A Frosty Morning JMW Turner

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

William's family

Richard, WSW’s father, set up business in the Strand as Wax and Tallow Chandlers. It would probably be too far fetched to suggest that this business was an extension of the family enterprise, although tallow is also derived from sheep. The business in the Strand achieved prominence when it received Royal Appointment.

William was born in a house on the Strand very near to theatre land. His baptism is recorded at St Martin’s in the Fields, which we now know as bordering Trafalgar Square. At the time of the baptism the square had not been built, indeed the battle had not yet been fought; instead it was bordered, very closely, by courts, back to back dwellings both smelly and crowded.

William had one older brother, Richard, whose aptitude was for precision engineering and he became a renowned Surgical Instrument Maker with premises also in The Strand. He was to play a major role in the Great Exhibition of 1851. William’s mother was born Mary Smith, hence perhaps William’s middle name. She had married Richard Williams, Willam’s father on 6 June 1791 at St Dunstan’s Stepney.

At some point William must have fallen under the spell of books for at the age of 25, newly married, he was running his own bookshop. We might pause and try to imagine what that shop might have been like. Books were expensive items. How well could a young man of modest means stock his shop? What titles might he carry? What customers may he have had? We can reach for our edition of Oliver Twist and the scene where the old gentleman is in the bookshop. Might William’s have been like that? Can we fast forward nearly two centuries to the book shop in Notting Hill run by another William in the film of that name?

Yet his father had been a Wax and Tallow Chandler and his family dealers in hides. Where might the love have come from?

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