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Obituary for William Fisher


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The Late William Fisher, Esq., of Sheffield

Many of our readers will have seen with regret the announcement of the death of this gentleman, whose stately and genial presence will long be remembered by those who have visited the Sheffield congregation, and whose name was still more widely known as an earnest and liberal contributor to various objects connected with our churches, and as one of the veteran race of reformers who are fast disappearing from among us.

From the time of Charles I., the name of Fisher has been one of the old Sheffield names. In the same quiet, old-fashioned court—once, as its name, "Orchard Place" denotes, a green and pleasant nook— off one of the narrower streets in the centre of our town, Mr. Fisher's family have for 200 years carried on the business, which they still pursue there, of scale-pressers and ivory merchants. Mr. Fisher retired from active business some few years ago, but to the day of his death he used to go down to the old spot, and put on his apron — he was proud of his apron, which he said the young men of the present day were getting too fine to wear — and talk to the workmen and see all that was going on. He was there the day before he died, and one of his last acts was to sent a "Fairing" to the children of one of his old servants, many of whom had been about the place for forty or fifty years.

In the first half of the last century, James and Dorothy Fisher were living there, the grand-parents of the late William Fisher. The grandfather was a staunch churchman but in later life Dorothy joined the Upper chapel, which at that time was the only place of Dissenting worship. Some of the family remained with their mother, attached to the chapel through the ministry of old Mr. Wadsworth; but the eldest son, John, kept to the parish church; and William Fisher, his son, the subject of the present sketch, who was born in 1780, was also brought up to Church.

When he was a young man, his elder sister, to whom he was much attached, married one of the Pavels, a surgeon in the town, a stanch Presbyterian and a vehement Whig, two things which in those days generally went together. An uncle also, with whom he was thrown into close companionship during his apprenticeship, was a firm member of the Upper chapel; and so it came to pass that William Fisher, growing up at the time when the high-handed tyranny of the "Church and King" party disgusted all liberal minds, gradually left the Church and joined the Upper chapel. The minister of the Upper chapel at this time was Mr. Evans, an old man who had occupied the pulpit nearly forty years, with young Mr. Naylor, lately settled as colleague, who presently left and went to Manchester.

From that time, about 1801, to the present day, Mr. Fisher has been one of the most zealous members of the Upper chapel, and an active and leading man in all the affairs of the town, as well as prominent in every struggle for Reform, Education, Free Trade or Religious Liberty.

They were stormy times in which Mr. Fisher's public life began. It is only some ten years since an old man died in the Shrewsbury hospital in Sheffield, who at the beginning of the century was taken up, with many others, on suspicion of manufacturing pikes, and transported for twenty-five years. He lived through his long term of punishment, and when he returned to Sheffield, the influence of Mr. Fisher and others of the old reformers procured him the comfortable almshouse where he ended his days, and where he often used to tell of the

" Peep-o'day boys"

who drilled at midnight on a common outside the town, and of the panic in Sheffield when almost all the tradesmen in one of the principal streets were taken up on suspicion of Jacobinism. Every reformer in those days was branded as a Jacobin, and became a marked and suspected man ; but William Fisher braved suspicion, and even when he was only twenty-one, attended the reform meetings which were held in Paradise Square, for a century past the great place for popular demonstrations. Throughout the thirty years during which the fitful struggle lasted, the people of Sheffield looked on him as one of their ablest leaders.

At every great crisis— when the massacre at Peterloo took place, when the French Revolution of 1830 broke out—the crier wonld be sent round, and in a couple of hours Paradise Square wonld be crowded to hear what the leading reformers would say. Many remember the consternation which spread like wild-fire through the town when news came in '31 that the Lords had thrown out the Reform Bill, how the church bells rung a dumb peal, and in a little time 25,000 people were wedged into the Square to listen to William Fisher, Samuel Bailey and Thomas Asline Ward, who still survives his old friend, and is the senior Trustee of Upper chapel.

About 1820, the church-rate contest began in Sheffield, and Mr. Fisher threw himself into it with his usual ardour. Meeting after meeting was held in the Parish Church, and great was the glee of the little knot of reformers who led the opposition, when Luke Palfreyman — another old Upper-chapel name — found out that, by moving the adjournment of the meeting for twelve months, they could avoid the direct negative which the prorate party would have been able to set aside. At last Mr. Fisher made a proposition that the rate should be abandoned, promising himself to give four times the amount that could have been levied on him, and to assist one of the clergy in a canvass for the amount needed to keep the church and churchyard in repair. From that time, church-rates have been only a tradition of the past in Sheffield.

