Some thirty nine years after his first candidacy, Sir William Wynne (1729-1815), was finally elected unanimously as Master of Trinity Hall in 1803. At the age of thirty-five Wynne had contested the election of 1764 with Sir James Marriott, also a fellow of the College and civil lawyer. Crawley tells us that the outcome was close and Marriott was elected by a slim margin (5 votes versus 3), with both men voting for themselves!
After a patient wait, Sir William Wynne, now aged seventy-three, finally succeeded Marriott in 1803. The Mastership of Trinity Hall was a prize worth waiting for and once he was installed as Master the floodgates of his generosity opened. He spent £1,500 on improvements to the Master’s Lodge and also turned his attention to improving the College Library.
His donations are recorded in the “Catalogue of books presented to the Library by the Right Hon: Sir Wm. Wynne, Master” (THAR/7/1/2/1). The new Master gave us an amazing 252 volumes in the space of just nine years, starting in 1804 (with the gift of 101 volumes) and ending in 1813, just two years before his death. Surprisingly there are very few dusty volumes on the law! Instead Wynne broadened the Library’s scope from that of an academic library specialising in the law to a gentleman’s ‘country house’ library.
There are books on English literature (Chaucer, Dryden and Milton), history, travel (Barrow’s Travels in Africa, Coxe’s Travels in Russia), the classics (Virgil, Thucydides), European literature (Racine in French and Boccaccio in Italian), oriental languages (Carlyle’s Specimens of Arabian poetry and Parkhurst’s Hebrew Lexicon), and above all the sciences: a magnificent 18 volume set of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London was donated to the Library over several years.
So what of the man who gave so generously to the Library? William Wynne came from a well-to-do Welsh family. His father, John Wynne (1677-1743) was a clergyman and Principal of Jesus College Oxford from 1812 until his marriage in 1820. In 1715 he was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph where he spent money freely on repairs to the cathedral and palace. As we have seen above, William was to follow his father’s example in becoming a Head of House (Cambridge instead of Oxford) and in spending on improvements (but this time to his College).
Bishop John Wynne was subsequently translated to Bath and Wells in 1727 and William was born a couple of years later. William did not go into the church, instead he followed his elder brother John (1724-1801) into the law and the Middle Temple. He came up to Trinity Hall in 1746, graduated in law in 1751 (LL.D. 1757) and was a Fellow of the College from 1755 onwards.
He practiced in the field of ecclesiastical law as a pleader in the Court of Arches (1757-1788) dealing chiefly with cases relating to marriage and probate. His career prospered steadily until it took off dramatically in 1788! In that year he was knighted, he became Dean of the Court of Arches (1788-1809) and a judge in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Prerogative Court (1788-1809). He continued to move upwards becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1789 and one of the Lords of the Treasury in 1790.
As Dean of the Court of Arches his name turns up constantly in the wills of the time. Perhaps the most interesting is that of a former member of Captain Cook’s crew, Alexander Mouat, which was proved before Sir William Wynne in London in 1794. Mouat was on Cooks’ last voyage, entering the crew of the Discovery as a midshipman at the age of 15. However, his will (in which he left everything to his wife Jane) was not written until 1790, by which time he had reached the rank of Lieutenant. The occasion of his will was probably his imminent departure on HMS Marlborough. Unfortunately, Mouat died just three years later on 11 October 1793.
Wynne was a gentleman, a wealthy lawyer and a pillar of society. His successful public career indicates a man with excellent social skills who was not afraid of hard work. An interesting glimpse is offered by the silhouette of Wynne in the National Portrait Gallery which depicts a portly gentleman of rather modest and solid demeanour. The inscription below the silhouette reveals: “There is no Portrait taken of him, he always resisting all application to sit to an Artist. Mr. Bockton the Proctor took this resemblance of him as he sat giving Judgement.” This is a man who lacked vanity, preferring instead to devote his precious time to his work!
Sir William Wynne became Master of Trinity Hall in the autumn of his life. He passed away in 1815 at the age of eighty-six and is buried at Northop (Flints.) where his father, Bishop John, had purchased the Soughton estate (now a luxury hotel!) in 1732. Wynne’s was a life in which his devotion to his College remained constant. As Master, his generosity enriched the holdings of College Library with a lasting legacy of fine publications from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
It could be argued that Wynne had the patience and Trinity Hall reaped the rewards!
Trinity Hall : the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975 / by Charles Crawley.