VENABLES, William (1785-1840), of 17 Queenhithe, London
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Family and Educationbap. 8 May 1785, 1st s. of William Venables (d. 1818), paper maker, of Cookham, Berks. and w. Mary Green.1 m. 15 Sept. 1814, Ann Ruth, da. of Peter Fromow of Newport, I.o.W.,2 5s. 3da. d. 30 July 1840.
Alderman, London 1821-d., sheriff 1821-2, ld. mayor 1825-6.
Master, Stationers’ Co. 1824-5.
Little is known of Venables’s antecedents. His father, William Venables, was ‘a paper maker on a small scale’ at Cookham, Berkshire, where he married Mary Green in 1782. Venables, the eldest of four surviving sons, went to London in about 1806 and entered business as a wholesale stationer (presumably supplied by his father) with two partners in Brewer Street, Golden Square. After the death of one partner he dissolved his connection with the other and operated alone, before moving in about 1816 to 17 Queenhithe, where his premises remained for the rest of his life. By 1826 he was in partnership with one Wilson, who was joined in about 1831 by William Tyler.3 Venables’s father was buried at Cookham on 2 Jan. 1819, aged 57. By his will, dated 27 Dec. 1818, he left equal shares in the residue of his estate, which included personalty sworn under £5,000, to Venables and his younger brothers Charles, of Hampton Grey House, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, and George, of Cookham, who were paper manufacturers with mills at Wooburn and Taplow, Buckinghamshire, south-east of Wycombe near the Berkshire border.4
Venables, whose wife was of Huguenot descent and who had his first three sons baptized at the Independent Chapel in Carey Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1815-19,5 stood for an aldermanic vacancy for Queenhithe ward in May 1821. His opponent was John Capel*, a wealthy stockbroker and outsider, whom the Queenhithe common councillors sought to impose on the ward. As the residents’ candidate, with the watchwords of ‘honesty and integrity’, Venables declared his support for sensible reform:
The best things are liable to abuse. I wish ... that abuse may be corrected when discovered; but I do not wish to see rash and intemperate nostrums tried upon the constitution, which might endanger that which we are all desirous of supporting. If our house needs repair, we repair and not demolish it.
He was elected by 50-31.6 In July 1821 he was chosen as one of the City’s sheriffs, though he was nominated against his personal inclination and refused to canvass for votes.7 In common council, he supported their reform petition, 29 Jan. 1823. He was appointed to the committee to manage their grant to the Spaniards resisting French aggression, 10 June 1823, defended the principle of the grant, 18 Mar., and on 31 Mar. 1824 said that the argument that the Aliens Act had not been abused by government ‘would go to support the existence of a Star Chamber’.8 His mayoralty, 1825-6, was marked by the publication by his Evangelical chaplain, Robert Dillon, of a laughably overblown and bombastic account of his visit by water to Oxford in his official capacity as conservator of the Thames; it made Venables and his entourage look ridiculous and was mercilessly sent up by Theodore Hook in John Bull.9 While in office Venables came forward for London at the general election of 1826, having confirmed his intention at a Mansion House dinner in early March, when, declaring that he was not ‘a rash, daring, "thick and thin" politician’, he observed:
Although neither his education nor habits had led him to consider himself fitted to take a lead in politics, he yet had long since made up his mind on the chief questions ... Power must reside somewhere, and its tendency was always to increase and perpetuate itself; but it was the great excellence of our constitution, that ... if there occurred at any time an error or excess in any one branch, it was intended to be corrected or controlled by the others ... He was most anxious that the House of Commons should be a free, fair, and full representation of the people ... He was a friend of liberty.
At the nomination, he described ‘constitutional liberty’ as the best foundation for economic prosperity and applauded the Liverpool ministry’s ‘enlightened views’ on commercial policy; but he urged ‘the greatest caution’ in the application of free trade theories, though he favoured revision of the corn laws. He promised to be ‘guided by the opinions of his constituents’ on the Catholic question, declared his ‘unequivocal support’ for the abolition of slavery, reiterated his desire for sensible reform and advocated education of the poor and the dissemination of religious knowledge. He was fourth in the poll after the first day, but slipped to fifth on the second and remained there throughout. He blamed his failure on the mischievous intervention of a candidate who had no chance.10 In common council, 23 May 1827, he expressed guarded approval of Canning’s ministry, and on 26 Feb. 1829 ‘spoke strongly in favour’ of the City corporation petition for Catholic emancipation; he later claimed that his pro-Catholic views had cost him a certain return for London in 1830.11 On 25 Mar. 1831 he proposed one of the London merchants’ resolutions in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which was ‘eminently calculated to promote the welfare of the country’; and in common council, 31 Mar., he moved the vote of thanks to Lord John Russell*.12 At the general election of 1831 he stood as a ‘decided’ supporter of the bill, ‘a just, a wise and a salutary measure’, and was returned unopposed with three other reformers. He told the livery reform dinner, 9 May 1831, that ‘those who opposed them wished to carry on an irresponsible government, not for the good of the many, but for the benefit of the few’.13
