Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/West, James

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WEST, JAMES (1704?–1772), politician and antiquary, born about 1704, was the son of Richard West of St. Swithin's, London, gentleman, and of Prior's Marston in Warwickshire, who married Mary Russell, of the Russells of Strensham, Worcestershire. He matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on 11 March 1719–20, aged 15, and proceeded B.A. in 1723, M.A. in 1726. In 1721 he was admitted as a student at the Inner Temple, and was called to the bar in 1728. For some years he lived in that inn, and through a fire in his chambers on 4 Jan. 1736–7 he lost many curiosities valued at close on 3,000l. On 23 Jan. 1737–8 he was admitted at Lincoln's Inn, and took up his residence there. Much later in his career he was officially connected with the Inner Temple, being elected a bencher in 1761, reader in 1767, and treasurer in 1768.

West in early life found solace from law in the study of antiquities and science. He was elected F.R.S. on 23 Nov. 1726, acted as the treasurer of the society from 30 Nov. 1736 to 30 Nov. 1768, and as its president from the latter date until his death. He became F.S.A. on 9 March 1726–7, and on 19 Feb. 1728–9 was elected a member of the Spalding Society.

At the general election in 1741 West was returned to parliament for the venal borough of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, and sat for it until the dissolution in 1768. From that year until his death he represented the constituency of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire. He was appointed joint secretary to the treasury in 1741, and held that office until 1762, when his patron the Duke of Newcastle obtained for him a pension of 2,000l. per annum. Many of his letters are among the Newcastle manuscripts at the British Museum. From 1746 to 1772 he was recorder of Poole (Sydenham, Poole, p. 242). On 5 April 1758 he became recorder of St. Albans, and from 23 Nov. 1759 he was high steward of that borough. The country seat of West was at Alscott, Preston-on-Stour, Gloucestershire, and his town house was at the west end of the Piazza in King Street, Covent Garden. There he gathered around him a marvellous library and curiosities of all kinds. He died on 2 July 1772. In 1738 he married Sarah (d. 1799), daughter and, on the death of her only brother, heiress of Sir Thomas Stevens, timber merchant at Southwark and of Eltham in Kent; with her he had a large fortune in houses at Rotherhithe. They had issue a son, James (d. 1795), and two daughters: Sarah (d. 1801), the wife of Andrew, second and last lord Archer; and Henrietta (d. 1815).

West revived, says Dibdin, the ‘love of black-letter lore and of Caxtonian typography’ (Bibliomania, 1876, pp. 376–84, where a summary of his library is given). His manuscripts, including many which had previously belonged to Bishop Kennett, were sold to Lord Shelburne, and now form part of the Lansdowne manuscripts at the British Museum. The total realised by the sale of his books, which occupied Langford twenty-four days in March and April 1773, was 2,927l. 1s., and the prices appear at the present time very low; but Horace Walpole thought that the books were ‘selling outrageously’ (Letters, ed. Cunningham, v. 455). Gough bought many of the items, particularly those with Kennett's annotations, and they afterwards went to the Bodleian Library (Sale Cat. by Samuel Paterson). The sale of the prints and drawings lasted thirteen days, the coins and medals seven days, both beginning on 19 Jan. 1773. The plate and curiosities took seven days from 27 Feb. 1773, and the pictures, with other collections, four days from 31 March. Horace Walpole records that the prints sold for a ‘frantic sum’ (ib. v. 439).

West greatly assisted James Granger [q. v.] in his biographical work on portraits (cf. Granger, Letters, 1805, pp. 33–6). He subscribed for Hearne's books, gave him a plate for Domerham's ‘Glastonbury’ (1727), and assisted in Walter Hemingford's ‘History of Edward I, II, and III,’ 1731 (cf. Brydges, Restituta, i. 65–91).

[Gent. Mag. 1772 p. 343, 1799 i. 438; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Cooke's Benchers of Inner Temple, p. 76; Admissions at Lincoln's Inn, i. 145; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 160, 468–9, iii. 619, v. 263–8, 350–1, 429, vi. 119, 344–5, 642–3, ix. 657; Nichols's Lit. Illustrations, iii. 701–2, iv. 152, 166, 789–94, vi. 701; Weld's Royal Soc. ii. 49, &c., 559–60; Blore's Rutland, p. 101; Burke's Landed Gentry, 4th ed.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 101–2, 162.]

W. P. C.