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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1864-1865..
PROFESSION:- Solicitor
WARD:- St Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- February 15th 1869.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Clerk of the Peace. Guardian.
RESIDENCE:- The Chestnuts, Portchester.
DECEASED:- September 8th 1900. aged 78.
BURIED:- Wymering Churchyard. (1)
Of genial disposition and never failing courtesy Richard William Ford is generally considered to be one of the finest mayors the Borough ever had. Also he is regarded as one of Portsmouth's greatest benefactors. Few have done more to promote the interests of the Borough. W.G. Gates writes, "He was a man for whom everyone had a good word, and a man whose public career, extending over half a century, was without blemish."
Born in 1822 Richard Ford was the second son of Henry Ford senior of Portsmouth & Waterlooville. He left school in 1837 to become Articled to Archibold Low solicitor of St George's Square Portsea - whose daughter he later married. Admitted as solicitor he went into partnership with his elder brother Henry Ford in 1843. At the bar he featured in a number of prominent cases including the defence of Prince Leiningen - cousin to Her Majesty - in the proceedings concerning the collision between the Royal Yacht and the Mistletoe.
First elected to the Council in 1852 he was from the start strongly opposed to the old cess pit system of drainage and was a firm advocate of the acceptance of the Public Health Act 1848 (PHA). He was also a supporter of the adoption of the 1858 Local Government Act which, when accepted in 1863 proved a landmark event by investing sanitary control in the hands of the local council thereby superseding the old Commissioners.
Politically Ford was known as a Conservative supporter - and was one time secretary of the local party. Consequently the mayoral election proved, at times, to be a politically charged event with heated exchanges and heckling from the gallery. Cllr John Baker (All Saints) rose to say that their duty was to elect a gentleman not only capable of filling the office of mayor but also one who was not deficient in intellect, indeed a man of quick intellect. A man not filled with ponderous prejudices but one full of quick and liberal thought. He then nominated R.W. Ford. This was seconded by Cllr Dr Miller who opined that Ford was a man of progress. The kind of person needed in the wake of the acceptance in 1863 of the 1858 Local Government Act.
Dr John Augustus Howell, (St Paul's) self styled man of the people, then rose. He first made the objection that no practising attorney should be elected mayor. Howell also bemoaned the fact that party politics had apparently played a part in the November 1st Council elections. He saw this trend as being extended to mayoral elections fearing that under Ford the Council would be guided by political bias. For these reasons he would not support the nomination. (Howell was not the most popular member of the council by any means. The press and public disliked his manner and Howell's speech was much interrupted both from the floor and gallery.) Cllr Robert Davies (All Saints) rose saying that Howell, a known Liberal supporter, was equally guilty of political bias on opposing Ford. Davies was firm that party politics should have nothing to do with mayoral elections. It was a question of moral standing, social worth and earnest ability. Alderman Stigant then stood saying that if ever misfortune could happen to the Council it would be the fiction of political discussions. In the event Ford was elected with one dissenting vote - that of Cllr Howell.
Ford came to office at a crucial time in civic affairs and steered the council through the complexities surrounding the application of Local Government Act. To a degree the corporation was now responsible for sanitary reform and one of its first acts was to commission a scheme of underground drainage to which private houses could be connected. Initially this was a simple gravity operated system but it was nevertheless a proud moment for mayor Ford when, on September 26th 1865, he laid the foundation stone of the drainage works at Eastney. To this time Portsmouth had been one of the vilest places in the Kingdom in which to reside with death rates from cholera etc well above the national average. Six years and 160,000 later the Borough was regarded as one of the healthiest places in which to live. In the General Election of July 1865, as it was Ford's duty, as ex officio Returning Officer, to declare two Liberals (W.H. Stone & Serjeant Gaselee) as being elected members for Portsmouth.
By contrast the most impressive social event was the visit of the French Fleet on the 29th August 1865. The French squadron consisted of nine battleships and three sloops. The council arranged a hearty welcome. 'For many days the town was given over to gaiety.' comments Gates. (3) The French sailors were feted to the surfeiting point. The high spot was a grand ball given for the French Officers. The ships and the town were illuminated and the event declared at the time to have been finer than anything previously seen by the inhabitants of Portsmouth. Both national and foreign press wrote highly of His Worship and the town's hospitality. Later a silver salver was presented to Ford in commemoration of the visit and this artefact may be seen in the collection of silverware in the present Guildhall. The low spot was the failure of the South Hants Bank which cost many local residents dearly.
At the 1865 mayoral election Ford's name was proposed again. But true to his principles on mayoral second terms he declined to stand. At the 1865 November 9th Council meeting he was accorded a warm vote of thanks in which it was noted that he had worked hard and well during his tenure - and what would the French say when they found he was no longer mayor? At the conclusion of his year he was described by the Portsmouth Times (2) as 'A Model Mayor.' The paper continued, 'Never was a vote of thanks more richly deserved. In the introduction of the Local Government Act the late Mayor's legal knowledge was invaluable. Fortunately in him we had the right man in the right place at the right time."
In August 1871 both he and his brother resigned from the council in order to apply for the salaried post of Clerk of Peace. To mark their services, in September 1871, a complimentary dinner was accorded, 'to two men whose names would forever be associated with the municipal history of the borough.' (q.v. H. Ford)
Richard Ford was not long absent from the council. In November 1871 he was elected for St Thomas and was re-elected alderman on February 8th 1875. On the death of his brother in 1880 he again resigned from the council and once more applied for the post of Clerk to the Justices. This time was duly appointed. (4)
Ford had many business interests. Inter alia he was a founder and secretary of the Portsmouth to Ryde Steam Packet Coy, and remained so until it was taken over by the Joint Railway Coy in 1880. But he is perhaps best remembered as being the founder of the Portsmouth Waterworks Co. In 1854-55 he urged the council to secure this supply for themselves - but they declined. Ford realising the potential then raised 80,000 taking over the old works at Farlington and developing the Bedhampton site. He thereby improved and increased the supply giving Portsmouth some of the purest water in the Kingdom. He was also the founder and promoter of the Eye and Ear Hospital. In matters of religion he worshipped at St Thomas where he was a Church Warden. He had five sons. His wife pre deceased him in 1892 and he was interred with her in the plot at Wymering cemetery.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituaries Portsmouth Times & County Journal 15th September 1900. Hampshire Telegraph 15th September 1900 & Portsmouth Times 15th September 1900.
2. Portsmouth Times 11th November 1865.
3. W.G. Gates. Illustrated History of Portsmouth.
4. Portsmouth Times 21st August 1880.
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