Roberts, William Prowting (DNB00)
ROBERTS, WILLIAM PROWTING (1806–1871), solicitor and trades-union advocate, the youngest son of Thomas Roberts, vicar of Chelmsford, Essex, and master of the grammar school there, was born at Chelmsford in 1806, and educated at Charterhouse School, London, which he entered in 1820. In 1828 he was admitted a solicitor and practised at Bath, and afterwards at Manchester, having an office also in Essex Street, Strand, London. While he was at Bath, in 1838, he became acquainted with Henry Vincent and other leading chartists, and was subsequently closely associated in many agitations for the extension of the franchise and the improvement of the condition of the working classes. He acted as legal adviser to Feargus O'Connor's ‘land bank,’ and his association with that scheme caused him considerable pecuniary loss. From 1843 he was concerned in nearly all the law affairs of the trade unions, and in 1844 was formally appointed by the Miners' Association of Great Britain and Ireland as their standing legal adviser, at 1,000l. a year, his popular title being the ‘miners' attorney-general.’ He was a most able, indefatigable, and pertinacious advocate, and became the ‘terror of many a local bench.’
In 1862 and 1863, after a visit to the Holy Land, he delivered lectures on biblical subjects in Manchester and neighbourhood, at the request of local church of England societies. One of the last cases in which he was engaged was the organisation, in 1867, of the defence of the fenians Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien, the so-called Manchester martyrs, who were hanged for the murder of a policeman. He shortly afterwards retired to Heronsgate House, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where he died on 7 Sept. 1871, aged 64, and was buried at Chorley Wood church, Rickmansworth.
He was married twice: first to Mary Moody of Bath; and, secondly, to Mary Alice Hopkins, granddaughter to Dr. Hopkins, bishop of Londonderry, and left children by both marriages.
He published: 1. ‘The Haswell Colliery Explosion, 28 September 1844: Narrative-Report of the Proceedings at the Coroner's Inquest,’ &c., Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1844. 2. ‘What is a Traveller? Random Chapters on the Sunday Restriction Bill of August 1854,’ 1855. 3. ‘Trade Union Bill, 1871,’ 1871.[Webb's Hist. of Trade-Unionism, 1894, p. 164; Gammage's Chartist Movement, 1894, pp. 79, 180; Holyoake's Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, i. 105; Parish's List of Carthusians, 1879, p. 198; Beehive, 23 Sept. 1871; information from Rev. C. B. Roberts and Mrs. Stuart (son and daughter of W. P. Roberts), and Sir H. T. Wood.]