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 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. 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. He 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.

William Pearce (junior) succeeded him to the baronetcy and became Chairman of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, but 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.

Photo Gallery:

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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” 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, 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 to be found 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!

See also:

- Chilton Lodge

- The Church House

- St. John’s Mission Hall

- Hungerford Newtown School