Parkinson, James (1730?-1813) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43
Parkinson, James (1730?-1813)

by George Simonds Boulger
Contains subarticle Joseph Parkinson (1783–1855).

PARKINSON, JAMES (1730?–1813), museum proprietor, was born at Shrewsbury about 1730, of parents whose family had settled in Ireland in the reign of Charles I. He was brought up to the business of a law stationer, and became agent to many noblemen's estates. When, in 1784, Sir Ashton Lever [q. v.] obtained an act of parliament to dispose of his museum by lottery, it was won by Parkinson. He at first tried to dispose of it, the Queen of Portugal and the Empress of Russia nearly becoming purchasers. Failing to effect a sale, and the rent of Leicester House, where the collection was, being very great, he bought a piece of land, on which he erected for its display the building known as the Rotunda in Albion Street, near the Surrey end of Blackfriars Bridge, where for some years it was one of the sights of London. In 1790 an anonymous ‘Companion to the Museum’ was issued, the preface to which states that ‘the present Proprietor has thought it incumbent on him to proceed in forming a Catalogue. …’ The collection was rich in minerals and fossils, and the extensive erudition on the subject evinced by this catalogue may have been partly derived from an unpublished ‘Catalogus Petrificatorum … Leverianum’ in nine folio fasciculi, which, according to a sale catalogue in the Geological Library of the Natural History Museum, was sold by Mr. Hodgson of No. 192 Fleet Street on 18 May 1832, and for which Lever is there stated to have paid two hundred guineas to Emanuel Mendez da Costa, secretary to the Royal Society. Select specimens from the museum were described by Dr. George Shaw [q. v.] in ‘Museum Leverianum,’ ‘published by James Parkinson, Proprietor of the Collection,’ the first fasciculus dedicated to George III and his queen in 1792, and the second dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks in 1796. In 1806 Parkinson sold the museum by auction in 7,879 lots, the sale lasting sixty-five days, and the sale catalogue, compiled by Edward Donovan, filling 410 pages. The building was converted into the Surrey Institution, and was afterwards used for business purposes. Having fixed too low a price for admission, Parkinson had lost money by the museum. He had, however, taken, with some success, to the study of natural history, and added considerably to the collection. Parkinson died at Somers Town, London, on 25 Feb. 1813, aged 83, leaving two sons and a daughter.

One son, Joseph Parkinson (1783–1855), architect, born in 1783, was articled to William Pilkington [q. v.], architect of Whitehall Yard. His first known executed work was the library to the Surrey Institution (formerly the Leverian Museum) in 1809. In 1811 he laid out Bryanston Square, and was surveyor to the Union Assurance Society until 1854. About 1822 he made designs in the Roman style, for alterations of and additions to Magdalen College, Oxford. These were not executed, but between 1822 and 1830 he superintended the reconstruction, in the Gothic style, of portions of the old quadrangle, and added to the length of the library. In 1831 he directed the rebuilding of the body of Streatham Church (Gothic) (Report and Proceedings of the Vestry, 1832, pp. 5–7; Morning Post, 8 Aug. 1832). Parkinson had many professional pupils, including John Raphael Brandon [q. v.] He died in May 1855, and was buried in Kensal Green.

[For the father, see Gent. Mag. 1813, pt. i. pp. 291–2. For the son, see Dict. of Architecture; Ingram's Memorials of Oxford; Buckler's Observations on St. Mary Magdalen, pp. 138, 140; Brayley's Surrey, iii. 432; Wheatley and Cunningham's London, Past and Present, iii. 336; Annual Register, 1831, p. 114; assistance from Professor T. Hayter Lewis and the Secretary of the Union Assurance Society.]

G. S. B.