Monday, 6 April 2009

Kitty Wilkinson

One of the windows in Liverpool Cathedral is dedicated to notable Liverpool women. One of these is Kitty Wilkinson, a name known to all folk who are enthusiastic about Liverpool and its history.

Catherine (Kitty) Wilkinson (nee Seaward) was born in 1786 in Londonderry, Ireland. At the age of three Catherine's father decided to move the family to Liverpool. However, tragedy struck when the ferry the family were on collided with the Hoyle Bank as it neared the Mersey Estuary, Kitty's father and sister were drowned.
Kitty and her mother struggled to survive and at the age of 12 Kitty went to work in a cotton mill in Caton near Lancaster. It was during this period that Kitty attended night school where she learned to read and write. Soon afterwards she married a sailor who sadly, was lost at sea, leaving Kitty with two young children and a mother (who was now blind and insane) to support.

When her mother died Kitty moved back to Liverpool where she married Tom Wilkinson a man she had met when she had worked in Caton. It was during the cholera epidemics of 1832-40 that Kitty rose to national prominence. The only boiler in Denison Street, where Kitty resided was in her scullery. Kitty offered it to the people of the area to wash any infected clothes or bed-linen, So many people took up the offer that Kitty had to fit the cellar out as a wash-house, and so the seed of the idea of a public wash-house was planted.

The first 'Wash House.' Instigated By Kitty Wilkinson and her husband, opened in May 1842, in Upper Fredrick Street, Liverpool. The one above is a washhouse in Albert Street. After the epidemic there were many orphans in the area and Kitty took them in every morning teaching them their bible and hymns. Tom died in 1848. Kitty died twelve years later at the age of 73. and was buried in St James Cemetery, Liverpool, the grounds of which are now part of the Anglican Cathedral. The funeral was attended by many dignitaries and the many ordinary people of Liverpool who had been touched by a truly great lady.

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