Wilkinson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wilkinson Surname Meaning

The personal name plus the diminutive “kin” has been a common surname formation in England, in the patronymic “s” suffix form in the south of England and “son” in the north. Examples are Wilkinson, Watkinson, Atkinson. Dickinson, Hopkinson and Hodgkinson. Of these, Wilkinson – coming from William – has been the most common. It is a name of the north of England.

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Wilkinson Surname Ancestry

England. The name Thomas Wilkynson appeared in the Cumberland rolls of 1332 and Adam Wylkynson in the Yorkshire rolls of 1379. Many of the early traceable Wilkinsons, however, have been in Durham and Northumberland.

Durham. Wilkinsons at Harperly Hall on the banks of the river Wear in Durham date from about 1500. Family tradition has it that they were originally Wilkersons and were Danish.

Lawrence Wilkinson, a Royalist captain at the time of the Civil War, was forced into exile in America. But other Wilkinsons remained. William Wilkinson coined money in the 1650’s because of the shortage of coins for trade at that time. Later Wilkinsons were to be found in Durham and London. In 1847, when the Wear Valley railway opened, a private station was built at Harperly Hall where George Hutton Wilkinson, the chairman of the line, lived. Harperly Hall today has passed out of family hands and is a police training establishment.

Wilkinson families were to be bound in Durham in the 17th century at Barton St. Mary, Nether Buston, Norton, and Washington. The last-named was the birthplace of Isaac Wilkinson, the first of the Wilkinson ironmasters. His son John
“Iron Mad” Wilkinson made a lot of money which was then dissipated after his death.

“While much of John Wilkinson’s wealth can be ascribed to his ingenuity and enterprise, his legacy was undermined by a liaison that produced a crop of illegitimate children. His will was challenged and a long legal battle ensued, which consumed all of the Wilkinson fortune and led both his heirs and their challengers into bankruptcy.”


Yorkshire.  Larger numbers of Wilkinsons were and are to be found in Yorkshire. The Wilkinsons were recorded at Crowder House in Ecclesfield from 1402 until its sale in 1859.
Roger Wilkinson was a tanner living in Barnsley in the late 1400’s. The Wilkinsons of Bolton upon Dearne near Rotherham were granted a Coat of Arms in 1563 and there appears to have been a link between this family and later Wilkinson families at Pontefract, Manningham, and Blackwell in Derbyshire.

Joshua Wilkinson, the son of a Leeds clothier, moved to London in the 1750’s and did well at Moorfields as a furniture dealer, cabinet maker and house broker. The business was handed down to his sons and grandsons over the next hundred years. The actor Tom Wilkinson was born in Leeds in 1948 from a long line of urban farmers there.

America. Early Wilkinsons in America were to be found in New England and Maryland.

New England.  Lawrence Wilkinson was captured by Parliament forces in Newcastle in 1644 and had his lands confiscated. He was offered the opportunity to depart for America and came to Rhode Island with his family the following year.

His Rhode Island line included the Quakers Jeremiah Wilkinson, an inventor and the first to make cut nails, and the prophetess and “Universal Friend” Jemima Wilkinson. The family history was recounted in the Rev. Israel Wilkinson’s 1869 book Memories of the Wilkinson Family in America. Later descendants have included Henry Wilkinson, the architect of Harperly Hall in New York, and Mary Wilkinson, the mother of the actress Meryl Streep.

A very distant relation, Lewis Wilkinson (the descendant of a union between William Wilkinson and a servant girl), came to New Milford, Connecticut in 1721. A line of this family later moved west to Ohio and Indiana. Meanwhile Christopher Wilkinson from Durham came to South Carolina around 1710. His son Edward Wilkinson, sometimes Wilkerson, was an agent with the local Cherokee Indians.

Maryland.  Captain Joseph Wilkinson was a London merchant who came to Maryland in the early 1700’s. He acquired Stoakley Manor in Calvert county and was a tobacco farmer. By the time his grandson James was born in 1757, however, the family was very much in debt.

