Mr Padley of Swansea

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The following is based in part on the article 'Mr Padley of Swansea' by A. F. Peplow in the 1958 issue of Gower.

AMONG THE MANY COLLECTIONS of archive material preserved at the Royal Institution in Swansea which are recently undergoing cataloguing, is a collection of letters, accounts and miscellaneous items mainly concerned with William Padley. Padley was a burgess of the town of Swansea from 1765 until 1801. He rose to prominence as a shipper of merchandise in the port and as a member of the Society of Friends.

We first hear of William Padley at Swansea in the year 1762, in business as an ironmonger, but whether he had resided in the town for some time before this date or was a recent arrival is not clear, although it may be significant that some years later he mentions an estate of his in Yorkshire, and it may be that the family originated there. But as he is addressed in a few of these early letters as William Padley, junior, of Swansey, it is at least likely that his father was also resident in the town.

Although invariably styled as an ironmonger at this early date. Padley was also a partner in the firm Jones, Squire and Padley which exported coal and imported timber to and from Bristol and the West of England. Henry Squire was a ship owner who had already leased land on the Strand in the town of Swansea from the corporation, and in 1765 Padley leased from the corporation for a term of 30 years, another piece of land on the Strand adjacent to that of Squire, and this probably greatly facilitated the trading enterprises of the firm.

It seems that Padley's business flourished almost from the beginning in the favourable industrial climate of Swansea in the late eighteenth century. The first official mention of him in the corporation archives is a record in the minutes of the Common Hall of 25th January, 1765 that it was agreed that William Padley is a fit person to be admitted a burgess of this corporation, he paying the sum of £4. 4s. 0d.. to the use of this corporation.' During the decade beginning in 1770 he is less frequently described as ironmonger hut more often as merchant ' or merely as Mr. Padley of Swansey.' The ground on the Strand which he had leased from the Corporation is now referred to as ' Mr. Padley's Quay Head or ' Padley's Wharf' and is indeed still known by this name. The original lease of 1765 was that of a large block of ground, with a frontage to the Strand but reaching back to the river bank It stood roughly opposite Green Dragon Lane and under the shadow of Old Swansea Castle. Padley also owned or rented a house and land at Brynmill for there is a receipt dated 1772 for 5/6d. being ' half a years land and window tax for Brinmill ..received of William Padley. '

By this time Padley's trade extended not only to the West of England but also to the Continent and North America. Cargoes arrived from Memel, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, from St. Petersburg in Russia, Bilbao in Spain, and Carolina in the New World. Most of this foreign trade took the form of the importation of timber, of which large and expensive cargoes are mentioned for instance in 1769 Padley accepted a cargo of ' Deals and Balks ' to the value of £474/0/0 from Captain Ole Ingetretsen of the Laurentius while in 1771 in a cargo from Port Brunswick, Carolina, there arrived, twenty-two thousand three hundred and fifty three feet of timber, fifty one tons of Pine timber, three tons of Cedar, one log of Walnut and twelve thousand staves.'

But his business was not confined to foreign trade, or merely to the import of timber and export of small quantities of coal. For instance, when in 1773-4 the Corporation decided to build a new and larger shambles in the Castle Yard, they obtained rough stones from Greenhill and from the Burrows, but bought the Tiled Stones they required from 'William Padley. He now sold to the people of Swansea a bewildering variety of goods. His price for linen was 2/4d. per yard ' common bellows ' sold at 1/6d each half a cask of Fuller's Earth cost 2/6d. and a quire of sand paper 9d. Flower and grass seeds were imported as were bricks and hemp, Kentish hops and iron ore. Candle tallow, flax, thimbles, inkpots and spurs are sold, as are medicines and corn, boiling peas and ' bronze and iron nutcracks There is even an account for ' making a White Waistcoat for Thos. Sweet  2 shillings while a letter from ' Guppy and Armstrong ' of Bristol, dated January, 1791, asking for ' any quantity of old platter and pewter that may come to hand ' may have been connected with the fact that Mr. George Haynes was renovating the Cambrian Pottery Works at Swansea during 1790.

There is also a rather amusing letter from Nicholas James addressed to William Padley, ' Honoured Cousin,' it reads, 'After a long series of bad behaviour I behold myself to thee for a little work if convenient unto thee in discharging the Norway Ship that is for thee . . . I shall be glad of any employment money is very scant so that I have none ; if thee dost please to let me have the value of two or three shillings I will willingly work it up again ... thy unfortunate cousin, Nicholas James. N.B. Would come myself but was afraid of giving offence. An answer will be very agreeable.'

