14. An Average Working Class Family?

What kind of family did William Wilkie the Second belong to? Little is known about his parents, William Wilkie the First and Janet Glen, apart from their possible origins in a rural setting south of Glasgow, and their move to Calton. However, significantly more is known of William the Second and his own family.

The location and probably nature of William Wilkie's home has been discussed above, but what of his family? As mentioned earlier, he married Isabella Mackay in 1855, but enjoyed only a brief marriage when she died a few months later. On 9 June 1859, then aged thirty two, William married his second wife, Janet Walker MacKinlay, twenty-year-old daughter of mill manager Ebenezer MacKinlay . They made their new home at 8 William Street, Calton. When William's mother, Janet Glen, died in November 1859 they were joined by his sixteen-year-old niece, Margaret, the daughter of William’s brother, David and Isabel Dryburgh .

Between 1860 and 1882 seven sons and two daughters were born to William and Janet.
The first two sons were born at 8 William Street. William, on 22 April 1860, and Ebenezer, on 24 January 1862. Both died as infants. On 7 March 1863 William's brother and business partner, John, also died of pulmonary tuberculosis, aged thirty one . The third son, William (known here as William the Third), was born at 8 William Street on 13 July 1863.

Shortly afterwards the family moved to Canning Street, Bridgeton, an extension of Great Hamilton Street, and remained there for a few years. Mary Walker Wilkie and Ebenezer (the second) were born at Canning Street. Mary on 12 August 1865 and Ebenezer on 6 December 1867, although this second Ebenezer died, aged three, in 1871.

A further move of residence took place around 1868, this time to 101 Greenhead Street the location discussed earlier. William's brother Conal had also moved to the area, living at 125 Greenhead . A second daughter, named Janet Glen after her grandmother, was born on 20 January 1872, and fifth, sixth and seventh sons were all born at 101 Greenhead Street between the years of 1869 and 1882. Conal Alexander, named after his uncle, on 29 November 1869; John McKinlay on 2 August 1875 (more of him shortly); and Alexander James Gilmour Wilkie on 30 May 1882. His life is described in detail in a further chapter.

And so William and Janet Wilkie had produced a large family, although around the average size for a late Victorian middle class or skilled tradesman's family .
Their children attended school, at least during their younger years. Education had become a serious social issue in Scotland, as it had also done in Great Britain, and in Australia. In the late 1600s the Scottish Education Act had made Parish Schools compulsory, and until the late 1700s most children regularly attended school. The rapid increase in population overall, and especially in the cities, during the early nineteenth century was too much for the Parish Schools and soon large numbers of childrne were roaming the streets receiving no education at all. It was not until the late 1850s that nearly all children were again enrolled in schools. By 1880 the leaving age was ten. Scottish desire for secondary and tertiary education was generally much greater than in England. It is clear that the Wilkie family valued education and the acquisition of skills.

By 1871 the family was able to employ twenty three year old Helen Livingston of East Kilbride as a domestic servant . It has been observed that what “surely announced middle class membership” was when a family was able to keep a servant. Perhaps the Wilkie family was but one of thousands who were able to take advantage of the new industrial economy to move, however slightly, upwards in the ranks of society .
William Wilkie the Second eventually moved from 101 Greenhead Street, although his daughters remained there until the late 1920s. His last residence, before his death in 1910, was at 17 Bellgrove Street, Calton. It was a relatively new development in the northern part of the district, near the main road to Edinburgh.

The Success of a Business

If William Wilkie's family was close to the average size for the middle class and skilled tradesman ranks of society, perhaps his financial and social advancement also closely followed the majority of the lower middle class of the period .
Burnett points out that in the new, revolutionised industries the possibilities of “entrepreneurial mobility” were more restricted than in certain other crafts such as printing, book making and tailoring, although it was possible for the weaver to become a mill owner, and “in mechanical engineering down to mid century a man of initiative and intelligence could often launch his own concern”. Most wage earners however could never save enough capital, and in most revolutionized industries the majority of skilled workers, or journeymen, were destined to remain wage earners. Their ambition and progress would be limited to learning new skills and possibly to become supervisors. Their greatest achievement might be to reach the status of the “labour aristocracy or elite” the ten percent or so of the working class who, at mid century, earned over 35 or 40 shillings per week. Among this group the skilled metal tradesman predominated .

It is difficult to place the family of William Wilkie the Second, or that of his father William the First, firmly into a class category. Certainly both were skilled tradesmen, the father a journeyman, the son a master, and as such fit the broad spectrum of the skilled working class. But by the late 1860s William the Second was beginning to acquire in his mode of work and his style of living at least some of the attributes of the Victorian middle class.

William Wilkie's business as a Tinsmith and Gasfitter did well. In 1861 he and his brother employer four men and four boys. By 1871 he was able to employ a domestic servant at home. By 1881 he had three men and five boys working for him .

As mechanisation advanced so did the importance of the skilled worker in the metal and engineering trades. By 1906 such tradesmen earned in excess of 40/ per week. Many other skilled tradesmen earned significantly less. Millwrights had been able to command 42/ per week as early as 1814 by being paid according to the time worked. After the repeal of the apprenticeship laws in that year they were paid according to their skills and the results of their work, although a skilled millwright could still earn the “elite” wage . If William Wilkie the First had earned anything like this wage during the 1830s and 1840s as a journeyman then his family would have been in a position to begin the upward mobility apparent in the lives of his children.

William the Second, as a metal worker, had clearly entered a trade that paid good dividends. By 1881 not only did he had three men and five boys working for him, but he had also moved his business from its original location in Stevenson Street, around the corner to a bigger premises at 82 86 Clyde Street, Calton and had expanded his services to include tinsmith, ironmonger and gasfitter He later moved the business again, about a block away, to 19 Tobago Street, Calton.

Economic and technological developments throughout the nineteenth century had brought significant changes to the life of a workshop in customs, values and organisation of the workers. Increased emphasis upon literacy and self improvement is evident in the family and work of William Wilkie the Second. It is unknown whether the boys employed by his workshop were apprentices, but the chances are that they were, and that the men had similarly served apprenticeships at some earlier stage. Until the 1880s the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which generally represented the metal trades, had fought to restrict entry into those trades to those who had formally completed an apprenticeship. Eventually the might of the larger companies was too much and they had to accept basic work experience of five years as being the standard for recognition.

Small workshops in Glasgow, such as the one operated by William Wilkie the Second, were the places in which skilled tradesmen preserved and passed on their skills. The possession of such skill was the equivalent for the tradesman as was the possession of private property to the merchant classes. But skills were collective property, something to be passed on and protected. To many tradesmen the passing on of skills to the sons of the family was a tradition to be protected in times when the factory system threatened to devalue the possession of skills . It was perhaps something of this tradition which existed in the Wilkie family when William the First, then William the Second, and finally, William the Third, all earned their livings as skilled tradesmen in the engineering and metal trades for a period extending from 1820 to 1920.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century when journeymen found themselves tied to piece work and more complicated machinery, there was less opportunity for tradesmen to pass on their skills. By the 1880s indentured apprenticeship was no longer the major way to enter a skilled trade. Apprenticeship agreements could be informal or verbal agreements. In some sectors of the economy, apprenticeships became more narrow in focus. For example, the broad skills that had once been exercised by the millwright were replaced by division into narrowly defined fields such as fitting, or turning . Much has been said about the apparent deskilling of the labour force during the industrial revolution, but by the mid 1850s new skills were in fact being created faster than the old ones which were being replaced .


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