Sir James Allanson Picton’s legacy lives on in the recently-restored Picton Reading Room, part of Liverpool Central Library in William Brown Street, Liverpool. Opened in 1879, this was the first public building in Liverpool to feature electric lighting; and is now a Grade II* listed building. It was named after him in recognition of his services as the first chairman of the Liverpool Libraries Committee, a position he held from 1851 until his death.
Born at Highfield Street on 2 December 1805, Sir James began his working life in his father’s joinery and timber merchant business at the age of 13, but later pursued his ambition to become an architect. He trained with Daniel Stewart, architect and surveyor, eventually taking over his business until he retired in 1866.
Throughout his life, he played an important role in Liverpool’s heritage, including campaigning for a penny levy to provide a free library and museum for the city’s inhabitants. It was in no small part due to his efforts that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1852 and the library became a reality. He also designed several important buildings in Liverpool City Centre, some of which still survive today, such as the impressive Fowler’s Buildings located at 3-9 Victoria Street and 1-3 Temple Lane. Many locals may also be familiar with the Picton Clock Tower in Wavertree, which he erected as a memorial to his wife in 1884. Its inscription reads “Time wasted is existence; used is life.”
He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1881 in recognition of his public service. He died on 15 July 1889 at Sandy Knowe, the house he designed for himself and his family in Wavertree, which was by that time a desirable place for the wealthy to build their villas away from the polluted atmosphere of the city centre. The building has now been converted to sheltered flats.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.