Select Wilkinson Miscellany

Here are some Wilkinson stories and accounts over the years:

Wilkinsons in Early Durham and Northumberland Records

There were 113 Wilkinson entries in Durham and Northumberland parish records between 1521 and 1615.  They were quite spread around.  The table below shows where these Wilkinsons were recorded.


William Wilkinson and Mary Smythe

William Wilkinson caused a servant girl at Harperly Hall, Mary Smythe, to get pregnant. Because the birth would have been illegitimate and a marriage between William and Mary was inconceivable in those days, Mary was sent away to Litchfield in Derbyshire where she had the baby. 

Her son was named William Smythe Wilkinson, as shown in the 1550 Litchfield parish records.  In due course William moved to London, married, and worked there as a blacksmith.  His descendants were to be found in London over the next 150 years. 

During that time the Wilkinsons applied for a 'right of birth,' which was granted by the authorities.  This would imply that the family had attained a level of respectability so that it would be recognized as a legitimate family Ė thus removing the stigma of an illegitimate birth.

Lewis Wilkinson of this family was born in London near Fleet Street in 1686.   He emigrated to America in 1721 and settled in New Milford, Connecticut.

John "Iron Mad" Wilkinson

In the early 1760ís John Wilkinson and his brother William inherited their father's ironworks in Bersham in north Wales.  They founded the New Bersham Company.  Bersham soon led the world in the field of iron technology.  However, the two brothers fell out twenty years later. 

John Wilkinson was influential during his time in the design of cannon.  The traditional method involved casting a one-piece cannon with a core.  Since the hole was cast, it often introduced imperfections into the cannon which have catastrophic consequences for those using it.  In 1774 Wilkinson invented a cannon-boring machine which produced safer and more accurate cannons.  He later patented a method to make spiral groves in cannons that would project the ball further and straighter. 

In 1779 he was the major force behind the construction of an iron bridge, the world's first, across the Severn at Coalbrookdale.  In 1787 he launched the first iron barge.  His iron obsession reached its peak in the late 1790ís, when he paid to have iron windows, a pulpit and other fittings installed into a Methodist chapel in Bradley.  He became known as 'Iron-Madí Wilkinson. 

He died in 1808 a wealthy man.  He was buried in an iron coffin.

The Wilkinson Sword Company

The history of the Wilkinson Sword Company goes back to 1772 - when young James Wilkinson was apprenticed to Henry Nock, a noted gun maker of the day.  Henry Nock's shop was on Ludgate Street near St Pauls Cathedral in London.

James Wilkinson subsequently became a partner in the company, which in 1804 was appointed gun maker to King George III, the first of Wilkinson's royal warrants.  When Nock died, Wilkinson inherited the business and in the early 19th century, during the fighting that led to Waterloo, the company first started to manufacture swords.

By 1889 the company was established in showrooms in London and had a large works in Chelsea.  In that year, it took on the name of the Wilkinson Sword Company.  A few years later, the Wilkinson safety razor was introduced.

Wilkinsons from Martindale

Wilkinsons in the Martindale parish in Westmoreland have been traced back to the late 1600's.  Many of the children of Henry Wilkinson, born there in 1764, became clergymen.  The only son who did not was Henry Wilkinson who became a sea captain with the East India Company, but died a relatively young man in India. These Wilkinsons grew up at Ben Green which lies up the valley beyond Thang Cragg.

The Rev. Frederick Wilkinson, a Methodist missionary, came out to Australia and, after an adventurous time which included many conflicts with the authorities there, returned to England in 1855.  His brother Thomas was curate at Martindale at this time.  Thomas's son Thomas, also a minister, came out to Australia in 1839 and stayed.

Jemima Wilkinson, Universal Friend

In the summer of 1776, at the age of eighteen, Jemima Wilkinson fell sick and wasted away in bodily strength.  She constantly told her family her strange visions.  In October she appeared to fall into a trance state and seemed almost lifeless for a space of about thirty six hours. 

To the great surprise of her family she suddenly aroused herself, called for her garments, dressed, and walked among the assembled members of the household.  She disclaimed being Jemima Wilkinson, but asserted that the former individuality had passed away and that she was another being, a minister of the Almighty sent to preach his gospel and to minister to the spiritual necessities of mankind.  She took to herself the name of the Public Universal Friend.

Known hereafter as the "Universal Friend," she began to preach in her native Rhode Island, but soon spread her message across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.  She developed a following known as the Society of Friends that established a settlement in 1788 on the west shore of Seneca Lake.  Wilkinson and her followers constituted the first actual settlers in the Genesee country area of New York state.

Jemima Wilkinson was the first in a succession of religious leaders associated with "fringe" sects in upper New York state.  These would include Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, pioneers of Spiritualism such as Margaretta and Kate Fox, and other movements of lesser note like the New Light Baptists.

Harperly Hall, New York

In 1909, a group headed by the architect Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson bought the northwest corner of 64th Street and Central Park West to build a co-op "suitable for artists' studios," according to their corporate papers.  Wilkinson's son, J. Burke Wilkinson, said that his father chose the name Harperly Hall after an old manor house that the family called its ancestral home. 

Harperly Hall, which opened in 1911 with 76 apartments, was in every way distinct from the usual cookie-cutter design.  Wilkinson, who had little or no experience in apartment-house design, used the Arts and Crafts style, rarely seen in New York, throughout the building.  Instead of the usual showy lobby, Wilkinson organized the apartments in a U shape with a wide central courtyard.  This space was much broader than building laws required.  The fences along the sidewalk and the fountains at the rear successfully make a protected space out of what in lesser buildings is often just a barren walkway.

The original Harperly Hall co-op failed in 1941 and it was converted to a rental.  The rising real estate market of the 80's brought a reconversion to co-op in 1983.

Return to Top of Page
Return to Wilkinson Main Page