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John Wilkinson, Wales & the Wider World

An inventive mind, a shrewd entrepreneur and a bullish character, John Wilkinson was a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution.

From humble beginnings in Cumbria, he came south to seek his fortune.  He established a business empire based on iron at Bersham in Wales and in the Midlands.

John Wilkinson, 1728-1808. - © Wrexham Heritage Services

Known as 'Iron Mad Jack', Wilkinson’s skill in the manufacture and uses of iron made a vital contribution to Britain becoming the leading industrial power in the 19th century.

This exhibition reveals how John Wilkinson changed the course of history.

Ye workmen of Bersham and Brymbo draw nigh, 
Sit down, take your pipe, and my song you shall hear,
I sing not of war or the state of the nation
Such subjects as these produce nought but vexation.

But before I proceed any more with my lingo,
You shall drink my toast in a bumper stingo.¹
Fill up and without any further parade
John Wilkinson, boys, that supporter of trade.

May all his endeavours be crowned with success
And his works, ever growing, posterity bless!
May his comforts increase with the length of his days
And his fame shine as bright as his furnaces' blaze.

That the wood of old England would fail did appear
Tough iron was scarce, because charcoal was dear.
By puddling and stamping he prevented that evil
So the Swedes and the Russians may go to the devil.

Our thundering cannon too frequently burst
A mischief so great he prevented the first,
And now 'tis well known, they never miscarry
But drive all over foes with a blast to old Harry.

Let each jolly fellow take hold of his glass
And drink to the health of his friend and his lass.
May he always have plenty of stingo and pence
And Wilkinson's fame blaze a thousand years hence.

Folk song about John Wilkinson, c.1800

¹ stingo is a strong drink.

'King of the Ironfounders'

John Rennie, Scottish Ironmaster, on John Wilkinson in 1790.

I do believe him to be one of the most hard hearted and malevolent old Scoundrels now existing in Britain.

Archibald Cochrane, on learning Wilkinson had copied his invention.

Coalbrookdale by Night, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, oil, 1801. - © Science & Society Picture Library