Ossington and the Denisons

Richard Wilson describes how, at Ossington, within a period of fifty years, a wealthy Yorkshire merchant family joined the ranks of the Georgian upper classes.

When Malachy Postlethwayt compiled the third edition of the Dictionary of Trade and Commerce in 1765, ‘The Mercantile station, it is certain’, he wrote, ‘affords as large a prospect for opulent acquisitions as any other; and estates got by trade have, perhaps, been far more numerous than those by any way whatsoever.’ Had he chosen to cite particular examples, no candidate had stronger claims than William Denison, the descendant of a long line of West Riding clothiers, who had made broad cloths for generations at Great Woodhouse, a village on the edge of Leeds.

From modest origins the family sprang into sudden prominence about the end of the seventeenth century. The name, as the Sitwells (descendants of another branch of the same family) discovered, was common in Leeds; and their early genealogy is almost impossible to disentangle. Robert Denison, William’s father and twice Mayor of Leeds, made a fortune buying cloth in the cloth halls of Leeds, Wakefield and Halifax for export to Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands.

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