Manuscripts and Special Collections

Biography of William Denison (1714-1782) and Robert Denison (1720-1785)

William and Robert were sons of John Denison and Ann Wilkinson of Leeds, and members of an extended family of successful wool merchants in the Leeds area.

William's wool business was based in a house and offices on Kirkgate in Leeds. He was also a partner in the London bank of Sir George Colebrooke and Josiah Smith. He traded extensively with Italy, and was said to have accumulated a significant fortune when one of his ships, laden with goods, arrived at Lisbon the day after the city was devastated by an earthquake in 1755.

William spent the profits of his businesses on acquiring and improving landed estates. By his death he was in possession of estates at Ossington and Sutton-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire (which he purchased from the heirs of the Cartwright family in 1768), Kelstern, Calsthorpe, Elkington and Welton in Lincolnshire, Beswick and Rimswell in Yorkshire, and Coatham, Grindon and Chilton in county Durham, as well as property at Leeds, Beeston, Hunslet, Woodhouse and Potterton.

His favoured estates were Ossington and Beswick, although he rarely visited either of the houses. William commissioned designs from the architect John Carr (1723-1787) for a garden temple at Ossington, and a new church and mausoleum.

He died at Bath in 1782, and his estates passed to his younger brother Robert Denison, a partner in William's business enterprises. Robert survived him for just three years, and oversaw preliminary work on the church, which was completed in 1786.

Most of William Denison's estates passed, after the death of Robert Denison, to his nephew John Wilkinson. The Leeds estates were devised jointly to John Wilkinson and his brother Edward Wilkinson in order for them to continue running the business of William Denison and Company.


William and Robert had a sister, Ann (1718-), who married John Wilkinson of Potterton, Yorkshire, and Lothbury, City of London (d 1789), and had:

  • Ann Wilkinson (1754-), m - Dunn
  • Maria Wilkinson (1756-)
  • William Wilkinson (1757-1797)
  • John Wilkinson (c.1759-1820), assumed name Denison 1795
  • Edward Wilkinson (d 1836)
  • Elizabeth Wilkinson, m John Hicks
  • Sophia Wilkinson (-1808), m - Knight
  • Amelia Wilkinson (1769-), m - Elliott

Archive Collections

  • Title deeds, settlements, estate and legal papers relating to William and Robert Denison's ownership of their estates are part of the Denison collection held in Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham



Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
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