2 August 1858 – 13 August 1935
William Watson was the youngest of three sons of a master grocer. Born in Burley, Yorkshire, he moved to Liverpool with his family at an early age and grew up there. His early interest was in Romantic poetry but his first volume met with little critical acclaim. He came to national attention with the publication in 1891 of his work Wordsworth’s Grave, a tribute to William Wordsworth’s memory.
For this and his other work, he was tipped to be named Poet Laureate, but suffered a breakdown in 1892 and the role was given to another poet, whom Watson and many others felt was far inferior. Though he regained his reputation over the next few years, his poetry became progressively more political in nature, criticising government foreign policy with intensely anti-Boer War poems, for example. As a result, he was again passed over for the role of Poet Laureate, this time for being seen to be ‘politically unsuitable’.
Nevertheless, he continued to compose poems prolifically and in 1917, he was awarded a knighthood, in part for his poem in praise of David Lloyd George and partly for his support of the Great War effort. However, once the war ended, he was largely overlooked in favour of new, younger, more modern writers.
Sir William grew increasingly pessimistic and despondent about his lack of popularity. When he died in a nursing home in Sussex in 1935, his famed had dipped to a point where many were surprised to find that he had still been alive. His wife, 27 years younger than him, was subsequently forced to enter domestic service to make ends meet. He was buried in the family tomb in Childwall Churchyard.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.