Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Picton, James Allanson

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PICTON, Sir JAMES ALLANSON (1805–1889), antiquary and architect, son of William Pickton (so the name was then spelt), joiner and timber merchant, was born at Liverpool on 2 Dec. 1805. After receiving an elementary education he entered his father's office at the age of thirteen, and a few years later took a situation under Daniel Stewart, architect and surveyor, to whose business he ultimately succeeded. He executed some important buildings in and about Liverpool, and became a leading authority on land arbitrations. Public life in various forms early claimed his attention. He took part in local religious and philanthropic work, edited a controversial magazine, the ‘Watchman's Lantern,’ and in 1849 entered the Liverpool town council. He was also a member of the Wavertree local board from its commencement in 1851, and was its chairman almost from that date. Immediately on entering the Liverpool council he devoted himself to the promotion of a public library for the town, and in 1852, as a consequence of his advocacy, a special act of parliament was obtained to authorise the levying of a penny rate for the support of a public library and museum. The new institution was forthwith started, and has grown to be one of the most important of its kind. Sir William Brown subsequently provided magnificent buildings for the library and museum, and in 1879 the corporation added the fine ‘Picton Reading Room.’ Picton was appointed the first chairman of the library and museum committee in 1851, and he retained the position until his death. He was also a promoter of the Liverpool Mechanics' Institution, a president of the Philomathic, the Literary and Philosophical, the Architectural, and other local societies. He was a member of the Society of Antiquaries and of other archæological and scientific associations, and was a frequent contributor to their proceedings, as well as to ‘Notes and Queries.’ One of his special studies was philology, in which he attained considerable proficiency. His attainments and public services were recognised by the conferment of a knighthood in July 1881. He died in his eighty-fourth year, on 15 July 1889, at his residence, Sandyknowe, Wavertree, near Liverpool, and was buried at Toxteth Park cemetery. There is a bust of him by McBride in the Liverpool Free Library.

He was married, on 28 April 1828, to Sarah Pooley, who died in 1879. Of his six children, the eldest son, James Allanson Picton, was M.P. for Leicester from 1884 to 1894. His principal literary work was his ‘Memorials of Liverpool,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1873; 2nd edit. 1875. He had previously published an ‘Architectural History of Liverpool,’ 4to, 1858, and he subsequently edited ‘Selections from the Liverpool Municipal Archives and Records, 1207–1835,’ 2 vols, 4to, 1883–6. The directions of his studies may be estimated from the titles of the following papers, which he contributed, with some fifty others, to the transactions of learned societies:

  1. ‘Changes of Sea-Levels on the West Coast of England.’
  2. ‘Ancient Gothic Language.’
  3. ‘Sanskrit Roots and English Derivations’ (privately printed with No. 2 in 1864).
  4. ‘South Lancashire Dialect.’
  5. ‘Origin and History of the Numerals’ (privately printed, 1874).
  6. ‘Glacial Action in Norway.’
  7. ‘On the Crest of the Stanleys.’
  8. ‘Self-Government in Towns.’
  9. ‘Falstaff and his Followers.’
  10. ‘City Walls of Chester.’
  11. ‘Wren and his Church Architecture.’
  12. ‘The Progress of Iron and Steel as Constructive Materials,’ 1879. This paper was translated into several European languages.

[Life by his son, J. A. Picton, 1891 (with good portrait); Liverpool newspapers, 16 July and 3 Oct. 1889; C. W. Stubbs, dean of Ely, in his For Christ and City, 1890; H. H. Higgins's funeral sermon, 1889.]

C. W. S.