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MacGregor 246Rev. William MacGregor - champion of the poor

William MacGregor was born in 1848 in Liverpool. His Scottish grandfather had made a fortune as a merchant and banker, whilst his father owned a thriving Liverpool iron foundry. William was educated at Rugby school in Warwickshire, then went to Oxford University where he proposed to study law, but instead chose a life devoted to the church. He held his first post of curate at Hopwas in Tamworth, Staffordshire and after a brief spell returning to Liverpool as vicar of St Matthias Church, he returned to Tamworth as Vicar of St Editha's Church.

Inspired by the 'Municipal or Civic Gospel' as promoted by George Dawson in Birmingham, William MacGregor sought to improve the lives of the poor in Tamworth in many ways:

  • taking landlords to task for the squalid state of tenants’ homes
  • campaigning for clean water and proper sewage systems in every home
  • fetching children out of workhouses and put them into family homes
  • taking orphans from the slums to holiday in his own home
  • creating a free library
  • setting up a working men’s club
  • acting as a mediator between the miners and colliery bosses when wages were drastically cut
  • starting a club where young men from all backgrounds would meet to debate topics, receive educational lectures and take part in sport
  • constructing a community swimming pool

He also financed Tamworth’s first hospital, built churches, gave land over to play areas. He was also a magistrate for the County and stood for Warwickshire County Council as a County Councillor between 1889 and 1901.

He also wanted to provide quality goods at fair prices for the benefit of the poor and working classes so he founded the Tamworth Co-operative Society which still survives today. In doing this, he became a target for terrible abuse, most notably from the rich shopkeepers who told him to keep his nose in religion and out of business. He was abused in the street, and damned in letters sent to him personally and to the Tamworth Herald. Vicious letters were sent to the bishop, complaining about his support for the new organisation. Some parishioners even left the church in protest at his stance.

Within a year he had resigned as the Vicar of Tamworth. An editorial which he wrote in the parish magazine in December 1886 sums up his distress at the bad feeling surrounding him. In the article he describes the first eight years of his stay in Tamworth as giving him some anxiety but also ‘much happiness.’ He then explains why the ninth year has opened 'under a cloud'; "My connection with the Co-operative movement, which is about to get a footing in Tamworth, is an offence to many who have hitherto worked cordially with me, and whom I have valued highly as friends and helpers." He then makes it clear that as much as he regrets the ill feeling that has arisen, he could not hold himself back from helping a movement "calculated to benefit morally, socially and politically a large number of people."

He continued to live in Tamworth, faithful to his beliefs and morals, held in esteem by ordinary working men and women.  He died there in 1937 at the age of 89.

In his lifetime he also became very interested in Egypt and took part in and sponsored many excavations. He was appointed Vice-President of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology in 1904. He was was recognised as an outstanding collector and in 1903, he created a purpose-built museum within his home to accommodate the growing number of objects. The collection of 8000 pieces was sold in 1921 and now many of its objects can be found in museums around the world including the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the British Museum.

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Geoff Knott, 21/02/2017

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