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

DAVIDSON, JAMES (1793–1864), antiquary and bibliographer, the eldest son of James Davidson of Tower Hill, London, a stationer in business, a citizen of London, and a deputy-lieutenant of the Tower, by Ann his wife, only daughter of William Sawyer of Ipswich, was born at Tower Hill on 15 Aug. 1793. When not quite thirty years old he bought the estate of Secktor, near Axminster in Devonshire, and enlarged the small cottage there into a suitable residence. On this property he lived for the remainder of his life, interesting himself in the antiquities of the whole county of Devon, but devoting especial study to the topography and history of the parishes in and around the valley of the Axe. His works on this district comprised: (1) ‘The British and Roman Remains in the vicinity of Axminster,’ 1833; (2) ‘History of Axminster Church,’ 1835; (3) ‘History of Newenham Abbey, Devon,’ 1843, an abbey situated about a mile south of the town of Axminster; (4) ‘Axminster during the Civil War,’ 1851. Davidson's sole excursion into general literature consisted of ‘A Glossary to the Obsolete and Unused Words and Phrases of the Holy Scriptures in the Authorised English Version,’ 1850, preface pp. iii–xxii, glossary 1–166, a valuable compilation in its time, though now superseded by the kindred volume of Mr. Aldis Wright. With that exception all his works related to his adopted county. He published in 1861 a selection of ‘Notes on the Antiquities of Devonshire,’ which date before the Norman conquest, and he left behind in manuscript a record, unfortunately never committed to the press, of the principal facts, ancient and modern, of every parish in Devonshire, which embodied the fruits of his oft-repeated wanderings though the county. But his chief contribution to its history is the ‘Bibliotheca Devoniensis; a Catalogue of the Printed Books relating to the County of Devon,’ 1852, and supplement 1862. It did not profess to include the bibliography of the writings of Devonshire men, and he cannot justly be blamed for refusing to undertake so vast a labour, but within the mere narrow limits of his scheme the completeness and accuracy of his researches should always be acknowledged. A more enlarged bibliography of Devonshire, with his materials as its foundation, has long been the desire of the bookmen of the west of England, and it was at one time hoped that his eldest son would be the editor of the collections. To insure accuracy to his own volume Davidson spared neither pains nor expense, and caused all the libraries of London and the universities to be diligently ransacked. To the pages of ‘Notes and Queries’ he was one of the earliest and most constant contributors; to ‘Pulman's Weekly News’ he furnished during 1859 a series of antiquarian papers; an article by him on the ‘British Antiquities at Winford Eagle, Dorset,’ appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ xcvii. pt. ii. 99–100 (1827), and Dr. Oliver, in his grand ‘Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis,’ acknowledges, under the section of ‘Newenham Abbey,’ his indebtedness to Davidson for many particulars. After a life happily spent in his favourite pursuits he died at Secktor House, Axminster, on 29 Feb. 1864, and was buried in the cemetery of that town. He married, on 6 March 1823, Mary, only daughter of Thomas Bridge of Frome St. Quentin, Dorsetshire, and their issue was two sons and three daughters. His eldest son, James Bridge Davidson, a man cautious and reserved like his father, died on 8 Oct. 1885, aged 61, and his will was proved on 19 Dec. 1885. He was the author of many papers, but did not publish any work separately. Many of the books included in the Secktor House library, which was formed by the father and the son, were on sale, by William George of Bristol, in 1887 (catalogue, part cxxxi.)

[Pulman's Weekly News (Crewkerne), 8 March 1864, p. 3, col. 5; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 206 (1864); Pulman's Book of the Axe (1875 ed.), pp. 12, 47, 677; private information from Mr. J. B. Rowe of Plympton.]

W. P. C.