Sir William Collins helped to reshape Liberal Party organisation in Glasgow during the late 19th century. Born and educated in the city, he became a town councillor in 1868 and served as Lord Provost between 1877 and 1880. As head of an extensive printing and publishing company, founded by his father, also named William Collins (1789-1853), he was a highly successful businessman with a reputation for shrewd financial management.
Collins inherited his father's commitment to social activism and both men belonged to the evangelical Free Church. Contemporaries frequently described Collins junior as a "Puritan" and this image of moral earnestness was compounded by his advocacy of teetotalism. Believing in the power of personal example, Lord Provost Collins even banned alcohol from civic receptions – much to the consternation of fellow councillors. While some Glaswegians applauded his forthright temperance principles, others resented his efforts to compel people into sobriety.
He was Lord Provost when the City of Glasgow Bank collapsed in 1878. The blow to the local economy was so intense that there were fears of civil unrest and Collins was at the forefront of fund-raising efforts for the destitute. He was knighted in 1880 for public service. At a wider political level he was part of an influential circle of evangelicals who in 1878 formed the Glasgow Liberal Association, campaigning for radical social policies such as temperance, health and housing reform. In later life he became active in the affairs of Glasgow School Board. Teaching and learning had always been a family priority and the firm was one of the world's leading suppliers of educational texts. The Collins imprint survives today as part of the publishing giant, HarperCollins.
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