William Primmer Mears was baptised on the 28 May 1815 at the parish Church of St Mary, Southampton. His parents were Richard and Sophia Mears, nee Sophia Primmer, and they lived in Kingsland Place, a working class district sandwiched between the Town Fields and the smart Regency developments further north. Richard’s occupation is given as “labourer”
William married his first wife Honor Burt on Christmas Day, 1835, and they appear on the 1841 census living in John Street. Honor died on the 30 April 1848: the couple do not appear to have had any children.
The 1851 census shows William back in Kingsland Place, in Winchester Street, a widower sharing his house with another family, the Roberts, and entertaining his friend Joseph Leach, lately one of the masters at the local Holy Trinity National School, but now a Merchant’s Clerk. A few weeks later William will be a witness to Joseph’s marriage, at St Mary’s, to Elizabeth Sait, and by 1861 he himself will have married again, to Susannah Apsey, a schoolmistress. The census shows them living at “Zion Chapel Lodge,” still in Kingsland Place. An infant school had been founded by the Rev James Crabb, ex-Wesleyan minister and minister of Zion Chapel (“no distinctive name”)
Also by 1861, William had become an accredited Local Preacher. The earliest Local Preachers’ meeting minutes, late in 1851, record that the Superintendent minister was to “converse with Bro Mears and Bro Leach.” William was fully received on the plan at the meeting on Dec 20th 1851. The circuit had suffered the loss of several key local preachers to the Wesleyan Reformers in early 1851, so men like William and his friend Joseph were very welcome on the plan.
The local Protestant Defence League went to some lengths to raise an “Anti-Maynooth petition” in 1855, circulating the local nonconformist ministers and asking for names of men of influence in their congregations. John Philp, the Wesleyan minister, listed 22 names: names of shipping captains and drapers, an Ordnance Survey Officer and the Borough’s medical officer of health. The last 3 names are bracketted together: Mr Isaac, Mr Mears, Mr Leach. “These latter are men in humble life, but men of good sense who may be able to influence the working classes.”
William was very active in other ways on the circuit, supporting the village chapel at Bitterne as a trustee and class leader for 30 years 1850-1880.
The 1871 census shows William’s occupation as “Builder”, a step up from his earlier occupation of “Slater.” By this time he is living in Bevois Street, a growing neighbourhood east of Kingsland, possibly in a house he built himself. He and Susannah now have 3 children: William Emerson, aged 8; Sophia, aged 4; Lawson (a girl) aged 2. Susannah’s mother and sister are also living with them. Susannah died on the 16 May 1874, and by 1881 William has re-married. His new wife is Ellen, and she too is a staunch Methodist, a fellow class leader.
Before the next census, William had died, leaving a person estate of £305 14s 5d
He received an obituary in the Southampton Times of 21 January 1888:
“It is with sincere regret that we have to record the death of Mr William Mears, which took place at his residence, 135 Clifford Crescent, on Monday morning [16 January]. Mr Mears was well-known as a member of the Wesleyan community, and a temperence worker for nearly half a century. In both these departments of labour the firmness and integrity of his character were made manifest, and his self-sacrificing labours, in wheich he was upborne by a steady unfaltering enthusiasm, won for him the respect and esteem of a large circle of friends. As a local preacher and class leader in the Wesleyan body, he long held one of the most prominent positions in the district, and was reckoned a very welcome supply wherever he might be planned. It is stated that during his 45 years work as a Wesleyan local preacher, he was never known to fail on a single occasion to keep his engagement, and he was wont to remark that in the fulfilment of these engagements he had walked equal to twice round the world. As a class leader, he was very much loved, and in denominations other than that to which he was especially attached, Mr Mears has rendered willing and acceptable service. Mr Mears was born at Southampton and has never resided out of it. He was an ardent Liberal, but always held that a liquor probitionist had the highest claim to his Parliamentary vote. Towards the end of last year his health finally failed, but he pursued his numerous duties till within four months of his death. All this work was voluntary, and besides taking the whole of his Sundays – for he was sumultaneously leader of class meeting at East Street and at Bitterne – often five nights in the week were generously devoted to the benefit of others. His last preaching engagements by the plan were at East Street on August 21st, and Nursling the Sunday following. After that he went to Longdown for the benefit of his health, and there took part in a series of special services. But his hitherto robust health had given way, and on his return home, at the beginning of October, it was evident that his life’s work was almost done. He became gradually weaker, and passed away on Monday morning, being within a week of completing his 73rd year, he having been born in 1815. Mr Mears leaves a widow (his second wife), one son, and two daughters. It may be of interest to add that on the last preacher’s plan on which Mr Mears figured, and of which he expressed the opinion that it would be his last, his son’s name also appeared for the first time.
The funeral took place yesterday afternoon. a preliminary service was held in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, East Street, the Rev W Malpas (superintendent of the district) and the Rev T Lawson officiating. The body of the building was filled by the congregation, which consisted chiefly of lay preachers and speakers from surrounding country places. The Rev W Malpas delivered an address on the life of the deceased. The choir then rendered the hymn “The Christian’s Good Night”, Mr Hendy presiding at the organ. This concluded the service, and the remains were conveyed by the bearers to the funeral coach, the pricipal mourners and friends following in some eight carriages. A large crowd of poor people gathered in front of the chapel, from which the cortege proceeded on its way to the Southampton Cemetery.
Henry Pond, a reporter with one of the other local papers, the Hampshire Independent, wrote a letter published in the same issue.
“Sir-Kindly permit me thus metaphorically to place a friendly wreath on the newly-made grave of one of our devoted worthies whose death had occurred this week.
With William Mears I have had the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance and friendship from early boyhood. Born and reared under anything but favourable circumstances and surroundings, he, as a very young man, became he subject of strong religious convictions, and, attaching himself to the Wesleyan Methodist body, has done good work in that sphere of Christian labour to an extent, and with results, that can never be fully known to his fellow mortals. He was the conductor of the first Band of Hope in this town for over thirty years, until failing eyesight chiefly caused his retirement from that useful sphere. Quiet in demeanour, cheerful and happy in temper, unostentatious and unpretentious in manner, William Mears has led a most exemplary life in his humble sphere, comparatively obscure as far as this world’s degrees of honour may reckon him, but truly one of “God’s nobility” Unrtiring and indefatigable in work, as a local preacher, a class leader, a Sunday School teacher, a temperence advocate, and all kindred efforts he spent over fifty years pf his life, in addition to following his trade occupation, and he has left behind him a name and a memory which will long flourish fragrantly amongst all who knew him.”
The foundation stone of the Mears Memorial Schools at Bitterne was laid 30 June 1890.
His daughter Lawson married John Woodin, another Local Preacher.
William Emerson Mears entered the Wesleyan Methodist ministry in 1892 from the Haiti District Synod, and died in the Dominican Republic 11 Nov 1945.