COPELAND, William Taylor (1797-1868), of 37 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. and The Poplars, Leyton, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



4 Aug. 1831 - 1832
17 May 1833 - 1837
1837 - 1852
1857 - 1865

Family and Education

b. 24 Mar. 1797, o.s. of William Copeland, merchant, of 5 Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and w. Mary Fowler. m. 29 Apr. 1826, Sarah, da. of John Yates, china manufacturer, of Shelton, Staffs., 8s. (4 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1826. d. 12 Apr. 1868.

Offices Held

Sheriff, London 1828-9, alderman 1829-d., ld. mayor 1835-6.

Prime warden, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1837-8, 1851-2; pres. Bridewell and Bethlehem Hosps. 1861-d.


Copeland’s grandfather William Copeland (1728-76) had connections with Astbury, near Congleton, Cheshire, but farmed in the Potteries area of Staffordshire at Hollybush, Longton Hall, Stoke. With his wife Ann, daughter of Thomas Eaton of nearby Audley, he had a son and namesake, born in 1765. William Copeland the younger was probably apprenticed to the Stoke pottery manufacturer Josiah Spode, who made his family’s fortune with his successful range of transfer printed ‘blue ware’. He subsequently went to London to assist Spode’s son Josiah junior in the management of the firm’s warehouse and retail outlet, which was located originally in Fore Street and, from about 1794, in large premises (the site of a former theatre) at 5 Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.1 On the death of Spode senior in 1797 his son returned to Stoke, leaving Copeland and his elder son William Spode in charge of the London business. It was made over entirely to them in 1805, when they became co-partners in it. William Spode withdrew from the business at the end of 1811 and, by new articles of partnership, 1 Jan. 1812, his father took a quarter share in the enterprise. Copeland, who was now effectively the sole manager, held the remainder, which was valued at about £24,400. On 3 July 1817 Queen Charlotte and Princess Elizabeth visited Portugal Street to inspect a new range of stone china.2 By 1819 Copeland had acquired small estates at Wyke, Sussex and Leyton, Essex.3

William Taylor Copeland, his only son, was presumably trained for the business, in which he took a quarter share by his father’s gift, 1 Jan. 1824, when its London stock value was £28,000.4 On his father’s death, with personal estate sworn under £60,000, 20 Jan. 1826, he became equal co-partner with Josiah Spode, by the terms of a seven-year agreement.5 Josiah Spode died in 1827 and his younger son and namesake only two years later, their share of the London business being carried on by their executors.6 Copeland became a common councillor of London and served as sheriff, 1828-9. As such, he contested an aldermanic vacancy for Bishopsgate ward in early February 1829. Replying to pointed references to his recent ‘severe illness’, he gave assurances that, if elected, he would retire should his health again fail, though he claimed that it was fully restored. He defeated his rival, John Fowler Dove, by 280-250, and remained in place for the rest of his life.7 He was one of the seven aldermen who witnessed the formal presentation of the City address in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill to the king at Guildhall, 9 Mar. 1831, and one of the deputation which later attended the levée to present it to him in person.8 He did not, however, make an appearance at the City reform meeting on the 25th.

A member of the Irish Society, which managed the City’s estates in county Londonderry, at the general election that spring Copeland was put up for Coleraine by the independent interest opposed to the dominance of the corporation and the Beresford family. Portrayed as a reformer, although he never joined Brooks’s, he had a substantial lead after the poll, but his opponent was returned by virtue of having a majority of corporators’ votes. The petition lodged in his name, claiming a majority of legal votes among the freemen, 1 July, proved successful, and he was seated, 4 Aug. 1831.9 He voted for the enfranchisement of Gateshead, 5 Aug., and to combine Rochester with Chatham and Strood, 9 Aug., but against issuing the Dublin writ, 8 Aug. In his maiden speech, 23 Aug., he supported the London ship owners’ petition against the quarantine duties. He complained that the £10 borough voting qualification was ‘too low’ for London and other ‘wealthy and populous towns’ and ‘too high’ for less flourishing places, 25 Aug., indicating his willingness to back any amendment which would make it more flexible in its application. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. At the London Tavern meeting to promote the mayoral candidature of Sir Peter Laurie, 22 Sept., he boasted of his reform votes.10 The lord lieutenant of Londonderry, Lord Garvagh, informed Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, 24 Nov. 1831, that he had received a letter from Copeland ‘strongly criminative of the corporation magistrates [of Coleraine], in refusing (as he states) to swear in freemen except of one party’, but that he had been unable to promote Copeland’s two inappropriate recommendations to the bench.11

