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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1877-1878. 1878-1879.1886-1887. 1889-1890.
PROFESSION:- Auctioneer
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- Nov 20th 1872 - bye election.
WARD:- St. Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- 3rd January 1878.
RESIDENCE:- Stratford Lodge, Southsea.
DECEASED:- 22nd October 1902 aged 73. (1)
BURIED:- Highland Road cemetery.
Four times mayor and noted Liberal supporter Sir William D. King was, "A born diplomat and a man of uncommon foresight." comments W.G. Gates. Moreover continues Gates, "He was a painstaking and fearless magistrate and the pioneer of many public works which will help keep his memory green." Born in Portsmouth in 1829 William King was the son of builder Joseph King of Hanover Square, Portsea. He attended Mr J. Andrews' Diocesan School in Lion Terrace - where many other prominent townsmen had also been educated. He began his business at Midhurst and in 1853 married Miss Matilda Atkey of Chichester. In 1857 he moved back to Portsmouth and went into partnership with R. Marvin senior, as Auctioneers. Following Marvin's death William King linked with another future mayor Thomas King (not related). Thus evolved the well known firm of King & King, Auctioneers and Estate Agents, then trading from 130 Queen Street, Portsea.
King's advent to the council came in somewhat unusual circumstances. By 1872 he was residing in Grand Parade when a vacancy occurred in St Thomas' Ward. Shortly after the 1872 council election the sitting member F.J.C. Gordon. resigned. There were two candidates for the vacancy:-William King and Arthur Cudlipp, but Cudlipp was not resident in the ward. This went against him and in an acrimonious election King emerged supreme by 395 votes to 174.
MAYORAL ELECTIONS 1877 & 1878. (2)
The 1877 mayoral election was unusual in as much as it was not presided over by the sitting mayor William Pink. Given there was no official post of Deputy Mayor, ex mayor, Alderman Davies, took the chair. By this time the duties of mayor had become so onerous that few relished the prospect. Nevertheless, Alderman Hellard proposed William King. Alderman Nance then spoke expanding on the duties of mayor saying the council needed to be ruled both with firmness and mildness. "A King to reign over them." declared Nance. The vote was unanimous. Six committees were also elected:- The Watch, Gaol, Finance, Camber Docks, Lunatic Asylum and General Purposes. It was proposed that the Watch Committee, given this committee controls the police whose work principally concerns dealing with the effects of intoxicating liquors, should be composed only of those who were entirely disinterested in the sale of such items. However, no action was taken.
The 1878 election was a straight forward event. Alderman Hellard noted that King had worked hard attending a total of 347 committee meetings during the course of the year. He had also promoted a number of improvement works. In Southsea 54 streets were being paved and drained at a cost of 2,300 whilst in Landport 21 were being improved at a cost of 2,800. The vote was unanimous King was accorded a second consecutive term.
Firstly mayor King was elevated alderman on the 3rd January 1878 following the death of Alderman Andrew Nance A proposal to build a new Town Hall absorbed the attention of the council and on February 11th 1878 a committee was set up to select a suitable site. On the 24th April King opened Victoria Park though this was really a tribute lo the efforts of Cllr Emanuel Emanuel and John Baker. The operation of the Public Libraries Act, carried forward from 1876 was also referred to the Town Hall Committee. 1878 was marred by tragedy when on the 24th March HMS Eurydice, sail training ship returning from the West Indies, foundered off the Isle of Wight in a sudden squall with the loss of over 300 lives. The mayor launched a relief fund which totalled 23,040. In 1879 some consideration was given to mental health and St James' hospital for the mentally sick was opened on the 16th October.
Mayoral duties were taking up a considerable amount of time - in King's last year he attended no less than 376 meetings. Nevertheless, as mayor, King was considered a great success and a collection for a testimonial was launched in November 1879 with which he endowed two Scholarships at the Grammar School.
By now it was established that the real selection was held in committee prior to the official mayor making of the ninth of the month. On the 6th November the Portsmouth Times commented that knowing 1887 would be Jubilee year it ought not to have been too difficult to find a candidate or two - especially as the possibility of a Knighthood might be in the offing. Alderman Blake declined to stand again. Yet there was no abundance of nominees. At the official election Alderman Whitecombe stood to propose King adding that the post required man of experience. He was duly elected unanimously and in addition to taking the oath was now required to state that after all his debts had been settled he was worth at least 1,000. (4) In the evening there ensued a grand banquet - one of the biggest ever seen.