Venables, who never joined Brooks’s, duly voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831. On the 15th he claimed that the measure, ‘if not absolutely perfect’, had given ‘general satisfaction’ and ‘won the affections of the people of England’; and on 22 July he denied a Tory allegation that the London Members were ‘restrained’ by pledges to support it blindly. He voted steadily for its details in committee, though on 18 Aug. he was in the majority for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, on the principle that it extended the franchise. This vote earned him a reprimand from the livery’s reform committee, 25 Aug., when he defended himself and denied having ‘made a promise of implicit adherence to every clause’ of the bill; but a newspaper report claimed that his critics were so forceful that he gave ‘an assurance that there should be no further cause of complaint’.14 In the House, 26 Aug., he supported his colleague Wood’s plan to disfranchise the owners of finance house premises who did not pay rates and taxes, 26 Aug. In common council, 6 Sept., he denied having promised undeviatingly to toe the reform line and argued that he ‘had done everything to promote the bill and its ultimate success’.15 He divided for the passage of the measure, 21 Sept. He assured the House that the City corporation had no vested interest in Frankland Lewis’s London coal bill, 1 July, and welcomed ministers’ intention to regulate the capital’s hackney and cabriolet trade, 8 July. An explanation by Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, persuaded Venables to vote with him on civil list pensions, 18 July, but he did not wish it to be thought that he approved of their continuance. He welcomed the grant of £1,000,000 for public works to provide employment for the poor, 26 July. On the 29th he was in Daniel O’Connell’s minority on the proceedings of the Dublin election committee. He secured a return of information on the malt duty, 2 Aug., and objected to the proposed levy on Cape wines, 8 Aug., 7 Sept. He was in the reformers’ majority against the issue of a new writ for Liverpool, 5 Sept., but divided in the minority of 20 on the quarantine duties the following day. On 7 Sept. he joined in the condemnation by London Members of the petition presented by Hunt calling for inquiry into alleged structural defects in London Bridge. That day he was added to the select committee on steam navigation, and on 20 Sept. he applauded the government’s decision to regulate the operation of steamboats to protect the public from ‘the thoughtlessness or the avarice of individuals’. He was named to the select committees on the commercial state of the West Indian colonies, 6 Oct., 15 Dec. 1831). He thought the arrangements for the appointment of assignees in lord chancellor Brougham’s bankruptcy bill would ‘work well’, 15 Oct. After the reform bill’s defeat in the Lords he voted for the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct., and attended the London merchants’ meeting to address the king in their support, 13 Oct. 1831.16
Venables voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, was again a reliable supporter of its details and divided for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. On 9 Dec. 1831 he raised the case of the recent compromise at £20,000 of the prosecution of Leaf and Company, a London silk firm, for smuggling; and on the 15th, when successfully moving for the relevant papers, he argued that the compromise system was ‘most injurious’, though he gave ministers ‘full credit for endeavouring to protect the trade to the utmost of their power’. Hunt, his seconder, was less charitable towards them. On 20 Jan. 1832 he approved their apparent willingness to impose prison sentences on convicted silk smugglers: ‘I am not friendly to prohibition, but ... the manufacturers of this country are entitled to the full enjoyment of ... protection against foreign competition’. He spoke in the same sense, 21 Feb., when, presenting a London silk manufacturers’ petition for enhanced protection, he stated that ‘the present situation of the weavers in Spitalfields is far worse than ever it was’. He handed over the question to Lord Grosvenor, Member for Cheshire, but on 1 Mar. he secured returns of silk exports and duties, and he was named to the select committee on the trade, 5 Mar. He presented a petition from distressed Woodstock glovers, 31 Jan. He was added to the select committee on the East India Company, 10 Feb. Suspicious of the provisions of the fines and recoveries bill touching compensation to officers, 20 Jan., he observed that ‘the House should be very cautious in its expenditure of the public money’. On 17 Feb. he denied that cholera had broken out in Hoxton, as Hunt alleged. He voted with government for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in the minority for reduction of the Irish registrar of deeds’s salary, 9 Apr. He supported the Gravesend pier bill, 10 Apr., and, as instructed, endorsed London corporation’s petition in favour of the new Irish education scheme, 16 Apr. On 10 May he supported their petition for supplies to be withheld until the reform bill was passed and voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired. At a meeting of the London livery, 11 May, he said:
The refusal of the supplies was an extraordinary measure, but was the means ... which the constitution lodged in the House of Commons, as the guardian of the people’s rights and purses, to restrain the other branches of the legislature from arbitrary measures ... The bill must pass, if not by Lord Grey, by some other minister.17
In the House later that day, however, he said that a Tory ministry, even if it carried reform, would ‘not give satisfaction to the country’; and on 14 May he called for the reinstatement of the Grey administration:
If ... the reform bill should not be carried ... the country will be torn to pieces ... If the duke of Wellington and a Tory government should, after so long opposing the bill, at length, on getting into office, carry it, their doing so would be such a dereliction of all public principle as to be productive of as much evil as the reform bill may be expected to produce good.
