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Saturday, 17 December 2011


In all my family tree research I am constantly in debt to the earlier and more thorough research of others. Recent contact with a cousin in my Pilkington line emphasises this: Isabel Pilkington Henniger has produced an invaluable book, full of photographs, based on the audio recordings of her late uncle Roger Pilkington. Isabel has done a really delightful job of editing Roger’s remarks into A Pilkington Memoir while still retaining the distinctive voice of Roger, a born raconteur. (She’s also tidied up the very occasional memory lapse on Roger’s part with discreet footnotes.) Isabel has sent me a copy of her book, which is full of the sort of detail and colour my own research could never have unearthed.

William Windle Pilkington (1839-1914)
industrialist, educationalist

Roger’s grandfather, Isabel’s great grandfather, my great great uncle William, was a pillar of the community, a leading industrialist in Lancashire. He poured a great deal back into the community and served in its offices as town councillor, mayor and alderman. He was made a freeman of the borough of St Helens in 1905 (the statue of Queen Victoria which he donated to the town on that day still stands there) and he was appointed Second Lieutenant of the county in 1908.

He was a member and trustee of the St Helens Congregational Church and chairman of the Congregational Union. He founded the St Helens YMCA, and co-founded two schools – the Ragged School where he taught with his wife on Sunday afternoons, and an infant school for which he provided land.

St Helens YMCA, founded by William Pilkington

His passion for education, typical of nineteenth century non-conformists, regularly brought him into idealistic conflict with the authorities over the way local schools were run. As you’d expect of a dynamic captain of industry, William was not one to stand idly by when he saw what he regarded as wrong being done. Roger tells it far better than I could:

“The schools were run by the Church of England and paid for out of the rates, and when he got his bill for the rates he worked out carefully what proportion of that went to support Church of England schools, and he deducted it and sent in the cheque short.

“Then, of course, he got another application, and eventually he got one of those red warning notices that unless he paid the rest within seven days, action would be taken. And this was the signal for the butler to clear out all of the furniture out of the front hall and lock the doors leading off it, and to put in the front hall certain pieces of furniture which my grandfather had bought at auctions.

The indoor staff at Windle Hall, 
home of William and Louisa Pilkington
(furniture-toting butler pictured standing second from right)

“He had a very good eye for furniture, antiques, and this furniture was bought specially for this occasion always and was put around the front hall, and eventually the bailiffs drew up and stormed in the front door and seized the furniture, and off they went happy to have done their job, but not so happy as was my grandfather, because they had to sell what they had taken by public auction, and they had to give him anything more than the amount owed plus presumably, some sort of bailiff’s costs.

“It was customary in those days when people did this sort of thing for the local people to go to the auction and make incredibly low bids in order to prevent the thing being sold at all. But in his case this was not so. The general public bid, dealers bid, the things were sold, and he managed to achieve what free churchmen always like to do, which is to be true to their ideals and make a good profit at the same time.”

I can hear the twinkle in Roger’s voice as he told this story, and see the sparkle in William’s eye as he got one over on the Church of England!

Col. W.W. Pilkington’s statue of Queen Victoria
in Victoria Square, St Helens


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Jen, I've email'd you and meanwhile taken your comment off this page because it contained personal information. Hope that's okay! Colin

    1. That's perfectly fine - thanks again Colin!

      - Jen

  3. I am currently doing research on Hugh Austin Windle Pilkington born in England who died tragically in a car accident on 16.10.86 in Canada aged 44. He gained a doctorate from Oxford in 1979 and travelled to Kenya where he taught for a while at the University of Nairobi. He became a naturalised Kenyan citizen and helped many African refugees, particularly from Ethiopia and Eretria. He helped many of them to procure places, often with educational scholarships, at overseas universities. In 1977, Hugh Pilkington set up the Windle Charitable Trust in Kenya to support needy Kenyan students. Before his death he had made arrangements for his personal estate to be used to set up a foundation to promote the education of refugees and in 1988 the Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust (HPCT) was established in the UK. In 2002 Windle Trust International (WTI) was formed to manage the programmes of HPCT as a charitable company limited by guarantee.

    I am currently helping some former African students whom he helped to study in Fiji and who are now Australian citizens, to do some research on Hugh Pilkington with a view to commemorating his fine charitable and humanitarian deeds. I wonder if you could help us with any further information about him and his ancestry.
    Best wishes,
    Ron Witton

  4. I have known for a long time that my G/Grandmother ( Eliza Annie Davies) was a servant girl at Windle Hall in the 1900's. She had an affair with one of the Pilkintons and had a child (my Grandfather). He was born in Bolton Workhouse in 1914 and no Father is named on his Birth certificate.. I wish i could find more information about this and the time my G/grandmother was there.

    yours Sincerely

    John D-Allen.


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