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SHAREHOLDERS OF THE SOMERSETSHIRE COAL CANAL

 

William Meyler

 

Born:

13 December 1755, Newborough, Anglesey

Married: 1

c.1781 Elizabeth Salway

Married: 2

1786 Mary Hyatt of Minchinhampton

Died:

10 March 1821 at Bath

THE ABBEY CHURCH YARD IN THE 1880s

Showing Meyler's later bookshop and library, then occupied by James Davies, to the left.

This row of shops was demolished in 1892 to make way for the present concert hall.

William Meyler 1755 - 1821

A well-known and successful bookseller and publisher, who played a prominent and popular rôle in the cultural life of Georgian Bath.

Born of a respectable family in Newburgh (Niwbwrch) on the Isle of Anglesey, William Meyler was educated by his uncle Rev.Thomas Meyler, then master of the Free Grammar School in Marlborough. Although originally only fluent in Welsh, he quickly showed talent for the classics and the commercial arts, and was therefore apprenticed as bookbinder to Andrew Tennent, a prominent bookshop owner in Milsom Street in Bath. On finishing his apprenticeship in the early 1770s, Meyler opened his own bookshop business in partnership with the artist and drawing master Joseph Sheldon*, based in a well-established subscription lending library in the Orange Grove which they acquired in 1776.

Even while still learning his trade, Meyler was already attracting attention as a talented poet, particularly at Lady Miller's poetry salon at Batheaston Villa where he formed lasting friendships with several of the leading literary figures of the day. He went on to write many poetical addresses and lyrical works performed at the theatre at Bath and widely published, as well as gaining a reputation as an amateur actor. He was later also a member of the prestigious Bath Harmonic Society, a glee-club for catch-singing which the Prince of Wales himself joined in 1799. All these activities naturally contributed to the success of his business. After acquiring sole ownership of the shop in 1781, Meyler was able to branch out as a publisher himself, including, from 1783, maps of Bath produced in association with another bookseller, William Taylor, who published the Bath Guide.

Like other booksellers at that time, Meyler's shop served as an information bureau for a rapidly expanding literate population (lettings, lost property, &c), and as an agency for local voluntary organisations such as the 'Bath Guardians for the Protection of Persons and Property from Felons, Forgers, Cheats, Receivers of Stolen Goods, Swindlers, Highwaymen &c'. By 1790 Meyler was not only agent for the State Lottery, but also secretary of such insurance societies as the Bath Five Years Tontine Society, the Militia Society and various charitable associations. He became particularly busy from 1792 onward, following the revolution in France, serving as secretary of the Bath branch of the Association for Preserving Liberty, Property and the Constitution of Great Britain, and, after war broke out, for raising subscriptions for a County volunteer defence force and for clothing for British troops abroad.

By 1792 the literate population of Bath had grown to such an extent that Meyler was sufficiently confident to launch a new newspaper, the Bath Herald and General Advertiser, in competition with three others including the Bath Chronicle owned by Richard Cruttwell (SCC shareholder mentioned in our previous issue). This proved sufficiently popular for an amalgamation in 1793 with the Bath Register and General Advertiser (becoming the Bath Herald and Register), and for Meyler to buy out his partners in 1795 and set up own printing business in Kingston Buildings. In the meantime, Taylor and Meyler continued to produce maps, and it was the 1799 edition of their Map of Five Miles round the City of Bath which William Smith used as a base for his first geological map, exhibited to the Bath and West of England Society that year.

Now accepted as a prominent citizen, Meyler was duly elected onto the City Council in 1801, performing the duties of Constable and Bailiff over the next decade. At some earlier stage he had also become a freemason, and there is mention of him in 1805 serving as Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Somerset under his close friend Col.Leigh-Smith of Combe Hay, then Grand Master. This has a bearing on the Coal Canal, as it was evidently Col.Smith who, as friend and equerry to the Prince of Wales, arranged for the Prince to attend the demonstration of the Caisson Lock at Combe Hay during his visit to Bath in 1799. On being informed by Col.Leigh of the publication of one of Meyler's own works entitled Poetical Amusement on the Journey of Life (1806), the Prince 'who had seen and admired the author' was pleased to have the book dedicated to him.

In 1808 Meyler moved his business to No.5 Abbey Church Yard, immediately next to the newly re-built Pump Room, with his son Thomas then aged 16 as partner. However, like all Bath shopkeepers, he had always rented out other parts of his premises for lodgings, and it was at Meyler's shop in the Abbey Church Yard that the poet Shelley and Mary Godwin (while completing her work on Frankenstein) lodged during their stay in Bath in 1816/17.

Meyler reached the peak of his civic career in 1818, when he was elected a Justice of the Peace, but by this time he health was in decline. He died in 1821 and was buried in Bath Abbey, where his memorial tablet can still be seen. He left the considerable sum of £4,000, much of which was in Government Securities, to his family who successfully carried on the business until the 1870s.

 

* Mentioned in article on Charles Spackman. Possibly related to SCC shareholder William Sheldon.

 

Mike Chapman


Sources:

Kevin Grieves, 'A Literary Entrepreneur: William Meyler of Bath', Bath History XII, Bath Preservation Trust 2011.

Trevor Fawcett, Georgian Imprints: Printing & Publishing in Bath 1729-1815, Ruton 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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