This was the Queen's Jubilee year and it was known that Portsmouth would host the Review of the Fleet. The council was anxious that the mayor should be suitably attired and wear something more distinctive than the aldermanic robes as had been his garb heretofore. Subscriptions were collected and in April 1887 mayor King was presented with a magnificent new robe - royal purple in colour and trimmed with sable. Cllr Tom Scott Foster did the honours and in a humorous speech made the following points. Firstly, he noted that the council would be equally happy to accept the mayor's ruling in purple as they were in red (i.e. the old aldermanic colour). Foster then quipped that the robe was of royal purple and it was known that this was the correct raiment for a 'King'. Foster went on that he hoped the mayor would wear it in the coming Jubilee year and that the mayor would receive honours - although it was somewhat superfluous to knight a King he concluded. Foster's wish came true when King was one of the ten English Mayors to be knighted in honour of the Jubilee and the first Portsmouth mayor to be so honoured for forty years. (5)
By late spring 1887 the pumping station at Eastney, the culmination of a considerable feat of civil engineering, was nearing completion. The work had been financed by a loan from the Local Government Board - to be repaid over thirty years. It was reflected that until the late 1860's no houses were connected to sewers. In 1872 there were 4,000. By 1877; 12,743 and now, in 1887, 33,250 dwellings had been linked to the network. On May 9th 1887 the mayor and corporation peformed the opening ceremony which was comprehensively reported by the Hampshire Telegraph on the 14th [See the Memorials in Portsmouth website]. Following the proceedings the company retired to the new Lunatic Asylum for lunch. In all 198 guests sat at the repast which concluded at 5.30 p.m. - an occasion which, 'truly reflected the significance of drainage in the 1880's' commented the paper.
It might be said that King's third term year ended with a crash. At the banquet, following the election of Albert Addision, Sir William King stepped off the platform on which the upper table had been placed. He missed his footing and slipped among a pile of plates which had been stacked near to hand. With a crash he landed heavily and had to leave the hall. But bandaged and shaken he returned to cheers from the diners - which he acknowledge with a bow. (6).
The council realised that 1890 would be an important year with the prospect of the mayor having to oversee the opening of the imposing new Town Hall. By this time King's name was a household word. Thus in 1889 when the council were probably looking for a tried and tested pair of hands who better to turn to than three times mayor Sir William King for a fourth term.
Mayoral duties (or more correctly duties for the Mayoress) began at 11.15 am. on the 9th November 1889 when she moved the lever which set in motion the four faced Town Hall clock. (8) But the big event was reserved for 1890. After four years in the building and costing 137,098 Portsmouth's Town Hall was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on August the 9th. Another significant step was taken on the 2nd September when the Town Council, acting as the Urban Sanitary Authority, set up an 'Electric Light Committee' to consider the feasibility of the town generating its own electricity.
The end of his distinguished mayoralty did not mean the end of active public life for King. On March 13th 1891 the London Gazette records that Sir William D. King was appointed Deputy Lieutenant Governor of the County of Hants. At the time he was occupying Farlington Farm and he went on to represent Havant on the Hampshire County Council. In business he held numerous directorships including the Water Works Coy, the Gas Coy and the Queen's Hotel coy. As an Estate Agent he opened up Twyford Avenue and Henderson Road districts. He was an advocate of the development of Great Salterns. He once proposed a bridge across Langstone Harbour entrance to be sited near the present Hayling Ferry. In the realm of philanthropy he held leading positions being Chairman of the Hospital Committee and prominent in the Prisoners' Aid Society.
Despite this very energetic public life he was, perhaps surprisingly, not a good public speaker. His obituary writer commented that he adhered to the proverb:- "Speech is Silver. Silence is Golden."
In the summer of 1902 it was reported that he was not in the best of health. He went to the Isle of Wight to recuperate but relapsed on his return to Portsmouth where he died on Wednesday 22nd October 1902. His wife had pre deceased him in 1894 - there was no reported issue.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituaries. Portsmouth Times 25th October 1902. Hant's Post 24th October and Hampshire Telegraph, 25th October 1902.
2. Portsmouth Times November 10th 1877.
3. Portsmouth Times 6th November 1886.
4. Hants Post 12th November 1886.
5. Hampshire Telegraph 9th April 1887. Hant's Post 8th April. Evening.News. 6th April)
6. Portsmouth Times 12th November 1886.
7. Hant's Post 15th November 1889.
8. Portsmouth Times 9th November 1889 - with sketch.