Eli Marsden Wilson

Eli Marsden Wilson

Eli Marsden WilsonEli Marsden Wilson was the only son of Alfred Wilson and Emma nee Marsden and was born on the 24th June 1877 in Ossett. The Wilson family lived at Runtlings Terrace and later moved to Headlands.

After first working as a clerk in a mill, Eli Wilson attended Wakefield College of Art, before moving to the Royal College of Art in London where he became a pupil of Sir Frank Short, an eminent painter and etcher.

At the turn of the century, there was a revival in the art of etching, and by the early 1900s it was a profitable art form. Eli Marsden Wilson returned to his roots for his first commercial etching, which was a scene showing Ossett Market, and a version of this etching can be seen today at Wakefield Art Gallery where it can be viewed by prior arrangement.

Eli married a lady called Hilda Mary Pemberton born on the 28th December 1871 in London. Hilda was the daughter of Frederick Blake Pemberton, a noted civil engineer and his wife Lucy. Hilda was also the grand-daughter of a Major Pemberton who had served, with distinction, in India with the British Army. The couple were married in the June quarter of 1905 in the Wandsworth Registration District of London when Hilda was 33 and Eli was 28. Sadly, the couple didn’t have children. It is assumed that Eli met Hilda because she was also an artist with a strong interest in etching as an art form and she was very successful in her own right.

From his family roots in Ossett as a Wesleyan Methodist, Eli Marsden Wilson became a Quaker and a pacifist. He was also a vegetarian, which must have been very rare in the early 1900s. It is possible that his religious beliefs may have caused him to move to a vegetarian diet. He was also an absolutist Consciencious Objector and refused to serve or help the war effort during WW1.

Ossett Market Place

Above: Wilson's etching of Ossett Market Place, his first commercial work. The original is available for viewing at Wakefield Art Gallery.

In all, during WW1 there were more than 16,000 recorded British conscientious objectors; 6,312 were arrested; 5,970 were court-martialled and sent to prison, where they endured privations both mental and physical (819 spent over two years in prison, including Eli Marsden Wilson). At least 73 COs died because of the harsh treatment they received; a number suffered long-term physical or mental illness. 1,330 “absolutists” refused to do any kind of alternative war work, but never won exemption for this principled stand. Some agreed to join the Home Office Scheme, which allowed COs out of prison to to take up places at Work Camps where they carried out menial tasks such as farm work, construction and forestry. Some of the COs found this kind of work not much to their liking, so changed their minds and went back to prison. A few 'absolutists' volunteered for the Home Office Scheme, but were kept separate from the other COs.

By the time of the Wall Street Crash in the 1920s, etchings had become almost like currency and people bought and sold them like they do stocks and shares or even gold. Wilson had enjoyed the boom in the popularity of etchings as one of the British school of painter-etchers of the time. However, the Wall Street Crash changed everything and the market disappeared completely for etchings. The fashion was no longer fashionable. Wilson had to adapt to the changing market and so concentrated more on painting rather than print making. He went to Italy in the 1920s to develop his knowledge and devised some new painting methods. Landscapes were his favourite - painted in the traditional way. City scenes of places like Oxford or York, with dreaming spires or fine architecture were also much favoured.

Obituary of Eli Marsden Wilson The son of Ossett textile worker who became famous in the world of art, Mr. Eli Marsden Wilson, died at his home 9, Faraday Road, Acton, London, on Saturday, aged 88. Son of Mr. Alfred Wilson, who was the foreman manager at Mark Oldroyd's mill, Dewsbury, Mr. Wilson went to seek fame and fortune in London during his early manhood and became a professional artist specialising in etchings and earning considerable repute. He became an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters - Etchers and Engravers, and exhibited on many occasions in the Royal Academy and at international exhibitions. He executed many important works, one of which, a frieze depicting prehistoric England is in the Geological Museum at South Kensington. One of his proudest achievements was a tiny etching, the size of a postage stamp, which he was specially invited to make for the late Queen Mary's Doll's House. His wife, by whom he was predeceased about eight years ago, was an artist in water colours and had many of her works exhibited in art galleries throughout Britain. They celebrated their golden wedding in 1955. One of Mr. Wilson's etchings that was exhibited by the Royal Academy, and which became famous, depicted Ossett Market Place 60 years ago with gas flares on the stalls and the women wearing shawls. A more recent commission was a number of scenes in Lundy Island, carried out at the request of the owner. In the exhibition of the Royal Society of Painter - Etchers and Engravers held in London in 1933, Mr. Wilson had an etching of West Wells, Ossett with a pair of aproned housewives gossiping on the doorsteps. One or two of his pictures are in Wakefield Museum, and in the recent exhibition of local art at Ossett Town Hall, a couple of his works were entered by his nephew, Mr. Edward Wilson Clay of Ossett, whom he had frequently visited in recent years. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson had no children. Mr. Wilson was an elder in the Quaker movement. He was cremated yesterday at Mortlake, London.

'Ossett Observer' dated 20th November 1965.


1. "Ossett Through The Ages" Facebook article by Anne-Marie Fawcett.

2. Ancestry web page.

3. Photographs and Mickman family information courtesy of Kath and Clive Machell.