Below is an obituary for William Fisher Jun. who died in 1880. It seems he was a very important man. There is a lot of history of famous Sheffield institutions and politics in there so well worth a gander!
WILLIAM FISHER, ESQ., J.P.
William Fisher is dead! It seems but as yesterday since our friend, that grand old man, John Arthur Roebuck was laid at rest in the quiet churchyard of Bushey, and now he is followed my Mr. Fisher, to mention whose name is to suggest all that is just and generous. An earnest worker in the cause of higher education, his name has been in the public for many years; a consistent politician, he has kept steadily on the true lines of national policy; a public-spirited citizen, he has filled the highest office in the town; and as a private gentleman there were few names so highly honoured and respected as that of William Fisher.
In October of last year Mr. Fisher had a very severe attack from which serious results were anticipated. He recovered sufficiently to return to his business, and after a time he appeared to have regained even more than his accustomed health. Relying on the partners he had assumed in his business at Orchard Place (His nephew, Mr. T. E. Atkin and Mr. Joseph Travers; Mr. Fisher was able to take matters easier than in his former years, and this in a great measure assisted his convalescence. About three weeks ago, more for the sake of Mrs. Fisher than on his own account, he went to Tunbridge Wells, and he was believed to be benefiting most materially by the sojourn there. Not only did he appear to be in good health, but he was in high spirits, for only last Tuesday he wrote to Mr. Atkin and Mr. Travers inviting them to come and spend the Easter holidays with him. Nothing more was heard until yesterday morning when Mr. Atkin was startled by a telegram from a medical gentleman of Tunbridge Wells (Dr. Smart) to this effect: - “Mr. Fisher has had an apoplectic attack. We fear he is sinking.” Mr. Atkin at once left for Tunbridge Wells, where he arrived too late, for Mr. Fisher had died the previous evening. Last night Mr. Fisher Travers received a telegram from Mr. Atkin conveying the sorrowful intelligence: - “Mr. Fisher died at 12 o’clock last night. Telegram could not leave here until this morning.” Deceased was in the 67th year of his age.
Mr. Fisher was a native of Sheffield, having been born into the town in 1813. His father was a well-known and venerated citizen and politician. He had three brothers, Charles, Paul and Frank, and one sister named Sarah. He received the rudiments of his education at Norton, under Mr. Piper, a teacher of that time and his trading knowledge was acquired with his father, who carried on an extensive business as a merchant in horn, bone and other animal substances largely used in the staple trade of Sheffield, the title of the firm been “William Fisher and Sons,” which title it still bears. In May 1838 he married Ellen Nanson. Mr. Fisher very early gave evidence of his interest in the extension of education and the diffusion of knowledge. In 1815 we find him attending a meeting of the Wentworth Mechanics Institution, along with other promotions of education from Sheffield. In this - one of the earliest, if not the first - speech he ever made, he said: - “No sight could be presented more pleasing than this, to anyone anxious for the intellectual improvement of the people. Education had always been appreciated, but formerly only by the few. When the poet wrote
Ignorance is the curse of heaven,
Knowledge the wing by which we fly from it.
he sang centuries out of time. Now, however, the sentiment was in time. Every village had long had it’s temple for devotion, and he had often heard his friend Mr. Rodgers wish that buildings for intellectual improvement were equally numerous. It was a matter of just pride that Wentworth was one of the first villages that possessed such a building as this; and though they hoped it would not long be their exclusive privilege, their honour would always reflect honour upon Wentworth.”
