Philip “Polyby” Williams project

Reverend Philip Williams (1742–1830), classical scholar, vicar and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Williams' family and friends could have come straight out of the novels of Jane Austen, and this project marks the beginning of an interesting collaboration to publish over 200 letters by members of the Williams family and friends.

Living in and around Winchester, but with a footprint that spread over many parts of England, the Williams were well educated, well connected and lived a gentile middle-class life that hovered between the well-heeled landowner and the struggling curate. They were known to and connected with Jane Austen's family via the Bigg family of Manydown Park, near Basingstoke, which was only a short distance from the Steventon home of the Austens. Philip Williams was a scholar at Winchester College in the same year as Lovelace Bigg-Wither (father of the novelist's friends Alethea and Elizabeth Bigg, later Mrs Williams Heathcote), and the two men stayed friends for the rest of their lives. Philip Williams' daughters may even have been written into Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon — one as the heroine and the other as 'inspiration' for Mr Parker's hypochondriacal siblings.

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