You are in [People] [Hungerford Characters] [Sir William Pearce]

This article is based on material sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker, Feb 2018.

William George Pearce (junior) 1861-1907:

Sir William Pearce came to live at Chilton Lodge. He died young, and without an heir. He and his wife were great benefactors to the Hungerford area.

William George Pearce was born on 23 Jul 1861 in Chatham, Kent. He was the only child of William Pearce and Dinah Elizabeth Scooter.

He was educated at Rugby Public School after which he attended Trinity College, Cambridge where he read law and graduated in 1884. He was called to the bar at The Inner Temple, London in 1885. In 1888 he was awarded a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge.

Despite his education, he never practised as a lawyer or barrister but tried to follow in his father’s footsteps.

William Pearce (senior) 1833-1888:

His father, William Pearce (senior) who was born in Brompton, Kent in 1833, trained as a naval architect and was to become one of the most enterprising and successful shipbuilders of his time.

In 1864, he was appointed manager of Napier's shipyard in Govan, Lanarkshire and five years later became a partner with John Ure and J L K Jamieson in John Elder & Co. He became sole partner in 1878 and in 1886 converted the firm to a limited company, the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Under his direction, the firm became a world leader in ship design and marine engineering and was most famous for the development of the triple expansion engine. He later became MP for Govan from 1885 to 1888 and was knighted on 21 July 1887 to become Baronet of Cardell in the County of Renfrew, in brief Sir William Pearce.

William Pearce (senior) died of a heart attack in London in 1888, leaving over £1,000,000 in his will, approximately equivalent to £1 billion in today’s money.

More on William George Pearce (junior):

William Pearce (junior) succeeded his father to the baronetcy and became Chairman of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, but he lacked his father's flair and drive.

The business faltered, until by 1893 there was only one ship under construction – a sailing vessel, in a yard known for its expertise in engine technology! After the appointment in 1894 of Edward Shearer as general manager, the yard regained its former prominence.

In 1890, Sir William Pearce bought Chilton Lodge, Hungerford and carried out extensive alterations to the property. Further details can be found on the pages of the Hungerford Virtual Museum website.

Following in his father’s footsteps, he served as MP for Plymouth from 1892 to 1895 and during this period, he was also a JP for Wiltshire and Berkshire.

He celebrated his 31st birthday in July 1892 and the completion of “his building works” at Chilton Lodge by issuing an open invitation to the inhabitants of Hungerford, Chilton Foliat, Leverton and Eddington to attend a grand garden party to be held under a giant marquee in the grounds of Chilton Lodge.

He was a generous man and, with his wife, funded the building of:

- The Church House

- St. John’s Mission Hall

- Hungerford Newtown School

On 18 Mar 1905, he married the actress Caroline Eva (known as Carrie), daughter of Robert Coote.

He died, still a relatively young man aged 46 years, on 2 Nov 1907 whilst at his London home at 2 Deanery Street, Park Lane.

As there were no children from the marriage, the baronetcy became extinct on his death. In his will he left the residue of his estate, estimated at over £150,000, to Trinity College, Cambridge; this is believed to have been the College's most significant gift since its foundation in 1546 by Henry VIII.

His grave is in the churchyard at Chilton Foliat together with that of his wife Carrie, who died just seven weeks later. In one newspaper report that she died of a broken heart and in another she died from choking of her own set of dentures!

Edmund Godfrey kindly emailed Nov 2018, saying: "I greatly enjoyed reading your article (and learning more) about Sir William George Pearce (photo attached).

As I believe that his father was my direct ancestor, I have a particular interest in the Pearce family. Sir William Pearce (senior), the Govan shipbuilder, was my great grandfather.

Sir William (senior) was known as a buccaneering entrepreneur, unconstrained by conventional Victorian propriety.

In particular, despite being a baronet, a member of parliament and a very successful industrialist (not to mention: a husband and a father), he had a public reputation for "his constant devotion to the fair sex".

As a result, he became a father (by his mistress) to Alfred and Arthur Godfrey (my grandfather and his brother) - photos attached.

It is likely that Alfred and Arthur were unknown to their older half-brother, William (junior), at least until their father's premature death in 1888. After which, Alfred, Arthur and their mother were promptly removed to Germany and lived in reasonable comfort on the proceeds of a trust fund.

It is quite possible that Sir William (senior) had planned for Arthur, his youngest son, to succeed him at Fairfield Shipyard. Perhaps he knew that William (junior) was more suited to books and fox hunting.

Therefore, when Arthur left his German boarding school, he was made an apprentice marine architect at a Dutch shipyard, of which Sir William (senior) had been a director. Sadly, Arthur never became a shipbuilder, as he died of appendicitis, aged 21."

Photo Gallery:

Carrie Coote
Carrie Coote
Carrie Coote
Carrie Coote Carrie Coote
sir-william-pearce sir-william-pearce
Sir William Pearce Gravestone
Sir William Pearce Gravestone
Sir William Pea...
Sir William Pearce Gravestone Sir William Pearce Gravestone
William Pearce 1880
William Pearce 1880
William Pearce ...
William Pearce 1880 William Pearce 1880
william_pearce_statue2 william_pearce_statue2
Alfred + Arthur Godfrey
Alfred + Arthur Godfrey

Alfred Pearce and Arthur Godfrey Pearce (kindly sent by Edmund Godfrey, Nov 2018)

Alfred + Arthur...
Alfred + Arthur Godfrey Alfred + Arthur Godfrey
Sir William George Pearce
Sir William George Pearce

Sir William George Pearce (kindly sent by Edmund Godfrey, Nov 2018)

Sir William Geo...
Sir William George Pearce Sir William George Pearce

- Sir William George Pearce (kindly sent by Edmund Godfrey, Nov 2018)

Alfred Pearce and Arthur Godfrey Pearce (kindly sent by Edmund Godfrey, Nov 2018

See also:

- Chilton Lodge

- The Church House

- St. John’s Mission Hall

- Hungerford Newtown School