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William Alexander was born in Needham Market, Suffolk, on 3rd January 1768 the third surviving son of Dykes and Martha Alexander. He was educated as Wandsworth and then apprenticed to Joseph Brown of Luton, a miller. However, after his father’s death in 1786 he returned home and took up the family business as a mealman. On 1st September 1796 he married Ann Tuke at the York meeting. They had two sons, William Henry and Joseph, although Joseph died in 1810 aged only 9.
Following economic recession during the Napoleonic Wars and a consequent fall in grain prices, Alexander was forced to close the failing business. With help from Ann’s family, the Tukes, the Alexanders moved to York in 1808 where they initially took charge of the Quaker girls’ school in Castlegate. At the same time, Alexander developed an interest in publishing and bookselling. The first four volumes bearing his imprint were published in 1811 and a premises for the new business was purchased; 3 Castlegate. He published over 200 volumes for Friends while operating the business, and was subsidiary publisher for 50 more. The publishing business was sold in 1828 to John Lewis Linney; it eventually became Sessions of York.
Alexander was active as a Friend but also as a citizen of York. He became a freeman by purchase in 1813, and was appointed chamberlain in 1818. He served as a member of the select vestry for St Mary’s, Castlegate and was an early member of the Improvement Commissioners. He was a member of the York Society for the Prevention and Discouragement of Vice & Profaneness, which founded a refuge for prostitutes wishing to escape their profession as well as being active in campaigns to abolish slavery and reform the working conditions for boy chimney-sweeps.
Alexander was also a prolific writer and the first editor, with his wife, of the Annual Monitor, a Quaker annual giving death notices and select obituaries for Society of Friends members who had died in the previous year.
He died at his home in Castlegate, York on 2nd April 1841 and is buried in the Friends Burial Ground now on Cromwell Road in the city.
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William K. & E. Margaret Sessions, The Tukes of York - Mainly an Account of Three Generations, York, 1971.
RG6/1213 SUFFOLK: Monthly Meeting of Woodbridge, Beccles