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Wilson, Thomas (1764-1843) (DNB00)

WILSON, THOMAS (1764–1843), nonconformist benefactor, seventh child of Thomas Wilson (b. 3 Jan. 1731; d. 31 March 1794) by Mary (1729–1816), daughter of John Remington of Coventry, was born in Wood Street, Cheapside, London, on 11 Nov. 1764, and baptised on 2 Dec. by Thomas Gibbons [q. v.] His mother was a dissenter; his father became one on his marriage, and subsequently built a chapel at Derby (1784), besides assisting in opening several closed chapels in the Midlands. He was at school with Samuel Rogers [q. v.], the poet, at Newington Green under Cockburn, but had not a classical education, and never acquired any literary tastes. In 1778 he was apprenticed to his father, a manufacturer of ribbons and gauzes, and in 1785 was taken into partnership. He left business at Michaelmas 1798, having attained a moderate fortune, to which he received a considerable accession on the death (26 March 1813) of his mother's only brother, John Remington. In 1794 he succeeded his father as treasurer of Hoxton Academy, and held this post till his death; when the academy was removed to Highbury he laid the first stone (28 June 1825) of the college building. His first experiment in chapel building was in 1799, when he erected a new chapel at Hoxton (opened 24 April 1800). From this time he devoted himself for some years to the repairing or rebuilding of dilapidated and closed chapels, e.g. at Brentwood, Harwich, Reigate, Lynn, Guildford, Dartmouth, Liskeard, and elsewhere. Most of these buildings had formerly ranked as presbyterian; Wilson's efforts introduced into their management the congregational system. From 1804 he occasionally acted as a lay preacher. To meet the needs of a growing population he set himself to procure the erection of new chapels in the outskirts of London, among others at Kentish Town (1807), Tonbridge Place, Euston Road (1810), Marylebone Road, Paddington (1813), Claremont Chapel, Pentonville (1819), Craven Chapel, Regent Street (1822), the last three built at his sole cost. Besides giving largely towards the purchase or building of chapels in all parts of the country, he erected at his own expense chapels at Ipswich (1829), Northampton (1829), Richmond, Surrey (1830), and Dover (1838). In January 1837 he was chairman of a meeting which formed the ‘Metropolis Chapel Fund Association’ for the provision of further buildings. His munificence went also in other directions; there were few, if any, societies connected with his own body, or with the cause of evangelical religion generally, which did not benefit by his aid. He was one of the first directors (23 Sept. 1795) of the London Missionary Society. He was also one of the originators of the London University (now University College), and was elected (19 Dec. 1825) a member of its first council. In the Hewley case [see Hewley, Sarah] he was one of the relators in the action (begun 18 June 1830) against the unitarian trustees. He died at Highbury Place on 17 June 1843, and was buried in Abney Park cemetery, where is a monument to his memory. He married (31 March 1791) Elizabeth, younger daughter of Arthur Clegg, timber merchant, of Manchester, who survived him with several children. Daniel Wilson (1778–1858) [q. v.], bishop of Calcutta, was his first cousin.

His son, Joshua Wilson (1795–1874), barrister of the Inner Temple, was born in London on 27 Oct. 1795, and died at 4 Nevill Park, Tunbridge Wells, on 14 Aug. 1874. He married (1837) Mary Wood, only daughter of Thomas Bulley of Teignmouth, and left sons, Thomas and John Remington. In connection with the litigation of which the Hewley case was a sample, he devoted much time to the investigation of early dissenting history. His fine collection of puritan divinity and biography is at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London. He published, besides some religious tractates (one of them signed ‘Biblicus’):

  1. ‘An Historical Inquiry concerning … English Presbyterians,’ 1835, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1836, 8vo.
  2. ‘English Presbyterian Chapels … Orthodox Foundations,’ 1844, 8vo.
  3. ‘Calumnies confuted … in Answer to the Quarterly Review on the Bicentenary Celebration,’ 1863, 8vo.
  4. ‘A Memoir of … Thomas Wilson,’ 1846, 8vo.

[Leifchild's Funeral Sermon for Thomas Wilson, 1843; Wilson's Memoir of Thomas Wilson, 1846 (portrait); McCree's Thomas Wilson the Silkman, 1879; Cornwall's Funeral Sermon for Joshua Wilson, 1874; Times, 24 Aug. 1874, 9 Oct. 1874; Halley, in Congregationalist, 1875, p. 95; information from T. Wilson, esq., Harpenden.]

A. G.