Wells, William (1818-1889) (DNB00)

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WELLS, WILLIAM (1818–1889), agriculturist, born on 15 March 1818, was eldest son of Captain William Wells, R.N., of Holme, Huntingdonshire, by Elizabeth, daughter of John Joshua Proby, first earl of Carysfort [q. v.] After being educated at Harrow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 16 June 1836, and graduated B.A. 1839 and M.A. 1842, he entered the army, holding a commission in the 1st life guards. In 1826 he had succeeded to an estate of eight thousand acres in the fen country, and he is chiefly remembered in virtue of his efforts as a practical agriculturist to improve and develop this area, more especially by the draining of Whittlesea Mere, a shallow sheet of stagnant water situated some five miles from Peterborough, a little over a thousand acres in extent, surrounded by another two thousand acres of bog and marsh. The reclamation of this tract was begun by Wells in 1851; on 12 Nov. of the following year the mere was again submerged. All the water was, however, discharged a second time by the help of the ‘Appold’ centrifugal pump, which Wells was one of the first, if not the first, to appreciate and to put to an agricultural use. By the autumn of 1853 the bed of the mere was in a state of complete cultivation. The surrounding peat land proved, however, more obdurate, and it was found necessary to go through a process of warping, or overlaying with fertile soil. This work had been hardly begun when Wells in 1860 contributed his account of the draining operations to the ‘Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society’ (1st ser. xxi. 134). These operations were brought to an end about 1866, after fifteen years of incessant labour (Journal R. A. S. E., 2nd ser. 1870, vi. 203).

Much of the cultivation of the reclaimed land, and most of that of the two home farms reserved by Wells, was performed by means of steam power. With the object of encouraging the intelligent use of steam for agricultural purposes, Wells offered prizes annually, beginning in 1864, at the meetings of the Peterborough Agricultural Society, to the drivers of agricultural portable steam engines, for skill and care in the management of their machines, coupled with a clear record with regard to accidents (ib. 2nd ser. 1868, iv. 204).

Wells became a member of council of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1861. In December 1862 he was chosen a member of the chemical committee, of which he was elected chairman in 1866. This post he continued to hold up to the time of his death. He was president of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1880, and of the Shire Horse Society in 1885. He represented Beverley in parliament from 1852 to 1857, and Peterborough from 1868 to 1874. He was justice of the peace for Kent and Huntingdonshire, and high sheriff of the latter county in 1876.

Wells died at his town residence, 12 North Audley Street, on 1 May 1889, and was buried at Holme on Monday, 6 May. He married, on 7 Dec. 1854, Louisa Charteris, daughter of Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas Wemyss, eighth earl of Wemyss [q. v.] He had no son, and was succeeded by his brother, Grenville Granville Wells.

[Times, Monday, 6 May 1889; Ann. Register, 1889, Obituary, p. 144; Agricultural Gazette, 1889, pp. 415, 452; Mark Lane Express, 1889, p. 688; Bell's Weekly Messenger, 13 May 1889; Journal of the Royal Agricultural Soc. as above, see also 2nd ser. iv. 257–9; Burke's Landed Gentry, 6th edit., and Peerage, s.v. ‘Wemyss;’ Walford's County Families, 1883; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886.]

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