Sir William Thomas Williams, QC, MP.
(ABGS 1927 - 1933)
The career of Tom Williams spanned 45 years during which time he was a Baptist minister, MP, and Circuit Judge.
He was born 22 September 1915 and spent his childhood in Foundry Town where he lived in Herbert Street. He attended his local elementary school, The Town Council School in Clifton Street.
His father was an Aberdarian, David John Williams who was an outfitter. His mother Edith Mary Williams was a native of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire. The family were members of Carmel English Baptist Church1 in Monk Street.
Gaining a scholarship from his elementary school, he entered the County School in 1927. In 1931 he passed his School Certificate with Matriculation equivalence. He left the school in October 1933, initially as a student teacher. Then, in 1934, he entered the South Wales Baptist College, Richmond Road, Cardiff, from which he gained the degrees B.A., B.D. awarded by the University of Wales. Whilst there he was elected in 1939 to the position of President of the Students Union, and during his tenure he was chosen to be part of a team to represent British Universities in a series of debates in America with American Universities. Following this he went up to St Catherine’s College, Oxford2, and subsequently graduated with an M.A.
After his training in 1941, he became a Baptist Minister, but during the War he was also a chaplain and Welfare Officer in the RAF, 1944-46. After the war he became the minister of Bethany Baptist Chapel in central Cardiff3. Finally he was the minister at Queen Street Baptist Church, Coventry before becoming a lecturer in History at Manchester College, Oxford where he remained until 1949.
Following his election as a Member of Parliament in 1949, he decided to study for the Bar becoming a member of the Chambers of Elwyn Jones, Q.C. In 1951 he was called to the Bar, Lincoln’s Inn, and embarked upon a career in the legal profession which he pursued for the rest of his life. A QC by 1964, he was appointed Recorder of Birkenhead 1969-71; made a Bencher 1972; and Recorder of the Crown Court 1972-81. Then in 1981 he was appointed a High Court Judge.
As mentioned above, there was another most important element to his career that he pursued simultaneously with his legal work, for he was also a Member of Parliament during most of the period 1949 to 1981. He was a Co-operative Labour MP for Hammersmith South 1949 to 1955; Barons Court 1955-59 and for Warrington 1961 to 1981. His first election victory occurred at the by election in Hammersmith South which gave him a slim majority of 1613 over Anthony Fell (Con.), in spite of the campaign support afforded by Winston Churchill in the constituency for the Tory candidate4. Tom Williams held the seat in the general election of 1951 and doubled his majority. In 1955, the Hammersmith South constituency was abolished, and Tom Williams contested the new Barons Court seat which he won with a majority of 125 over Sir Keith Joseph. However, in 1959 the seat swung back to the Tories when William Carr became the new MP. Tom was soon to return to Parliament in 1961 when he won the seat at Warrington vacated by Edith Summerskill on her elevation to the Lords. Tom held the seat for 20 years, with victories in the elections of 64, 66, 70, 74 and 79 getting majorities of around 10,000 on each occasion. He made frequent speeches in the House, and held junior government posts as a PPS: 1950 to the Minister of Pensions; 1951 to the Minister of Health and to the Attorney General Sir Elwyn Jones, 1965-67.
In the New Years Honours list5 of January 1976 Tom Williams was knighted for service to Inter-Parliamentary Union.
As mentioned above, in 1981 Tom Williams was appointed a High Court Judge. Consequently, he vacated his Warrington parliamentary seat, which necessitated a by-election in which Doug Hoyle held and won the seat for Labour with a narrow victory over Roy Jenkins, of the newly formed SDP.
During his career Tom Williams was a member of Select Committees in Parliament as well as holding positions on several public bodies including the membership of three Hospital managing committees in the London area. He was President of the World Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1976-80, and, in 1981 he was elected Fellow of the University College in Cardiff.
W.T. Williams married in 1942. His bride was Gwyneth Harries the daughter of Rev D.G. Harries6 of Aberdare. They had one son and one daughter and lived in south east London. Tom died aged 70 on 28 February 1986.
In July 1960, Mr Williams returned to his old school to be guest of honour at the Certificate Ceremony held at The Coliseum, Trecynon. Details of this event can be found in Certificate Ceremony section of this website.
- Carmel Chapel (1863) was destroyed by a fire in 1970. Thereafter the cause moved to the former Bryn Seion (C.M.) chapel on The Square in Trecynon.
- Though assigned to St Catherine’s, he was resident at Regents Park College.
- The Cardiff Church was established in 1807 but the building that Tom Williams knew in St Mary Street opened in 1865. In 1959 a decision was made to move from this location, and by 1963, the old building was incorporated into the site of James Howell & Co., the department store, and the pillars and entrance to the chapel are preserved in the store to this day. In 1964 the church moved into a new building on Heol Llanishen Fach in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, and still thrives as ‘Bethany’ almost 50 years on.
- The online archive of the British Pathé website has newsreels of the Hammersmith South by-election, one of which features a speech by Tom Williams, at the hustings (at 40 seconds from the beginning of the sequence) — as well as another with Winston Churchill campaigning for his opponent. There is a third newsreel showing the victorious Tom Williams after the results had been declared.
- This list also included knighthoods for Huw Wheldon and Richard Attenborough.
- Rev David Harries was the minister of ‘Old’ Gwawr Welsh Baptist chapel in Aberaman, which at the time was located in Regent Street. It was badly affected by underground subsidence and the building was demolished circa 1970. By 1966, the cause had moved to the former Hebron Chapel, C.M., in Jubilee Road, Godreaman. Regents Close will be found on the site previously occupied by ‘Old’ Gwawr.
The information provided for this account by John Samuel and Rev Dr D Hugh Matthews is gratefully acknowledged.