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William Wilberforce

Childhood and Education

William Wilberforce was born on 24th August, 1759, in what is now known as Wilberforce House, Hull, to his parents, Robert and Elizabeth Wilberforce. His parents had him baptised a month later in Holy Trinity Church, Hull. William had three sisters, Elizabeth, Ann and Sarah (or Sally as she was affectionatley known). Unfortunately, only Sarah survived to adulthood.

The Wilberforce family were successful merchants, who traded in goods like wood and cloth and brought them back to Britain from northern Europe and the Baltic states. The family home, 25 High Street, reflected the family's wealth and was decorated with fashionable architecture of the day.  (Learn more about the history of Wilberforce House in the 'History Around Hull' learning journey). 

William was known to be a small and weak child with poor eyesight and he was often ill, but this did not stop him from going to school or taking part in musical activities or sports. William was known to have a beautiful singing voice. He also liked telling funny stories, playing practical jokes and was also a good mimic. William's parents arranged for him to attend Hull Grammar School where he was taught by Isaac Milner, who was to be a great religious influence and mentor.

When William was only 8 years of age, his father tragically died. William's mother then became ill and sent him to live with his Aunt and Uncle, in London. William lived with his Aunt and Uncle, Hannah and William Wilberforce, for two years and they cared for him as if he was their own son. They sent him to study at a small boarding school in Putney. William didn't like this new school very much, and he especially disliked the food!

Hannah and William were deeply religious and keen Evangelical Methodists. They took William to church regularly, where he enjoyed listening to bible stories and sermons by George Whitefield and John Wesley, who were prominent figures within the Methodist movement.

William's mother, Elizabeth, worried about his exposure to such a strong religious influence and when she was well again, she asked him to come back home to Hull. William did not return to Hull Grammar school but instead was sent to board at Pocklington Grammar School, where he studied and did well at Latin, English and History.

At the age of 17, William went to university at St. John's College, Cambridge. Here, he met William Pitt the Younger who was later to become Prime Minister and was also a lifelong friend.

William graduated from university in 1781, determined to become a Member of Parliament.

Click here to take an interactive journey through the life of William Wilberforce.

See where Wilberforce House is.»

Document icon Learning article provided by: Wilberforce House, Hull | 

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