Bristow, William (1736–1808), clergyman and sovereign of Belfast, was born 24 October 1736 in Wiltshire, son of Skeffington Bristow, Church of Ireland clergyman, and Elizabeth Bristow (née Grattan), clergyman's daughter and cousin of Henry Grattan (qv). He was related by marriage to James Willson, MP for Co. Antrim. Bristow attended Colerne School, Wilts., and entered TCD on 26 June 1751; in 1754 he became a scholar, and graduated BA in 1756. After ordination he was curate in Aghadowey, vicar of Donagh, and rector of Balteagh, all in the diocese of Derry, and from 1772 to 1808 was vicar of Belfast, holding concurrently two other benefices, Camus-juxta-Bann and Kilmacrenan. In 1804 he was made vicar general of the diocese of Down and Connor. He was one of the most important men in Belfast, and was elected sovereign in 1786–88, 1790–96, and 1798. He was very active in the affairs of the Belfast Charitable Society, and gave land for its burying ground. He gave a pulpit in 1784 to the first Roman Catholic chapel in Belfast, but closed down a Sunday school opened by presbyterians and radicals such as Henry Joy McCracken (qv); in 1796 he was involved with attempts to arrest McCracken. Bristow was noted for generosity and sociability, and for wearing the sovereign's chain on ordinary occasions. Martha McTier (qv), who disliked him, remarked that he presided at a ball like a Minos, and called him ‘our Pomposo’ (Drennan letters, i, 301). After his death (22 December 1808) he was accorded the biggest funeral seen in Belfast up to that date. He married (9 March 1762) Rose, daughter of George Cary of Donegal; they had three sons and four daughters.
‘Belfastiensis’, UJA, 2nd ser., vii (1901), 203; viii (1902), 50; Mary McNeill, The life and times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770–1866: a Belfast panorama (1988), 99, 111, 209n.; A. C. W. Merrick and R. S. J. Clarke, Old Belfast families and the new burying ground . . . (1991), 32; J. B. Leslie, Clergy of Connor from Patrician times to the present day (1993), 236; T. W. Tone, Writings, ii (1–85), 49; Jean Agnew and Maria Luddy (ed.), The Drennan–McTier letters 1776–1793, i (1998)