Williams, John Bickerton (DNB00)

WILLIAMS, Sir JOHN BICKERTON (1792–1855), nonconformist writer, son of William Williams of Broseley, Shropshire, by his wife Hannah, daughter of John Bickerton, was born on 4 March 1792 at Sandford Hall in the parish of West Felton, Shropshire. Collaterally he was related to the family of Philip Henry [q. v.] and of Matthew Henry [q. v.] In early life his parents removed to Wem in Shropshire. There he was educated, and he was articled on 17 Feb. 1806 to an attorney there. After a residence in Liverpool from 1811 to 1815, he was admitted an attorney on 23 Jan. 1816, and commenced practice in Shrewsbury. On 31 Aug. 1819 he was admitted a burgess.

Williams had from childhood deep religious impressions. He became a member of the congregational church at Wem in the autumn of 1809, and began to form a large collection of manuscripts by the Henrys and other theologians of their school. He soon devoted his leisure to writing. His first publication was ‘Eighteen Sermons of the Rev. Philip Henry, M.A., from original manuscripts,’ 1816. This was followed by ‘Memoirs of the Life and Character of Mrs. Sarah Savage, eldest daughter of the Rev. Philip Henry,’ 1818; and ‘Memoirs of Mrs. Hulton, one of the sisters of Mrs. Savage,’ 1820. Each of these memoirs went through several editions. Memoirs of both Philip and Matthew Henry followed (in 1825 and 1828 respectively—the latter was constantly reprinted), together with Matthew Henry's ‘Miscellaneous Writings’ (1830), Philip Henry's ‘Remains’ (1848), and ‘The Henry Family Memorialized’ (1849). Matthew Henry's ‘Commentaries’ was issued with Williams's ‘Memoirs’ by Williams's son, who added notes, between 1857 and 1886.

On the passing of the municipal reform bill, Williams was elected an alderman of Shrewsbury, and in November 1836 was appointed mayor. In that capacity he presented an address to the Duke of Sussex at Kimnel Park, and this introduction to the duke, owing to a similarity of literary tastes, soon ripened into an intimate friendship. At the duke's request he was knighted at St. James's Palace on 19 July 1837 by Queen Victoria, being the first knight created by her majesty. He was elected F.S.A. in 1824, and a fellow of the American Antiquarian Society in 1838, and received the degree of LL.D. from Middleburg College, Vermont, U.S.A., in 1831.

Williams retired from practice at Shrewsbury in March 1841, and went to reside at the Hall, Wem. There he died on 21 Oct. 1855, and was buried in the cemetery in Chapel Street on the 27th. His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. John Angell James [q. v.] on 4 Nov. His portrait was painted by Pardon, a Shrewsbury artist, in 1837, and became the property of his only surviving son, Mr. E. R. Williams, solicitor, of Birmingham.

Williams married at Aston church, near Birmingham, on 27 Dec. 1813, Elizabeth, daughter of Josiah Robins of Birmingham, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. His widow died at Wem on 23 Feb. 1872, and was buried in the cemetery in Chapel Street.

Besides tracts and the works already referred to, Williams published: 1. ‘Memoirs of Sir Matthew Hale, Knight, Lord Chief Justice of England,’ 1835. 2. ‘Letters on Puritanism and Nonconformity,’ 1st ser. 1843, 2nd ser. 1846. 3. ‘Gleanings of Heavenly Wisdom; or, the Sayings of John Dod, M.A., and Philip Henry, M.A.,’ 1851. He was also a frequent contributor to the ‘Evangelical Magazine’ and the ‘Congregational Magazine.’

[Memoir of Sir John Bickerton Williams (by his son, J. B. Williams), printed for private circulation; Gent. Mag. 1855, ii. 656–7 (by H. Pidgeon); Evangelical Magazine, Jan. 1856, pp. 1–7; Extracts from the Diary of the late Sir John Bickerton Williams, Kt., LL.D., F.S.A., ed. by his grandson, Robert Philip Williams, 1896; Shrewsbury Chronicle, 26 Oct. and 2 Nov. {{smaller|1855; Annual Register, 1855, p. 312; Manuscript Diary of Sir J. B. W., and information kindly communicated by his grandson, E. Bickerton Williams.]

W. G. D. F.