TURNER, Sir William (1615-93), of St. Paul’s Churchyard, London
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Family and Education
b. 12 Sept. 1615, 3rd s. of John Turner of Kirkleatham, Yorks. by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Colthurst of Upleatham, Yorks. unm. Kntd. 19 July 1662.
Freeman, Merchant Taylors’ Co. 1640, master 1661, 1684; alderman, London 1660, 1662–Aug.1687, Oct. 1688, 1690–d., sheriff 1662–3, ld. mayor 1668–9; pres. Bethlehem and Bridewell Hosps. 1669–87, 1690–d.; dir. E. I. Co. 1670–1, 1684–5, 1687–8, 1690–1; asst. R. African Co. 1676–8, 1681–3, 1686–8, 1691; gov. Irish Soc. 1676–87.
Commr. public accts. 1667, recusants, London 1675.1
A younger son of a Yorkshire gentleman of Herefordshire extraction, Turner found great commercial success as a woollen-draper in the capital, and by 1660 boasted an estimated annual income of £2,000. The Restoration proved the making of his civic career, and he was cited as one of ‘the King’s sheriffs’ after his promotion to the shrievalty by the Corporation Act commissioners. Samuel Pepys, a relation, regarded him as ‘a sober, considering man’, and such qualities recommended Turner for inclusion in 1667 in the Brooke House committee which reviewed the public accounts for the recent Dutch war. Burnet thought this appointment was subsequently vindicated by Turner’s ‘wise and just administration’ as lord mayor, and several pamphlets praised Turner for presiding over the reconstruction of the City following the Great Fire. However, his mayoralty was by no means free from controversy, one opponent accusing him of having ‘espoused the interest of the Nonconformists’ when in office. Leading Dissenters allegedly held ‘frequent consultations’ at his home in the summer of 1669 in order to co-ordinate an abortive campaign for Turner’s re-election as mayor, and reports of his lenience towards conventicles circulated in May 1670 and March 1675. Nevertheless, in the wake of the Exclusion crisis he was one of the court’s most active supporters within the capital, liaising with Sir Leoline Jenkins† prior to the mayoral election of Michaelmas 1681, and standing in the Tory interest at several aldermanic contests.2
Although a supporter of Charles II, Turner was unable to accept the policies of James II, and was removed as an alderman in August 1687 after failing to consent to the corporation’s address of thanks for the first Declaration of Indulgence. He later declined a plea from Lord Chancellor Jeffreys to resume his aldermanic seat on the restoration of the London charter in October 1688, and was not restored to civic office until after the Revolution. In late December 1688 James II felt sufficiently confident of Turner’s loyalty to request him to secure royal stocks in the East India and Guinea Companies, promising to reward him ‘when in my power’, but Turner quickly accepted the revolutionary regime. He even displayed renewed political zeal by standing as a parliamentary candidate for the first time at the venerable age of 75. Probably in consideration of his seniority, he only had to contribute £10 as ‘my part of the expenses about the City’s election’, but his electoral value to the ‘Church party’ was proven by his return at the top of the poll.3
On the eve of the 1690 Parliament Turner was recommended to Sir Stephen Fox* as a leading Tory financier, an assessment which Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) confirmed soon afterwards when listing him as a Tory who would probably support the Court. Right from the outset of the Parliament he was active in the pursuit of the City’s interests, for among his papers survive several drafts of the bill to restore the London charter. In May 1690 opponents endeavoured to besmirch his reputation in the Upper House by highlighting his involvement in the charter’s surrender under Charles II, but the City Tories rallied to his defence. In the next session Carmarthen described him as a probable ally, but Robert Harley* regarded Turner’s politics with some uncertainty in April 1691 when delineating Court and Country divisions. However, Turner continued to be associated with leading Tories, ready as he was in November to stand as surety for the Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde†). He was clearly unswerving in his dedication to the cause of the London orphans, presenting on 2 Dec. 1691 a bill for the City corporation to pay its debts. On 29 Jan. 1692 he delivered to the committee of the whole an account of the outstanding deficit, testifying to the corporation’s willingness to clear it, and supporting the imposition of a chimney tax on the capital to refund the orphans. His involvement in this issue was maintained in the third session, and on 8 Dec. 1692 he presented to the House an account of the corporation’s revenues. He had already responded to the concerns of his City constituents by presenting on 16 Nov. a petition of merchants and shipowners complaining of the ‘great losses’ recently suffered in their trade, and was duly appointed to the committee to examine their claims. His only subsequent action of note came on 10 Dec. when he was ordered to convey to Bethlehem Hospital (of which he was president) a madman who had entered the House.4
Turner was not to survive the session, dying on 9 Feb. 1693. On that day he had been present at an assembly of the London corporation, and offered to advance a loan of £500 to the crown. Such generosity, however, fell short of that shown by Whig civic leaders, leading one observer to worry that ‘the Church party will not preserve the good opinion the King has of them’. At the time of his death he was certainly capable of standing the government credit, having valued his estate at some £54,000 on 1 Jan. 1693. He was much readier to spend his fortune on charitable causes, founding a grandiose hospital and school at Kirkleatham, Yorkshire, his final resting place. On his death a pamphlet drew attention to the devotion he had shown to his duties as president of the Bethlehem and Bridewell hospitals, and celebrated ‘his flogging spirit’ as the scourge of the capital’s prostitutes. Another pamphleteer lauded him as ‘the City’s darling and the orphans’ joy’, while his epitaph paid tribute to ‘his piety, liberality and humility’. Remaining a bachelor, he bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to Kirkleatham Hospital, but among those fortunate to find themselves beneficiaries of his will was his great-nephew Cholmley Turner†, a future Member for Northallerton and Yorkshire.5