William Mattieu Williams (1820-1892)

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W.M. Williams is the only major figure involved in the Welsh coal oil industry to have been accorded an entry in the Oxford Dictionary National Biography.

The National Biography describes him as a science teacher and industrial chemist, and details how he was apprenticed to an optical instrument maker in Lambeth, then studied at the University of Edinburgh, before spending a period travelling in Europe. Returning to Britiain, he gave public lectures on his travels and on many other topics, before - in 1848 - playing a major role in founding Birkbeck School, of which he became headmaster. On the recommendation of Lyon Playfair (a major figure in shaping the life of James Young), Williams was appointed as master of sciences at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, where he instituted "penny lectures" and published many articles on popular science. He developed a particular interest in applied chemistry and was appointed a fellow of the Chemical Society in 1857. The Biography states (inaccurately), that he was appointed manager of the Leeswood Oil Company in 1863. He took up post as chemist to the Atlas Iron & Steel Works Sheffield in 1868, before returning to London in 1870 and devoting his time to writing, teaching and lecturing.

In his memoirs, Arthur Robottom credits W.M.Williams as being first to analyse Leeswood cannels and realise their potential for oil production. He then describes their subsequent business partnership.

W.M.Williams appears to have been the author of the the extensive and well illustrated entry of "Paraffine" in Ure's Dictionary of Arts. Manufactures and Mines, Vol III, Sixth Edition, 1867

Oil Industy Interests


  • WILLIAMS William Mattieu of the Grange, Neasden, Middlesex, gentleman, died 28th November 1892. Probate – London 23 February to Alice Williams, widow, George Combe Williams, professor of music, and Arnold Winkelreid Williams M.D. Effects £15,218 17s 7s.