Note that in this letter Nicholas James addresses Padley by using the archaic thee ' and ' thou ' as was customary between a Quaker and members of his family, for as William Padley rose in importance commercially so did he become an important member of the Swansea branch of time Society of Friends It seems that he held some important official position with them for he was time recipient of many enquiries from 'West Wales concerning the dates of various society meet ings. Some members of the Swansea Society suffered in an outbreak of plague at Swansea in 1786, for Andrew Paterson wrote to ' Friend Padley ' from Margam protesting that it was ' unfortunate for those poor friends of yours I c'd not be with them in time hour of need. I fear the fever is not attended to .. at Swansea. ' On 2nd October of the same year, John Appleton a Bristol Quaker died at Swansea, perhaps also as a result of the plague, and Thomas Rutter, writing to Padley from Bristol, asked for his help in burying him as ' he is a member of our society and has conducted himself sober and reputable.' Appleton had left no directions respecting his interment so Rutter thought it best ' to inter him in your burial ground at Swansea . . and I request the favour of thee to get it done and invite a few friends from Neath and those of your town . . For a time also Padley had superintendance of the Friends Burial Ground in Lammas Street, Carmarthen, and there is a rather pathetic letter dated' 1 O'clock 2nd January, 1790,' from Alexander Forbes at Carmarthen, ' My mother departed this life about an hour ago ; she has lived all her days a strict friend and died with perfect resignation in the same way of thinking, her last request was to be deposited among her friends . . in Lammas Street, let me pray you to furnish me with proper orders to deposit her body there agreeable to your rites and ceremonies .." Padley must also have employed other Quakers in his business as there are for instance, letters from Samuel Ace at Oxwich to ' Friend Griffith ' at ' Mr. Padley's Deal Yard.'

As Padley rose in the spheres of business and religion, so too did he rise socially. We have already heard of his election as burgess in 1765 ; by 1777 he was also one of the Common Attorneys of the town, and by 1780 he was endeavouring to interest the Corporation in extensive projects of his own. One such proposal was for building a canal at Swansea. Padley's business interests would be greatly furthered by such a project for he was probably experiencing difficulty in obtaining adequate supplies of coal, which provided a saleable freight for the return voyage of ships bringing him supplies of timber and other raw materials from abroad ; and it was obviously far less profitable to send a vessel away from the port in ballast. It will be appreciated how difficult it was for supplies of minerals worked in the neighbourhood to reach the river-side at Swansea at this time, when it is remembered that the only mode of conveyance was in panniers on the backs of ponies. It was an effort to improve on this that led William Padley to have the land from Swansea to Yniscedwyn surveyed after this he broached his scheme at the Common Hall and met with great support, and on 23rd May, 1794, the bill became an Act of Parliament ' for making a canal from Swansea to Ystradgynhais,' Two of the proprietors of the canal company were William Padley, and William Padley junior. In 1791 he also appeared as one of 12 trustees appointed for executing an 'Act for repairing, enlarging, and preserving the harbour of Swansea . . '

The zeal of Padley and others for improving trading facilities at Swansea led them into conflict with those interests in the Corpora tion who were against such improvements. On one occasion at least the conflict flared into open physical violence. The scene is preserved for us in the well known cartoon 'A Welsh Corporation Meeting,' the original of which is on show in the art gallery of the Royal Institution. The cartoon purports to depict a meeting of Swansea Corporation on 2nd November, 1787 and portrays the Reverend Thomas Powell attempting to kick Charles Collins, an eminent surgeon of the town ; while Powell's father, Gabriel Powell, the Recorder of Swansea and steward to the Duke of Beaufort is only restrained from similar action by Robert Morris, Esq., the coal- owner. Between the adversaries William Padley is depicted in typical Quaker pose ; the only person in the room with a hat on—a tall conical affair sitting squarely on his head,—.-and with his hands held together in an attitude of pious horror at the physical violence perpetrated before his eyes. The incident arose because Padley attempted to read, before voting on it, a paper containing a proposal by Gabriel Powell to mortgage the Corporation estates for £500., with which to oppose an Act for ' new paving the town and improving the harbour.' The paper had been snatched out of Padley's hands but Collins, too, insisted on reading it before being called upon to vote. He was thereupon knocked down by the Reverend Thomas Powell, who, while he was on the ground,' most malignently and cowerdly kicked him in ye breast.' Although the proposal was carried by 10 votes to 5, neither Collins, Padley, nor Morris are included among the signatories to the Corporation's minutes, and it is probable that they left the meeting in disgust.

