The Wilsons of Wilsontown

As noted in the acknowledgements, the Wilson family of Oatlands has been linked with the Wilson family of Wilsontown, a location in Lanarkshire, Scotland famed for its early ironworks. This has not been substantiated, and is now believed to be incorrect.

The Wilsontown Ironworks were founded in 1779 on the banks of the Mouse Water to exploit the abundant coal and ironstone resources on the Cleugh estate, the property of Robert Wilson, one of the three brothers who founded the enterprise. The works developed over the following three decades, and a sizeable village rapidly developed around it, housing 400 people by 1794 and nearly 2,000 by 1812, when the company employed 521 men, but managerial failures and costly legal disputes between the owners led the collapse of the company in 1812. William Dixon purchased the business in 1821 and restarted production, but in 1842 the Ironworks were finally closed, although coal mining continued in the area into the middle of the twentieth century. The development and history of the works are discussed by Donnachie and Butt (1965; 1967)...1

There is a large amount of fascinating material about Wilsontown available, with the most comprehensive being the Forestry Commission of Great Britain's Wilsontown internet site. As observed in the quote above the works were operated by three brothers, Robert, John and William Wilson. John has been linked as the father of James Wilson who married Catherine Boak. The family arrangement as originally suggested is represented below, and includes other links to the Wilson families of Airdie and a large branch of the Wilson family in Canada:

The Wilsons of Scotland
The Wilsons of Scotland
Image Created by John Horton

As noted above it is now believed these associations are incorrect, and were made without any evidence in the historical records to support the relationship. Unfortunately the information has been reproduced in nearly all the published material about the Wilson family available to date.

As an example of the questionable relationship between the two Wilson families, according to Donnachie and Butt in their study of the Wilsontown Ironworks:

The final outcome of the quarrel [between the brothers John and William Wilson regarding the Ironworks] was that in 1797 William received £3700 for his previous outlay at Wilsontown, and John Wilson and Sons opened their books on 20 February, 1797 with a nominal capital of £40000. The partners were John Wilson and two of his four sons, William II and James, but the father was the master of the enterprise.2

On the baptism registration of Thomas Braidwood Wilson in April 1797, his father James was recorded as a Plowman, hardly the description of someone who was engaged with his father in the management of an ironworks. As Margaret Rackham, a noted Wilson researcher, observed:

I think I am finally and absolutely convinced that we do not descend from John Wilson of Wilsontown fame. I haven't ruled out a connection further back with those Wilsons, a generation or two, but at the moment can't find it.3

That statement was made in 2000, and research into the Wilson family has been underway since the 1960s. At that point however researchers returned to the known locations for James' family and the search started again. The advent of the internet has meant a wealth of information is now available for family historians which has raised further evidence for James Wilson's ancestry. The research from that last decade, augmented by online repositories like Scotland's People and the International Genealogical Index, is discussed in The Wilson Family of Uphall section.

  • 1. citing Donnachie and Butt, I L and J (1967) 'The Wilsons of Wilsontown Ironworks (1779-1813): a study in entrepreneurial failure', Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, 2nd, vol.4, 2.
  • 2. Donnachie and Butt, I L and J (1967) 'The Wilsons of Wilsontown Ironworks (1779-1813): a study in entrepreneurial failure', Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, 2nd, vol.4, 2.
  • 3. Rackham, Margaret: Email Correspondance with John Horton; 26 Jul 2000
John Horton
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In Focus - Wilsontown (from YouTube)