William Colson Westlake, corn merchant of Chapel, was born in Southampton in 1822 of Quaker parentage. His ancestors for 200 years had been Quakers. Some of his ancestors, of both sexes, were imprisoned in Southampton in the seventeenth century for conscience's sake and for attending Quaker meetings. He was educated in the middle-class Friends’ Schools at Hitchin and Stoke Newington.

In 1838 he married Elizabeth Coventry of Wandsworth, eldest daughter of Millis Coventry Esq. Westlake wrote several books on the religious views of Quakers, including Sure Foundation. He was honorary editor of the Friends Quarterly Examiner since its foundation in the 1860s. The magazine relied entirely on voluntary contributions, and neither editor, publishing committee or writers received any remuneration. He was, however, no bigot. He was always ready to unite with Churchmen or Nonconformists in practical Christian work and the promotion of the cause of vital religion.

Westlake entered Southampton Town Council in 1870, and took a prominent part in the introduction of the elementary Education Act into the town. In 1871 he was elected a member of the first School Board, and was re-elected in 1874 and 1877. He retired from the Town Council in 1873 in order to give a more undivided attention to School Board affairs, and for seven or eight years was Chairman of the Works Committee. He withdrew from the Board in April 1879 and was re-elected to the Town Council, for the ward of All Saints, in November 1879.

In politics, Westlake was a decided Liberal, a member (1880) of the executive committee of the “Two Hundred”. His father was also a Liberal, particularly active in the Reform Bill struggles of 1831/2.

Many benevolent and philanthropic institutions in Southampton and neighbourhood owed much to the untiring support of Westlake. These include the Royal South Hants Infirmary, the Ragged Schools, the Workmen’s Halls, the Shirley Homes for the Aged, the Penny Bank, and the Blanket Loan Society. He was also a Governor of the Endowed Schools – Taunton’s School and the King Edward VI Grammar School.

Westlake took a warm interest in the Workmen’s Refreshment Room Company, which in 1880 had eight houses in operation. In 1875 he became a total abstainer and joined the St Mary’s Church of England Temperance Society. In c.1876 he became President of the Southampton Nonconformist Temperance Society. He was a supporter of athletic sports, a strong believer in the importance of healthy physical exercise. In 1854 he was a co-founder of the Southampton Skating Club, later becoming a Vice-President.

W C Westlake was one of the most esteemed men in Southampton: “His name is a household word in this locality”. He held garden parties in Grosvenor House, to which he moved c. 1874.

Skeleton entry largely taken from The Southern Reformer, no. 27, 27 November 1880, pp 1-2. W C Westlake died on 21 November 1887. An obituary appears in Southampton Times, 26 November 1887.

William Colson Westlake

Image Unavailable

Image from The Southern Reformer, no. 27, 27 November 1880.

See also:

Westlake's Corn Stores


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