On the incorporation of Sheffield in 1843 Mr. Wm. Fisher was among the townsmen elected to form the first town council. He was returned for Brightside Ward, along with Mr. Edward Smith and Mr. Wm. Vickers. It is interesting now to recall that all the persons elected, except himself, Mr. W. F. Dixon, and Mr. Edward Smith, made the requisite declarations and accepted office. We soon find Mr. Fisher, however a member of that body in which he afterwards took so active a part. In 1846 we find him speaking in the council in support of a proposal by the then Mayor, Mr. Wilkinson, to rent or purchase the Music Hall to be used as the council chamber. On March 10, 1847, he presented a memorial in favour of the establishment of a Museum of Art. The memorial was from the directors of the Sheffield Athenaeum and Mechanic’s Institution. It stated that the memorialists were taking measures to erect a commodious building in Surrey Street in which they propose to provide adequate accommodation for the students of the School of Design; that there was vacant land adjoining on which a Museum of Art might be conveniently built, in which case the casts of the school would tend to enrich the public museum. The memorial referred to petitions presented on the subject from the Literary and Philosophical Society; and the committee of the School of Design, and requested the council to comply with their prayer. It was ordered to be entered on the minutes. Mr. Fisher, in supporting this memorial said he would not enlarge on the importance of the School of Design. The council was sensible of it and if it could bid it, was sure would do so. But Mr. Tucker had expressed a doubt whether in the proposed building for an Athenaeum and Mechanics Institution, the School of Design could be accommodated. If the Museum of Art were built tolerably near, so as to contain the casts, there would be ample room for the classes within the proposed building. Though Mr. Tucker objected to the casts of the School of Design being placed in the Museum of Art that was the very course suggested by the council of the school, who wished that the exquisite casts should be made available for the general public as well as for the students. On May 5th 1847, we find Mr. Fisher voting with the majority in a vote of confidence in Wilson Overend Esq., J. P., and five days later her returned to his favourite project of establishing a Museum of Art in Sheffield, seconding Mr. H. Atkin’s motion on the subject. It is interesting at this time to recall the testimony which was borne to Mr. Fisher on the occasion of his nomination for Brightside Ward. It was to this effect: -
“I have long known Mr. William Fisher’s private worth, and have lately, with much more interest, observed his great and increasing aptitude for the transaction of business of a public nature. He has been tried in the Council of the borough, and was there proved to be possessed of much intelligence, considerable industry, and good judgement. He was ever ready to promote the prosperity and welfare of the town. All measures for the real benefit of the people met with his zealous and persevering support. Having been replaced in St. Peter’s Ward at the last election - not that he was unpopular with his constituents, but because until a late and unexpected opposition arose, his return was regarded as a matter of certainty - the present vacancy in our ward appears to me to be the proper opportunity of sending him again to the Council. It is allowed on all sides that to find suitable men for the council is attended with great difficulty. Here, then, is one. Mr. Fisher desires and has the means to serve his townsmen. His opinions are so liberal that he would be the friend of all men. He has education and manners which fit him for intercourse with persons of authority. As one of any deputation that might be sent to any other public body he would never bring discredit, but honour, to his constituents. He is proud of Sheffield as the place of his birth and residence, and would gladly do his upmost to give additional comforts to its’ inhabitants, to extend the usefulness of its’ charitable institutions, and to improve and beautify its’ places of public resort. If he be elected at this time the working men, the tradesmen and the merchants of Brightside Ward will all, I believe, have reason to be satisfied with the event.” Mr. Fisher was returned to council on the 19th of January for this ward, 416 votes being recorded for him and 260 for Mr. Cartledge.
On May 22nd, 1848, we find Mr. Fisher present at the soiree held in the Cutlers’ Hall in connection with the opening services of the new Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, in which he was a leading member and took an active interest till the last.