He supported London reform petitions, 24 May, paired for the second reading of the Irish bill next day,18 and on 4 July supported the London corporation petition calling for it to be made more radical. He voted against opposition amendments to the Scottish bill, 1, 15 June. He defended the City’s policing organization, 4 June, and on the 20th deplored the attack there on Wellington, which had been ‘confined to the very lowest classes’. He was in small minorities for an Irish absentee tax, 19 June, and to reduce the barracks grant, 2 July, but he divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July. He voted to open coroners’ inquests to the public, 20 June, and supported an attempt to divert some of the Irish Society’s funds to the cost of the Foyle bridge at Londonderry, 18 July. On 25 July he criticized the appointment of Brougham’s brother to a chancery sinecure, said that arrangements were in hand for the burial of London cholera victims outside the city, called for severe penalties for smuggling to be incorporated in the customs duties bill and supported attempts to reduce the levies on coffee and currants. He supported a petition complaining of evidence given to the silk trade committee, which the Speaker would not accept, 3 Aug., and on the 7th presented a London manufacturers’ petition to the same effect, recommended removal of the duty on the raw material and urged ministers to show ‘the greatest tenderness’ towards the distressed weavers. He backed George Evans’s warnings of possible large-scale disfranchisement in the new metropolitan districts if practical problems involved in the payment of rates were not addressed, 9 Aug. 1832.
Venables initially offered for London at the general election of 1832 as ‘a decided friend of efficient reform in every department of the state’: he stressed the need for church reform, including the appropriation of ecclesiastical revenues; advocated a property tax and relaxation of the corn laws; declared his support for triennial parliaments and (as a recent convert) the ballot, and called for the speedy abolition of slavery, revision of the Bank’s charter and opening of the trade with India. With four other reformers in the field, he was prevailed on to withdraw a fortnight before the election for the sake of unity in the face of a Conservative challenge.19 On the death of the veteran reformer Waithman two months later Venables started in his room, but he was comfortably beaten by the unsuccessful Conservative candidate at the general election. He blamed his defeat on broken promises and the spiteful behaviour of the extreme radicals - ‘political renegades’ - who had impugned his sincerity as a reformer.20
Venables, who had acquired a West End house at 4 Arlington Street, died at Cowes, Isle of Wight, in July 1840.21 By his will, drawn up in haste, 29 July, he left his property at Clapton, Buckinghamshire to his wife, together with an annuity which, with Clapton rents, would bring her £800 a year. He devised his four cottages at Cookham and £300 to his sister Elizabeth and a token 20 guineas to one Charlotte Bayley, ‘now residing in my family’. He made donations to the Church Missionary Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels and the London Missionary Society. He created a trust fund to give a life annuity of £250 to his eldest son William, who also received a £4,000 share of the residue of his personal estate. He distributed the rest among his seven other children and provided for his brother Stephen, as required by the terms of his father’s will. His personalty was sworn under £90,000.22 His eldest son, born in 1815, was educated at Charterhouse, Oxford and the Inner Temple and practised medicine, but died on his passage to Madeira in 1845.23 His third son, Edmund Venables (1819-95), was educated at Merchant Taylors’ and Oxford, entered the church and published books on local history. Venables’s fourth son, George Henry Venables, born in 1824, eventually became the owner of the Clapton and Princes paper mills. The Queenhithe stationery business of Venables, Wilson and Tyler, later Venables, Tyler and Son, was still in existence in 1902.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. IGI (Berks.).
- 2. The Times, 16 Sept. 1814.
- 3. VCH Berks. i. 382; Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 435.
- 4. Berks. RO, Cookham par. reg.; PROB 11/1617/299; IR26/807/546; VCH Berks. i. 382; D.C. Coleman, British Paper Industry, 197, 241; PP (1840), v. 122; A. Dykes Spicer, Paper Trade, 192.
- 5. IGI (London).
- 6. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 195; The Times, 23-25 May 1821; Gent. Mag. (1821), i. 555.
- 7. The Times, 26-30 June, 2, 3 July 1821.
- 8. Ibid. 31 Jan., 11 June 1823, 19 Mar., 1 Apr. 1824.
- 9. Ibid. 30 Sept. 1825; Add. 40382, ff. 217, 219; 40385, f. 42; Beaven, ii. 204; R.C. Dillon, Lord Mayor’s Visit to Oxford (1826); Oxford DNB sub Dillon.
- 10. The Times, 10, 18 Mar., 10, 12, 17 June 1826.
- 11. Ibid. 24 May 1827, 27 Feb. 1829, 12 Feb. 1833.
- 12. Ibid. 26 Mar., 1 Apr. 1831.
- 13. Ibid. 25, 30 Apr., 10 May 1831.
- 14. Ibid. 26 Aug. 1831.
- 15. Ibid. 7 Sept. 1831.
- 16. Ibid. 14 Oct. 1831.
- 17. Ibid. 12 May 1832.
- 18. Ibid. 30 May 1832.
- 19. Ibid. 16, 27 Oct., 24, 27 Nov. 1832.
- 20. Ibid. 7, 9, 12, 18, 26, 27 Feb., 1, 2 Mar. 1833; GL, Noble Coll. C.78 T. 1833.
- 21. Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 435.
- 22. PROB 8/233 (6 Oct. 1840); 11/1935/732.
- 23. Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 326.