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)
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