The THOMAS WILSON Collection

  • by Antony Ramm and Philip Wilde, Local and Family History, Central Library
Brass plaque at St. John’s Church, Leeds, commemorating Wilson’s life.

Little is known for certain of the life of Thomas Wilson (c.1702-1761), Leeds Schoolmaster and Antiquarian. Thought to have been born around 1702 in Wragby, near Pontefract, Wilson’s first recorded appearance in the Leeds area was his marriage to Martha Ingham in 1727 at St. Mary’s Church in Beeston; a year later Wilson is reported to have purchased a house in Leeds itself. Thomas and Martha are known to have had at least one child: Joseph, later a bookseller based on Kirkgate.

Parish Register entry for the marriage of Thomas Wilson and Martha Ingham, 1727. ©

It is not known exactly when Wilson began teaching. However, in 1728 Wilson persuaded his “most intimate companion” Thomas Kitching, dying tragically young of consumption, to bequeath two houses to the Leeds Charity School. Wilson is recorded in documents as the Master of the Lower School from 1731; in 1750, he was appointed Master of both the Lower and Upper Schools on the death of the former Master, John Lucas.

It is his Antiquarian work, however, that best recommends Wilson to posterity. While this work is now little known, it was esteemed enough in his own time that Wilson was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1750. Such work included transcriptions of manuscripts, deeds and documents of all kinds, including the Chartularium Kirkstallense (Charters relating to Kirkstall Abbey), the Domesday Book for the County of York, the 1610 Survey of the Manor Leeds, and a thorough annotation of Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis.

Wilson was likely a deeply religious man, working as the Parish Clerk from 1735 to 1749, where he recorded baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as annotating significant entries in previous registers. It was to the Almighty, in fact, that Wilson attributed his Antiquarian interests and abilities, writing that “It pleased God to implant in me a Genius truly historical”.

Wilson’s preface to his Historical Register, c.1750. © The Leeds Library

Working tirelessly and diligently at these educational and scholarly pursuits – adopting the Latin Nulla Dies Sinae Linea (‘Not a Day without a Line’) as his motto – Wilson reported suffering from ill health in the 1750s, quite possibly an early manifestation of the fever from which he would finally die in 1761. He is buried in the cemetery of St. John’s Church, near to the Charity School where he once worked so selflessly for the people of Leeds.

You can now read more about Thomas Wilson and his connection to the Central Library’s Cistercian Missal in a longer article by Philip Wilde, reference copies of which are available from our Local and Family History department. 

Click on a title to explore the Central Library’s Thomas Wilson Collection. A full guide to Wilson’s works is available by clicking on the image at the end of this list.

The Annotated Ducatus Leodiensis (c.1745)

The Chartularium Kirkstallense (c.1740)

Liber Judiciarius: Dooms-Day Book for the County of York (1748)

The First and Second Decree of the Committee of Pious-Uses in Leedes

Update 2022: This article has recently been cited in an academic project – a digital edition of a major eighteenth-century print series, Vetusta Monumenta (Ancient Monuments):