What's New: June 2024

June 13, 2024

Welcome to the 111th update of the Oxford DNB, which adds sixteen new articles, containing sixteen new lives, with a special focus on regions and localities in Britain. They are accompanied by sixteen portrait likenesses. From June 2024, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB) offers biographies of 65,260 women and men who have shaped the British past, contained in 62,988 articles. 12,216 biographies include a portrait image of the subject—researched in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London.

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Bardsley, Charles Wareing (1843–1898), Church of England clergyman and anthroponymist

Buckton, Alice Mary (1867–1944), educationist and playwright

Cockshutt family (act. 1739–1819), ironmasters

Cockshutt, John [i] (bap.1711, d. 1774), ironmaster [see under Cockshutt family]

Cockshutt, John [ii] (bap. 1740, d. 1798), ironmaster [see under Cockshutt family]

Cockshutt, James (bap. 1742, d. 1819), civil engineer and ironmaster [see under Cockshutt family]

Devlin, James Dacres (b. 1800, d. in or after 1863), shoemaker, poet, and radical

Dimsdale, Elizabeth (1732–1812), diarist and collector of recipes

Dyot [Dyott], Philip (bap. 1703, d. 1792), magistrate and urban landowner

Edwards, George (bap. 1750?, d. 1823), political writer    

Ellis [née Waite], Ann (1843–1919), trade unionist and power-loom weaver

Goss, William Henry (1833–1906), porcelain manufacturer

Mackenzie, Kenneth [called Kenneth Mòr; Lord Kintail], third earl of Seaforth (c.1635–1678), chief of clan Mackenzie    

Preston [née Pearson; other married name Murray], Angela Campbell- (1910–1981), businesswoman, landowner, and conservationist    

Rathbone, John (c.1750–1807), landscape painter

Robertson, Ethel Greig [Babs] (1902–1985), whisky blender and distiller

Robertson, James (1864–1944), wine and spirit merchant [see under Robertson, William Alexander (1832/1833–1897)]    

Robertson, William Alexander (1832/1833–1897), wine and spirit merchant

Wallis, Thomas (1872–1953), architect    

Williams, (John) Trevor (1938–2015), plant biologist and genetic resources conservationist

June 2024: summary of new articles

Kenneth Mackenzie, third earl of Seaforth (c.1635–1678) , succeeded to the earldom, and chiefdom of clan Mackenzie, in 1651, aged about sixteen. He inherited estates that were in debt, and which were further depleted by his support for the royalist cause in the 1650s. After the Restoration he was appointed sheriff of Ross-shire, and was able to widen Mackenzie influence in the north of Scotland, uniting his clan in support of the crown, and recovering control of the largest Seaforth lands. In 1739 the London magistrate and urban landowner Philip Dyot [Dyott] (bap. 1703, d. 1792) , inherited a parcel of land in the parish of St Giles, a high-density site of lodging houses which was heavily mortgaged to repay his father’s debts. Dyot thus became owner of one of Britain’s worst urban slums, known as ‘the Rookery’, during its period of greatest notoriety, when it was depicted in Hogarth’s Gin Lane caricature (1751). Also through inheritance in 1739, the Cockshutt family (act. 1739–1819) , a father and two sons, became lessees and managers of the Wortley forge on the river Don near Sheffield in Yorkshire. They did so during a time of opportunity and change in the iron industry. John [i] Cockshut (bap.1711, d. 1774)  succeeded his uncle as managing partner of the ironworks, developing the business, experimenting with new processes, and representing the concerns of the region’s ironmasters when parliament considered removing the duty on iron imports from north America. He was able to build a substantial house, Huthwaite Hall, for his family in 1748. His eldest son, John [ii] Cockshutt (bap. 1740, d. 1798) , who took over the management of the forge in the mid-1760s, had a particular interest in technical innovations. His younger brother, James Cockshutt (bap. 1742, d. 1819) , was a civil engineer who had been trained by John Smeaton. His knowledge of natural science was recognized by his election to a fellowship of the Royal Society in 1804. Much of his career was spent in South Wales, managing ironworks at Pontypool and Cyfarthfa, where he experimented with processes for rolling iron, and introduced the puddling technique when he took over the Wortley lease in 1793. The resulting large-scale production of wrought iron was highly profitable. Both he and his elder brother were childless and as no family member was willing to take on the business, it was sold after his death. 

