William was born in Wolverhampton on 29 May 1881, the son of William Thomas and Anna Maria Beeston. They were living at 24 Wanderers Avenue, Wolverhampton in 1901, along with William’s sister, Gertrude. William was an assistant librarian. In 1905, William married Caroline Annie Jones, and they had a daughter, Florence Ruby, in 1908. The family were living at 3 Broad Lane, Bradmore, Wolverhampton, in 1911, and William was working as a Sub Librarian for the Borough Council. In May the same year, he was appointed Chief Librarian on the death of the existing postholder, John Elliot.
William served as a Special Constable during the First World War. In 1916, he was called up for military service. At the age of nearly 40, his fitness was assessed as C3, which was the lowest grade of medical fitness awarded. A debate in the House of Commons in June 1918 quoted from the War Office book Registration and Recruiting that Category C fitness were “free from serious organic disease, able to stand service conditions in garrisons at home” and specifically C3 were “only suitable for sedentary work”. With this in mind, and as the only member of staff of the Library of military age left (the remaining men had been replaced “by girls of from 15 to 19 years of age”), William applied for military exemption.
In preparation for the Tribunal on 9 February 1917, he wrote to other Chief Librarians around the country who had already been granted military exemption for advice, and received several responses. Mr W. C. Berwick Sayers of Croydon Public Libraries, stated that the grounds for his exemption was “my indispensability for the efficient working of the libraries”, and he mentioned the War Office book on the Group System which stated that “administrative technical officers of municipalities may be exempted with the concurrence of the military representative.” The exemption of George A. Stephen of Norwich was “on the grounds of national interest, having regard to the particular work of this Library and its staff, and that I am an official of a local government authority, and therefore may be regarded as in a certified occupation.” He advised William to “prove your indispensability rather than to quote precedents on which the tribunal may rightly argue that the conditions may be different.”
Alfred Errington of Batley again mentioned that the Certified list issued by the Local Government Department, as well as confirming the exemption of officials such as Gas Managers and Electrical Engineers, states “that other officials on the administrative or technical staffs, are to be exempted if the Military Representative agrees”. The librarians of both Norwich and Batley stated that, as other staff were already serving, there would be “no one to carry on the work efficiently” in their absence. Finally, Wilfred E. Barnes, Chief Librarian of Greenwich, had been granted conditional exemption on the grounds of being “chief officier in an administrative department of Local Government service”, but acknowledged that if his medical fitness had been classed higher, they would not have applied for exemption.
A. Weaver, of Wolverhampton Borough Council, was not able to attend the Tribunal, but wrote about how William was “obliged to be at the Library the whole of the day”, and mentioned his work as a Special Constable. He acknowledged that the Library could be closed, “but as the popularity of the Library is increasing, and the record number of Books having just been issued…, the Committee unanimously ask for total exemption of their Librarian.”
The Tribunal took place on 9 February 1917, and was reported in the Express & Star on the same date. Councillor A. C. Skidmore stated that if William served, the library would have to close. He also pointed out that “All over the country Chief Librarians had been exempted”, thus ignoring the advice of George Stephen. The Military Representative, Mr Arthur N. Brevitt, agreed that “the position might be of municipal importance, but was it of national importance?” He left it to the Tribunal, who granted him exemtpion conditional upon him remaining in the same occupation and continuing as a special constable.
William did continue in that role, and by 1939, William and Caroline were living at “Bowness”, 4 Tudor Crescent, Wolverhampton. William died on 1 July 1952 at 323 Wolverhampton Road, Heath Town. His address by this date was 36 Meadow Road, Wolverhampton. The value of his effects was £2131 12s. 6d.