Langford, John Alfred (DNB12)

LANGFORD, JOHN ALFRED (1823–1903), Birmingham antiquary and journalist, born in Crawley's Court, Bradford Street, Birmingham, on 12 Sept. 1823, was second surviving son of John Langford, who, coming to Birmingham from Wales in 1815, started business in 1828, as a chairmaker, in Bradford Street, Cheapside (Pigot's National Commercial Directory, 1835, col. 41).

Langford owed his early education to his mother, Harriet Eaton, a paralysed invalid. After attending a private school in Brixhall Street, Deritend (1829-33), he entered his father's chair-making business at ten, and was duly apprenticed when thirteen in 1836. In his scanty leisure he read widely for himself. At nineteen, while still an apprentice, he married his first wife, and at twenty-one was a journeyman earning a guinea a week. In 1846 he became hon. secretary of the newly established Birmingham Co-operative Society.

Langford soon contributed to various periodicals, including 'Howitt's Journal.' William Howitt described a visit to him in June 1847 under the title of 'A Visit to a Working-man' (Howitt's Journal, ii. 242-4). In August 1847 he joined the new unitarian 'Church of the Saviour,' which George Dawson [q. v.] started. In a widely circulated pamphlet he defended Dawson against an attack by George Gilfillan in 'Tait's Edinburgh Magazine' (1848, pp. 279-285). In the winter of 1850-1 he taught evening classes in the schools of Dawson's church, gave up chair-making, and opened a small news vendor's and bookseller's shop. From 1852 to 1855 he carried on a printing business (45 Ann Street), and then became sub-editor of the newly founded 'Birmingham Daily Press' (7 May 1855). From 1862 to 1868 he was closely associated with the 'Birmingham Daily Gazette' (a liberal-conservative daily paper), from which he withdrew on account of his radical convictions. Always an ardent liberal, he was honorary secretary of a Birmingham branch of the 'Friends of Italy,' formed in 1851, aided in the organisation of the liberal party when its headquarters were at Birmingham under the control of Francis Schnadhorst, and joined Dawson in conducting the 'Birmingham Morning News,' an advanced liberal paper, (2 Jan. 1871 to 27 May 1876); after the split in the liberal party in 1886 he allied himself with the Gladstonian section, but gradually abandoned political work.

Langford helped in the acquisition for the public of Aston Hall and Park in 1858, and served as manager with a residence at the Hall until the purchase of the property by the corporation in 1864. He was teacher of English literature in the Birmingham and Midland Institute (1868-1874); member of the Birmingham School Board (1874-85 and 1886-91); and did much for the public libraries of the day, publishing an account of them and of the art gallery in 1871. In 1875-6 Langford made a tour round tho world with his friend (Sir) Richard Tangye (cf. his poem On Sea and Shore, 1887).

He died on 24 Jan. 1903 in his 80th year at 85 Fernley Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham. He was buried at the Key Hill cemetery, Hockley. By his first wife, Anne Swinton (d. 1847), one of his father's workwomen, he had four children, of whom only a daughter, wife of Dr. George Craig, survived. By his second wife, Mary Anne, oldest daughter of F. Pine, a printer, whom he married 7 April 1849, he had six children.

Langford's best known publications are 'Century of Birmingham Life, 1741-1841' (2 vols. Birmingham, 1868), and 'Modern Birmingham and its Institutions' (2 vols. 1873-7). Both works were largely derived from the files of 'Aris's Birmingham Gazette,' of which the 'Birmingham Daily Gazette' was an offshoot.

Among Langford's other publications (in prose) were: 1. 'Religious Scepticism and Infidelity; their History, Cause, Cure, and Mission,' 1850. 2. 'English Democracy; its History and Principles,' 1853; 2nd edit. 1855. 3. 'Staffordshire and Warwickshire Past and Present' (with C. S. Mackintosh and J. C. Tildesley), 1884, 4 vols.

He wrote much poetry of pure and tender sentiment, but not great in sustained inspiration. His poetical publications include commemorative poems on Shakespeare in 1859 and 1864; 'The Drama of a Life' (in 5 scenes) and 'Aspiranda' (1852); 'The King and the Commoner,' an historical play (Birmingham, 1870); and 'A Life for Love, and other Poems' (Birmingham, 1900).

[A full account of his early career will be found in the British Controversialist, 1871, XXV. 54-62, 221-30, 303-12, 383-91. See also Birmingham Faces and Places, 1888, i. 102-4; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Birmingham Daily Post, 27 and 29 Jan. 1903; The Times, 26 Jan. 1903; Dr. Stuart Reid's Sir Richard Tangye, 1907; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

C. W.