Ward's Book of Days.

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JULY 14th

On this day in history in 1808, died John Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was an industrialist who found numerous new applications for iron, constructed iron artefacts, devised iron machinery essential to the Industrial Revolution and became known as Iron-Mad Wilkinson. 

Wilkinson was born in Clifton, Cumbria, the son of an ironworker and inventor. At the age of twenty, Wilkinson tried to succeed where his father had failed and create a procedure for the economic production of iron. In 1709, Abraham Derby had invented a process using coke instead of charcoal but the process was still expensive. Wilkinson devised a coal-burning furnace, which smelted pig iron and produced iron in abundance.

Wilkinson went on to his fatherís factory, in what later became known as Ironbridge, where he devised a method of making canon from iron, a much cheaper material than the traditional bronze. His method involved boring the body of the canon to produce an even interior surface, which fired accurately and did not get blocked. He went on to produce a boring machine, which became essential to James Wattís steam engine.  

Wilkinson proceeded to devise rifled firearms made of iron, iron tubes, iron cylinders and an iron barge, which floated successfully and transported goods economically. He paid his workmen in coins of his own manufacture which bore his own regal features. Wilkinson made iron shoes but found them unworkable. He made iron coffins and an iron obelisk to go over his own grave. 

Wilkinson died in 1808 but the obelisk was not used to make his resting place. His executors did respect his wish to be buried in an iron coffin, at his family estate in Cumbria, but this produced some complications. Wilkinson was first buried in a wooden coffin while his iron coffin was being manufactured. Then it was found that the iron coffin would not fit into the grave, so Wilkinson was buried for a second time in a temporary grave while the original grave was augmented by blasting away an obstructing rock formation.  When the grave was at last ready, Wilkinson was buried for a third time. When the family estate was sold in 1928, Wilkinsonís coffin had to be removed again. He was buried for a forth, and hopefully last, time in Lindale Church. [Lindale, Grange Over Sands, Cumbria LA11 6LE] 

John Wilkinson's regal image on his own coins.

Recommended reading. 

Soldon, Norbert C. John Wilkinson: English Ironmaster and Inventor. Studies in British History series.  

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