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Dixon, George (1820-1898) (DNB01)

DIXON, GEORGE (1820–1898), educational reformer, born on 1 July 1820 at Gomersal, near Bradford in Yorkshire, was the son of Abraham Dixon of Whitehaven. Soon after his birth his father removed to Leeds, and on 26 Jan. 1829 he entered Leeds grammar school. About the age of seventeen he spent a year in France, studying the language. In 1838 he came to Birmingham and entered the house of Rabone Brothers & Co., foreign merchants. In 1844 he was made a partner, and ultimately on the retirement of his brother Abraham he became head of the firm. In connection with the business of the house he resided for three years in Australia.

After his return he threw himself into municipal affairs. He was an active member of the Birmingham and Edgbaston Debating Society, in which almost all local politicians learned and practised the art of speaking. He embarked in several undertakings with a view to improving the condition of the people. Mainly owing to his efforts Aston Hall and park were secured for the town and opened on 22 Sept. 1866. He was also one of the original promoters of the rifle volunteer movement in Birmingham, which was inaugurated at a meeting held in the committee-room of the town hall in December 1859.

In 1863 Dixon entered the town council as a representative of Edgbaston ward, and on 9 Nov. 1866 he was elected mayor. His year of office was memorable for the riots in June 1867 occasioned by the 'anti-popery' propaganda of a zealot named William Murphy and of George Hammond Whalley [q. v.] It was necessary to call out a squadron of hussars to disperse the mob, Dixon, who had previously refused Murphy the use of the town hall, rode boldly among the enraged crowd at Bull ring and read the Riot Act.

Dixon, who was an advanced liberal in politics, took an active interest in the question of popular education. Early in 1867 he initiated a series of conferences on the state of education in Birmingham, which were attended by representatives of all political parties and of various shades of religious thought. Among those who participated was Dr. Temple, then head-master of Rugby. The conference passed a resolution that it was desirable to promote an act of parliament 'empowering municipal corporations to levy a rate for educational purposes,' and another deprecating the employment of children of tender age, unless due provision were made for their instruction at school. A third resolution advocating compulsory ducation, in which Dixon was supported by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, found the society divided in opinion. These conferences led to the formation of the Birmingham Education Aid Society, to assist to provide additional schools, and to aid in paying the fees of the poorer children. In 1868, with the co-operation of Mr. Chamberlain, John Sandford (1801-1873) [q. v.], George Dawson (1821-1876) [q. v.], and Robert William Dale [q. v. Suppl.], the National Education League was founded at a private meeting at Dixon's residence. It had for its object 'the establishment of a system which should secure the education of every child in England and Wales,' and carried on an active propaganda throughout the country. The first conference of the league was held in Birmingham on 12 and 13 Oct. 1869, when Dixon filled the office of president.

On the death of William Scholefield [q. v.] Dixon was returned to parliament for Birmingham on 23 July 1867. He retained his seat until June 1876, when, owing to his wife's ill-health, he retired, and was succeeded by Mr. Chamberlain. On the introduction of the elementary education bill into the House of Commons by William Edward Forster [q. v.] in 1870, Dixon took a leading part in endeavouring to amend it in accordance with the views of the advanced liberals. He moved an amendment to the second reading, opposing the proposal to leave the question of religious instruction to be determined by the local authorities. The amendment was negatived after a long debate. On 5 March 1872 he unsuccessfully moved a resolution in condemnation of the Elementary Education Act, chiefly because it omitted to provide for the general establishment of school boards, and in 1874 he assisted to bring in a bill to make compulsory attendance general, which was supported by Forster, but was not allowed to pass.

Dixon was returned to the first Birmingham school board on 28 Nov. 1870, and was re-elected in 1873 and 1876. After his withdrawal from parliament he devoted his entire attention for some years to the business of the board. In November 1876 he succeeded Mr. Chamberlain as chairman, and retained the post until 1897, when his health compelled him to relinquish it. He constantly advocated that school-board teaching should be of the very best character, and in accordance with his opinions he subscribed liberally to the cost of scholarships, and equipped at his own expense the 'seventh standard' or technical school at Bridge Street, which has served as a model for other schools of the same character.

When the boundaries of the parliamentary borough of Birmingham were extended in 1885 Dixon was returned for the Edgbaston division, a seat which he retained until his death. He separated himself from Gladstone in 1886 on the question of Irish home rule, and threw in his lot with the liberal unionist section of the party. In May 1896 he strongly opposed Sir John Gorst's education bill, retaining his seat in parliament for that purpose, and reviving the National Education League to carry on external agitation against that and later conservative measures. On 4 Jan. 1898 Dixon received the honorary freedom of Birmingham from the city council. He died at his residence, The Dales, Edgbaston, on 24 Jan. 1898, and was buried in Wilton cemetery on 28 Jan. He married, in 1855, Mary, youngest daughter of James Stansfeld, judge of the Halifax county court, and sister of Sir James Stansfeld [q. v. Suppl.] She died on 25 March 1885, leaving three sons and three daughters. [Birmingham Daily Post, 25, 27, 28, 29 Jan. 1898; Times, 25, 29 Jan. 1898; Daily Chronicle, 25 Jan. 1898; Leeds Grammar School Register, 1897, p. 23; Reid's Life of Forster, 1888; Smith's Life of John Bright, 1881, ii. 512; Ann. Reg.; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates.]

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