William Henry Smith

William Henry Smith

Member of the family which founded W H Smiths newsagents who had an influential political career. W H Smith lived in Hambleden parish.

Link with the Chilterns

Lived in Hambleden parish






William Henry Smith’s grandfather, Henry Waldon Smith opened a small newsvendors called HW Smith in 1792 in Little Grosvenor Street, London. William Henry Smith’s father, also called WH Smith, then took over the business with his brother and in 1828 changed its name to the well known WH Smith.

The business flourished as bookstalls were opened up in stations of the rapidly expanding railway network and it was soon to be the principal newspaper distributor in the country. William Henry Smith (Jr) worked with his father and the business was again renamed, to WH Smith & Sons.  WH Smith now employs around 30,000 people and has over 650 outlets, and although the family still hold the Smith name, the company is a public limited company and they no longer play a role in its management.

William Henry Smith (Jr) became an MP in 1868 and in 1871 bought Greenlands, a large historic house in the parish of Hambleden which

now houses the Henley Management College. Smith was a rich and generous man funding all manner of local education, housing and welfare projects, ranging from the establishment of an infectious diseases hospital in Henley to a museum in the village. His political career was littered with influential posts such as First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, Irish Secretary and first Lord of the Treasury.  In fact, the Gilbert and Sullivan song with the famous line “now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Nav-ee” from HMS Pinafore was aimed at his appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty.

In 1891 Smith died and his widow was created Viscountess Hambleden.

Billy Hambleden, the third Viscount bought the Manor House that you can see today in the middle of the village in 1947.

Further Information

History of W H Smith plc

Grid Reference


What you can visit

The 17th century Hambleden Manor is not open to the public, though it can be seen from the adjacent road and the gardens are usually open once a year under the National Garden Scheme.

St Mary’s Church in Hambleden where you can visit WH Smith’s grave in the churchyard. You can also see the sea chest belonging to Lord Cardigan who led the charge of the Light Brigade and who was born in Hambleden Manor.