William Wilson Biography by Dierdre Duff

Author: Deirdre Duff
Date published: 22/04/2021

Rev. William Wilson

 The tributes expressed at the time of his untimely death described the Rev. William Wilson as a man highly respected and deeply loved not only by the religious community but also by those who benefited from his good works. By his exertions he was involved in the “promotion of the moral and social improvement of all grades; the cultivation and extension of literature and the amelioration of the position of the uneducated”.  When the railway was constructed his services were enlisted, and he originated the idea of the establishment of a cemetery and later becoming a shareholder in the Newbury Cemetery Company. By a sad coincidence he would become the first interment on 6 April 1850.

He was born on 4 May 1799 at Dartmouth, Devon, and together with his sister Mary Chesson Wilson who was born on 28 October 1800 he was baptised on 13 September 1801. Their births and baptisms were registered at the Presbyterian Meeting House, Dartmouth. Their names are also recorded at the Bow Meeting, Exeter.

His parents William Wilson, a currier, and Ursula Welsford married by licence on 9 May 1790 at the Anglican parish church, Crediton, a ceremony inconsistent with their own faith.  For the contract of marriage, dissenters had to appear before a minister of the established church.  Both families were long standing members of the Presbyterian Meeting Houses in Crediton and Dartmouth. 

Their first child, Susan Welsford Wilson, was born on 27 April 1791, followed by a second daughter, Ursula Parr Wilson, on 11 June 1792, in Dartmouth. 

For reasons that are unclear, in April 1793 his father’s name appeared in the list of bankrupts published in the London Gazette.  However, he continued to work as his name and trade are recorded in 1798 Universal British Directory under the heading of Dartmouth traders.  The family moved soon after to Exeter.

His eldest sister Susan died in June 1806 aged 16 years and a year later his mother died on 4 May 1807 at Coomb Farm. There is no mention of the actual location: there are a number of farms named Coombe Farm around the Exeter area.  Her death announcement states that his father was working as a currier in Exeter.

William’s early education was under the Rev. Dr. Lant Carpenter LL.D., an educator and Unitarian minister who did much to broaden the spirit of English Unitarianism.  He was master of a boarding school in Exeter and pastor of the George’s Meeting House, Exeter from 1805 to 1817.

In 1816 William entered Manchester College, York, where he received his professional training under the Rev. Charles Wellbeloved, Principal and Divinity tutor. As a divinity student he had the great advantage of first-class tutors, high minded, scholarly and deeply religious men. It had an extensive library and his borrowing record confirmed he was a reader of the Scriptures, Discourses and Sermons, philosophical essays, elements of political science, algebra, history and the works of Robert Burns and Samuel Johnson.

 His first ministry was at the Unitarian Chapel, Crewkerne, Somerset (1821-23).  He then became minister at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London (1824 -29) before removing to Newbury as the minister for the congregation at the Upper Meeting House, Toomer’s Court (aka Waterside Chapel) for 20 years.

In 1830 he was living in Bartholomew Terrace and the 1841 census records that he was staying at No.2 Bartholomew Terrace, Pound Street, the residence of Manasseh James, the son of Rev. David James who was the minister of the Newbury Upper Meeting House from 1764 to 1805.  In 1842 William was residing at Waterloo Place, West Street.

 Among his other interests was the Early Closing Association, the aim of which was to control the trading hours in shops and to abolish Sunday trading.  He was a subscriber to the Literary & Scientific Institution, becoming its librarian in April 1848 for a year before ill health forced his resignation.  He died from heart failure at the age of 51 years on 29 March 1850.  His good friend and fellow student at Manchester College, The Rev. Edmund Kell, M.A., F.S.A., Unitarian minister, delivered the address at his interment on 6 April 1850 (refer transcript below).

His two sisters, Mary Chesson Wilson and Ursula Parr Wilson, were later buried with him in the family vault. He never married.


Mary Chesson Wilson died 31/10/1865 aged 65, buried 7/11/1865.

Ursula Parr Wilson died 18/10/1871 aged 81 years, buried 24/10/1871.


Mrs. P. Code  W104,  page 19


Sources:  Register of Births & Baptisms at the Presbyterian Meeting House in the parish of Dartmouth (1727-1837) and Bow Meeting (Presbyterian) Exeter;  Devon Marriages & Banns; Bankrupts’ List 1786-1806, transcribed from the London Gazettes;  1798 Universal British Directory – Dartmouth;  Pigot’s Directory 1830 and 1842: 1841 census; 1847 Post Office Directory and 1848 Kelly’s Directory; Dictionary of National Biography; NWN dated 1/8/1872 page 5; Dissenting Academies – The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English; Vestiges of Protestant Dissent by George Eyre Evans published 1897.



















Sources:as above

Website designed and maintained by Paul Thompson on behalf of the Friends of Newtown Road Cemetery.

Administrator Login