William Freelove March was, in partnership with Captain James Weeks, proprietor of three packets which, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, plied between Southampton and the ports of Havre and Caen: Prince Cobourg, Britannia (from 1820) and Elizabeth (from 1821) (A Temple Patterson, A history of Southampton 1700-1914, volume 1, 1966, p 127).

In May 1820 Weeks and March – described as “proprietors of several vessels employed as packets from Southampton to different ports in France” - petitioned the House of Commons on the impost on British ships in France.

A daughter – Sarah March – married the Havre merchant Francois Edouard Septier in All Saints Church on 1 May 1820.

William March (born in Hendon, Middlesex) had come to Southampton between April 1813 (the baptism of a son Richard at St Mary, Lewisham) and November 1816 (the burial of an elder son Henry at All Saints in March 1816). William’s address is given in the parish registers as Mount Place. In politics, William was a Liberal: voting for William Chamberlayne in successive elections (1818 and 1820) and listed as one of the ‘rats’ who voted for Chamberlayne in a satire on the 1820 election printed by P Barnfield (Southampton City Archives D/Z 1022/1/1). William became bankrupt in 1827 (London Gazette, 16 November 1827). William now largely disappears from the historical record, although he is probably the William F March, merchant, recorded at Wood End Cottage, Soberton (in the Meon Valley) in the 1841 census.

William became a Brother of the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester in 1846, elected through the interest of the Marquis of Bute. His wife Sarah (Folkestone-born, who he had married at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster, on 26 April 1806) shared his rooms in the medieval almshouse. The Hospital was soon to be the centre of a legal battle to remove the Earl of Guilford as Master and to reform its antiquated governance: the inspiration it is said of Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden. William – breaking ranks with all but one of the thirteen Brethren – became an ally of Richard Andrews – Mayor of Southampton – and the Reverend Henry Holloway in their highly-politicized and personally scurrilous crusade against the Earl of Guilford. William memorialised the Attorney-General, Sir Frederick Thesiger, in August 1852, calling for the end of Guilford’s reign over the hospital and offering valuable ‘insider’ information on the abuses (Hampshire Telegraph, 21 August 1852). He described himself as “formerly a Lieutenant in the Militia and a shipowner in the Port of Southampton”. He was, in consequence, snubbed by Guilford and ostracized by his fellow Brethren, who saw him as a pawn in the hands of a faction that wanted to take possession of the hospital altogether and turn out the Brethren (excepting March). Richard Andrews appealed to sympathizers for gifts of money and coals to help the Marches – William confined by illness to his room and Sarah for some years helpless and speechless – in their isolation (Hampshire Independent, 26 February 1853). William was later to petition the Master of the Rolls to be represented by counsel in the impending Chancery case against Lord Guilford, urging that “the interests of the Brethren be protected against the encroachments of the Master” (Hampshire Independent, 21 January 1854). Guilford organised a counter-petition from eleven of the Brethren that the petition be dismissed or, if the court allowed March to attend, that it should be at his own expense (Hampshire Independent, 25 February 1854).

William died, aged 79 years, on 23 October 1854, seven months after the death of his wife (1 April 1854, aged 75 years). Lord Guilford responded to news of his death with the curt comment: “Brother March is no loss to the Hospital” (letter to his steward, Charles Wooldridge, 25 October 1854: Hampshire Archives and Local Studies 111 M94W/T2/13). The intensity of the St Cross affair, however, meant that not even death could save him from the political battlefield. William was buried – together with the remains of his wife disinterred from St Faith’s churchyard – in a handsome ledger tomb in Winchester cemetery. Erected by his surviving children, it carried an inscription written by the Reverend Henry Holloway:

“He was by birth a gentleman, a practical Christian in life, and died full of faith … His name will be held in remembrance, veneration, and honour, by posterity, for the noble and inflexible integrity of purpose he evinced by refusing to be “a partaker in other men’s sins”, in the proceedings which Her Majesty commanded to be taken against the Rev Lord Guilford and the Brethren of St Cross Hospital, for misapplying the funds of that charity to their own uses. He was the only member of that body who possessed moral courage and honesty to resist oppression and denounce fraud, and, regardless of the persecution it entailed upon him, he fearlessly and faithfully persevered to his end, in not “following a multitude to do evil” in the firm persuasion “that the Lord will avenge the poor, and maintain the cause of the “helpless”; and his end was blessed, for it was “Peace” (Hampshire Independent, 2 June 1855).

The remaining Brethren immediately appealed to the directors of the cemetery to erase the offending part of the inscription that “contains a false and wicked reflection on the characters of the rest of the Brethren, viz the charge of misapplying the funds of the Hospital” (Hampshire Advertiser, 23 June 1855). The Reverend Holloway refused to alter the inscription – “What I have written I have written” – and the directors ordered its removal. The tomb was taken down, but reappeared a few nights later, re-erected “by persons unknown”. “How is it in the St Cross case, “that even the stones rise”, and March out of the cemetery and back again, without orders” (Hampshire Independent, 7 July 1855). The stonemason Henry Newman was directed to remove the tomb for a second time and to ensure that there was no second coming. A city court warrant applied for by Holloway against Newman for theft was summarily dismissed by the bench.


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