Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Friday, 11 May 2012

Plaque for Ulster born Lord Mayor of London

Short Biography
Sir William McArthur
Son of a poor Scots-Irish father William McArthur was born at Malin Co. Donegal, in 1809. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a woollen draper in Enniskillen. In 1831 he started a woollen export business in the Diamond in Londonderry. In 1841 he became a member of the town council, and that same year his younger brother Alexander went to Australia. William sent his firm’s woollen goods to his brother, who began to operate as an import-export merchant in Sydney. The gold rush increased demand for woollens; Alexander opened branches in various parts of Australia, and the McArthur brothers became wealthy. In 1857 William transferred the headquarters of the firm to London, and settled in Brixton Hill. By the mid-1860s the brothers had extended their activities into banking and insurance. 

In 1868 William was elected junior member for Lambeth, and continued to represent that constituency until the dissolution in 1885. His staunch Methodism informed his politics, and he led the movement in favour of the annexation of Fiji, where there was a strong Methodist missionary presence, achieving his aim in 1874. Apart from colonial affairs, William mainly devoted his attention in the House of Commons to educational or Irish questions.

William became Sheriff of London in 1867, an alderman in 1872 and Lord Mayor in 1880. Throughout his mayoralty he showed an active interest in colonial matters and in religious enterprises, setting a pious tone by forbidding wine, card playing and dancing at the Mansion House. He was one of the founders of the London Chamber of Commerce in 1881, and its first President. On 17 November 1882 he was made KCMG. He was always generous towards Methodist causes, including contributing to the establishment of Methodist College in Belfast, and laying its foundation stone in 1865. On his death he bequeathed over £150,000 to Methodist charities

McArthur died from heart failure on the London Underground on 16 November 1887. He is buried in Norwood cemetery.

The Plaque Unveiling - 26 April 2012
The Plaque
By an irony of fate, total abstainer McArthur's first business premises are now occupied by one of the Wetherspoons chain of pubs, whose founder is the Derry-born Tim Martin, and it is on this temple to the 'demon drink' that his commemorative plaque is prominently displayed.

The threatened rain stayed away and the cool and breezy late morning did nothing to dampen the cheerful and enthusiastic group of local and international businessmen and interested Derry citizens from celebrating the life and achievements of a local entrepreneur. William McArthur had started his business life in this spot and gone on to mighty achievements in London, becoming an international businessman, a Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London as well as being the founding President of the London Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Spurr chats with Willie Walsh
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle said that when William McArthur opened his first business within Derry's walls in 1831, he little knew this enterprise would lead to him becoming a prominent businessman in London, the city's Lord Mayor, a founder of the London Chamber of Commerce, and its first President. The Ulster History Circle was delighted to commemorate McArthur's achievements with this blue plaque, the tenth in the city, and was grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Derry Chamber of Commerce for their support. He thanked Mr Colm Cavanagh for his valuable help and advice throughout the preparations. He thanked Mr Willie Walsh, the current President of the London Chamber who had come from a very busy business life to unveil the plaque to his distinguished predecessor.

Alderman Maurice Devenney, Mayor of Derry City, welcomed everyone to the City and hoped that their visit would be a pleasant one. Like Sir William, he also was a Donegal man who had settled in the City. He thanked the Ulster History Circle, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce for organising the event.

Gerry Burns, Member of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for Northern Ireland said that the Fund was delighted to be involved in this project to raise awareness of individuals like William McArthur who have made significant contributions to the development of our society. The Blue Plaques were an excellent way of linking the buildings where these people once lived or worked to their lives and achievements, enabling us all to learn more about our heritage.

Tim Martin, owner of the Wetherspoons Inns chain, revealed that he had been born in Derry and remained a supporter of Derry City Football Club. He was delighted to be at the unveiling of the plaque on one of the firm's premises.

Colm Cavanagh talks about McArthur
Colm Cavanagh, London~Derry Connections, gave a short but interesting talk about Sir William, whom he described as a role-model for anyone seeking to be a success in life as well as business. Having started his business in Londonderry he expanded into Australia after his brother moved there for the good of his health, eventually moving to London where he became an Alderman and an MP, helping to set up the Chamber of Commerce and becoming its Founding President. His working day started at 6.00 a.m. and he faithfully followed a set of eight 'rules' which included an hour of scripture reading. He never drank alcohol. A devout Methosist all his life, when he died he left £150,000 to Methodist causes. He was grateful to Ulster History Circle for agreeing to erect the plaque to Sir William, to the Londonderry Chamber for inviting Mr Walsh to unveil the plaque to his predecessor and to Mr Walsh for agreeing to do so.

Willie Walsh unveils the plaque
Padraig Canavan, President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber was pleased that Mr Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airways Group and President of the London Chamber of Commerce, had agreed to speak to the Chamber's Annual President's Lunch and to unveil the plaque to his distinguished predecessor as President of the London Chamber, Sir William McArthur. The Chamber was pleased to support the unveiling and thanked the Ulster History Circle for its work in the City and elsewhere.

Mr Willie Walsh said that when he became President of the London Chamber of Commerce he was described as the first Irishman to hold the position, so it was a surprise to discover that this was not the case and that indeed the founding President in 1881 was also an Irishman. Apart from the fact that they were both Irishmen, he could find little in common other than that they both arose at 6 o'clock in the morning! One major difference was the fact that during McArthur's Presidency no alcohol was allowed in the Mansion House! Indeed looking at the work he had been involved in, he reckoned McArthur was more hard-working than he himself was. He was delighted to have been invited to unveil the plaque and he thanked the Londonderry Chamber and the Ulster History Circle for inviting him.