11. William Wilkie the 2nd

William Wilkie the Second - 1827 1910

The Work of a Tinsmith

William Wilkie the Second, was the second son of William Wilkie and Janet Glen, and was born in Calton on 21 January 1827. He grew up with his brothers and sisters at 22 James Street, Calton. By the age of thirteen he was apprenticed as a Wright . It is not known to whom he was apprenticed.

The 1834 Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into Manufacturing questioned the major mill operators in the Calton and Bridgeton district. Only one, Henry Dunlop, took on apprentices of any kind, and significantly those apprentices were employed as “machine makers” . Dunlop's was a cotton spinning mill in Calton and had been originally built in 1818. William may have been apprenticed to this company.

It is also possible that his apprenticeship was served at Burns Brother’s workshop in James Street. William's younger brother, John, also took up an apprenticeship and by 1851 both were listed as qualified Tin Plate Workers .

By the early 1850s William the Second had graduated to hold the position of Master Tinsmith and had moved from the James Street home of his parents to 134 Great Hamilton Street, closer to the Green, but only one block from James Street.
On 17 August 1855, aged twenty eight, he married Isabella Mackay the twenty five year old daughter of Donald Mackay, a wool dyer of the small village of Killin, Perthshire , and his wife Isabella McDougall . A witness to the marriage was John McKay a Woollen Manufacturer, and John McAlpin, a gardener . Their time together was unfortunately short as Isabella died of rheumatic fever on 27 December 1855. She was buried at the Glasgow Necropolis .

W.& J.Wilkie Tinplate Workers

The growing importance of the iron and steel industry in Glasgow during the mid nineteenth century meant that millwrights could diversify their skills into a vast range of metal related industries. William Wilkie the Second listed his occupation variously as Wright, Tin Plate Worker, Tinsmith, and Ironmonger throughout his career, no doubt reflecting both the importance of the various aspects of his trade and the diversification it was undergoing.

Tinplate work was a branch of the iron trade and tinplate was made by tinning iron plate with alloys of tin and lead. The demand for this versatile metal rapidly increased during the nineteenth century because of its malleability, brilliance after polishing, and slowness of oxidation. Tinplate utensils became very popular and were manufactured in huge quantities in places such as Birmingham. The development of stamping machinery, rather than hand soldering, further increased its popularity .

Statistics for the Strathclyde region for the years 1851, 1881 and 1911 indicate the growth in the Engineering (including Millwrighting), and Metalworking trades. Over the same period the cotton and textile industry declined in importance. For example, in 1851 just over two thousand men were engaged in metal goods manufacture. By 1881 this had increased to over four thousand, and by 1911 to over ten thousand. Over the same period the textile industry, which had accounted for about 20% of the male workforce in 1851, declined to under 4% by 1911 . The move from textiles and agriculture to engineering and metal trades was common to all of Britain during the second half of the century .

It is not surprising that William Wilkie the Second formed a partnership with his brother John, who still lived at the family home at 22 James Street, Calton W.& J.Wilkie, Tinplate Workers and Gasfitters and set up their business at 29 Stevenson Street, Calton to take advantage of the increasing demand for metal goods, and especially tinplate utensils. The recent expansion of gas as a lighting and heating service throughout Glasgow also offered the chance to diversify into that area of work.

By the late 1850s Stevenson Street had become one of the commercial centres of Glasgow.

Conal Alexander Wilkie - Bookseller

William and John Wilkie's younger brother Conal Alexander was born in 1835. By the age of seventeen he was working as a stationer , and by 1859 he had his own business as Bookseller, Stationer and Librarian at 27 Stevenson Street, just next door to his brother’s business . This, too, reflected the growing interest in education and learning, especially after the establishment of Mechanics Institutes for the education of “mechanics” in the rapidly expanding new technologies , and the attention recently given to the education of children who worked in the factories.
In 1851 Conal still lived at 22 James Street with his older brother John . On 28 July 1863 Conal married Mary Cuthbertson Elder at Calton and they later moved to 125 Alexandria Terrace, Greenhead Street . He still had his bookshop in 1893 as indicated by a notice in the Belfast Weekly News edition of 2 September 1893 .

REILLY: Mrs Reilly, Glasgow, is desirous of knowing the address of her son Samuel, from whom she has not heard for eleven years. His address at that time was Samuel Reilly, Jane Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Queensland, and his occupation was that of road or surfaceman. Address, Mrs Reilly, care of C.A.Wilkie, Bookseller, 27 Stevenson Street, Glasgow. Australian papers please copy.

The places of work of William and Conal Wilkie were not far from their respective homes as Stevenson Street ran almost parallel to Great Hamilton Street and at right angles to the end of James Street. The distance from home to work was significant for many city workers during the nineteenth century, as most had no private means of transport.


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