Francis Haydn Williams (1836– 1910) Minister and Social Activist
Francis Haydn Williams became minister at Flowergate Old Chapel in 1888. Within a short time his concern for the poor became a campaigning issue. He attacked the unfair rating system where the poor living on the east side paid one shilling and sixpence in the pound and the more affluent on the west only eightpence. He argued for children to have the right to use their school playgrounds at weekends and during the holidays. And his most determined and prolonged campaign was against the lord of the manor, Sir Charles Strickland who extended the boundaries of his property on the Abbey Plain on a number of occasions - an encroachment on to common land which he referred to as `the only public playground for a town of 14,000 inhabitants.” He had some success in recovering parts of the Abbey Plain and the West Cliff where he tore down railings enclosing land. His action led to the re-opening of a footpath to Mallyan Spout and the discontinuation of a charge of 2d per person for using it.
Francis Haydn Williams at the pulpit, Flowergate Chapel, courtesy of Friends of the Chapel
His early work in the Ordinance Survey department in Southampton equipped him with knowledge about public rights of way that were being disregarded by landowners in the Whitby area. He led walks through fields and farms where land had been appropriated. These occasions were very newsworthy: The Whitby Gazette reported him leading a group of local men through a kitchen extension built over a right of way at a farm near Saltwick. He became a celebrated character in the town but these exploits didn`t endear him to those with property and power. Various injunctions were levelled against him by Sir Charles Strickland which resulted in 3 prison sentences.
He died after a short illness aged 74 years having battled against injustice in his fight to alleviate the extreme poverty of many of those that he lived amongst
The blue plaque commissioned by Whitby Civic Society, in memory of Francis Haydn Williams, was installed on the entrance to Flowergate Old Chapel at a small ceremony on Sunday 19 September, 2021.
John Field, Chair of Whitby Civic Society with Rev Margaret Kirk and Friends of Flowergate Chapel