In 1848 a motion was brought before the Town Council to petition the Crown relative to the peoples’ charter. Mr. Fisher was neutral on this point. At the municipal election the same year he was returned to the Council for Brightside ward unopposed. He was elected on the Watch Committee, November 9, 1848. In 1851 we find his services transferred to St. Peter’s Ward, and as an evidence of the rapidity with which he made his mark on the Council, it is sufficient to mention that in 1853 he was nominated with F. Hoole to be Mayor for that year. Mr. Hoole received 32 votes and Mr. Fisher 15. At the same sitting of the Town Council Mr. Fisher was elected alderman, and placed on the Free Libraries, General Purposes, Heath and Watch Committees. In 1854 the late Ald. Dunn proposed Mr. Fisher as Mayor and in doing so, he said “to every member of the Council but especially to the older members, Ald. Fisher is known as a hard working member. Of the most important committees he has been a diligent member. He has taken an active part in the Watch Committee for many years, and I may appeal to all the members of that committee with the greatest confidence to attest his capacity his capacity for business, his mode of attending to it, and the care and caution at which he arrives at conclusions on all important affairs. No act of the Council is more important than the election of Mayor. By that act we place the gentleman elected at the head of the affairs and the people of Sheffield. For two years he holds the office of magistrate, and for one year he is at the head of the local magistracy. Looking at the question in that light, therefore, it is important that the Mayor should be one who in the administration of justice will weigh well the evidence, and will give impartial decisions, so as not only to do justice, but to let it be seen that the decisions are just. In that respect I have full confidence that Ald. Fisher will give every reasonable satisfaction. I say reasonable satisfaction, because sometimes things are expected which are not reasonable. But all reasonable satisfaction I have the strongest confidence Mr. Fisher will give. He is well known in the town,, and that is no small consequence. He is well acquainted with the business of the town, and that is no small advantage. There is one other matter I would name, in which Ald. Fisher, as well as myself, feels great interest as do the council and the burgesses at large. I mean the question of education. For many years I have met with Mr. Alderman Fisher in connection with various educational institutes, for which he has laboured far more than I have. No man has worked harder on behalf of the Mechanics’ Institution: Ald. Fisher has been a practical worker in the best sense. With regard to secular education, he and I might not agree. I look at it in one light, and he in another. But he takes this practical view of the matter, that if he cannot obtain what he desires, in the precise form he wants, he will yet aim to obtain it as soon as he can, and in the meantime educate so far as may be in his power. In my opinion if the Council think proper to elect William Fisher, jun., to the high and responsible office of Mayor, and he should be favoured by God with health during his time in office, he will give every satisfaction to the Council and the borough.”- Alderman Fawcett seconded the nomination in similarly eulogistic terms, and on the motion being put it was carried unanimously. The ex-mayor (Ald. F. Hoole), addressing the new Mayor, said he was happy to introduce him to the Council as Mayor of Sheffield. He was glad so well qualified a gentleman had been elected and was sure he would do credit to himself and the town. (Cheers.) Mr. Fisher’s first speech as Mayor has a present interest. I am indebted to you this morning (he said) for the highest honour you can give, the greatest mark of confidence you can bestow. By a diligent discharge of my duty, I hop to convince you that whatever may be said or surmised to the contrary, I am by no means insensible to the value of that mark of your esteem. I have not shrunk from the office on this occasion or on former occasions for want of confidence in the Council. I have been a member for many years. I have seen gentlemen of various degrees of qualification occupy the chair, but the uniform kindness they have received from the Council has satisfied me that as far as the duties of the chair are I shall be able to give satisfaction to you and myself and the same confidence end consideration be extended to me - and I see no reason why they should not be - as have been extended to former Mayors. I shall strive to do no dishonour to the office. It has been held with the greatest honour by a number who have gone before me. No gentleman who has held office has brought reproach upon it, and I hope that by the end of the year you do not feel it has been dishonoured by me. The only fear I have has been in regard to the magisterial duties of the office. If I can, by the aid of a single desire to do what is fair and just without a knowledge of law, give satisfaction as a magistrate, I shall resign from the chair next November with more pleasure than I now have in assuming it. I again desire to thank you again for the honour you have conferred upon me.”
