William Ford BURTON


Following the publication of “The Lost Powder Mills of Leigh” a number of experts have provided extra information, as well as being given more stories about the powder mill workers from distant relatives.

As readers will remember, although idea of gunpowder manufacture was started by the fathers and sons of two families, the Children family and the Burtons, after about 1818 the whole operation was being run by William Burton, the eldest son of James Burton who had rebuilt Mabledon at the top of Quarry Hill.

Historian, Neil Cooke, has been researching the Burton family and says he has found a large amount of information about William’s brothers. As well as the famous architect, Decimus, there was a well-known lawyer, a famous doctor and a somewhat eccentric Egyptologist, who apparently bought and sold young slave girls and smoked opium.  And branches of the family seemed to have been shrewd at starting businesses to capitalize on what was needed at the time.  As well as the gunpowder mill, they started a brickworks and an iron works in Wales to produce bits and pieces for use in house building.

However, compared to his brothers, William seems to have led a dull life.  He had not gone to university and so never really had the opportunity of getting in to one of the professions.  Although he was in effect the sole owner of the gunpowder mills, William does not seem to have lived at Mabledon or even in Kent.  He is consistently shown as living in Marylebone where he died in 1856 having run the successful gunpowder business for 40 years – presumably with the day-to-day management undertaken by his manager

Neil Cooke can find little extra about William other than a letter where his father chides William about his “unfortunate” children – by which he presumably meant illegitimate.  William never married and his Will left the business to his brother, Alfred, with strict instructions that it be sold.  There were no unexplained bequests to strange ladies, let alone children.  Neil Cooke is still trying to discover who the mother might have been and whether she and the children were provided for in some other way*: but, in any case it seems unlikely that the mother was a Leigh lady.  (Of course if you have any suspicions, let me know).


Parish Magazine Article: Mar 2012: by Chris Rowley


On looking into this further, it would appear that the two children of William Ford Burton had been well educated and relatively successful:   Henry Marley (Burton) was probably baptized as Henry Marley on 12 Dec 1821, son of William Marley and Sally Marley, father occ. gentleman (at St Marylebone) – the name given on the birth certificate is probably fictitious: the death indexes give Henry Marley Burton dying in 1880, age at death of 59.   Henry Marley (Burton) became an architect, he left a Will and his father (W F Burton) was named an executor, although he eventually pre-deceased his son.   William Warwick (Burton) became a solicitor, articled to Septimus Burton (his uncle: Septimus, who died 1842). Tracing William Warwick Burton has proved tricky, although he appears in the 1851 census and death indexes for 1861.  And there appears a Letter of Administration in the Wills Calendars giving his death as 21 October 1861, and so he died relatively young, though a birth/baptism has not been found.  His effects were granted to his daughter Jessy Burton.  Both Henry and his family were left money and other items in Decimus Burton’s Will; and likewise the children of William Warwick Burton.

Thus, it would appear therefore that the children were provided for and hopefully acknowledged either by their father, or their father’s family.


Joyce Field (further details in LHS archive)


We hope that Neil Cooke’s book will eventually shed some more light on the family and in particular the descendants of William Ford Burton.