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

MAYORALTY:- December. 1862-1863 on death of Thomas Ellis Owen. November 9th 1863-1864.
PROFESSION:- Grocer & Tea Dealer.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- May 20th 1859 replacing L Camwell.
WARD:- St Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- December 28th 1868 on death of Alderman Humby
RESIDENCE:- Eastlands, Kent Road, Southsea.
DECEASED:- July 3rd 1883. Aged 73.
BURIED:- Highland Rd cemetery - with family.
Born in Portsmouth in 1810 William Chambers was a well respected local figure. With Emanuel Emanuel, Andrew Nance and William Kent Parsons he was regarded as one of the four most influential businessmen in the borough. Following in his father's foot steps (George Chambers) he first went into business as a Provision Merchant from a shop sited adjacent to the Soldiers' Institute in the High Street with a further branch on The Hard. Later he became Chairman of the Landport & Southsea Tram Coy. Director of the Floating Bridge and Steam Packet Coy and was a property owner.
Chambers' rise to civic prominence was meteoric. First elected to the council in 1859 within three years he was mayor - without first having held the position of alderman. When it was mooted, following the death of mayor Owen, that Chambers might be a mayoral candidate the Portsmouth Times on the 20th December 1862 commented:-
"It is the opinion of many, in which we concur, that the Mayor of the Borough should be elected only from the aldermen. We consider that to elect a gentleman mayor before he has been an alderman is an unseemly proceeding." It was the practice in the City of London only to elect mayors from among the aldermen the paper noted and went on. "Also no member of the Council should accept the Aldermanic seat without first being fully prepared, both pecuniary and mentally, for the mayoral seat."
There was no question that Chambers was not financially equipped but the paper still objected to the fact he was not an alderman.
MAYORAL ELECTIONS 1862 & 1863. (1)
Coming in the wake of the death of mayor Owen, and there being no official position of Deputy Mayor, the meeting was chaired by Alderman Humby. Alderman R.W. Ford proposed Chambers. There were no other nominees so Chambers became mayor. It must be said that the Portsmouth Times was generous and despite its previous reservations congratulated Chambers saying the paper wished him well. By the end of 1863 the general consensus of the council was that Chambers had discharged the duties of mayor throughout the preceding year with due diligence.
Alderman Sheppard proposed that Chambers be re-elected for the ensuing year. This was seconded by Cllr Hannam. Cllr R.W. Ford (q.v.) then rose to say that in principle he was opposed to the idea of re-electing a mayor for a second term. But in this case circumstances were different. Chambers had come to the chair following the sudden death of Mayor Owen, he had discharged his duties well and was thus deserving of a second term. (2) There was but one dissenting voice - that of Cllr J.A. Howell (St Paul) currently the bÍte noire of the press. Howell accused Chambers of offensive conduct on one occasion. This was a reference to remarks allegedly passed by Chambers concerning the role of beneficial societies. Chambers reply was that all he had said was he disliked those societies which existed mainly to serve the whims of demagogues. He felt it was enough for people to be good Christians and it was not therefore necessary to be Foresters, Oddfellows and Freemasons as well. The vote was taken which showed a single 'No' - that of Cllr Howell who stood retorting, "Mind it ain't unanimous. I stand up against it." (derisive laughter)
In the evening there followed the usual Mayor's Banquet. During the course of his speech the Mayor took the opportunity to refute allegations of 'Jobbery' which had arisen in respect of committee work (i.e. when a man makes use of his office for his pecuniary advantage - or that of his friends.) The Mayor said it was wrong to accuse men who gave of their free time to attend meetings of such practices.
The year 1863 proved to be a memorable one. In June, on a motion of Cllr Baker, the council voted by 45 votes to 8 to accept the Local Government Act of 1858. This eventually led to the abolition of the Commissioners with the local authority, by becoming the local Board of Health, absorbing their functions. Consequently, the way was cleared for the council to embark upon numerous enterprises. One of the first was a scheme for drainage of the Borough.
Chambers retired from active business in 1873. In politics he was a Liberal. In social life he was noted for his frankness and generosity. In private life he was married with three daughters. He died in 1883 after a two year illness. (3)
Norman Gordon
1. Portsmouth Times 27th December 1862.
2. Portsmouth Times November 14th 1863.
3. Brief obituaries Hant's Post 6th July 1883.
4. Portsmouth Times July 4th 1883. & Hampshire Telegraph 4th July 1883.
See also Portsmouth Papers No 34, 'The Battle of Southsea.'
Further Information
In the 1861 census Chambers and his family lived at No. 83 High Street, Portsmouth