William Gibson | Goldsmith and Philanthropist
William Gibson was born in 1838, the son of a small farmer in Drumbroneth, Dromore, Co. Down. As a boy he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, James Crozier, who had a watchmaking establishment in North Street, Belfast.
At the age of 27, Gibson set up his own business in North Street, and after this was damaged in the 1864 Riots he opened new premises on the corner of Donegall Place with Castle Place, which became known as Gibson’s Corner. He took over the businesses of two successful jewellers, Hugh McCormick and Joseph Lee, and his business expanded to include factories in Clerkenwell, London and the Rue Martel, Paris.
In 1880, Gibson went into partnership with John Langman and founded the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company in Regent Street, London. In 1898 this became The Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co. Ltd. and their hallmark changed from W.G. & J.L. to G. & S. Co. Ltd. They produced diamonds, jewellery, wedding gifts, watches, clocks, silver and electroplated goods. The premises on the corner of Regent Street with Glasshouse Street extended to a quarter of an acre, and included a tea room. In 1928 the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co. Ltd. premises were totally rebuilt and in 1952 they amalgamated with Garrard & Co. Ltd. the Crown jewellers.
In 1891 Gibson took over Mappin Bros of Sheffield and London and registered his business as Messrs. Gibson & Co. Ltd. The Company exhibited in Paris, where Gibson was awarded the Cross of the Legion d’Honneur, and in Philadelphia and Chicago. The Company became the largest manufacturer of jewellery, silver and electroplated goods in England, and received many awards for “originality in high-class jewellery and fine watches”. The warehouse in Donegall Place and Castle Place was the principal source of supply in Belfast for the watch-making and jewellery trades.
Messrs. Gibson & Co. Ltd. manufactured gold and silver medals for the Commissioners of Intermediate Education, Ireland. Gibson presented elaborate silver cups to the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, and a new Mace for Belfast Corporation, which was first used in 1913 for the tercentenary of the granting of its Charter by King James I. He also presented Queen’s University with a gold Mace in 1909 to commemorate its new status as a University. Both Maces are still in use today (see further information in the GALLERIES.
He purchased the farm in Drumbroneth, Dromore where he had been born and built a large house there, Drumbroneth House, in which he lived while on business trips to Co.Down. He also had a house overlooking Hyde Park in London, and owned the Villa Lisnacrieve in Cannes.
William Gibson died, aged 74, on the 1st November 1913 at the Princes Hotel, Hove, Sussex, leaving an estate of £305,601. He was so well known in London that a special train was run from London to bring the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and leading businessmen to his funeral.
After several bequests, including £10,000 to Queen’s University, Belfast for the establishment of special agricultural scholarships, he directed that the residue of his estate should be used “for the purpose of assisting poor and deserving farmers and holding farms in County Down and County Antrim, Ireland”.