The Jenkins Family – An Engineering Dynasty

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William Jenkins, c.1890


Cohort member William Jenkins first came to the attention of the Victorian Professions team because he is recorded as an accountant in the 1851 census. However, it quickly became apparent that we had stumbled across a family with at least seven generations of men and women whose lives were deeply intertwined with the development of one of the most important industries in the making of modern Britain: iron.

The 1851 census reveals that William Jenkins (b.1825) lived at 1 Chapel Street, Merthyr Tydfil with his father Thomas Jenkins (b.1801), mother Jane (b.1799), and younger sisters Mary (b.1828), Elizabeth (b.1836), and Catherine (b.1841). Thomas is recorded as being a ‘Shore Clerk’, but his obituary shows that Thomas was the Head Teacher of Dowlais School, and this was where William was educated. The school was founded by Sir John Guest, owner of the Dowlais Ironworks, and the buildings were designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament.


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A few months after the census was taken, William married Rosina Kirkhouse (b.1827), the youngest daughter of George Kirkhouse (b.1779 d.1842) and his wife Mary née Williams (b.1794), at Dowlais Parish Church. The Dowlais Ironworks was central to the very existence of Merthyr Tydfil, and it played a similarly important role in the lives of the Jenkins family. Not only was William employed as an accountant by the works and Thomas ran the school founded by its owner, but William’s late father-in-law George Kirkhouse had held the important positions of Chief Mineral Agent and General Manager. George was descended from the Kirkhouse-Bedlington family, a name synonymous with mining in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was George’s grandfather and great-grandfather, originally from the north-east of England, who were responsible for introducing deep-shaft mining and furnace ventilation to the coalfields of South-West Wales, innovations that made the scale of mining in Merthyr Tydfil possible.

The next census reveals that by 1861 William and Rosina had welcomed their first three children, daughters Edith Rosina (b.1852), Constance Gwenhyfar (b.1856) and Bertha Mary (b.1860), and that they remained living in Merthyr Tydfil. During this time William had progressed from being an accountant to acting as the ‘Principal Clerk and Book-Keeper at the Dowlais Iron Works’, and he worked closely with the Lady Charlotte Guest and the trustees of Sir John Josiah Guest’s estate in an attempt to make the Ironworks more profitable. William’s hard work was rewarded and in 1869 he was invited by the Consett Iron Company LTD to become the General Manager of Consett Iron Works in County Durham, only a few miles from where Rosina’s Kirkhouse and Bedlington ancestors had established their engineering and mining dynasty.

William, Rosina, Edith, Constance and Bertha moved to Consett Hall, along with their fourth daughter Alexandra Octavia (b.1864), and son William (b.1868), and William quickly became a well-known and popular local figure, serving on a wide range of committees, boards and commissions. That William was a talented engineer and manager is of little doubt; he led the Consett Iron Company to great financial success. However, the fluidity of his professional identity whereby he was able to move from accountant, to chief clerk, to general manager, is likely to also owe a debt to the network afforded to him through his marriage. These relationships were extended even further upon the marriage of William and Rosina’s daughter Alexandra to Penry Williams on 8th January 1890.

Penry Williams (b.1866) was the son of Edward Williams (b.1826) and his wife Mary née Trick (b.1826), and although he was born in Middlesbrough, his family only moved to the north-east in 1865 when his father became general manager of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co, managing some 9,000 workers. Prior to this, the Williams family had also lived in Merthyr Tydfil, where Edward’s father Taliesin Edwards had founded a school in 1816. Taliesin was the son of Edward Williams (b.1747) better known as Iolo Morganwg, the controversial Welsh poet and literary forger, which means that Penry could therefore (allegedly!) trace his lineage through 15 generations to Gwaithfoed Fawr, Prince of Dyfed and Ceredigion. The Jenkins family lived some fifty miles north of Penry and Alexandra’s home at Pinchinthorpe Hall in Guisborough and Edward and Mary’s home Cleveland Lodge in Middlesbrough, but we know that the professional activities of Edward Williams and William Jenkins had long overlapped, for example the two men were among the six founding members of the Institute of South Wales Engineers in 1857 and served as President and Vice-President respectively. In later decades both men attended the funeral of a fellow engineer and former general manager of Dowlais, William Menelaus at Tenby, Wales in 1882.

