Sir William Jackson – 1805-1876


Sir William Jackson
Sir William Jackson

William Jackson was an industrialist, railway entrepreneur and Liberal MP who sat in the House of Commons between 1847 and 1868. He eventually became accepted as being the most influential of all of Birkenhead’s founding fathers with the possible exception of John Laird.

He was born in Warrington, the son of a surgeon, but his father died in 1811 and the family was left relatively impoverished. He was the seventh son of a seventh son which in folklore is seen as endowing the individual with special talents.

The family moved to Liverpool and lived on the corner of Seel Street. William initially worked for a shipping agent and in slack work periods took to reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He then went to work for an ironmonger in Church Street and subsequently started his own ironmongery business in the same street when his former employer went bankrupt.

Along with his brother he also began shipping palm oil from the west coast of Africa. Having made his fortune, he became unwell however in 1839 and decided to dissolve the business and move to Italy for reasons of health. He recovered quickly however and returned to England the following year and settled in Hamilton Square.

He used his fortune and his great reputation as a businessman to become involved in the development of Birkenhead. He was one of the major figures behind the construction of Birkenhead docks and was chairman of the Town’s Improvement Commissioners between 1842 and 1846 and it was he who invited Joseph Paxton to design the world’s first publicly funded municipal park having gained through an 1843 Act of Parliament the right to create the park.

His early fortune was helped through his marriage to the daughter of the then owner of Woodside Ferry who was also heavily involved in other industrial interests in the town. Jackson steadily built up his interests in Birkenhead, buying up land and entering into partnerships with others, most noticeably the renowned Thomas Brassey.

He also, after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, was responsible for the building of the Birkenhead Industrial School in Corporation Road and named it The Albert Memorial Industrial School. He donated £5000 and the land on which the school was built.

He was too responsible for the creation of much industry, railways and public utilities in Birkenhead and in his later life he was once described as the ‘wealthiest commoner in England’. Just two months after his resignation from the board of the Birkenhead Improvement Commissioners, he won an election to become MP for Newcastle under Lyme and held the seat for nineteen years. He then took over the seat of North Derbyshire until 1868

Jackson also served as Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire in 1852 and was made a Baronet in 1869. He died at his home on Portland Place London in January 1876 aged 70 having always said that the time used to educate himself by reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica was the reason he became so successful in adult life.