The Hertfordshire diarist and collector of recipes Elizabeth Dimsdale (1732–1812) , born into a Quaker medical family in Bishop’s Stortford, lived in the household of a distant relative, the smallpox inoculator, Thomas Dimsdale, whom she later married. She kept a journal of her trip with him to St Petersburg in 1781, when he inoculated Catherine the Great’s grandsons. Their home was at Cowbridge House, Hertford, where after her husband’s death she compiled a book of 770 recipes and housekeeping hints. Notable for the volume of recipes it contained, her book also included an early recipe for doughnuts. Two other figures active in the late eighteenth century have updated articles, drawing on recent research. Probably born in Barnard Castle, co. Durham, the political writer George Edwards (bap. 1750?, d. 1823)  practiced medicine in the town. His writings advocating moral and economic reform, including scientific education for farmers, had little impact nationally. His local schemes to improve sanitation and amenities in Barnard Castle proved more successful and are commemorated in the early twenty-first century. The landscape painter, John Rathbone (c.1750–1807)  worked in north-west England in early life, earning the soubriquet ‘the Manchester Wilson’ by reference to the celebrated Welsh artist, Richard Wilson. Between 1785 and 1806 Rathbone exhibited forty-eight landscapes at the Royal Academy, generally showing idealized versions of natural scenes, including locations in northern England, the west country, Wales, and Scotland.  Probably both self-taught and semi-literate, his artistic ability has previously received limited recognition. The shoemaker, poet, and radical, James Dacres Devlin (b. 1800, d. in or after 1863) , a self-taught artisan, born in Dublin, has previously been known through his writings. More can now be established about his peripatetic life in Belfast, Dover, France, Hereford, the USA, and London where, in impoverished circumstances, he lived latterly in lodging houses. His date of death, however, remains unknown. The trade unionist Ann Ellis (1843–1919) , born in Guiseley, Yorkshire, worked as a power- loom weaver in the heavy woollen district of the West Riding, centred around Batley and Dewsbury. She came to prominence during a dispute in the industry early in 1875. She was treasurer of the committee of thirteen women mill workers who represented both male and female workers, and she addressed large meetings of the strikers. She went on to be a leading figure in the formation of a trade union representing weavers of both genders in the district and was a delegate to five meetings of the Trades Union Congress.

A Scottish business dynasty, particularly associated with the whisky trade, is represented in this update. Its originator was the wine and spirit merchant William Alexander Robertson (1832/1833–1897) , born in Leven, Fifeshire, the son of a shipowner. He went into business in Glasgow, importing wines from Bordeaux and Cadiz, and moved into the whisky trade in 1881, founding Highland Distilleries Ltd and becoming a leading figure in the Scottish trade. Latterly he helped to found the Royal Troon golf club.  His eldest son, James Robertson (1864–1944) , born in Glasgow, was helped to launch the White Horse whisky brand, and later supplied blend for the Cutty Sark brand. He left his investments in the business to his three unmarried daughters. The third daughter, Ethel Greig [Babs] Robertson (1902–1985) , born at Prestwick, Ayrshire, represented the interests of the three siblings on company boards. In 1946 she led the successful resistance to a takeover by the Canadian distillers, Seagrams, and later set up a trust company to ensure the independence of the family firm. Through the trust, the company made substantial philanthropic donations in Scotland, especially to universities. She became chairman of the company, which in 1970 acquired the Famous Grouse brand, and in 1980 forestalled another attempted merger.