Mr. Fisher succeeded to the chairmanship of the Free Libraries Committee on the 16th of November 1851, and he remained in that position until 1873, when he retired in all active participation in municipal affairs. He devoted his best energies to work, in suggesting suitable additions to library stock from time to time, and the annual reports he which he presented on behalf of the committee were the results in detail, the results of his hands. He was a devoted servant to literature, and one who was a member of the committee during his presidency says, “For a public man he was remarkably modest, very unassuming, and by his genial manners, maintained unvarying harmony amongst us.” On the occasion of his resignation he was strongly urged to reconsider his determination to quit the Town Council and the Libraries Committee, or, at all events be a burgess member of the latter. To all such solicitations he turned a death ear; his decision had been taken as he was inexorable. The Free Libraries sustained a severe loss in the resignation of one whose experience extended over a period of 20 years in all that appertains to libraries under the Act. While he was yet in office the melancholy holy death of Mr. Walter Parsonson, Chief Librarian, and his wife, within two days of each other, occurred leaving orphan children unprovided for. Mr. Fisher was one of a band who could not allow this to be the case. A public subscription was set on foot for it’s object having a provision for these orphans, which resulted in a sum of money being raised of over one thousand pounds. At a meeting subsequently called by the contributors Mr. Fisher was appointed a trustee for it’s administration. The children were also apportioned to comfortable homes, which left the fund to accumulate until the youngest child should attain it’s majority. The prompt action and wise counsels of Mr. Fisher were largely contributed to the success of this humane and benevolent enterprise. In consequence to the rapid development of the circulation of books at the Free Library in Surrey Street and the inconvenience experienced by burgesses coming from a distance, the committee resolved to have an experimental branch opened in the neighbourhood of Upperthorpe. Rooms were secured for a term of years which had been built by the Tabernacle Sunday School. On the 4th of October 1869, these rooms were opened as the Upperthorpe branch of the Sheffield Free Libraries in the presence of the numbers of the Corporation. Ald. Wm. Fisher, the chairman delivered an address, speaking respectively on the utility and advantage of each class of literature. The experiment of a branch free library at Upperthorpe having succeeded, the chairman, Alderman William Fisher urged the committee and Council to establish a kindred one in Brightside ward, and on September 4, 1872, the idea was carried out, the Brightside branch been opened by the Mayor (T. Moore., Esq.): Mr. Fisher was present at this ceremony, and gave an unwavering testimony of the benefits to be derived from the extension of branch libraries. This venture fulfilled his predictions concerning it, when further extensions were decided upon, and on January 27, 1874, he laid the foundation stones of two new branch libraries, one to take the place of the temporary premises at Upperthorpe, and the other at Highfield in Ecclesall ward. The whole of the member sof the Free Libraries Committee were present at the ceremony of laying the stones, and Ald. Fisher was presented with a silver towel, having gold mountings, and having engraven on it’s front a design of one of the libraries. Councillor Crighton made the presentation. Mr. Mundella, M.P., who was present on the occasion said the people of Sheffield owed a debt of gratitude to Ald. Fisher, who for 15 years had been very active in promoting the good of the town. On August 1st 1876, the honour of opening the Highfield branch of the Sheffield Free Libraries was appropriately accorded to Mr. Fisher, the late chairman to the Committee. So long had he been intimately connected with the work that it was difficult to disassociate him from it. The chairman (Ald. Wm. Bragge) said on that occasion that Mr. Fisher had during a great portion of a useful, honourabl and serviceable life, in every sense of the word, devoted an immense proportion of his time to the promotion of free libraries. For more than 20 years Mr. Fisher had been chairman of the Free Library Committee. Mr. Fisher had seen the building of the central library, and he had initiated the branches which now exist. Mr. Fisher was the originator of the idea of building that library, and though he had ceased to be the chairman of the committee, to him alone belonged the great privilege of opening that library.
There remains over the portals of the Highfield Library, a grey, polished marble tablet, engraven in letters of gold, the words of Thomas Carlyle: “That the should one man die ignorant who had the capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy, were it to happen more than twenty a minute by some computation it does.” This was the gift of Mr. Fisher.