In the movement for Roman Catholic Emancipation in 1829, in the agitation to strengthen the hands of the ministry in bringing forward the Dissenters' Chapels Bill, in the struggle for the repeal of the Corn Laws, and in every movement for popular education, Mr. Fisher took a leading part. In fact, for half a century past, no meeting in Sheffield for any public object has been complete without him ; his ardent, fiery courage, his great kindness of disposition, and his hearty, vigorous style of address, making "old William Fisher" a universal favourite with the people.

Of his long connection of sixty years with the Upper chapel, there is not much of any general interest to tell. The life of our old Presbyterian congregations has been for the most part quiet and uneventful. Mr. Fisher and Mr. T. Asline Ward joined the congregation almost together, about 1801, the latter a few months the earlier. Their secession from the Church made considerable stir in the town, especially that of young "Tom Ward," as he was called, then a smart young officer in the Sheffield Volunteers. From that time to the present, they have worked together in public matters, and been two of the most active members of the congregation. On the first vacancies in the Trust, they were appointed Trustees of the chapel. In 1828, towards the close of the late Dr. PMlipps' ministry, a secession took place from the Upper chapel. Mr. Fisher, always uncompromising and impetuous, thought that the rights of the congregation were infringed by what he looked upon as the assumption of too great power by the minister, and with several others left the chapel and set up a Unitarian meeting in the Music Hall. It was a hasty, ill-considered step, which many of those who took part in it afterwards regretted; and, after a separation of ten years, the two parties re-united, and from that time there has been complete unanimity of feeling in the congregation.

Mr. Fisher, however, lived to see a separation of a very different kind. When at the close of 1858 a movement was begun for starting a second congregation for St. Philip's district, no one entered with more warmth into the scheme than he did. To the building of the new chapel at Upperthorpe he contributed largely, and one of his last public acts in connection with the congregation was to take part in the laying of the foundation-stone in October, 1860. He spoke that evening at the meeting in the Cutlers' Hall, and was much affected as he alluded to the pleasure he felt in having lived to see a second congregation in the town, and told how he felt that he could not expect to attend many more such meetings of his fellow-worshipers.

In February last, he had a paralytic attack which for a time confined him to the house. He recovered to a wonderful degree, however; and, though his faculty of articulation continued somewhat impaired so that he could no longer take part in any public business, he resumed his visits to the works in Orchard Place, and went about hale, strong and cheerful as ever. He was in his usual place at chapel on Sunday, November 24. On the following Thursday he walked down to business, and seemed as well as ever. During Thursday night, however, he seemed restless and disturbed ; and at five o'clock in the morning the doctor was sent for, and arrived just in time to see him peacefully expire.

He was married in 1807 to Miss England, of Robin Hood's Well, near Doncaster, who survives him. He leaves three sons, Alderman William Fisher, Mr. Chas. and Mr. Paul England Fisher, with a daughter, Miss Sarah Fisher. He had lost several children, among whom was Rev. Francis Fisher, Unitarian minister for three years at Dorchester, where he was much beloved, who died in 1846.

Though he had lived an uneventful life, though he occupied no public office, he held a position of general honour and esteem in his native town which will not soon be forgotten. Some years ago, his portrait, painted by Richard Smith, Esq., was placed by public subscription in the Council Hall, where it will look down upon successive generations of public men, a memorial of one of Sheffield's venerable worthies, a large-hearted, able and sagacious Christian citizen.

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RichardB

William Fisher, Horn, haft & scale presser, Orchard Place (Baine's 1822)

William Fisher, Ivory Merchants and Dealers; Horn Merchants, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1828-9)

William Fisher, Horn, haft & scale & umbrella & parasol hoop manufacturer and ivory, stag, Orchard Place; home Woodside (White's 1833)

William Fisher, Bone merchant, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1841)

William Fisher, Haft & scale presser & dealer, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1841)

William Fisher, Horn merchant & dealer, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1841)

William Fisher, Ivory, tortoise-shell, pearl & fancy wood merchant & dealer, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1841)

William Fisher, Umbrella & parasol hook manufacturer, Orchard Place (Pigot's 1841)

William Fisher & Sons, horn haft & scale & umbrella hook manufacturers & ivory, tortoise 27 Orchard Place (White's 1849)

William Fisher (Sen.), Horn, ivory &c. merchant h. Woodside (White's 1849)

William Fisher (Jun.), Horn, ivory &c. merchant h. Belmonte (White's 1849)

William Fisher & Sons, Horn haft, scale and umbrella hook manufacturers and ivory, tortoise, 27 Orchard Street (White's 1852)

William Fisher (Sen.), Horn, ivory &c. merchant, home Woodside (White's 1852)

William Fisher (Jun.), Horn, ivory &c. merchant, home Belmonte (White's 1852)

William Fisher, 160 Upperthorpe (Kelly's 1893)

William Fisher & Sons, Horn & bone dealers & manufacturers of horn handles & scales, Orchard Place (Kelly's 1893)

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