Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V06, Page 625 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILLIAM COCKERILL (1759-1832), Anglo-French inventor and machinist, was born in England in 1759. He went to Belgium as a simple mechanic, and in 1799 constructed at Verviers the first wool-carding and wool-spinning machines on the continent. In 1807 he established a large machine workshop at Liege. Orders soon poured in on him from all over Europe, and he amassed a large fortune. In 18'o he was granted the rights of naturalization by Napoleon I., and in 1812 handed over the management of his business to his youngest son, JOHN COCKERILL (179o-184o). Thanks to his own energy and ability, aided by the influence of King William I. of the Netherlands, John Cockerill largely extended his father's business. King William secured him a site at Seraing, where he built large works, including an iron-foundry and blast furnace. The construction of the Belgian railways in 1834 gave a great impetus to these works, branches of which had already been opened in France, Germany and Poland. In '838 Cockerill met with a carriage accident which nearly proved fatal, and the prospect of his loss resulted in the credit of the firm being so badly shaken that in '839 it was compelled to go into liquidation, the liabilities being estimated at 26 millions of francs, the assets at 18 millions. This reverse, however, was only temporary. John Cockerill had practically concluded negotiations to construct the Russian government railways, when his constitution, undermined by overwork, broke down. He died at Warsaw on the 19th of June 1840. The iron works, among the largest in Europe, are still carried on under the name of La Societe Cockerill at Seraing (q.v.).
End of Article: WILLIAM COCKERILL (1759-1832)

Additional information and Comments

I am a direct descendant of John and William Cockerill. Strangely enough subsequently by a generation or two my great grandfather accidentally had our family name wrongly spelt on a birth certificate to Cockrill. Looking into the history of "Roving Billy" as William was known as in Haslingden Lancashire most of his life was extremely exciting but very hard. It would make a very good adventure film! In the late seventeen hundreds and early eighteen hundreds he to and froed to Belgium (then part of France) from Lancashire to escape the clutches of Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars. William and John eventually were able to settle down in Leige and became some of the earliest (most successful and richest) industrialists on the Continent During this period "Roving Billy" visited his home town of Haslingden where he had substantial property including farms, land and houses. There is a book published which is still available at Haslingden Library outlining his life called "Roving Billy". Roger William Cockrill
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