General James Wilkinson rose to prominence during the Revolutionary War, but had a murky reputation afterward. He was called the “Spanish pensioner” as it was believed that he was an agent of the Spanish government. Yet he had the support of President Jefferson because of his strong anti-federalist stance. He was appointed the first Governor of Louisiana territory in 1805. His story was narrated in Andro Linklater’s 2009 book An Artist in Treason.

James’s niece Jane Long nee Wilkinson moved to Texas with her husband in the early 1820’s and owned there boarding houses and a plantation. She became known as the “mother of Texas.”


Australia.  Wilkinson is an important name in the Australian wine industry. The Rev. Frederick Wilkinson, an early Methodist missionary from Martindale in Westmoreland, began growing vines on his Hunter valley property in 1825, one of the first to do so.

A more serious wine venture began in 1866 when two Wilkinson brothers – Frederick and John from a well-to-do family in Surrey – bought land at Pokolbin in the Hunter valley and started planting vines there. Frederick’s son Audrey, who took over the vineyard in 1892 at the tender age of fifteen, gave the Wilkinson name its international reputation. Audrey ran the vineyard until his death in 1962.

Wilkinson Homestead in Gosnells near Perth was built in 1912 and named after John Wilkinson, a tailor from Ballarat who moved west and tended a large citrus orchard there. The homestead remained in Wilkinson family hands until 1963.

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Wilkinson Surname Miscellany

Wilkinsons in Early Durham and Northumberland Records.  There were 113 Wilkinson entries in Durham and Northumberland parish records between 1521 and 1615.  They were quite spread around.  The table below shows where these Wilkinsons were recorded.

Location Number
Durham    17
Houghton-le-Spring    15
Ryton    15
Pittington     9
Whickham     7
Chester-le-Street     5
Elsewhere    45
Total   113

William Wilkinson and Mary Smythe.  William Wilkinson caused a servant girl at Harperly Hall, Mary Smythe, to get pregnant. Because the birth would have been illegitimate and a marriage between William and Mary was inconceivable in those days, Mary was sent away to Litchfield in Derbyshire where she had the baby.

Her son was named William Smythe Wilkinson, as shown in the 1550 Litchfield parish records. In due course William moved to London, married, and worked there as a blacksmith. His descendants were to be found in London over the next 150 years.

During that time the Wilkinsons applied for a ‘right of birth,’ which was granted by the authorities.  This would imply that the
family had attained a level of respectability so that it would be recognized as a legitimate family – thus removing the stigma of an illegitimate birth.

Lewis Wilkinson of this family was born in London near Fleet Street in 1686.   He emigrated to America in 1721 and settled in New Milford, Connecticut.

John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson.  In the early 1760’s John Wilkinson and his brother William inherited their father’s ironworks in Bersham in north Wales. They founded the New Bersham Company.  Bersham soon led the world in the field of iron technology.  However, the two brothers fell out twenty years later.

John Wilkinson was influential during his time in the design of cannon.  The traditional method involved casting a one-piece cannon with a core.  Since the hole was cast, it often introduced imperfections into the cannon which have catastrophic consequences for those using it.  In 1774 Wilkinson invented a cannon-boring machine which produced safer and more accurate cannons.  He later patented a method to make spiral groves in cannons that would project the ball further and straighter.

In 1779 he was the major force behind the construction of an iron bridge, the world’s first, across the Severn at Coalbrookdale.  In 1787 he launched the first iron barge.  His iron obsession reached its peak in the late 1790’s, when he paid to have iron windows, a pulpit and other fittings installed into a Methodist chapel in Bradley. He became known as ‘Iron-Mad’ Wilkinson.

He died in 1808 a wealthy man.  He was buried in an iron coffin.

The Wilkinson Sword Company.  The history of the Wilkinson Sword Company goes back to 1772 – when young James Wilkinson was apprenticed to Henry Nock, a noted gun maker of the day.  Henry Nock’s shop was on Ludgate Street near St Pauls Cathedral in London.

James Wilkinson subsequently became a partner in the company, which in 1804 was appointed gun maker to King George III, the first of Wilkinson’s royal warrants.  When Nock died, Wilkinson inherited the business and in the early 19th century, during the fighting that led to Waterloo, the company first started to manufacture swords.

