James Bridge Davidson. M.A., F.S.A. [Obituary]

Trans. Devon. Assoc. 1886, Vol XVIII, p. 58-60.


Rev. W. Harpley

Prepared by Michael Steer

Mr Davidson was a prolific contributor to the Devonshire Association’s Transactions. His father was James Davidson (1793–1864) also an antiquary and bibliographer, who was the eldest son of James Davidson of Tower Hill, London, a stationer and deputy-lieutenant of the Tower of London, and Ann his wife, only daughter of William Sawyer of Ipswich. When not quite thirty years old the elder Davidson bought the estate of Secktor, near Axminster, enlarged the small cottage, and lived there for the rest of his life. Davidson died at Secktor House, Axminster, on 29 February 1864, and was buried in the town cemetery. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers

James Bridge Davidson, M.A, F.S.A., was the eldest son of the late James Davidson, Esq., of Secktor House, Axminster, a man well known to Devonshire antiquaries for his intimate knowledge of matters relating to Devonshire - architectural, heraldic, genealogical, and its ancient manorial and other divisions of property. Mr. Davidson, senior, devoted about forty years of his life to these studies, and the fruits of his labours, comprising the largest existing collection of Devonshire books and pamphlets, many of them of great rarity and value, thoroughly indexed, were in the library at Secktor. (The collection of pamphlets is now in the library of the Plymouth Institution, by the gift of the family.) He had visited every parish in the county and taken careful notes of every ancient church, &c., and bestowed special attention to the investigation of the ancient camps and other vestiges of the former inhabitants of East Devon. Often he took with him on these journeys his eldest son, the subject of this notice, who thus acquired, from his earliest childhood, a liking for his father's studies. This liking, thus early developed, was persevered in through life, as professional engagements permitted, and the literary treasures at Secktor were proportionately increased. How complete his knowledge of these subjects became, and how admirably he employed the knowledge for the edification of others, the pages of our Transactions bear ample testimony. Wherever the Association met of .late years, the Council, almost as a matter of course, might reckon on a learned paper from Mr. Davidson's pen on the antiquities of the place or neighbourhood, Mr. Davidson was born in 1824. His early education was commenced at the Old Grammar School, Plymouth, under the mastership of the Rev. J. H. C. Borwell, on whose removal to the mastership of Kingsbridge Grammar School in 1840, Mr. Davidson, with many other pupils, accompanied their master. From Kingsbridge he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated as a Senior Optime in 1847. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in Michaelmas Term, 1850, and practised in the Chancery division. In 1865 he was appointed, by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, a reporter in the Court of Vice-Chancellor Page Wood; and at the time of his death was reporter in the Court of Vice-Chancellor Bacon. He also reported for the Times newspaper. Not going on circuit for law business, his wanderings over the kingdom were mostly, when not purely for pleasure or recreation, connected with the meetings of the Archaeological and other learned societies; but to none did he go with more pleasure to himself, and probably, on account of his special acquirements, with more profit to others, than to the meetings of this Association, of which he became a member in 1875. The following papers were contributed by him, and have been printed in the Transactions of the Association: " Some Anglo-Saxon Boundaries now Deposited at the Albert Museum, Exeter" (1876); "The Saxon Conquest of Devonshire" (1877); "On some Ancient Documents Relating to Crediton Minster" (1878); "Hooker's Journal of the House of Commons in 1571" (1879); “Datton Mill and Doniton" (1880); "On the Early History of Dawlish" (1881); "On some Further Documents Relating to Crediton Minster" (1882); "On the Ancient History of Exmouth" (1883); "Remarks on Old Teign Bridge" (1884); "Seaton before the Conquest" (1885). Mr. Davidson was also one of the Committee appointed to edit and annotate the portion of Domesday book relating to Devonshire. His legal training as a barrister, and his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history, were of the greatest value to his colleagues in this work. He was one of the few Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries connected with Devonshire, having been elected on June 7th, 1883, and was a well-known member of the Junior Athenaeum Club.

Mr. Davidson was never married. His charm of manner was very attractive. A barrister friend writes of him thus: "He seemed to have been trained in that old school of courteousness, the disciples of which are now so scarce that the loss of one is a sensible thinning of their ranks." Some degree of failure of health was perceptible to his friends at the last meeting of the Association at Seaton, but nothing which indicated the speedy approach of his death. He was then suffering from a cough, which seemed chronic; but on his return to his chambers in Lincoln's Inn he became gradually worse, and in time so weak, and had such difficulty of breathing, that he could scarcely walk upstairs. A post-mortem examination revealed what the doctor suspected, that the cause of his illness was an aneurism pressing on a lung. Having borne his sufferings with exemplary fortitude and patience he died in London on the 8th October, 1885, surrounded by members of his family, and was buried in the cemetery near Hampstead on October 13th.