Copeland voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan., and for the disfranchisement of 30 boroughs in schedule B, 23 Jan., and the £10 householder franchise, 3 Feb. 1832. Although he divided against ministers on the cases of Helston, 23 Feb., and Gateshead, 5 Mar., he sided with them for the third reading, 22 Mar. He voted against Hobhouse’s vestry reform bill, 23 Jan., when he successfully moved for information on freemen admissions and corporation properties in Coleraine. In reply to criticism from the Member he had unseated, he stated that he had been urged to introduce the motion ‘by a vast number of inhabitants’, but admitted that he had ‘never set foot upon Irish ground’. He divided with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but with government against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted in minorities for inquiry into distress into the glove trade, 31 Jan., 3 Apr., and the Sunderland (South Side) Wet Docks bill, 2 Apr. He presented the London corporation’s petition endorsing the orders in council on slavery, 4 Apr., but dissociated himself from it because he considered that the orders posed a threat to British shipping and were not in any case ‘calculated to ameliorate the condition of the slaves’. He left the House without voting on Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but for Frederick Shaw’s amendment to preserve the voting rights of Irish freemen, 2 July, when, citing the Coleraine case, he called for ‘hereditary’ freemen to be disfranchised. His only other vote that session was for making coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832.

At the general election of 1832, when he supported the beaten Conservative candidate for London, Copeland, who had again canvassed as a reformer and the champion of the independent interest, was defeated at Coleraine by the casting vote of the mayor, but his subsequent petition was again successful.12 In 1833 he and his new partner Thomas Garrett acquired complete control of the London business for £21,500 and bought the Spode factory in Stoke for £44,000, as well as paying £8,950 for the Spodes’ half-share in the Fenton Park colliery and £11,000 for 189 workers’ houses in Stoke.13 It was for that borough that he sat, as a liberal Conservative, from 1837 to 1852, when he was defeated, and again, 1857-65. A keen sportsman and noted racehorse owner, he was dismissed by Benjamin Disraeli† in 1842 as ‘a thickheaded alderman’.14 Yet he helped to regenerate the industry of the Potteries, his own firm becoming particularly celebrated for its parian groups and statuettes. He dissolved his partnership with Garrett in 1847 and shortly afterwards moved his London premises to 160 New Bond Street, subsequently bringing his four surviving sons into the business. He died in April 1868 at his country residence at Russell Farm, Watford.15


Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. L. Whiter, Spode, 13-16. Whiter discounts the traditional story that William Copeland was a traveller in the tea trade, whose East Indian connections made him useful in the Spodes both for sales in that region and as a conduit for Eastern designs. See Oxford DNB sub Copeland, Spode: J.C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Pottery, 134; A. Hayden, Spode and his Successors, 67, 106, 112-13, 176-7; J. Thomas, Rise of Staffs. Potteries, 15, 19.
  • 2. Whiter, 24-25, 35, 69-70, 206-8.
  • 3. Ibid. 69-70; VCH Essex, vi. 192.
  • 4. Whiter, 209; Hayden, 108, 179.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1826), i. 138; PROB 11/1708/72; IR26/1077/154; Whiter, 14, 209.
  • 6. Whiter, 76-77, 210; Hayden, 179.
  • 7. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 43; ii. 143; The Times, 3-5, 7, 18 Feb. 1829.
  • 8. The Times, 10 Mar. 1831.
  • 9. Ibid. 28 Apr., 16 May; Belfast News Letter, 13 May, 19 Aug. 1831
  • 10. The Times, 23 Sept. 1831.
  • 11. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 127/5.
  • 12. Beaven, i. 293; Londonderry Sentinel, 11 Aug., 15, 22 Dec. 1832.
  • 13. Whiter, 78, 210; Hayden, 180; Wedgwood, 136.
  • 14. Disraeli Letters, iv. 1241.
  • 15. Whiter, 198; Gent. Mag. (1868), i. 691; DNB; Oxford DNB.