Penry was an engineer in his own right, with the 1891 census revealing that he was an ‘iron master and joint owner and manager of blast furnaces’ – all by the age of 24. He and wife Alexandra had two children, Edward (b.1891) and Bertha Mary Dorothy (b.1894), and the 1911 census shows that Penry continued to own and manage iron works. However, alongside his role as Managing Director of Linthorpe, Dinsdale Smelting Company Limited, Penry was also incredibly involved in the local community. Among many other activities, he served as a Justice of the Peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire, held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st North Riding Yorkshire Volunteer Artillery, and was the Vice-President of the South Bank Minor Football League in Middlesbrough. Penry also had a successful political career, representing Middlesbrough East as a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1918-1924. More on this to follow in a later blog (along with tales of his siblings, Aneurin and Mary Elizabeth, who aligned themselves with opposing sides of the Suffrage movement…). It is safe to say that Penry and Alexandra built upon the successes of their Welsh father and father-in-law, and managed to secure exactly the kind of socio-economic status that we might expect of a subsequent generation of a successful professional family. This success is reflected in their marital home, Pinchinthorpe Hall, an impressive building dating back to the 12th century currently on the market for £2.5m.


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Picture of Pinchinthorpe Hall courtesy of Liz Morgan at Strutt and Parker


Edward Williams died in June 1886 leaving an estate valued at £89,111, and William Jenkins passed away nine years later in May 1895, just a few days after his wife Rosina, leaving an estate valued at £92,522. Estimates of what these estates would be worth today are £8,670,000 and £9,545,000 respectively and the same calculator estimates that the £84,910 left by Penry Williams in 1945 would be worth £3,005,000 – clearly they were all men of considerable means, but it is interesting to note the decrease in the estate values in real terms between generations.

The Bedlington – Kirkhouse – Jenkins – Williams engineering and mining dynasty was further expanded upon the marriage of Edward Williams (son of Penry and Alexandra), to Muriel Hodgson Le Neve Foster (b.1892) the youngest child of Herbert Le Neve Foster (b.1854), and Annie Margaret Le Neve Foster (b.1858) in 1915. Before his untimely death in 1904, the 1901 census return shows that Herbert was employed as a ‘Metallurgist Chemist and Owner of Limestone Quarries’. Metallurgists examine the physical reactions of metal elements, and therefore they offered a crucial service to heavy industry and their relentless search for new, more efficient, production methods. Herbert was the son of eminent photographer Peter Le Neve Foster, and one of eight brothers, six of whom were either engineers or in some way connected with engineering. Interestingly, one of the few surviving records of William Jenkins’ son William, reveal that he was also employed as a metallurgist chemist in Durham, suggesting that he might possibly have shared a professional network with his nephew-in-law.

After the success of our cohort member William Jenkins, his daughter Alexandra and her husband Penry Williams, we might expect his grandchildren to go onto even greater achievements, however this does not seem to have been the case. We have not yet managed to discover the occupations of Edward Williams, or Bertha Mary Dorothy’s two husbands Geoffrey Arnold Putnam and John Leslie McKinley, and although John’s father John Joseph Harrison McKinley (b.1871) is recorded in the 1911 census as ‘Blast Furnace Manager and Engineer’, none of this final generation in our project have left the same archival footprints as their forebears.

Many aspects of William’s story show a very definite ‘Professional Project’ – through marriage and birth William and his family played an important role in the mining industry of Wales and the North-East for two centuries – but what happened that meant this social and economic advancement slowed? Come back to the Victorian Professions blog in the coming months and discover more about William Jenkins and his family network that spanned the breadth of Britain.

Dr Jennifer Aston



Photograph of William Jenkins taken from

Photograph of Dowlais School taken from

Photograph of Pinchinthorpe Hall reproduced by the kind permission of Strutt and Parker (Harrogate) and the Hall’s present owners.

Will value calculated using

BDM, Census and probate information can be requested via the family tree constructed on –

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