who was born in 1825 in Chesterfield , the oldest of six children
of William Burkitt a maltster and his wife Ellen. He went into his
father's business as a corn merchant and maltster. By 1851, he had
moved to King's Lynn in Norfolk, while one of his younger brothers,
Samuel (born in 1830) stayed behind to run the Chesterfield end
of the business, and eventually went into partnership with William
under the name of W. & S. Burkitt.
a few details of the business activities of W. & S. Burkitt survive.
Their principal premises were in Purfleet Place and Queen Street
in Lynn, Saltergate in Chesterfield and Langwith, Nottinghamshire,
the last-named having a railway siding connected to the Midland
and Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railways. They imported
grain and feedstuffs; the steamer "Wick Bay" went aground near the
Daisley beacon in December 1889 while approaching Lynn with a cargo
of cattle cake and maize from Baltimore for them. The Burkitts would
also have been well placed to meet the growing demand for malt from
the industrial-scale breweries of the East Midlands, and with a
siding off the King's Lynn docks railway were able to serve their
customers by either rail or barge.
Burkitt's adopted hometown of Lynn is situated in the middle of
the Fens where the river Great Ouse enters the Wash. It had once
been an important port, but in the early decades of the nineteenth
century had experienced a period of genteel decline. This was rudely
shattered by the opening of railways to Ely in 1847 and to Wisbech
and Dereham in 1848, all of which were amalgamated into the Great
Eastern Railway in 1862. The Lynn and Sutton Bridge Railway, opened
in 1866, was the start of a long-drawn-out campaign to break the
Great Eastern's near monopoly in East Anglia, eventually forming
part of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. The railways,
according to correspondents in the local press, opened a "breach
in the town walls" to admit "a new race of bustling individuals"
who supplanted the former "gentlemanly merchants".
Burkitt was certainly one of those "bustling individuals". Recognising
the importance of cheap transport for his business, he was one of
the promoters of the King's Lynn Docks & Railway Co. in 1865. He
remained a director of the company until 1888, during which time
it dredged out the old river channel to take larger ships, built
the Alexandra Dock (1869) and the Bentinck Dock (1883), owned warehouses
and mills, and laid down a three-quarter mile branch railway connecting
with the GER, which worked the docks railway by agreement. William
Burkitt also served two terms as mayor of the Borough of King's
Lynn (1863-64 and 1886-87) and was a magistrate and a director of
the local gas company. He married in 1881 at the age of 56 Emma
Rodwell Durrant; his wife, ten years his junior, died in 1892 and
William Burkitt paid for the restoration of the Trinity Chapel of
St Margaret's Church, of which he was a churchwarden, as a memorial
Burkitt himself died at the age of 81 on 7 June 1906, leaving an
estate valued at £219,501, a very substantial sum in those days.
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