Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Towers, Joseph
TOWERS, JOSEPH (1737–1799), biographer, was born in Southwark on 31 March 1737. His father was a second-hand bookseller, and at twelve years old he was employed as a stationer's errand boy. In 1754 he was apprenticed to Robert Goadby [q.v.] at Sherborne, Dorset. Here he learned Latin and Greek. Goadby made him an Arian. Coming to London in 1764, he worked as a journeyman printer, began to write political pamphlets, and set up a bookseller's shop in Fore Street about 1765. Goadby employed him as editor of the ‘British Biography’ (from the date of Wycliffe), and the first seven volumes, 1766–1772, 8vo, were compiled by him, on the basis of the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ 1747–1766, fol., but containing much original work, the fruit of research at the British Museum.
In 1774 he gave up business, was ordained as a dissenting minister, and became pastor of the presbyterian congregation in Southwood Lane, Highgate. He became associated with Andrew Kippis [q.v.] in the new edition of the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ 1778–93, fol., where his contributions are signed ‘T.’ The opening of a rival meeting-house in Southwood Lane (1778) had drawn away many of his hearers. Towers left Highgate to become (1778) forenoon preacher at Stoke Newington Green, as coadjutor to Richard Price (1723–1791) [q.v.] On 19 Nov. 1779 he received the diploma of LL.D. from Edinburgh University. He continued to write pamphlets, of which a collection was published by subscription, 1796, 8vo, 3 vols. His chief separate work was ‘Memoirs … of Frederick the Third … of Prussia,’ 1788, 8vo, 2 vols. He was a trustee of Dr. Williams's foundations, 1790–99. He died on 20 May 1799. He was married to a relative of Caleb Fleming [q.v.] His portrait, painted by Samuel Drummond [q.v.], was engraved by Farn.
Joseph Lomas Towers (1767?–1831), his only son, born about 1767, was educated at St. Paul's school and New College, Hackney (entered September 1768); he preached as a unitarian minister without charge, and in 1792 succeeded Roger Flexman [q.v.] as librarian of Dr. Williams's library; resigning this post in 1804, he led an eccentric life, busy with literary schemes, and collecting books and prints. He became insane in 1830, and died on 4 Oct. 1831, at the White House, Bethnal Green; he was buried in a vault at Elim Chapel, Fetter Lane. He published: 1. ‘Illustrations of Prophecy,’ 1796, 8vo, 2 vols. (anon.). 2. ‘The Expediency … of Cash-Payments by the Bank of England,’ 1811, 8vo.
John Towers (1747?–1804), younger brother of Joseph Towers, born about 1747, went to sea as a lad, and was afterwards apprenticed to a London packer. He taught himself Greek and Hebrew, and began to preach as an independent. A secession from Jewin Street independent congregation chose him as pastor, and leased the presbyterian meeting-house in Bartholomew Close, where he was ordained in 1769. For some years he conducted a day school. A new meeting-house was built for him in the Barbican in 1784, and his ministry was successful. He died on 9 July 1804, and was buried on 17 July in Bunhill Fields. He was twice married. He published ‘Polygamy Unscriptural,’ 1780, 8vo (against Martin Madan [q. v.]), and several sermons.[Funeral Sermon by James Lindsay, 1799; Gent. Mag. 1799; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1810, iii. 223 sq.; Chalmers's General Biographical Dict. 1816, xxix. 489 sq.; Christian Reformer, 1832, pp. 131 sq.; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, i. 53, ii. 384; Jones's Bunhill Memorials, 1849, pp. 280 sq.; Cat. of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 257; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 173 sq.]