Several days reading in Sheffield Archives has shed dazzling light on the distant and dusty years of the chapel’s history. Tucked amongst the papers of the Sheffield Smelting Company lie letters, documents, accounts and records, waiting for someone, one day to find them. Once pieced together with our working knowledge of the chapel, originally a school, it all begins to make sense.
Mary-Anne, in her will, leaves £400 to be invested to provide an income for the school. In a handwritten note, written in 1885 she adds the furniture and stove from the chapel in the laundry for use in the room in the school building that will be “appropriated” for worship. This brief note helps clarify our confusion as to the original function of the building. It seems it was built as a school for multi-purpose use when Wincobank Hall and the outbuildings were sold off. What foresight – how modern!
In addition to the £400 left to the school trust that she had set up, Mary-Anne planned that the proceeds from the sale of Wincobank Hall should be invested in an annuity fund so that the school master and his wife would have a permanent income and so would never have to leave Wincobank. They were also bequeathed the rights to live in the School House for their lifetime. Mary-Anne estimated that the Hall was worth the £4,000 specified in her will, but by the time she died the building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it could not be sold.
Despite the fact that they themselves, only received a quarter share of the sale of furniture from the Hall worth £59, her nephews, Henry Joseph Wilson and John Wycliffe Wilson seem to have honoured the commitment anyway. Records show that there were outstanding debts for the school and that it was at least temporarily closed while they sorted out what can only be described as a well intentioned mess.
Like her father before her, Mary-Anne had been ambitious, innovative and a compulsively generous risk-taker. It was just as well that her sister’s descendents proved to be people of great integrity and conviction who honoured their respected aunt’s intentions and acted as trustees of the charity well into the next century. Well done the Wilsons!
We should love to make contact with any direct descendents of HJ or JW Wilson and show you how hard we are working to carry on their good work.
This interpretation board near Royds Mills by the River Don in Attercliffe, aptly describes the Read family and their descendents as both austere and passionate. The Reads, Wilsons and Mary-Anne Rawson left their indelible stamp on Sheffield by their passionate campaigning for many causes.
This family embodied the phrase “Waste Not, Want Not” for they were early recyclers, collecting the sweepings from metalworkers then smelting and refining to reclaim precious metals from dust. The proceeds of this trade have done much good for many although there were inevitably casualties along the way, none more so than Mary-Anne’s father Joseph Read anad his brother John Read, the younger. Although at one point one of the wealthiest families in Sheffield the Read Family allowed their fortune to dwindle away as finance for their projects, hospitality for travelling campaigners, innumerable published pamphlets and books, and in payment of the debts of others.
Largely through the fastidious book-keeping and careful management by the husband and descendents of Mary-Anne’s sister Eliza Wilson, the Sheffield Smelting Company was rescued from the brink of ruin and rebuilt to thrive and continue to this present day as THESSCO LTD. The Wilsons in turn, gave back to the city and to the country.
It would be wonderful to make contact with a descendent of this extraordinary dynasty of non-conformist philanthropists whose ancestry stretch far back into the seventeenth century to the Civil War when they were firmly for Parliament. They live on in the books that each generation wrote about the work of their parents. A wealth of fascinating material is lodged in Universities and archives around the country. A rich and fascinating treasure trail.