William Wright (b.1846): Politics and Protest – Writing Lives

William Wright (b.1846): Politics and Protest

‘I was with them for five years and did all the Government work with them: this did me some good in after years’ (William Wright, 19).

From the title ‘Chimney-boy to Councillor’, I expected William to be a politically-focused writer. However, as some may have discovered through my other blog posts, William focuses more on the jobs he held. Chapter seven, William’s final chapter (if you exclude the ‘retrospect’) is where he talks more about his political career.

William starts off with a sense of pride in his political choices, by simply saying: ‘I have done my best for the welfare of my native town’ (50). When he says ‘I have done my best’, there is are humble connotations. If William had simply said ‘the best’ there would have been more confidence in his language. This chapter really does show William’s confidence come through, so it is surprising it opens in such a humble way.

What a group of Urban District Councillors looked like in 1894. Source of photograph

It was not until later in William’s life when he became councillor: ‘I was elected as a councillor on the Urban District Council for the first time in April 1919’ (50). According to Vision of Britain, Urban District Councils were a replacement for more outdated government bodies, sanitary councils, which was put in place in 1894. There is also an idea of the people whom William represents being proud of him: ‘have been elected four times, which makes twelve years this April 1931’ (50). The continuous times they had voted for William shows how he must have been a well respected councillor. Nowadays this is not always the case, as some people vote for party over representative, but William makes it sound as though people voted for him on a personal level.

Even when William was ill, he still thought about his work. In this case, representing his town: ‘I trust I shall be well by next April and then I will stand again’ (50). William had always shown eagerness, whether it meant jobs or knowledge. I would argue that politics is a career to provide yourself, and others, with knowledge. For example, William talks about how ‘My supporters were sorry I came off the council for I was an experienced man and always spoke my mind’ (50). The fact that William ‘always spoke [his] mind’ shows how he could express confidence, for he had to believe in himself to believe his opinions were worth listening to.

However, even a politician’s voice can go unheard: ‘Now comes the funny part of it. The Council have come back to my plans after eleven years and bought Westbrook House and propose carrying what I told them’ (51). Moments like this were clearly frustrating for William, but bringing it back to his opening line, I believe William cared more about the work he put into the town, rather than what other politicians thought of him.

Being a councillor later in his life is not William’s only political association, ‘I joined the Ancient Order of Foresters in 1869 and am still a member’ (51). If I am to class his time of writing this as 1931, due to his quote ‘this April’ from earlier, then William had been a member for at least 62 years. For someone who had been affiliated with a political group for so long, I find it surprising that there were very few political references earlier in his writing. Being part of the Foresters was not actually something to preserve nature, it is in fact a way to secure financial security. Now called the Foresters Friendly Society, they say their purpose is ‘Providing financial and social support to our members’.

The Ancient Order of Foresters. Found

This makes sense for William, as a lot of his life has been about worrying about money or being careful with money. William’s younger life contrasts his later, political life, as he not only broke his class barrier but also evolved in his confidence.

Here I will leave you with how William closes his memoir, to help picture the growth of his character, which leads up to his days a politician: ‘Thus I close my story: from a little sweep-boy at eight years old, I am not in my eighty-fifth year. God bless you all’ (54).

If you want to read about another working-class autobiographer, let me recommend Keisha Callaghan’s Amy Gomm posts.


Wright, William. ‘From chimney-boy to councillor – The Story of my Life’. See John Burnett, David Vincent, David Mayall. The Autobiography of the working class; an annotated critical bibliography. Vol. 1 1790-1900. 1st Pub. 1984. Item: 777.


“Status Details for Urban District”. visionofbritain.org.uk, n.d., http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/types/status_page.jsp?unit_status=UD Accessed 25 Apr. 2019.
“About Us – History”. Forestersfriendlysociety.Co.Uk, 2019, https://www.forestersfriendlysociety.co.uk/about-us/history/. Accessed 25 Apr 2019.

Images used:

Urban District Councillors, found via

The Ancient Order of Foresters, found via Epsom and Ewell History Explorer.

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