James Wilson (1756-1830) originally apprenticed to A. Murray, cooper of Beith, between 1771 and 1774 was a cooper in Pollokshaws and later (possibly) a farmer in Lochwinnoch, near Paisley. In 1782 he married Margaret Blackburn, daughter of John Blackburn and Margaret Clark. They had ten children, the sixth of whom, James Wilson (1794-1863), carried on the trade of cooper and in 1816 also entered into partnership with his elder brother John (1783-1834) as a soap and candlemaker, continuing to pursue both trades in Pollokshaws.
In 1825 James married Helen Primrose, the eldest of sixteen children of William Primrose and Christian Brown. James and Helen Wilson had ten children, two of whom - William Primrose Wilson (1836-1926) and James Wilson (1848-1919) - formed the company of Wilson Brothers to manufacture wool in Alva, Clackmannanshire. Both William and James Wilson became members of the Bakers' Incorporation of Glasgow in 1893 and Burgesses of the City of Glasgow in the same year.
In 1878 the younger James Wilson married Margaret Steven, the second of seven children of Alexander Steven and Agnes Ann McNeil. They moved down to London in 1893 where he looked after the London end of the business and built it into a more successful concern. His older brother was responsible for the company's affairs in Alva. The family moved back to Alva in 1908. James and Margaret Wilson had four children: Alexander Steven Wilson (1882-1976), Helen Primrose Wilson (1885-1958), James Blackburn Wilson (1888-1961) and Agnes Ann McNeil [Nancy] (1894-1944).
Alexander Steven trained as an electrical engineer at Finsbury Technical College and then worked with the German firm of Siemens Schukert Werke in Nürnberg and with Siemens Brothers and Co Dynamo Works in London. The letters he received from his family during this period give a fascinating glimpse of life in early Edwardian London. In 1907 he was asked to help his father with the family's woollen manufacturing business in Alva, and he became a partner in 1908.
James Blackburn became a partner in 1922, along with their cousin A H W Forrest. The family connection with Wilson Brothers was continued through Alexander Steven's son Peter Sidney Steven Wilson (1925-1992).
Helen Primrose was a nurse during the Great War of 1914-1918, while James Blackburn Wilson served with the French Red Cross, in the Verdun Sector, between February 1916 and April 1917, and later the British Army, between May 1917 and February 1919, serving in both Britain and France. In 1922 he married Mary Taylor Watt, the youngest of seven children of John Watt and Agnes Taylor Dickie, and a sister of Professor Hugh Watt, sometime Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
James Watt Wilson, who gave the collection to the University, is the youngest of three children of James Blackburn and Margaret Wilson, and was born in 1930.