The Wilkinson family
Founders of one of Birmingham's most important textile businesses



Children of Henry


Other sources

  1. Wilkinson & Riddell Limited, 1851-1951, by John Wills, privately printed, 1951
  2. Various correspondence with John C. Bragg
  3. Family trees of the Wilkinson and Swift families, compiled by Tom Johnstone

Family trees

Johnstone family tree
Family trees of the Johnstone, Faraday, Wilkinson and Swift families

Also showing Bragg, Haseler, Rabone and Best


Other information

Henry, Eliza Ann and Emily Wilkinson
Henry, Eliza Ann (née Swift) and Emily Wilkinson

Portrait (mid-1840s) belonging to our family



Elmwood House, in 2019

The only house of the four from 'the Colony' still standing. It is now a mosque.

Ashfurlong Hall


Ashfurlong Hall

Photo: K.D. Gracie (CC)

Norman Wilkinson designs for Mercutio Benvolio


Costume designs for Mercutio and Benvolio by Norman Wilkinson of Four Oaks

Watercolour, 1927, photo used by kind permission of Sarah Colegrave Fine Art

Henry Wilkinson


Henry Wilkinson

The family of my great-great-grandmother Emily Wilkinson, who married George Hope Johnstone, were from the West Riding of Yorkshire, with its wool towns of Bradford, Leeds and Halifax. Two brothers, John and Henry, established themselves in the drapery business in Leeds and Birmingham respectively over the middle decades of the 19th century. (The word draper, now less used, generally means supplier of woollen and cotton ('Manchester') fabrics, household linen and clothing, both retail and wholesale.) The fortunes of the younger brother Henry and the business he started are described in an excellent book about Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd., printed for its centenary in 1951.i

Henry and John

The two Wilkinson brothers were born in Northowram, south-west of Bradford, and baptised in nearby Coley. (See the map of West Yorkshire for many of the locations mentioned here.) Their father Joseph was an innkeeper. John, born in 1809, started a drapery business in West Street, Leeds, probably in 1834.1 His partner was initially Joseph Hart, son of Charles Hart (see below); on Joseph's retirement, Wilkinson & Hart became Wilkinson & Beetham, and subsequently, as a retail and wholesale business, Wilkinson & Warburton (later & Crowe) of Pudsey, which survived into the 21st century.1 (The Warburton in question was John Warburton, also born in Northowram in 1836, whose niece Margaret later married into the Wilkinson family - see below.) John Wilkinson married, probably in the 1850s, but his wife Jane died not long afterwards, and in his latter years he lived with his niece Lucy Alice in the Headingley district of Leeds. He died in 1882, leaving a substantial sum to his brother's family, enabling them to expand their burgeoning textile business.

Wilkinson & Riddell


Wilkinson & Riddell, Corporation St, Birmingham, 1884

The younger Wilkinson brother, Henry, born in Northowram in 1814, set up in business with William Winter Riddell (see below) in 1851: this partnership became one of the major names in textiles in England for over 100 years. 

W & R

Wilkinson & Riddell opened its first retail drapery store at 78 Bull Street, Birmingham, in 1851. In 1863 a wholesale branch was opened in Temple Row.2 In 1881 the management of the Bull Street retail business was transferred to John Rackham and William Matthews, who had both joined the firm 20 years previously. The retail business was sold to these two in 1890, and continued (as 'Rackhams') until it was bought by Harrods in 1955.3 W&R concentrated on the wholesale trade.2 Additional branches of W&R opened in Corporation Street (1884) and Cherry Street (1896),4 where Thomas Henry Smith's bookbinding business had its premises (see page on the Smith family). W&R was run as a family business, with its directors coming mainly from these two families: Henry's sons Joseph Henry (see below), Walter A. and Howard Wilkinson, their sons William Sydney and Geoffrey H. Wilkinson, the two sons of William Sydney Wilkinson, plus various Riddells. More recently, Charles Alan Bragg was a director, as was Geoffrey F. Haseler (husband of Beatrice M. Wilkinson); John Simcox and Tim W. Holcroft (from the Smith side of the family) also worked for the company.

John Swift
John Swift (ca. 1757-1845)

Portrait: Johnstone family

The Swift family

The wives of three of the above gentlemen came from one Staffordshire family, namely the three daughters of William Swift and Maria Hall. Eldest daughter Eliza Ann (born 1817) married Henry Wilkinson; middle daughter Maria (born 1818) married Joseph Hart (son of Charles, and business partner of Henry's brother John); youngest daughter Lucy Maria Swift (born 1820) married William Winter Riddell (see below), the co-founder of Wilkinson & Riddell. William Swift, the father of these three, died in a drowning accident while his daughters were quite young, and they went to live with their grandfather John, who had made his fortune as a tanner, supplying leather to the armies in the Napoleonic wars, and who died in 1845 aged 88.iii

William Winter Riddell


William Winter Riddell

The Riddell family

William Winter Riddell (1827-1891) came from a family of Staffordshire farmers. His father Edward Riddell died when William was 20, and William and his brother Edward were taken under the wing of Charles Hart, their uncle by marriage,i also in the textile business, thus cementing the family business through marriage in a way quite common at that time, as can be seen in the families of various Birmingham jewellers. William Winter and Lucy Riddell did not have children, but various nephews (sons of William's brother Edward) became directors of W&R.