The Stoke-on-Trent porcelain manufacturer William Henry Goss (1833–1906) , the son of a Spitalfields silk weaver, moved to the Potteries to work for the Copeland Spode firm, whose owner recognized his artistic talent. In 1858 he branched out on his own, producing high quality decorative ware and domestic items at his Falcon works in Stoke-on-Trent. After his son Adolphus joined the business, the firm began to produce miniature replicas of museum antiquities decorated with heraldic arms for local sale. These educational miniatures proved popular and the success of the venture saw the idea expanded to towns, cities, and parishes to exploit the developing market for affordable tourist souvenirs. The range expanded to some 700 models, with heraldic decorations available for some 4000 localities in the United Kingdom. The anthroponymist Charles Wareing Bardsley (1843–1898) , was born in Burnley, Lancashire. Vicar of Ulverston, Lancashire, from 1878 to 1893, he achieved national and international fame as the author of scholarly books on personal names (anthroponyms), the last and most influential of these being A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with Special American Instances, published posthumously in 1901 by his widow. His life’s work derived from his childhood fascination with the names above the shops that he saw as he walked to school in Manchester. Born in Haslemere, Surrey, the daughter of a noted entomologist, the educationist and playwright Alice Mary Buckton (1867–1944)  undertook voluntary social work in connection with the Southwark Women’s University Settlement and was subsequently vice-principal of a Froebelian kindergarten training centre in St John’s Wood. She wrote poetry and community plays, notably Eager Heart (1904), a widely performed Christmas mystery play which gained her international recognition. Her most significant legacy lay in her association with the Somerset town of Glastonbury, where she settled in 1913, attracted by its spiritual associations. Subsequently she was awarded a civil list pension partly in recognition of her work in preserving Glastonbury’s ancient sites and buildings. The architect Thomas Wallis, (1872-1953) , began in his working life in his family’s south London grocery shop before entering architectural practice. Between the wars his partnership was best known for its designs for factory buildings: notably the Hoover factory at Perivale (1932–5). His firm also designed buildings for public transport in London and its surrounds, including Victoria Coach Station (1931-2). His firm’s modification of 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, to create London’s Abbey Road Studios (1930–31), is of cultural significance as one of the first purpose-built recording studios. The businesswoman, landowner, and conservationist Angela Campbell-Preston (1910–1981) , whose father was a company director and MP, was brought up at the family home, Cowdray Park, Sussex, and took part in public life from her twenties, chairing a hospital board. Widowed during the Second World War, she became director then chairman of the Westminster Press, which had been acquired by her father, and which owned a string of local newspapers around England. She was committed to maintaining their local identity. She was also involved in managing the Atholl estates in Scotland, and became a benefactor of the National Trust for Scotland, of which she became a council member. 

This updates also includes a life with a global reach, the plant biologist (John) Trevor Williams (1938–2015) , who over three decades contributed to the field of plant genetic resources. From 1976 to 1990, latterly as director-general, his career was spent at the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources, whose mandate was to advance the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture at a time when many traditional crop varieties were in danger of extinction. Countries were encouraged to set up genetic resources programmes. His legacies included the creation of hundreds of genebanks worldwide.

This update also adds likenesses to fifteen existing articles, many of them with strong local associations. They include: the Warwick antiquary, John Rous (c. 1420–1492) ; the Lancashire letter writer, Dorothy Bradshaigh, Lady Bradshaigh (bap. 1705, d. 1785) ; the Leeds cloth merchant and manufacturer, Benjamin Gott (1762–1840) ; the Durham and Northumberland coalfield mining engineer, John Buddle (1773–1843) ; the London journalist and radical, Thomas Wooler (1786? –1853) ; the Nottingham mechanic and inventor of a lace-making machine, John Levers [Leavers], (bap. 1786, d. 1848) ; the Brighton poet and hymn writer, Charlotte Elliott (1789–1871) ; the Middlesbrough ironmaster and philanthropist, Henry Bolckow (1806–1878) ; the Herefordshire novelist, Annie Webb (1806–1880) ; the Isle of Man journalist and political reformer, James Brown (1815–1881) ; the Manchester suffragist leader, Lydia Becker (1827–1890) ; the Norwich lepidopterist and diarist, Margaret Fountaine (1862–1940) ; the army officer and inventor, Algernon Clement Fuller (1885–1970) ; the Tewkesbury novelist, John Cecil Moore (1907–1967) ; and the Manchester accountant and politician, Joel Barnett, Baron Barnett (1923–2014) .

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Discover a full list of entries added this year.