On this day in history : 24th June 1825 – The birth of William Henry Smith, who expanded the family business ‘W.H.Smith’ – and was the first to sell newspapers and books at railway stations….

Preserved W.H.Smith stall (Horsted Keynes branch) at the Bluebell Line – Image credit : Dan Davison CC BY 2.0

William was born in London and was educated at grammar school before joining the family business in 1846 to work alongside his father; the company became W.H.Smith & Son…. The first newsstand was opened at Euston Station in 1848 and was followed by others at Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool stations in 1850…. W.H.Smith & Son was to become a household name….

The company had originally been formed by Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna in 1792, as a small newsagents in Little Grosvenor Street, London…. Henry died soon after his son William Henry was born – Anna joined forces with a business associate, Zaccheus Coates, to continue running the business…. After the death of Coates William and his older brother helped their mother run the company – and when she died it was William, with the better business sense of the two brothers, who took over the running…. It became W.H.Smith, the ‘Son’ being added when William Henry Jr joined hm….

As well as its railway station outlets the firm had a publishing business based in Cirencester and from 1860-1961 it ran a library service….

William Henry Jr married Emily in 1858 and they had six children, two sons and four daughters…. Now a family man with a well established business William Henry was to launch a highly successful political career…. He was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1868 and then in 1874 he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury…. In 1877 he was made First Lord of the Admiralty; there are those who claim he was the inspiration for the character of Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera ‘HMS Pinafore’….

In 1885 William became Chief Secretary for Ireland – and he served twice as the Secretary of State for War…. He was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons in 1887 and became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1891…. He died not long after, in the October of 1891, at the age of 66 – whilst at Walmer Castle in Kent….

William Henry Smith – Public domain

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