Waithman, Robert (DNB00)

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WAITHMAN, ROBERT (1764–1833), political reformer, born at Wrexham in 1764, was the son of John Waithman (d. 1764) of Bersham furnace, near Wrexham, who married at Wrexham church, on 29 Jan. 1761, Mary Roberts. His father died when Robert was an infant, and in September 1776 the widow married Thomas Mires, a furnaceman working under John Wilkinson, the great ironmaster of Bersham.

Robert was placed by an uncle in the school of a Mr. Moore. About 1778 he obtained a situation at Reading. He then went to a linendraper's shop in London until he came of age. About 1786 he opened a shop of his own at the south end of Fleet Market, and on 14 July 1787 married his first cousin, Mary Davis of Red Lion Street, Holborn. After some years he moved into larger premises at Nos. 103 and 104 Fleet Street, at the corner of that thoroughfare and New Bridge Street; the shop was demolished about 1870 to make room for Ludgate Circus. He amassed a considerable fortune, and then retired in favour of his sons.

Under the influence of the French revolution Waithman threw himself into politics, and used to declaim at the meetings of a debating society in Founders' Hall, Lothbury. In 1794 he brought forward resolutions at the Common Hall in favour of reform and against prosecuting a war with France, but his proposals were rejected. He was a member of the company of ‘Framework Knitters,’ and in 1796 was elected on the common council for the ward of Farringdon Without, soon becoming one of its leading orators. His education had been insufficient, but he did not neglect his opportunities for improvement. He was one of the men, prominent in politics and literature, who met at the Chapter coffee-house, near St. Paul's Cathedral. Waithman contested the representation of the city of London in 1812, but was beaten, though he polled 2,622 votes. In 1818 he was elected, displacing Sir William Curtis [q. v.], a tory member; but at the next election in 1820 Curtis, after a severe fight, snatched the seat from him. Waithman was again elected, after a fierce struggle, in 1826, and he retained his seat at the general elections of 1830, 1831, and 1832. He spoke often, and consistently advocated liberal opinions, but was opposed to free trade. A speech by him on Sir Francis Burdett's motion for reform on 1 July 1819 is reported in ‘Hansard,’ xl. 1483–93, and was printed separately in 1823. On 4 Aug. 1818 Waithman was elected as alderman for his ward of Farringdon Without. At the close of the following year the court of aldermen commenced proceedings against him for having obstructed the election of a lord mayor; but the rule against him was on 10 June 1820 discharged by the court of king's bench with costs. Samuel Bamford speaks of him about this time as soured by the opposition he met with in the city (Passages in Life of a Radical, ii. 45); but his public career throughout was marked by talent and energy. He became sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1820, and on the day of the funeral of Queen Caroline was very conspicuous in his official capacity. In October 1833 he was elected lord mayor. On his retirement next year his opponents printed a satirical volume of the 'Maxims of Robert, Lord Waithman, some while Chief Magistrate of London,' which went through several issues. He was a candidate for the city chamberlainship in 1831, but was not successful.

Waithman died at his house in Woburn Place, London, on 6 Feb. 1833, and was buried in the church of St. Bride, Fleet Street, on 14 Feb. His wife was buried there on 8 Sept. 1827, aged 66. They had a large family. On the south wall of the west porch under the lower is a tablet with an inscription to him, 'the friend of liberty in evil times and of parliamentary reform in its adverse days.' An obelisk, erected 'by his friends and fellow-citizens' in 1833, stands in the northern half of Ludgate Circus, adjoining the spot where his first shop stood. Waithman's portrait by William Patten [see under Patten, George, presented by his family to the corporation of London, is in the Guildhall. A portrait by C. Holroyd was engraved by R. Cooper for the 'Aurora Borealis,' 16 Sept. 1821, and another painting of him in his robes as lord mayor was engraved by C. S. Taylor for the 'Now European Magazine,' 1 Dec. 1823; a full-length, drawn by Richard Dighton in 1818, is in the Wrexham free library. Waithman was the author of a pamphlet entitled 'War proved to be the Real Cause of the Present Scarcity' (1800; four editions), and a 'Letter to the Governors of Christ's Hospital, 1808,' on some children who had been admitted there for education, although their parents were in affluent circumstances. [Gent. Mag. 1787 ii. 638, 1833 i. 178-80, ii. 558; Georgian Era, i. 581-2; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Orridge's London Citizens. p. 262; Welch's Modern London, pp. 120, 131, 149, 161, 170-1 (with portrait after Patren); Palmers Wrexham, iv. 279-80; Williams's Dict. of Eminent Welshmen, pp. 515-16: Thombury's Old and New London, i. 66, 68, 413, 641; Cunningham's London, ed. Wheatley. i. 239. ii. 32, 55; information from Rev. E. C. Hawkins. vicar of St. Bride, Fleet Street, and Mr. Peart, sexton

and parish clerk.]

W. P. C.