Henry and Eliza Ann Wilkinson lived in Heathfield Road, Handsworth, where they raised ten children. (See the map of Birmingham for many of the locations given here, and the Family Tree (left) for the complex intermarriages between the various families.) The portrait shown on the left is possibly this family - the bearded man resembles Henry in the main picture above - but this needs to be confirmed. Henry died at age 53 in Cannes.

Emily Wilkinson
Emily Wilkinson (1843-1897)

Portrait belonging to the Johnstone family


Emily Wilkinson, the eldest of Henry's children, was born in Bradford and grew up in Leeds: the census for 1851 gives the family as living in Caledonian Terrace in the Little Woodhouse area of Leeds.5 She married George Hope Johnstone in 1867 (probably in the New Church in Summer Lane, Birmingham), and they lived at first on Hall Road in the southern part of Handsworth. A few years later the family (now including their four children) built the house on Hamstead Hill named 'Headingley' (apparently named after Emily's childhood home - Headingley is just north-west of Little Woodhouse). This was the grandest of the four houses of 'the Colony'. At one stage or another, three of the four houses here contained members of the Wilkinson family. Emily died in 1897 aged 54.

Joseph Henry Wilkinson


Joseph Henry Wilkinson, ca. 1894


Joseph Henry Wilkinson, known in the family as Harry and in the firm as the Colonel (he was a lieut.-colonel in the South Staffordshire volunteers), was also born in Bradford, and entered his father's business at age 19. On his father's death in 1868 he became a partner, and subsequently Director and Chairman of W&R, before retiring in 1926 at the age of 81.i Harry became an important figure in Birmingham establishment: he was involved in philanthropic works, and served as an alderman and a magistrate for the county of Staffordshire.6 He lived at Elmwood House in 'the Colony' (see photo), next door to his elder sister Emily (Johnstone). His younger sister Janet later married Charles Bayley Bragg and lived at Hamstead Mount, also in the Colony. Harry married Marian Kate Bragg, daughter of prominent jeweller Thomas Bragg. Given her strong family connections with the New Church, Marian is perhaps the 'Mrs. Henry Wilkinson' who laid the foundation stone of the Wretham Road church in 1875,7 but this lady could also have been Eliza Ann (née Swift), widow of Henry Wilkinson.ii

Lieut.-Col. Joseph Henry Wilkinson


Lieut.-Col. Joseph Henry Wilkinson, 1921, by Edward Steel Harper II (1878-1951)

Photo: Staffordshire County Council – County Buildings Picture Collection, ref. no. 2009/12, used by kind permission

Harry was a driving force behind various Colony-based leisure activities, for example the Hamstead Coaching Club, which he ran with a martinet-like precision - see the page on 'the Colony' for details. In the 1890s he sold Elmwood to Arthur J. Rabone and moved to the even grander Ashfurlong Hall in Sutton Coldfield.9 (Arthur Rabone's wife Maude and Harry's wife Marian were first cousins; the Rabones were also members of the New Church - such were the threads that held the Colony together.) His brothers Walter and Howard, son William Sydney, and grandsons Henry S. and Edward H. were all at various stages directors of Wilkinson & Riddell; Harry was succeeded as Chairman in 1927 by William Sydney, then by Howard's son Geoffrey Howard Wilkinson.

William Sydney married Beatrice Maria Haseler, daughter of 'Colony' founder-resident Edward Madeley Haseler, and they also moved out of the Colony in the 1890s, to Selbourne Road in Handsworth. Their daughter, Beatrice Maud Wilkinson, married Geoffrey F. Haseler, who later became a director of Wilkinson & Riddell. Thus, in a pleasingly symmetrical set-up, Beatrice Haseler became Beatrice Wilkinson, and her daughter Beatrice Wilkinson became Beatrice Haseler.

Other children

The remaining children of Henry Wilkinson are less directly relevant to my ancestors. As mentioned above, Walter and Howard joined the family firm. Janet and Eva married partners in the same jewellery business, Charles B. Bragg & Co.: Janet and Charles Bayley Bragg lived in Hamstead Mount in 'the Colony' and were thus neighbours of siblings Emily and Harry; Bragg's partner Walter Best and Eva lived at various addresses in Handsworth Wood.

Henry's youngest son John married into the drapery business: his wife Margaret was the niece of John Warburton, business partner of John Wilkinson (see above); Alice married a solicitor and Lilian a musician, Rowland Mellor Winn. Dr. Winn was organist at Harborne parish church near Edgbaston, and was active in the Birmingham musical scene as a pianist and composer.10

Norman Wilkinson (1882-1934), second son of Howard Wilkinson, became a theatre set and costume designer. He was highly regarded for his Shakespeare costumes in the 1920s and 1930s (see picture left). He adopted the suffix 'of Four Oaks' to distinguish himself from another artist of the same name.11