Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Leng, William Christopher

LENG, Sir WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER (1825–1902), journalist, born at Hull on 25 Jan. 1825, was elder son of Adam Leng of Hull by Mary, daughter of Christopher Luccock, of Malton, architect. Sir John Leng [q. v. Suppl. II] was a younger brother. His father had served in the navy during the Napoleonic wars on board the Termagant; but from 1815 he engaged in commerce at Hull. After education at a private school, where he showed a taste for literature, William was apprenticed in 1839 to a wholesale chemist in Hull, and afterwards acted as town-traveller. In 1847 he began business on his own account. Meanwhile in anonymous contributions to the 'Hull Free Press,' including sketches of notable citizens (issued in book form in 1852), he championed with vigour a variety of reforms. Denouncing the overloading and mismodelling of cargo steamships, he first suggested to Samuel Plimsoll [q. v. Suppl. I] the crusade which led to the introduction of the Plimsoll 'load-line.' Proposals for municipal reforms in Hull like the demolition of slum-property were defeated in his opinion by the self-interest of prominent liberals, whose party he hitherto supported. Thereupon he declared himself a conservative, and remained through life a devoted of the conservative cause. Brought up as a Wesleyan, he joined the evangelical party in the Church of England.

In spite of divergent political opinions, William was a regular contributor of articles on municipal and national afters to the 'Dundee Advertiser,' after his brother John became editor in 1861. In 1859 William gave up his chemist's business in Hull and resided in Dundee till 1864, writing in the 'Advertiser.' During the civil war in America he was almost the only journalist in Scotland to support the cause of the North.

In 1864 Leng joined Frederick Clifford [q. v. Suppl. II] in acquiring on easy terms the 'Sheffield Daily, Telegraph.' He became managing editor, and at Sheffield the remainder of his life was passed. On 1 Jan. 1864 the 'Sheffield Daily Telegraph' became his property and first bore the imprint of 'Leng & Co.' In 1872 more extensive premises were purchased in Aldine Court, and there linotype machines were first employed in England to set up a newspaper entirely. The paper, which was almost moribund when he undertook its direction, quickly became in Leng's vigorous hands a great conservative power in the north of England.

Leng was fearless in advocacy of what he deemed the public interest. At personal risk he denounced in 1867 the terrorism practised by Sheffield trade-unionists upon non-union workmen under the leadership of William Broadhead [q. v. Suppl. I]. Leng induced the government to appoint a royal commission of inquiry which fully established his allegations (September 1867). He is the original of Mr. Holdfast in Charles Reade's 'Put Yourself in his Place' (1870), a novel dealing with Broadhead's crimes. In recognition of his services he was presented (28 April 1868) with his portrait by H. F. Crighton and a purse of 600 guineas, subscribed by men of all political opinions. The picture now hangs in Sheffield town hall.

Leng established at Sheffield as supplementary to the 'Telegraph,' the 'Weekly Telegraph,' the 'Evening Telegraph and Star,' the 'Weekly News,' and the 'Sunday Telegraph,' all of which became flourishing concerns. At different times he visit, the Continent, writing for the 'Telegraph' descriptive articles, some of which he republished in book form. For many years vice-chairman of the Sheffield Conservative and Constitutional Association, he was afterwards chairman. In 1895-6 he was elected chairman of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. He was knighted in 1887 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's jubilee. Dying at Sheffield on 20 Feb. 1902, he was buried in Ecclesall churchyard. He married in 1860 Anne (d. 1893), daughter of David Stark of Ruthven, Forfarshire, and widow of Harry Cook of Sandhurst, Australia. Her sister was first wife of his brother John. His two sons, C. D. Leng and W. St. Quentin Leng, became partners in the 'Sheffield Telegraph.' A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appear in 'Vanity Fair' in 1890.

[In Memoriam, Sir William Christopher Leng, Kt. (1902); Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 20 Feb. 1902; Dundee Advertiser, 20 Feb. 1902; Dundee Year Book, 1902; private information.]

A. H. M.