Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Jackson, William Lawies

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JACKSON, WILLIAM LAWIES, first Baron Allerton (1840–1917), politician, was born at Otley in the West Riding of Yorkshire 16 February 1840, the eldest son of William Jackson, a leather merchant and tanner of Leeds. His education at a private school at Adel and later at the Moravian school at Fulneck was cut short at an early age. His father had once already compounded with his creditors, and his business was again almost bankrupt when, on his death, young Jackson succeeded to it at the age of seventeen. An iron will, exceptional health, and unremitting hard work before long enabled him to pay off all his father’s creditors in full; and while still a young man he found himself at the head of an unencumbered and very valuable business which, under his continued care, grew to be one of the largest tanning and leather currying concerns in the kingdom. Jackson was an originator of the Leeds leather fair, and one of the earliest tanners to grapple seriously, and at great cost, with the problem of river pollution.

In 1869 Jackson entered the Leeds borough council, where he speedily made a name not only in debate and in the organization of the conservative party, at that time a feeble minority, but also in finance. It was on his initiative that the heavy debts of the borough were funded, the old mortgage system abolished, and the civic budget reduced to order. His services to Leeds continued throughout his life and were recognized by his election to the lord mayor’s chair in 1895, and to the honorary freedom of the city in 1908.

After an unsuccessful attempt in 1876, Jackson was elected to parliament in the conservative interest for North Leeds in 1880, and continued to represent Leeds, or one of its divisions, till his elevation to the peerage as Baron Allerton, of Chapel Allerton, Yorkshire, in 1902. After only five years in the House of Commons he was selected (1885) by Lord Randolph Churchill for the financial secretaryship to the Treasury, a post which he held till 1891. He was thus assistant to (Viscount) Goschen [q.v.] in March 1888 when that great financier carried his scheme for the conversion of the national debt, and also in November 1890 at the time of the Baring crisis. In the latter month Jackson was sworn of the Privy Council; and in February 1891 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In November 1891 Jackson succeeded Mr. Balfour in the thankless office of chief secretary for Ireland, which he held till the fall of the ministry a few months later. His chief secretaryship was uneventful: its two legislative projects, a Local Government Bill and an Education Bill, proved abortive; the former was wholly the work of his predecessor.

Jackson was a more than ordinarily silent member of the House of Commons; but he sat on important committees, which dealt with Indian railways, financial relations between the Indian and home governments, trade, bankruptcy law, War Office contracts; on all these he did valuable work, and he was also chairman of the royal commission on the coal resources of the United Kingdom (1901–1905). His tact and thoroughness were most conspicuously displayed as chairman of the inquiry (1896–1897) into South African affairs necessitated by the Jameson Raid. After the disastrous failure of the Liberator building society in 1892, his influence in the city of Leeds enabled him to make a thorough personal investigation into the affairs of building societies; and his proposals for more effective audit and financial control were embodied in the Building Societies Act of 1894. On the fiscal controversy he was at first a strong free trader, but in 1910 had so far modified his first position as to accept Mr. Balfour’s programme. His last important office was that of chairman (1895–1908) of the Great Northern Railway Company, which he successfully defended against the threatened competition of the Great Central Railway, at that time first extended to London; he eventually became chairman of a common purposes committee of the two companies.

Lord Allerton was a devout churchman and a keen and prominent freemason, and very generous both with time and money, particularly in the cause of education. He was one of the earliest promoters of the Yorkshire College, now the university of Leeds; he was also active in the maintenance and defence of church schools and in the extension of church work in Leeds. As financial secretary to the Treasury he conciliated men of all parties, and throughout his life his geniality and charm were usually successful in disarming opposition.

Lord Allerton died in London 4 April 1917. He married in 1860 Grace (died 1901), only daughter of George Tempest, of Otley. He was survived by two sons, of whom the elder, George Herbert (born 1867), succeeded him as second Baron Allerton, and by five daughters. His younger son, Francis Stanley, who was well known in early life as a county and international cricketer, was appointed financial secretary to the War Office in 1922–1923, and again in 1925.

[The Times, 5 April 1917; Yorkshire Post, 5 April 1917; J. S. Fletcher, The Making of Modern Yorkshire, 1918; Annual Register, 1891, 1892.]

S. V. FG.