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The Wilkinson Empire - The Wider World

John Wilkinson's business was dependent on events in the wider world. Wars increased the demand for armaments, but hindered the export trade.

He mastered the skills of cannon making and built up his first successful ironworks business during the Seven Years War (1756 - 63). The American War of Independence (1775 - 83) increased demand further still. The Royal Navy expanded its fleet and Wilkinson was a leading supplier for ships' cannon.

Wilkinson's reputation in the iron trade gained him customers abroad. Monsieur Périer approached Wilkinson to supply water pipes and pumping engines for his new waterworks in Paris. It was a huge contract that brought Wilkinson much trouble: pirates threatened his ships, Royal Navy press gangs took his sailors and Government export licences were hard to obtain.

Any trade with France was risky during wartime. A Shropshire shopkeeper mistook "cylinders of the most unusual thickness" for cannon and reported Wilkinson to the Government for selling arms to the enemy. Wilkinson was eventually cleared by Customs investigators.

This curs'd war will be the ruin of the Engine Branch in France. I see nothing but expense and difficulty on every side. While the Impress Act attracts by sea - the Militia Bill operates by land.

John Wilkinson, Bersham, July 2nd 1779

Map of Britain and North-West Europe showing Wilkinson's business empire and its links abroad.