Sir William BLACKSTONE (1723–1780)
Judge and jurist
Wallingford Town Hall
William Blackstone was born in Cheapside, the son of a silk mercer, in 1723. He was brought up as an orphan child by his uncle Thomas Bigg, a London surgeon, who sent him to Charterhouse. He entered Pembroke College, Oxford, at the age of 15 and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1741. He continued his studies at Oxford and was elected Fellow of All Souls in 1744. He was called to the Bar in 1746 but his practice was not marked by any distinction.
All Souls was a more congenial environment. He became Dean of Laws and Bursar, exhibiting a passion for order and efficiency. He oversaw the completion of the Codrington Library, arranged and catalogued the books, and reviewed the leases of the college lands. By 1750 he was a very influential university figure. As Delegate to the Press he vigorously forced through reforms against fierce opposition. He turned his attention to establishing the university’s legislative independence and control over its own statutes.
He made a great impression when he delivered a course of lectures on English Law, which made him the obvious choice as first Vinerian Professor of English Law in 1756. From 1765-69 he published the Commentaries on the Laws of England, a lucid account of the Common Law and the unwritten constitution, accessible to the general reader as well as to lawyers. The book became the most influential and widely circulated law book ever published in the English language, running to 23 editions by 1854 and 100 editions in the USA by 1900. The Commentaries played their part in the drafting of the American Constitution.
In 1761 Blackstone became Head of New Inn Hall at Oxford and also MP for Hindon, and later for Westbury. In 1766 he retired from his Oxford Chair and the headship of New Inn Hall, although he continued to take an active interest in such Oxford matters as the building programme at Queen’s College and the amenity of the Swinford Toll Bridge. In 1770 he was made a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.
His personal life had been transformed in 1761 when he married Sarah Clitherow and was obliged to give up his All Souls’ fellowship. They had nine children to whom he was a devoted father. He had been made Recorder of Wallingford in 1749 and built for himself Castle Priory House on the banks of the river there. He died in 1780 and is buried in St Peter’s Church, Wallingford. He is also commemorated by an imposing statue in the Codrington Library at All Souls.
- Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Wilfrid Prest; David Nash Ford, Royal Berkshire History, www.berkshirehistory.com
- Picture: Wallingford Town Hall
The plaque was erected on Wallingford Town Hall, where Sir William sat as Recorder, on 1st October 2009 by the Mayor of Wallingford in the presence of the all the councillors in full regalia, the High Steward, and other dignitaries.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE
Presided here as Recorder of / Wallingford
The Laws of England
Wallingford Town Council