Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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WILLIAMS , THOMAS ( 1737 - 1802 ), attorney, outstanding figure in the copper industry at the end of the 18th cent.

As son (b. 13 May 1737 ) of Owen Williams of Cefn Coch in Llansadwrn , who owned also Tregarnedd and Treffos , and his wife, the daughter of Hendre Hywel by Llangefni , it was comparatively easy for Thomas Williams to become intimate with the great men of Anglesey ; it was he who straightened out the tangled estate of Bodior ; he spent years in getting reason out of the stubborn people at Plas Coch , squire William Hughes and his son, the first W. Bulkeley Hughes ; he drafted the deeds by which the earl of Uxbridge purchased Plas Llanfair from John Lewis of Llanfihangel Tre'r Beirdd ( 1791 ). Some years before that, about 1785 , Williams had become chief agent of the copper mines of Mynydd Parys by Amlwch , mines that were owned partly by the earl and partly by the family of Llysdulas ; for a time both parties entrusted the management to Williams alone. The success that followed was marvellous; not only were immense quantities of copper exported, but numerous subsidiary concerns grew up under the shadow of the main industry — huge buildings at Ravenhead and Stanley , smelting furnaces at Amlwch itself, a cluster of mills in the Holywell district, and there was a veritable fleet of coasters sailing out of Port Amlwch . Williams got the ear of the Board of Admiralty during the Napoleonic wars and made handsome bargains with the East India Company ; he caused not a little consternation to the capitalists of Cornwall , the native home of the copper industry and the stabiliser of its standards; he was called before special committees of the Commons to give evidence as an expert; by 1800 he admitted that half the resources of the industry were in his hands, with a financial background of close upon a million pounds. Whatever the big capitalists of Cornwall thought of him, or the brass-founders of Birmingham , he was ‘ Twm Chwarae Teg ’ ( Tom Fairplay ) to the Anglesey countryside.

Naturally enough, the Uxbridge connections brought him into close contact with the political life of the period and the intricacies of political management ; he did as much as anybody to get the Pagets , sons of Uxbridge , elected for Anglesey and the Caernarvon boroughs from 1790 onwards; in his letters he emphasised again and again how necessary it was to have close co-operation between the earl and lord Bulkeley of Beaumaris . There was no good fellowship between that lord and bishop Warren of Bangor , more especially because the bishop had done his utmost in 1796 to prevent the election of Sir Robert Williams , Bulkeley 's half-brother, as Member of Parliament for Caernarvonshire ; Uxbridge was deeply offended with the bishop because of his provocative delay in building a new church at Amlwch ; these are the main considerations behind the theory that it was Williams who wrote the savage pamphlet against Warren which appeared under the name of Shôn Gwialan in 1796 , a pamphlet whose real authorship has remained a mystery to this day. That Williams actually wrote it is not likely; but it is very near certainty that the fierce diatribe and well-rounded phrases were the work of David Williams ( 1738 - 1816 ) , founder of the Royal Literary Fund (q.v.), at that juncture a clerk in London at the office of Williams . In a letter to Uxbridge in 1788 , Thomas Williams gave a hint that he himself had ambitions to become a Member of Parliament ; he was elected for Great Marlow in 1790 , and held the seat till his death on 30 Nov. 1802 . His descendants gradually released their hold on the copper industry; they are now remembered as owners of the Craig-y-don estate and the founders of banks . Several were Members of Parliament ; three of the daughters of Thomas Peers Williams , son of OWEN WILLIAMS ( 1764 - 1832 ), and grandson of Thomas Williams , were married to members of the House of Lords , two others to sons of lords; a brother to these daughters was Hwfa Williams , prominent (he and his wife) at the court of Edward VII .


  • J. E. Griffith , Pedigrees of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire Families (1914) , 68, 102;
  • Henllys Manuscripts (U.C.N.W.), 192-205, 757-9, 851-4;
  • Plas Coch Manuscripts at University College North Wales Library, Bangor (U.C.N.W.), 738-72;
  • Mona Mine Records (U.C.N.W.), 1267-8,; 1281, 3052-5, 3057-8;
  • Plas Newydd Correspondence (U.C.N.W.) i, 1976-90; ii, 11-4, 201, 211, 2459;
  • Bangor Manuscripts at University College North Wales Library, Bangor , 3010-7;
  • A. H. Dodd , The Industrial Revolution in North Wales (Cardiff, 1933) , 155-9;
  • Caernarvonshire Historical Society Transactions , 1940 , 77-86;
  • Y Traethodydd , 1947 , 35.


Thomas Richards, D.Litt., (1878-1962), Bangor

Published date: 1959