John Smiles and Mary Wilson
  Ryton, Durham, and Dinnington, Northumberland

A summary of several of the descendants of John and Mary Smiles, who were born in rural County Durham as the 1800s were dawning. In particular, this narrative follows the fortunes of their son, Thomas, who became a prosperous tailor, and grandson Henry, who emigrated to the United States.

The name of Smiles is unusual in England, but it occurs most commonly in the county of Durham, and somewhat less frequently in the neighboring counties of Northumberland and Yorkshire. Its proximity to the Scottish border counties isn’t surprising - the name may be a derivation from the Scottish patronymic of Smalls, or “son of Small.” It could also be from the Middle English “smyle” or “burrow” - applied to someone who lived near a rabbit warren.

It was probably somewhere in or near the old village of Ryton set in picturesque rolling hills near the banks of the River Tyne, that a baby was born to a family by the name of Smiles in 1776. His parents named him John. By the time John Smiles reached marriageable age, the countryside around Ryton was beginning to change.  The industrialization of England was gaining strength, and already two pit villages or collieries had emerged within two miles of Ryton to take advantage of the rich coal seams there. It says something for the difficulties of an agricultural life in those times that so many were willing to leave the land for the dangerous and grueling work in England’s coal mines.

John Smiles evidently had no such desire, and when he married a Ryton girl - Mary Wilson - in 1820, they settled in Dinnington - little more than a hamlet across the border in Northumberland. It was in this obscure rural setting that they would raise their family - at least six sons and two daughters born between 1821 and 1840. The first four sons would all work on farms as agricultural laborers or husbandmen. The youngest, Stephen, would earn a living as a blacksmith. Thomas, born in the same year that St. Matthew’s Church opened its doors in Dinnington, was the exception. He left home to become an apprentice tailor, later moving north to Alnwick, the county seat. There, he eventually established his own prosperous clothing business, married and had three sons of his own.

Later, in the 1860s, a colliery would also arise later at Dinnington, and it would become known as a model pit village, with more spacious homes and facilities than those in most other pit villages.

Parents of
John Smiles
Father: Unknown
Mother: Unknown
Mary Wilson
Father: Unknown
Mother: Unknown
John Smiles: 
Born 1796, County Durham or Northumberland
Mary Wilson: 
Born 1801 Ryton, Durham, England
Children of
John Smiles and Mary Wilson

William Smiles - Born 1821 Dinnington, Northumberland
John Smiles - Born 1826 Dinnington, Northumberland
Michael Smiles - Born 1827 Dinnington, Northumberland
Mary Smiles - Born 1829 Ponteland, Northumberland
Robert Smiles - Born 1832 Dinnington, Northumberland
Thomas Smiles - Born 1835 Dinnington, Northumberland
Jane Smiles - Born 1838 Dinnington, Northumberland
Stephen Smiles - Born 1840 Ponteland, Northumberlandsmiles_thomas_and_eleanor_1835.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0


Adjoining cottages as they appear today in St. Mary’s Terrace, Old Ryton Village.

Above, center:

St Matthew’s Parish Church, Dinnington, dating from 1835. Six of the Smiles children had already been born when this church was built in the village by a local dignitary at a cost of £3000.

Above: The White Swan Inn, which is shown on maps in the early 1800s when the Smiles lived in Dinnington.

For details of the family tree of John Smiles and Mary Wilson, click on the WorldConnect icon below. This will open a window for these individuals in the Otterson-Berry family tree at, a free site.