On September 6, 1875, Ald. Fisher, in his capacity of Chairman of the Free Libraries and Museums Committee, gave a banquet at the Victoria Station Hotel to celerate the opening that day of Weston Park - an undertaking wich he had taken a single interest. J. A. Roebuck, Esq., M.P., was the guest the evening of the occasion. In August, 1876, Mr. Fisher was entertained to a complimentary banquet at the same hotel, to commemorate the opening of the Upperthorpe and Highfield Branch Libraries, Mr. Roebuck been present, and proposed the toast of the evening, “Success to the Sheffield Libraries coupled with the name of Wm. Fisher, Esq., J.P. (twenty years chairman to the committee),” bore testimony to the high esteem in which he held Mr. Fisher. “I am here” he said, “at your invitation for a purpose which it gives me great pleasure on this occasion to carry out, to propose a toast which brings prominently before my eyes the name of my old friend, Mr. Fisher. I have not only been asked to be here, but to propose the toast of the evening. The toast of the evening it is, sir, not at all because I propose it, but because it will be responded to by our old friend Wm. Fisher. The things to which he has almost dedicated his life have been things which intimately connect themselves to the welfare of this great country. He has not sought after distinction, he has sought to make himself great in this great town, but he has endeavoured by his intellectual labours, to being to bear upon the great masses of ignorance below the spirit of education. It has been his object through life to endeavour to enlighten his benighted countrymen, and he has endeavoured by many ways to do his best among others, and not the least effective has been that which we are now brought together to celebrate - namely the introduction of free libraries into this great town. He has endeavoured to the best of his means to submit to everyone in his community the means of gathering form these great hordes of wisdom some small spark, or, as I may call it, some bright spark of knowledge and of literature which they might desire to acquire. He has done this, and patiently done it in the face of many obstacles which we cannot well estimate, but which we must have felt much and which I think I can somewhat appreciate, because I know how difficult it is to shed light through dark ignorance - (cheers) - to govern or conquer prejudice, and to bring to bear on the minds of the poorer classes the benefit of the benefit of that great light that is shed through the literature of this country. Sir, I believe that a mind like this who dedicates himself to the benefit of his fellow townsmen, does much more good than many a prating politician or raving enthusiast who wants but to carry out some small idea of his own, who wishes simply to lay before the public - the public to which he belongs - that great want of intellectual fare which our great literature affords the people of this country. There is no literature in the world which surpasses that of England and he is of immense service to his countrymen who makes it easy to them to attain and reap the benefits which that literature affords. And I cannot do more than say William Fisher has done his utmost to enlighten all who are around him, and in many districts where he has had an influence he has done this through the literature of England. I believe, sir, that my friend intends to retire from public life. (A voice: “I hope not”) Well I hope he may not do so. I hope he will continue his efforts which age will lend a force to. I feel that as I grow older, and am daily before the public, every word that I utter is thought more of, because I am older, not because it is better, but because it is uttered by an older man. Well, now, sir, when a man like this is departing from our sphere I think it does become us to mark in some way or other, our appreciation of his merits.” He then proceeded to suggest how this might be done by some “effigy or other” of his old friend. He continued : “Before I have done let me say a word or two to the twenty years service on this committee of William Fisher. He began his work when there were great obstacles in his way, when prejudices lay in his path, great and large obstacles. He conquered them. The things which are now done with celerity and ease were, in his days, matters of great difficulty. As we grow older I hope we grow wiser, and the wiser we grow the more we shall admire the worth of my friend William Fisher.”
Mr. Fisher in responding said his father had been very anxious to provide for his fellow citizens political rights, and it seemed to the speaker a fair following of that, that he himself should do his best to assist them to wisely use these political rights, but he did not claim any credit beyond this. It was always pleasant to find your exertions had pleased others, and he looked upon it as a much more important manner in this respect that they were sadly in want of young men in the present share to go through their fair share of public work, and when a man had such rich rewards for attempts at work which of course must in so many years have been, many of them more or less failures, it was something of an encouragement for the young to take their share - he meant the educated young men of Sheffield. He was glad that toast had been proposed by Mr. Roebuck, because he had always considered that gentleman the most loyal and the most chivalric of the members of the House of Commons. He could put his lance in rest and fight a battle with anyone who said a word against him.
Mr. Fisher filled many honourable positions in the town in addition to those already mentioned. In 1869 on the mention of Mr. Wm. Smith, he was chosen a Town Trustee along with Mr. Mark Firth. He was for a number of years a member of the Ecclesall Board of Guardians, both as a representative and an ex officio officer. He became an ex-officio when he was appointed borough magistrate, but he was not contented with that, and in 1870 was made a representative by election. Each subsequent year the honour was retained and in his death the Ecclesall Board suffers the loss of a valued member. Mr. Fisher was also a member of the first Schools Board for Sheffield, the election for which took place on November 28, 1870. This board sat two terms without a second election, but at the contest in 1876, he lost his seat, no doubt from the peculiar results of this cumulative vote, to the great astonishment of the town. He was also a trustee of the Upper Chapel (Unitarian) and was a quiet supporter of every good work in connection with it. He took an active part in presenting the erection of a statue to Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer: who was a personal friend. During his mayorality the first universal exhibition was held in Paris, when he spared no pains in obtaining free passports and other privileges for Sheffield working men wishing to visit that collection of industry.
