Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1865-1866.
PROFESSION:- Comfactor/Grocer.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- December 27th 1851.
WARD:- St John
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- February 16th 1865.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Guardian. 20 years a Portsea Commissioner. Church Warden and member of the Burial Board. Magistrate from 1867.
RESIDENCE:- 26 Landport Terrace.
DECEASED:- Saturday, 27th February 1892 aged 82.
BURIED:- Family Vault. Kingston Cemetery.
For over forty years Wells was a devoted public servant, successful entrepreneur, and noted as being both a hard working and pains taking man. He was born in Portsmouth where his father was manager of the Union Brewery in Chandos Street. (1) In 1832 he opened a grocer's shop in Wish lane - now King's Road - from which he also sold coal. Wells also had many other business interests. He owned two malt houses. He was a director of the Portsmouth Gas Coy, director of the Southsea & Clarence Pier Coy et al. He was also a Commissioner for Taxes. Additionally he was a keen Freemason holding, in 1862, the post of Provincial Grand Senior Deacon and was Past Master of the Portsmouth Lodge. With this c.v. he was ideal council and mayoral material.
A noted Liberal Wells was elected to the council on the elevation of George Stigant to alderman and was elected alderman on the resignation of William Garrington when the latter resigned to take up the post of Coroner.
C19th council meetings were not the relatively well mannered affairs they are today. Name calling and sarcasm were not unknown by any means. On Monday 6th November the council met as the 'Local Government Board.' Much ill feeling had been generated, this lingered and some was carried forward to the next council meeting. During the course of the proceedings Cllr John Baker sarcastically referred to Alderman Sheppard as, 'The good Alderman Sheppard.' Alderman Sheppard then described Baker as the, 'Demosthenes of Landport'. Next the acerbic Cllr. J. A. Howell, (St Paul) not to miss an opportunity, had a fling at everyone.
When the council reconvened on Thursday 9th to elect a new mayor it was hoped better feelings would prevail. Cllr Vandenberg (St Thos) proposed that R.W. Ford be re-elected but Ford, true to his principles, declined. By now Alderman Wells was seen as an old and much respected townsman and due for civic honours. His name was put forward by ex mayor Alderman William Humby and seconded by Cllr Robert Davies (All Saints). There were no other nominees so Wells was declared elected.
Wells experienced a troubled year of mixed fortunes with no royal visit to brighten the tenure. The borough witnessed severe weather in January, many properties in East Southsea were underwater, roads were impassable. Mayor Wells made known he had a foot of water in his kitchen - and he didn't even live in East Southsea. (3) The sea defences between Lumps Fort and Southsea Castle were washed away. Residents wrote to the mayor who, as ex-officio chairman of the Roads & Works Committee, took it on himself and authorised expenditure for emergency repairs. The Borough Engineer, Mr Lewis Angell, reported to the council, sitting as the Local Government Board, that he estimated full repairs would cost the borough 100.00 - cheaper if convict labour could be obtained. The prospect of borough money being spent on affluent Southsea did not please some members of the council - least of all champion of the people, Cllr John Augustus Howell who at one juncture offered Cllr Baker outside. The mayor had to exercise his authority to calm matters.
Early in the year there was a national outbreak of 'Cattle Plague.' This caused widespread concern and by response, in February, the government introduced emergency legislation in the form of the, 'Cattle Diseases Prevention Act.' This required and empowered local authorities to both restrict the movement of cattle and slaughter as necessary. Such was the alarm caused by this 'Plague' that Wednesday the 15th March was set aside as a day of National Humiliation. The mayor announced the closure of all business in the borough between 10.0 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. Special services were held in all churches. (4)
The borough had by no means heard the last of its Engineer - Mr Lewis Angell. On September 8th it was revealed that following open invitations to tender for the supply of pumping machinery for the station at Fastney, Mr Angell had intimated to the suppliers, Easton & Amos of London, that it was necessary to add at 10% Surveyor's Fee' to their tender. This looked as though Angell was seeking a 'back-hander.' The contractors reported this apparent irregularity to the mayor. When the news broke there was a public outcry. Mass meetings were held on Governor's Green. Mayor Wells summoned a special meeting of the council and Engineer Angell was dismissed. (5)
At the close of the mayoral year it was deemed that Wells had done a good job and had more than fulfilled the expectations of his friends. He had displayed the utmost tact and good sense and earned the respect and good will of fellow townsmen. (6)
In private life he was married to the daughter of Mr Brown of the Eton Brewery, Charlotte Street. He died at his home from dementia leaving a widow two married daughters and grand children. When the news of his death reached the magistrates court they sent a constable to his home to verify it. The Court stayed open and upon confirmation of the sad news a tribute was paid to a long serving and hard working JP.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituaries. Hants Post 4th March 1892. Portsmouth Times 5th March 1892. Hants Telegraph 5th march 1892.
2. Portsmouth Times November 11th 1865.
3. Portsmouth Times 27th January 1866.
4. Portsmouth Times 17th March 1866.
5. Portsmouth Times 1st & 8th Sept 1866.
6. Portsmouth Times 10th November 1866.