William Wills, 1st Baron Winterstoke

William Henry Wills, 1st Baron Winterstoke (1 September 1830 – 29 January 1911), known as Sir William Wills, Bt., between 1893 and 1906, was a British businessman, philanthropist and Liberal politician.

The Lord Winterstoke
Sir William Wills
Member of the British Parliament
for Coventry
In office
Serving with
  • Sir Henry Mather Jackson 1880–1881
  • Henry Eaton 1881–1885
Preceded by
  • Henry Eaton
  • Henry Mather Jackson
Succeeded byHenry Eaton
Member of the British Parliament
for Bristol East
In office
Preceded bySir Joseph Dodge Weston
Succeeded byCharles Hobhouse
Personal details
Born(1830-09-01)1 September 1830
Died29 January 1911(1911-01-29) (aged 80)
Political partyLiberal



Wills was the son of William Day Wills and a cousin of Sir Edward Payson Wills Bt, Sir Frederick Wills Bt, Sir Frank William Wills Kt, and Henry Overton Wills III, first chancellor of the University of Bristol.

Business career


A member of the wealthy Bristol tobacco-importing Wills family, Wills joined the family firm at an early age. In 1858 he went into partnership with two of his cousins to take over W. D. & H. O. Wills, which later became part of the Imperial Tobacco Company, of which he was the first chairman. Recognised as the head of the tobacco industry in Britain, he was also Chairman of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. In 1904 he presented the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery to the people of Bristol.

Political career

"Birdseye". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1893.

Wills was a member of the Bristol Corporation from 1862 to 1880 and sheriff of the city from 1877 to 1878. He also sat as Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for two separate five-year periods: for Coventry from 1880 to 1885, and for Bristol East from 1895 to 1900.[1] He served as High Sheriff of Somerset in 1905.[2]

He was made a Baronet, of Coombe Lodge in the Parish of Blagdon in the County of Somerset, in 1893[3] and raised to the peerage as Baron Winterstoke, of Blagdon in the County of Somerset, in 1906.[4] He took his title from the ancient hundred of Winterstoke, in which his home at Blagdon lay.

Personal life


Wills was educated at Mill Hill School, before joining the family tobacco business.

Lord Winterstoke was a keen supporter of the arts, serving as President of what is now the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) from 1898 until his death in 1911 and donating the money to create Bristol City Art Gallery, whose facade bears the inscription "The Gift of Sir William Henry Wills to his Fellow Citizens 1904".

He was also the president of the charitable Anchor Society in Bristol in 1866, and vice-president of Waverley Football Club from 1890.[5]

A zealous nonconformist by personal conviction as well as by family tradition, he actively engaged in the affairs of the free churches. He joined the board of the Dissenting Deputies, was a trustee of the Memorial Hall in London, and took a practical interest in the refoundation of Mansfield College, Oxford in 1886. To the new chapel of Mill Hill School, opened in June 1898, he gave an organ and other substantial help; his portrait, subscribed for by the governors, is at the school.

He married Elizabeth Perkins Stancomb on 11 January 1853, in Melksham, Wiltshire. Elizabeth was born 6 November 1831 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire and died at their seaside home of East Court, Ramsgate, Kent on 10 February 1896, and was buried in Ramsgate Cemetery, Plot D.C.189. They adopted Elizabeth's two nieces.

He died without heirs in January 1911, aged 80, when the baronetcy and barony became extinct. His estate was worth £2,548,209 (roughly equivalent to £327,785,900 in 2023[6]). A portrait of Lord Winterstoke hangs in the Middle Common Room of Mansfield College, Oxford.[7]

See also



  1. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1974]. British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-27-2.
  2. ^ "No. 27777". The London Gazette. 21 March 1905. p. 2179.
  3. ^ "No. 26432". The London Gazette. 15 August 1893. p. 4641.
  4. ^ "No. 27883". The London Gazette. 6 February 1906. p. 869.
  5. ^ "Topics of the Day". Western Daily Press. 11 August 1890. Retrieved 18 June 2019 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  6. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  7. ^ Mansfield College, University of Oxford BBC [dead link]

Further reading

  • Alford, B.W.E. W.D. and H.O. Wills and the Development of the UK Tobacco Industry, 1786-1965 (London: Methuen and New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973) 500pp.
  • Corina, Maurice. Trust In Tobacco: The Anglo-American Struggle for Power (St. Martin's Press, 1975), a standard scholarly history of tobacco in UK; online
  • Cox, Howard. The global cigarette : origins and evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945 (2000) online, a major scholarly history
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Coventry
With: Sir Henry Mather Jackson 1880–1881
Henry Eaton 1881–1885
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Bristol East
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Winterstoke
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Blagdon)