For a number of years Mr. Fisher was an energetic member and chairman of the Sheffield Mechanics’ Institution Committee: always interesting himself in it’s welfare. At one when it was in difficulties, he together with some others advanced £100, without interest to enable it to tide over the crisis. These debentures were intact until the building was purchased by the Corporation, when the debt was paid. Mr. Fisher was a trustee as well as a member of the council of the School of Art , under the new regime which was inaugurated in January, 1857. He was also a West Riding magistrate and a Justice of the Peace of the borough. He regularly attended at the Town Hall every Saturday with Mr. Thomas Jessops, and dealt out most even handed justice. He gave freely of his means to every philanthropic and benevolent institution, to which he also lent the weight of his influence and the assistance of his name. At one time he was a member of the Weekly Board of the Infirmary, an institution which had his special regard.
Mr. Fisher, as chairman of Mr. Roebuck’s Executive, worked earnestly and enthusiastically to secure his triumphant return in 1874, when Sheffield was able to wipe out the justice which had been done to the high souled veteran, and it was to Mr. Fisher that Mr. Roebuck first confided his intention of retiring. After the death of Mr. Roebuck Mr. Fisher was one of those who interested himself in securing a suitable successor for the office, and he gave his hearty support to Mr. Charles Stuart Wortley, and conducted his business with great tact, discrimination, and earnestness. His last public appearance at a great meeting was a the Albert Hall in support of Mr. Wortley’s candidature. A few days later it was his intention to have presided at the meeting of the Patriotic Association, but ill health prevented him carrying out the intention. His convictions are well shown by the following letter he wrote at the time: -
“December 18, 1879.,
“My dear Mr. Broomhead; - There never was more need for us to shake off subjection to old names and old colours, and turn our opinions as to what is best for the country. I am glad, therefore, to learn that there is a Patriotic Association, but very sorry that I am too old and ‘shaky’ to comply with your wish and introduce so excellent an association to our townsmen. In fact, I am pledged to my wife and my medical man to ‘keep quiet.’ I cannot doubt but that your meeting will prove a success, and with best wishes for it I am, &c., “W. Fisher.”
During the present contest Mr. Wortley had Mr. Fisher’s most warm wishes for his success, and our columns only yesterday contained the earnest appeal of himself and other leading gentleman on behalf of Mr. Wortley. When the insinuations were so freely made that Mr. Fisher, Mr. Jessop, and others had withdrawn from all active support of Mr. Wortley, the denial was promptly given on behalf of all gentlemen concerned, and on behalf of none more emphatically than Mr. Fisher, who, writing to his nephew Mr. T. E. Atkin, said - “I shall be with you shortly in order that I can plump for Mr. Wortley.” As Mr. Atkin very pertinantly observed in communicating this letter to the ditor of this journal. “Surely this will be sufficient to silence those who speak of any withdrawal of his support. - and further, the fact that at Mr. Fisher’s age he should travel 200 miles solely to register this and other votes in districts where he has interests ought to put to shame those who are spoken of in the same column of news as losing the last election through apathy and indifference.”
Sheffield can ill afford to lose a man like Mr. Wm. Fisher - a thorough gentleman, a true englishman, a kind friend, and a generous foe. In his day he has made much of the history of this great town, and few men will die leaving more friends and fewer foes. He was always courteous and considerate, easily approached, and singularly bright and good humoured. Malevolence and ill feeling could not exist in his presence, and while he had no patience with anything that was mean and “tricky” he was slow to believe any evil of anybody. Sheffield will today, when it hears the words it is sorrowful duty to announce, feel itself poorer for the loss of her genial and generous son, Mr. William Fisher.