James HoskenMayor1750 to 1750August 25, 2016
Thomas Porter JoseMayor1750 to 1750August 25, 2016
James Gibbs was born in 1790 in the small village of Etchilhampton near Devizes, where his father owned a large amount of agricultural land and associated properties. His father died when James was two so a decade later, his mother sold the estate and moved to Bristol with her family.
Developing his business
In 1804, James was apprenticed for six years to William Fry, a chemist and druggist in Union Street. Later, he became a partner in the business which traded as Fry, Gibbs and Ferris. Following the dissolution of the partnership in 1825, he joined forces with another chemist, Samuel Rootsey, manufacturing oil of vitriol in Avon Street, St Philip’s in Bristol. James soon owned the company in his own right and went on to build up an extensive vitriol works which eventually passed to his son.
Service to the city of Bristol
For many years, he was an Alderman on the city council, representing the Clifton Ward as a Conservative. As Mayor he was one of the dignitaries who greeted Prince Albert at Temple Meads Station when he arrived by special train for the launching of the SS Great Britain in 1843. After the formal welcoming ceremony, James, in full official costume, took his place with Prince Albert in the royal carriage which led the procession from Temple Meads to the SS Great Britain. Thousands of people lined streets to cheer the cavalcade as it passed through several triumphal arches, decorated withflags and flowers. Many more gathered on Brandon Hill to watch the event which included an inspection of the ship, a banquet in a specially erected pavilion and the launching ceremony itself.
As well as serving as Bristol’s Chief Magistrate, James was a Master of St Stephen’s Ringers and Chairman of both the Bristol & Exeter Railway and the Bristol & South Wales Union Railway.
He was also a director of the Great Western Railway. On 24th February 1853, he caught the morning train from Bristol to attend the weekly board meeting in London. It had just passed Ealing Broadway Station, when the three first-class carriages left the track and the first two careered up an embankment. On reaching the top, the leading carriage toppled over and fell backwards onto the one behind in which James was travelling.
He was killed outright and the only fatality. At the inquest, the coroner remarked that the injuries suffered by the “unfortunate deceased gentleman” were probably caused by his head being knocked from side to side as he looked out of the window when the train derailed. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Ironically, a few weeks before, James had a premonition that he would meet with some mishap on the railway. He wanted to resign his directorship, but his colleagues dissuaded him from doing so. However, he did take the precaution of insuring his life for £1000.
This Mayor’s memorial can be viewed on the path which curves up to the right of the Anglican Chapel, just after the right bend at the top of the slope.