However, in spite of some awkward moments such as this, William Padley had by 1790, risen to an eminent position in Swansea. His story has been one of continuous and growing success. It is with some shock that we hear suddenly in 1791 of his bankruptcy and of his imprisonment in the Debtor's Gaol which was housed in part of the medieval castle of Swansea. Perhaps this is a commentary on the hazardous nature of finance and trade during the early days of the ' Industrial Revolution.' The precise cause of this sudden reversal of fortune is difficult to determine although it is probably in part due to a decline in the profitability of foreign trade, for as early as 1786 there are letters regarding the increasingly high prices of tallow, hemp and iron ore, while John and William Hounsell of Bridport regret that they cannot allow Padley any extension of credit as ' the late smallness of profit doth not allow it.' The outbreak of war with France in 1789 certainly accentuated trading difficulties, and Wolff and Dorville write to Padley that ' deals are increased in price 12 shillings per hundred due to war with France.' It is also possible that Padley's bankruptcy was partly due to the financial failure of people who were in debt to him. There is a note of February, 1791, from William Gwyn at Neath regarding the bankruptcy of Mr. Dyer of Swansea and asking if Padley and other creditors would accept ' of an equal distribution of as much in the pound as his effects will produce.' Padley was also a creditor of William Dawkins of Kilvrough and was thus agent in the cause of his creditors throughout the greater part of 1791.

Already in 1790 Padley's position was becoming precarious. He writes to Mr. Edward King at Marino (a house which stood on the site of Singleton Abbey), asking for help in obtaining a loan of £250/0/0 from ' Mr. Eaton.' King answered, It is my opinion he cannot nun the least risque in advancing you ... if you had consulted me in time I think I could have devised some scheme that would have answered your purpose . . ' By October, 1790, Padley had assigned over all his estates and effects into the hands of Richard Phillips and Thomas Eaton of Swansea ' being gentlemen of character and property. In November, 1790 'Aynesworth and Hawkes ' of London wrote to say that they were prepared ' to take 17/— in the pound . . . an advantageous proposal.' The main claim on his estate seems to have come from cousins of his in London, named Bevan. It was for £1500/0/0, mainly rent received by Padley, for premises of theirs in Swansea. It was at this time, and to meet these claims, that Padley sold his estate in Yorkshire to George Holbourne, Esq. ; this seems to have given him temporary respite and through out the greater part of 1791 he retained his freedom. But during November he was arrested and thrust into prison.

Padley wrote that ' one of my creditors (and I believe the only one of them that would have done it) ~who had not signed the trust deed . . arrested me and I have been . . confined within the precincts of Swansea Castle (which hath some priviledges belonging to it).' His friends and family thereupon took out a commission of bankruptcy, being of time opinion that this was the best way to make him a freeman. This was done at the second meeting of his creditors in December, 1791. All his household goods and effects were to be sold and a dividend of his  estate made. He hoped to gain as many signatures as possible on his certificate which might then be presented at the third meeting of his creditors, due to take place on 24th January, 1792.

In the meantime William Padley spent a rather doleful Christ mas day in time Debtor's Prison drafting a letter to his daughter Mary in London, in which he mentions the attitude of his relations towards his bankruptcy. He writes, ' It thou canst he comfortable amongst our friends and relations till we can see clearer our way of settlement it may be best for thee to accept tho' they have invited in somewhat an ungracious manner . . I wish to give them no offence whatever until I get my certificate signed and confirmedly, which it is in their power to effect or prevent.' He ends, however, on a more confident note, and one which gives us some insight into the mind of a bankrupt, ' thy mother (is) tolerable (well) and myself better than I have for some time been ; those qualms that used to creep through me, though' unknown to any but myself, seem vanishing . . . ,

The regaining of Padley's freedom now depended on his obtaining the signatures of four—fifths (in number and in weight) of those of his creditors who had proved their debts before the committee, and to whom he was indebted for upwards of £20/0/0. It seems that this was forthcoming for at the third meeting of his creditors on 24th .January, 1792, he was released from imprisonment by  John Bullock, and as his old house had been ' taken by a gent,' he moved into Doctor Collins house in Castle Street.'

During the 1790s Padley's business began to recover, but the care of it seems to have been given increasingly to William's second son, Silvanus.

William Padley died either late in 1800 or early in 1801 ; his executors being his wife Elizabeth, Mr. Edward Hughes and Mr. William Grove of Swansea. He left four sons 'William, Silvanus, Paul and Timothy ; and two daughters Eliza and Mary.

Details of this last decade of his life are meagre but after his death, his son Silvanus, the new master of ' Padley's Yard ' was to attain a position at least of equal, and probably of greater importance in the affairs of the Corporation and of the Harbour Trust, than had his father.

 

 

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