From draper to being knighted: New history talk to shine light on life of Hartlepool’s Sir William Gray

The statue of Sir William Gray in Church Square.
The statue of Sir William Gray in Church Square.

An upcoming event will give a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most important figures in Hartlepool’s history – Sir William Gray.

Local history enthusiast Frances Wilson will give a talk titled ‘Sir William Gray – The Man, The Draper and the Gray Legacy to Hartlepool’ at Community Hub Central in York Road on Thursday, January 31.

Sir William Gray House.

Sir William Gray House.

Born near Blyth in Northumberland in 1823, William Gray moved to Hartlepool’s Headland at the age of 20 to start his own drapery business, following in the footsteps of his father Matthew.

In 1862 he was elected Mayor of Hartlepool. The following year, after selling his draper’s business, he formed a partnership with local shipbuilder John Punshon Denton, creating Denton, Gray and Co.

In 1887-88 he became the first Mayor of West Hartlepool – the only Mayor of both towns – and in 1890 he was knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to the two towns and industry.

He died in 1898, leaving a fortune worth more than £93million in today’s terms.

Hartlepool museums manager Mark Simmons with a casket which featured in a previous exhibition of the life and art collections of Hartlepool shipbuilder Sir William Gray.

Hartlepool museums manager Mark Simmons with a casket which featured in a previous exhibition of the life and art collections of Hartlepool shipbuilder Sir William Gray.

His younger son William Cresswell Gray inherited the family business.

Jackie Johnson, library officer at Community Hub Central, said: “Much has rightly been written about the Gray company’s ships, but this talk will focus more on Sir William’s life in general, his shops and the wider contribution the Gray family made to the town – including Sir William’s substantial role in civic life and his many philanthropic activities.”

The talk is on from 2pm to 3.30pm and is part of the Hub’s regular CHAT adult social group.

Admission is £1 per person, but places must be booked in advance on (01429) 272905 or emailing central.library@hartlepool.gov.uk

A ship built at Gray's shipyard heads down the slipway following its naming ceremony.

A ship built at Gray's shipyard heads down the slipway following its naming ceremony.