John Addington SymondsIndustrialist, High Sheriff, Justice of the Peace, Railway improvment1838 to 1921August 25, 2016
John Avaray JonesIndustrialist, High Sheriff, Justice of the Peace, Railway improvment1838 to 1921August 26, 2016
Future of commerce
Charles Wills worked as a successful industrialist and saw the importance of good transport for the City of Bristol as an important business hub. He campaigned to improve better railway facilities and access for Bristol traders and he was instrumental in the developments in Avonmouth Docks. He campaigned for improvements that allowed largest steamships to enter the docks. His campaign culminated in the SS Arawa leaving Avonmouth Dock in August 1899. It was the first big mail and passenger boat to leave Avonmouth Dock. It was bound for Canada and reportedly hundreds of spectators assembled to watch her go. It was the biggest crowd seen at Avonmouth for many a year. The mail on board weighed 3 tonnes and was transported in fifty-fiver large hampers.
As an important person in the business community he was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce. He became a Justice of the Peace and also High Sheriff of Bristol.
This substantial pink granite monument is on the right of the 'Long Path'. Go up the steps to the right of the café, turn left and the grave is about 10 yards up on the right.
South West Born and Bred
Born into a farming family at Denbury, Newton Abbot in 1838, Charles Wills was educated locally at Crocker’s Academy and then apprenticed to a drapery business in Totnes. After gaining further experience in Exeter and London, he moved to Bristol in 1859. He worked as a commercial traveller for a wholesale drapery company. His exceptional business skills meant that he was soon offered a partnership. Eventually he and two others started a separate establishment in Victoria Street. Later, he established his own highly successful wholesale clothing factory in Rupert Street. It produced a range of men’s and boys’ clothing for domestic and foreign markets, one of their specialities being “Waterguard” Coats.
Liberal and Nonconformist
A Liberal and Nonconformist, Charles was for many years involved in Bristol’s civic affairs – as a Guardian of the Poor, magistrate, and member of the City Council. Notable in size and physique, he was a typical alderman who wore his side-whiskers and squat “top” hat in the traditional Victorian style.
Influential in Bristol’s commercial life
He was a highly influential, forceful figure in Bristol’s commercial life, especially during the prolonged “battle of the docks”. As Deputy Chairman of the Docks Committee, he spearheaded a group of broadminded businessmen who wanted a huge new dock at Avonmouth to accommodate the largest vessels afloat. They faced strong opposition from those who considered that with a few minor alterations, the existing City, Avonmouth and Portishead Docks were adequate. It led to many heated arguments which almost ended in blows! Following years of delaying tactics and powerful interventions from opposing parties, Charles resigned completely from both the Council and Docks Committee in 1898, but his influence had paved the way for the opening of the Royal Edward Dock in 1908.
Presented to Queen Victoria
From 1898-99, he was busy fulfilling his duties as Sheriff including being presented to Queen Victoria when she came to Bristol to open the Jubilee Convalescent Home in 1899.
Campaigned to improve railway services
Charles devoted much time and energy trying to improve railway services between Bristol and London. His complaints about the delayed delivery of goods by the GWR Company resulted in several significant changes being implemented. He also agitated for a better passenger service enabling traders to travel 3rd class to London, conduct business and return the same day. His persistence meant that 3rd class fares became available on all services.
In 1903, he chaired a scheme to build an alternative line from Bristol to Basingstoke where it would connect with the main line to Waterloo. It aimed to provide a quicker, more direct route to the capital and included plans for a central railway station near Lewin’s Mead in the very heart of Bristol. Despite much public support, a strenuous press campaign and adequate financial backing, the venture was dropped because of formidable opposition from the GWR Company.
In later years, Charles Wills took a less active part in the clothing business and devoted some leisure time to farming in Wiltshire. He died from gastric influenza at his residence “Avonmore”, Sneyd Park on 17th April 1921.