Williams, John Carvell (DNB12)

WILLIAMS, JOHN CARVELL (1821–1907), nonconformist politician, born at Stepney on 20 Sept. 1821, was the son of John Allen Williams by his wife Mary, daughter of John Carvell of Lambeth, and was brought up in connection with the old Stepney meeting, though his first membership was at Claremont chapel, Pentonville. From a private school he entered the office of a firm of proctors in Doctors' Commons. His life-work began on his appointment in 1847 as secretary to the British Anti-State Church Association, founded in 1844 by Edward Miall [q.v.] . Its change of name to the Society for the Liberation of Religion from State Patronage and Control was due to a suggestion by Williams. He remained secretary till 1877, when he was made chairman of the society's parliamentary committee, a post which he held till 1898, when he was made chairman of the executive committee; resigning this post in 1903 through failing eyesight, he was made vice-president. For over half a century Williams proved himself ‘the chief strategist of the nonconformist force, in its steady advance upon the privileged position of the Church of England.’ Williams occasionally preached, and to him was largely due the formation of a congregational church and the erection of its building in 1887 at Stroud Green. In 1900 he was chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales.

He entered parliament as liberal member for South Nottinghamshire in 1885, when his friends presented him with 1000l. In 1886 he was defeated, but he was returned in 1892 for the Mansfield division of Nottinghamshire, and retained that seat till 1900, retiring then on account of growing deafness. He was a chief promoter of the Burials Act in 1880 and of the Marriage Acts of 1886 (extending the hours for marriage from twelve to three o'clock; of this Act he was sole author) and 1898 (allowing nonconformist congregations to appoint their own registrars). In 1897 his friends presented him with 1000l. to mark the jubilee of his connection with the Liberation Society. On this occasion Gladstone credited him with ‘consistency, devotion, unselfishness, ability,’ qualities not rendered less effective by his suave demeanour, his practical judgment of men, and his imperturbable temper. He was an effective speaker and in private life a genial companion. On his retirement from active work he was entertained at a public dinner (16 July 1906). He died at 26 Crouch Hall Road, Crouch End, on 8 Oct. 1907, and was buried in Abney Park cemetery. He married on 14 Aug. 1849 Anne, daughter of Richard Goodman of Hornsey, who predeceased him; of their five children, a son, Sidney Williams, alone survived him.

Williams, an admirable draughtsman of circulars and appeals, wielded also a busy pen, both on Miall's paper, the weekly ‘Nonconformist’ (started 1841), and on the ‘Liberator,’ a monthly founded by himself in 1853, and still in progress. His separate publications include the following: 1. ‘A Plea for a Free Churchyard,’ 1870. 2. ‘The New Position of the Burials Question,’ 1878; 2nd edit. 1879 (with ‘Present’ for ‘New’ in title). 3. ‘Disestablishment’ (in S. C. Buxton's ‘The Imperial Parliament’), 1885. 4. ‘Progress from Toleration to Religious Equality,’ 1889 (Congregational Union bicentenary lecture). 5. ‘Nonconformity in the Nineteenth Century,’ 1900 (address as chairman of the Congregational Union).

[The Times, 9 and 14 Oct. 1907; Evangelical Magazine, January 1900 (portrait); Liberator, August and September 1906, November 1907; private information; personal recollection.]

A. G.