Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Vicissitudes of families

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Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VIII (1862-1863)
Vicissitudes of families
by Edward Walford (attribution uncertain)


There are “ups” as well as “downs” among the many changes which years are silently working in the families of England. The grandfather of the present owner of Leigh Court in Somersetshire, Sir William Miles, came to Bristol from Herefordshire, a poor boy with but a few shillings in his pocket: within the last few years a barber in Canterbury and a barber at the West End of London have seen their sons raised respectively to the dignities of Lord Chief Justice and Lord High Chancellor of England: and many other instances of the same kind might be adduced. But perhaps the good fortune which has attended on the Denisons in their “rise and progress” to opulence and title has seldom or never been surpassed. The father of the late Mr. William Joseph Denison of Denbies, the wealthy banker, whose daughter married the late Marquis of Conyngham, the especial favourite of George IV., and whose grandson wore the coronet of Lord Londesborough, was the son of very poor parents in Leeds. He travelled up to town as a youth with one of the ten-horse carriers’ waggons then in fashion, sometimes riding, and at other times trudging along by the side of the horses, and buoyed up by the hope (in which he was scarcely disappointed) that he would find the streets of London paved with gold. His son died something more than a mere millionaire.

Another Denison, who prospered in his day, was the father of the Speaker of Her Majesty’s faithful Commons, now and by virtue of his office “the first Commoner” in the land. His father, John Wilkinson, was a dyer, at Leeds, who changed his name—whether with or without leave and licence from Royalty, we do not know—to Denison, on the death of his maternal uncle, a cloth merchant of Leeds, who had risen from the ranks, and carried on a most successful trade with Portugal. He increased his prosperity by two fortunate marriages, by the former of which he became father-in-law of one Speaker, Sir Charles Manners Sutton, and by the second the father of another Speaker, the present Mr. John E. Denison. He became Lord of the Manor of Ossington, and sat in Parliament for many years; and had he lived a few years longer, he would have seen one of his sons married to the daughter of a ducal house, and chosen Speaker of the House of Commons; another, Bishop of Salisbury; a third, Governor-General of Australia; and three others first-class men at Oxford, Fellows of their Colleges, and high up in the learned professions. Another member of the same family, somewhat older than any of the above-mentioned gentlemen, also the son of very poor parents at Leeds, accumulated a fortune in the law, and rose to be Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. He married an heiress: and his widow left her own and her husband’s property to a great niece, who married a member of the wealthy family of Beckett, on condition of his assuming the name of Denison, and became the mother of Mr. Edmund Beckett Denison, whose name is so familiar to our readers as the inventor of the Great Clock and Bell at Westminster. It should be added, that even to the present day the name of Denison is nearly as common about Leeds as Smith in London, or Jones in Wales, or Campbell in Scotland, though it is rarely met with in other parts of Her Majesty’s dominions.

E. W.