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British Industrial History

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Joseph Wilkes

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Wilkes, Joseph (1733-1805), industrialist and entrepreneur

1733 Born son of Joseph Wilkes (1698–1769), grocer, of Overseal, Derbyshire, and Elizabeth, his wife (d. 1762). His grandfather was another Joseph Wilkes (1670–1749), a nailer, of Barton under Needwood, Staffordshire, and Overseal.

Three of his brothers, John (1728–1790), William (1737–1781), and Thomas (1745–1795), and one of his nephews, Joseph Pycroft (1758–1833), were partners in his commercial, industrial, and banking enterprises.

After 1762 He and his brother John, both described as "cheese factors", were partners in the new syndicate that obtained the lease of the Trent Navigation which linked Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, with river and canal wharves throughout the region.

1760s Wilkes was linked with Sampson Lloyd, senior and Sampson Lloyd, junior, ironmasters and later bankers of Birmingham.

1767 Joseph leased coal mines in Measham and Oakthorpe, Leicestershire, which included rights to dig clay. Brickmaking enabled Wilkes to prosper, but also later encouraged him to develop the innovation still characteristic of his local buildings, the production of double-sized bricks, popularly called "Wilkes's gobs", to reduce liabilities under the brick tax introduced in 1785.

1780 Wilkes diversified into banking, founding a bank in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, together with similar businesses in Burton upon Trent, Measham, and his native Overseal.

1780 His most significant business and financial partnership was from 1780 to 1798 with Robert "Parsley" Peel (1723–1795) and his son Robert. The Peels' cotton-spinning mills in Burton upon Trent opened in 1780 and were followed ten years later by a large-scale textile complex at Fazeley in Staffordshire on a site purchased and developed by Wilkes and Peel, whose activities were further cemented by the formation of the new London and Tamworth bank of Peel, Wilkes, Dickenson, and Goodall.

1780s He built two spinning mills at Measham as well as many weaving shops, large brickworks and limeworks, and an iron foundry where iron barges, steam-engine boilers, and other metal goods were produced.

Wilkes was an early but cautious investor in steam power, buying two Boulton and Watt engines for Measham corn and cotton mills, in 1786 and 1787 respectively; another winding engine, the first in the midland coalfield, for the Oakthorpe coal pit, in 1787; and in 1802 a fourth engine, at that time the largest in the region, for his original Measham corn mill.

1795 Wilkes became a founder and the first president of the Smithfield Cattle and Sheep Society in London

1804 His last major project was to promote the Ashby Canal, completed in 1804, and its connection with the Coventry Canal near Bedworth in Warwickshire, and to open up coal markets further afield.

d.1804 He moved to Croydon, Surrey, and died there in May 1805

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