Ridgeway, Sir William (1853–1926), classical scholar, was born 6 August 1853, youngest son of the Rev. John Henry Ridgeway, of Ballydermot, King's Co. (Offaly), and Marianna Ridgeway, daughter of Samuel Ridgeway of Aghanvilla, King's Co. His parents may have been cousins; his family were descended from settlers who had left Devon and come to Ireland during the reign of James I. Educated at Portarlington school, he then entered TCD and, an outstanding classical scholar, won several prizes including the Berkeley Greek medal and the Vice-Chancellor Latin medal. In 1876 he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, transferring to Gonville and Caius College in 1878. He graduated fifth in the classical tripos in 1880 and was made a fellow of Caius. In 1881 he was passed over for a classics post at the college, which greatly disappointed him, and two years later he moved to Cork as professor of Greek at QCC (1883–92), though he managed to spend time in Cambridge each year. He published his first book in 1892, The origin of metallic currency and weight standards. This seminal work totally destroyed the theory that Greek coinage was purely religious in origin, and he illustrated the possible meanings of the symbols used on this coinage, often referring to Greek literature. On the basis of this work he was elected to the Disney professorship of archaeology at Cambridge (1892), resigning from his chair in Cork.
This appointment marked the turning point in his career and, an advocate of the new scientific methods being developed by German classicists such as Mommsen, Schliemann, and Mueller, he soon established a considerable reputation among European classical scholars. While he pressed for a reorganisation of the classical department of the university and later backed plans for a new library building, he was an opponent of other reforms in Cambridge, campaigning against the abolition of the compulsory Greek exam. Renowned as a misogynist, in 1897 he led the opposition against the proposal to award women degrees. Not noted as a great lecturer, he did impress his students in tutorials and seminars with his vast knowledge and enthusiasm.
In 1901 he published The early age of Greece, in which he drew distinctions between Mycenaean culture and the iron age culture in central Europe. This was intended to be a two-volume work, but the second was not completed by the time of his death. Further publications included The origins and influence of the thoroughbred horse (1905), The oldest Irish epic (1907), Who were the Romans? (1907), The origin of tragedy (1910), and Dramas and dramatic dances of non-European races (1915). He published numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Hellenic Studies and the Classical Review, and also contributed articles to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In his later years he also frequently published articles in The Times.
A member of the council of the Cambridge senate (1900–04), he was made Brereton reader in classics in 1907. He also held positions in other universities and was elected Gifford lecturer in natural religion (Aberdeen, 1909–11), Stokes lecturer in Irish archaeology (Dublin, 1909) and Hermione lecturer in art (TCD, 1911). He was awarded honorary doctorates from TCD (1902), Manchester (1906), Aberdeen (1908), and Edinburgh (1921). During the course of his career he had developed connections with numerous learned societies, was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1904, and was president of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1908–10). He was knighted in 1919 and died at his home in Fen Ditton, near Cambridge, 12 August 1926.
He married (1880) Lucy Samuels of Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, sister of Arthur Warren Samuels (qv), judge of the high court in Ireland; they had one daughter. A portrait by Richard Jack is in Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.