Elisha Smith RobinsonLord Mayor of Bristol1843 to 1920August 25, 2016
Charles WathenLord Mayor of Bristol1843 to 1920August 25, 2016
Alfred John Smith was born in Bedminster in 1843. His father was John Smith.
A head for business
As a young man, he trained as a commercial clerk and in 1874 became an accountant for the firm of Richard Charles Ring, a coal merchant based at Temple Back. Ten years later, he set up independently as a shipper of steam, house, and mining coals, and as a contractor for freights in Bristol and Newport. He built up an extensive business as a coal merchant, with branches in Cardiff, Lydney, Bradford-on-Avon and Weston-Super-Mare. In 1887, he purchased Iron Duke, the first of a fleet of small ships which he owned to conduct the coal trade between Bristol and South Wales. Trading as Alfred J Smith Ltd, with its head office at 9 Queen Square, the company survived until 1949. Alfred was also a director of the Newport Coal & Coke Company, founded by his father, John Smith, in St Philips, Bristol.
Liberal Politician, Justice of the Peace, and Lord Mayor
A Liberal in politics, Alfred’s public life was long and unabated. He was a councillor from 1897-1907, then an alderman until 1920 and served on several committees, notably those for the Docks, Libraries, and Baths and Washhouses. On his initiative, a public fire alarm system was installed throughout Bristol and the fire brigade’s equipment modernised. He was a JP and unanimously elected Lord Mayor for two consecutive terms, (1905-6 and 1906-7). His official duties were numerous and included opening the Ashton Gate Swing Bridge, (1906), and welcoming the Premiers of Canada, New Zealand, Natal and Newfoundland when they visited Bristol in 1907 to inspect the Royal Edward Dock under construction. He also presented them with the Freedom of the City. As Deputy Lord Mayor and Vice-Chairman of the Docks Committee, he was privileged to be part of the pageantry and day’s events when the Dock was officially opened by Edward Vll and Queen Alexandra in 1908.
A man of faith involved in his community
From 1872 onwards, much of his time was dedicated to educational and religious affairs. A steadfast member of the United Methodist Church, he took an active part in establishing Oxford Street School and Church in Totterdown and was Superintendent of its Sunday School for over thirty years. He served on Bedminster’s School Board for eighteen years and was a president of both the Totterdown YMCA and Bristol Gleemen's Society.
Alfred enjoyed playing cricket and in later life became a member of Gloucestershire Cricket Club, often attending matches at the County Ground in Horfield. He was one of a group of “old boys” who always gathered in the members’ pavilion and between them had enough reminiscences, especially of W G Grace, to have written a book.
From c.1900, Alfred and his second wife, Jessie lived at “Brooklea”, St Annes Park, Brislington where they entertained many guests and frequently held garden parties and fetes to raise money for good causes. Poor health and increasing deafness hampered his ability to participate as actively in public affairs as he would have liked but his interest in them remained undiminished.
He died at “Brooklea” on 19th March 1920.