William EXALL
(1808 – 1881) 

Life story told by Cynthia and Steve Thomas. Cynthia is a descendant of Sarah Barrett.

William Exall was born in Godalming, Surrey in May 1808. He was the son of John Exall and Lucy Bridger.  Lucy was the sister of Sarah Bridger (Barrett) and of Richard Bridger. They were married on 17 Sep 1794 in St James Church, Clerkenwell.  This made William Exall a nephew by marriage to George Barrett and a first cousin to William Bridger and his siblings.

The Exall family migrated to Richmond, Virginia, USA when William was two years old.  William Exall was apprenticed to a book binder but he soon joined his two brothers in establishing an agricultural machinery business.  The Barretts and the Exalls must have been in contact because William Exall’s engineering expertise led George Barrett to ask him to return from the USA to run the design side of the engineering works.  In this he was very successful with many patents to his name.  William subsequently became a partner of the firm which was renamed ‘Barrett, Exall and Andrewes’ in 1842. The Exalls who remained in America did well.  William’s brother
Henry Exall who died in 1891 and merited an obituary in the New York Times:

“Henry Exall, a native of England, and the first architect to open an office in Virginia, died suddenly yesterday at Richmond of apoplexy, aged seventy-nine years.

George G Exall, born in 1816 became a prominent Baptist Minister in Virginia, opening his own Academy. He named his eldest son George Barrett Exall – presumably after his Uncle in Reading. His second son, Henry (grandson of Lucy Bridger) achieved even more renown:

“HENRY EXALL, of Dallas, was born at Richmond, Virginia, August 30, 1848. He is [the] son of Rev. George G. Exall, a Baptist minister well known in Virginia and the South, who moved from England when but a child. His paternal grandfather was an English astronomer and divine of considerable renown. His mother is Angy E. (Pierce) Exall, a daughter of Joseph Pierce, who was a ship-builder of Philadelphia, and the representative of a family long prominent in naval construction in this country. Both branches of his family have an ancient and honorable lineage that extends to a very early period in American and English history. Mr. Exall’s early education, interrupted when he was thirteen years of age by the Civil war, was acquired at his father’s academy. Two years later his strong Southern sympathies made him a soldier in the cause.”

“Henry Exall was a Confederate veteran, one of the youngest soldiers to serve in General Lee’s Army of Northem Virginia. He got his start in Texas here in Tarrant County, in the Grapevine-Minter’s Chapel area, and went on to become one of the best known Texans of his day. He was a millionaire before 1900, and died in Dallas in 1913, a known and respected leader in several fields. There is an almost limitless amount of data to be found dealing with Mr. Exall and his long, distinguished career.”

I am not sure about the references to his grandfather (John) being a mystic and an astronomer – I can find no reference to this although he was a Baptist lay preacher and in 1793 he applied for a license to hold meetings.  This is where some of his children were christened.  John was a shopkeeper at this time.

(National Archives: Application by John Exall and William Jackson who teach at a congregation meeting in a licenced meeting house in Dogflood Street, Farnham, for a licence, with Justices approval added; copy of the thirty-nine articles, signed except for articles 34, 35, 36 and part of 20 and 37. QS2/6/1793/Eas/5-6 1793)

In the 1871 census William Exall’s two daughters are in London and with them is a John S Exall, aged 22, a visitor from Richmond, Virginia USA – presumably a cousin. Lucy died in 1833, John having died in 1822. (Both in Richmond, Virginia). 

The inscriptions read:

John Exall

 Birth:  unknown

Death:  Sep. 9, 1822


Sacred In the memory of

John Exall Senr.

a Native of England

and a Minister of the Gospel of Christ

he died Sept. 9th 1822

aged 52 years.

Removed from St. Johns Church yard

By his son H. Exall

Burial: Hollywood Cemetery

Richmond, Richmond City

Virginia, USA

 Lucy B. Exall

 Birth:  unknown

Death:  Jul. 21, 1833


Sacred In the memory of

Mrs. Lucy B. Exall

Consort of the late

John Exall of this City

she died July 24, 1833

aged 57 years.

Removed from the City cemetery

by her Children H & G. G. Exall

Burial: Hollywood Cemetery

Richmond, Richmond City

Virginia, USA

William Exall became a wealthy man and was a prominent councillor, alderman and mayor of Reading.  His first wife, Frances died in 1863.  He married Elizabeth Ibbetsen in 1864.  When he died he was given a prominent obituary in the proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers: http://www.icevirtuallibrary.com/content/article/10.1680/imotp.1882.22013


In 1877 Alice Exall, William’s youngest daughter married Alfred Palmer, son of George Palmer who was one of the founders of Huntley and Palmers biscuit company.  This business started as a small confectioners shop in Reading in 1822 but by 1900 they employed over 5000 people and were the largest biscuit factory in the world.  Alfred was the engineering director for the company and they were wealthy enough to build a new house, East Thorpe, designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who designed the natural history museum).  This was their town house.

In 1911 they donated this house to the University of Reading and it became a hall of residence until 2001.  It is now the Museum of English Rural Life – part of the University.  Two weeks ago we were lucky enough to have a behind the scenes tour of the building as part of National Heritage days.  We wondered if William Bridger might have been to the house to visit his cousin.  He lived close by. Their country house was Wokefield Park – about three miles away from where we live.  It is now a conference centre/country hotel/golf course.  I drove past it for years without realising there was a distant Bridger connection.

William had become housebound towards the end of his life. He died at Holy Brook House in Castle Street, his home, on 14th July 1881. The House still stands on Castle Street, opposite Thames Valley Police Station.

His obituary stated that “Mr. Exall was a man of considerable force of character, and, though not gifted with the power of eloquence, his sound sense never lost its effect on those whom he addressed, and his geniality and urbanity of demeanour towards those with whom he came in contact won him the respect of all classes.”



Note: The MERL  (Museum of English Rural Life) collections have a model of a threshing machine made in 1847 by Barrett, Exall & Andrewes at Katesgrove Iron Works, Reading. The machine itself was likely driven by four horses, and the operator stood on the platform.

Photo taken from the University of Reading archives database.

Buried in Section 19, Row C, Number 6