive for the information about the Williams family.

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