Weston, William (1853-1912)
William Weston was born in Guyhirn, in the parish of Wisbech St Mary, in the old county of the Isle of Ely, on June 20th 1853 to Robert and Rebecca Weston.
He received schooling until the age of nine, when he commenced his working life scaring birds for 6d. per day. What additional teaching he received was due to the Sunday School in Guyhirn. It was said that he took every opportunity to educate himself at the end of his working day. In later life he would teach at the Primitive Methodist Sunday School and became a School Manager of Guyhirn School and of Rings End School and a Governor of the Wisbech High School for Girls.
Though William began his working life as a labourer, by the time of his death he was independently farming 18 acres, his success being due according to his obituary writer to “sheer doggedness”, but also in part due to an early adoption of fruit and flower growing, rather than traditional arable crops. It was also said that he was “Very straightforward and earnest” in all that he undertook.
At the age of 23 years he joined the Primitive Methodist church and was soon placed upon the local preachers plan, where he remained until his death. As so often was the case, Primitive Methodism went hand in hand with Liberal Politics. In 1872 a meeting of 200 men threatened local farmers with a walkout unless pay was increased. It is hard to imagine that nineteen-year old William was not present because a few years later he was ejected from a Conservative party meeting, along with his friend and fellow “radical” Richard Payne, for heckling the Tory parliamentary candidate. In later years he was physically attacked after an argument in Guyhirn village store over a coal club, of which he was an active proponent. In court his assailant described him as “one of those who wants three acres and a cow”, a reference to the radical Liberal land reform proposal in favour of smallholders.
In 1887 he was amongst the first cohort of councillors elected to Wisbech St Mary civil parish council, as a ‘”Labour” candidate. In 1888 he was the first working man elected to the Isle of Ely County Council. In each subsequent election his majority grew. It was said that, in council, he was a ”forcible and convincing speaker” though “often he caused amusement by the directness of his speech.”
As a County Councillor he was a tireless champion of smallholders and proponent of the building of a public road bridge at Guyhirn, a project that only reached fruition after his death, also due to the equally persistent advocacy of his friend and successor as County Councillor, Richard Payne. At the opening ceremony for Guyhirn bridge in 1926 it was proposed that it should be known as the Weston-Payne bridge, but the name did not stick. He was a champion of smallholders and the provision of allotments for working men to be able to augment their income.
As well as his public works and his preaching for the Primitive Methodists he was also committed to the Band of Hope, the Oddfellows Friendly Society and Christian Endeavour, where he was president of the Wisbech St Mary society and of the Wisbech District. He wore his CE lapel badge in County Council meetings, which was a matter worthy of note at the time. He founded the Guyhirn Excelsior silver band.
In his private life he married Hannah Wilson of Gedney who bore him sixteen children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. One of whom, Bert, emigrated to Ontario in 1910, where he has many descendents. William and Hannah resided at the house “Westonia” in Guyhirn, which still bears their name to this day (2023).
Though he suffered from rheumatism in adult life, sometimes rendering him unable to lift his arms, he died after suffering a first heart attack whilst moving frozen earth that had been dug out of a dyke. After a period of bed-rest, he dropped dead after dressing and walking by the side of his bed, presumably as a result of a second heart attack. He was 58 years old. He is buried in the graveyard of the Chapel of Ease at Guyhirn.