By 1889 the company was established in showrooms in London and had a large works in Chelsea.  In that year, it took on the name of the Wilkinson Sword Company.  A few years later, the Wilkinson safety razor was introduced.

Wilkinsons from Martindale.  Wilkinsons in the Martindale parish in Westmoreland have been traced back to the late 1600’s.  Many of the children of Henry Wilkinson, born there in 1764, became clergymen.  The only son who did not was Henry Wilkinson who became a sea captain with the East India Company, but died a relatively young man in India. These Wilkinsons grew up at Ben Green which lies up the valley beyond Thang Cragg.

The Rev. Frederick Wilkinson, a Methodist missionary, came out to Australia and, after an adventurous time which included many conflicts with the authorities there, returned to England in 1855.  His brother Thomas was curate at Martindale at this time.  Thomas’s son Thomas, also a minister, came out to Australia in 1839 and stayed.

Reader Feedback – Wilkinsons in Yorkshire and Lancashire.  My great grandfather Henry Robert Wilkinson was from Burnley in Lancashire.  He migrated to New Zealand on the Forfarshire in 1873. I believe I also have an ancestor namesake from Selby near York who was a shipbuilder in the 17th century or thereabouts. I am interested in any connection to him. If anyone has information please feel free to contact me.

John Wilkinson (jonwil5@yahoo.com.au)

Jemima Wilkinson, Universal Friend.  In the summer of 1776, at the age of eighteen, Jemima Wilkinson fell sick and wasted away in bodily strength.  She constantly told her family her strange visions.  In October she appeared to fall into a trance state and seemed almost lifeless for a space of about thirty six hours.

To the  great surprise of her family she suddenly aroused herself, called for her garments, dressed, and walked among the assembled members of the household.  She disclaimed being Jemima Wilkinson, but asserted that the former individuality had passed away and that she was another being, a minister of the Almighty sent to preach his gospel and to minister to the spiritual necessities of mankind. She took to herself the name of the Public Universal Friend.

Known hereafter as the “Universal Friend,” she began to preach in her native Rhode Island, but soon spread her message across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.  She developed a following known as the Society of Friends that established a settlement in 1788 on the west shore of Seneca Lake.  Wilkinson
and her followers constituted the first actual settlers in the Genesee country area of New York state.

Jemima Wilkinson was the first in a succession of religious leaders associated with “fringe” sects in upper New York state.  These would include Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, pioneers of Spiritualism such as Margaretta and Kate Fox, and other movements of lesser note like the New Light Baptists.

Harperly Hall, New York.  In 1909, a group headed by the architect Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson bought the northwest corner of 64th Street and Central Park West to build a co-op “suitable for artists’ studios,” according to their corporate papers.  Wilkinson’s son, J. Burke Wilkinson, said that his father chose the name Harperly Hall after an old manor house that the family
called its ancestral home.

Harperly Hall, which opened in 1911 with 76 apartments, was in every way distinct from the usual cookie-cutter design. Wilkinson, who had little or no experience in apartment-house design, used the Arts and Crafts style, rarely seen in New York, throughout the building.  Instead of the usual showy lobby, Wilkinson organized the apartments in a U shape with a wide central courtyard.  This space was much broader than building laws required. The fences along the sidewalk and the fountains at the rear successfully make a protected space out of what in lesser buildings is often just a barren walkway.

The original Harperly Hall co-op failed in 1941 and it was converted to a rental.  The rising real estate market of the 80’s brought a reconversion to co-op in 1983.

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Wilkinson Names
  • John Wilkinson was an English industrialist who pioneered the use and manufacture of cast iron in the Industrial Revolution.   
  • James Wilkinson started the Wilkinson Sword Company into sword production in the early 1800’s. 
  • George Wilkinson won three Olympic gold medals, in 1900,
    1908 and 1912, and is considered the world’s first great water polo player. 
  • Jonny Wilkinson was an English rugby player and the man who, with the last kick of the game, won the 2003 Rugby World Cup.


Wilkinson Numbers Today
  • 64,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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