See also: Piety and Profit in 19th-century Preston
Sir James was born in Edinburgh in 1763, the son of surgeon in that city who subsequently set up in practice in the south of England. His parents had married in Jamaica. In 1791 he married Lucy (1766-1831), the daughter of Richard Atherton, of Green Bank, Preston, and in the same year was appointed vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He was shortly after appointed recorder of Preston, part of a growing portfolio of legal appointments that included recorder of Durham in 1802 and attorney-general of Lancaster in 1811. In 1816 he was knighted after being promoted to the bench of the common pleas. Preston Council in its account of the role of Preston recorder gives the date of his appointment as 1792 rather than the DNB’s 1795, as does the Preston Chronicle of 1858 and records that his successor Thomas Batty Addison was appointed in 1832. According to the council site, the recorder was appointed by the corporation and was ‘the Judge of the Preston Borough Court of Pleas which had civil jurisdiction within the borough similar to that of the High Court of Justice’. He died at his home in London in 1838 and was buried in the family vault at Elwick, Durham, of which parish his eldest son was rector. 2 He was ‘an active upholder of the established church’ and in 1823 ‘publicly criticised the Quakers for their refusal to take judicial oaths’. 3
An extremely well-researched and documented family history by a retired Canadian physician supplies the following: Sir James and his wife had eight children Mary Ann (1792-), Elizabeth (1793-1801), Lucy (1795-1888), Catherine Jane (1797-1797), James Allan junior (1801-1871), Alexander Atherton (1803-1871), Emma (1805-1880) and William Waldegrave (1806-1842). All his children were baptised in the south on England, suggesting that his legal duties kept Sir James away from Preston for most of his career. 4
Sir James wrote an account of the life of his friend, William Stevens (1737-1807), a High Church layman who was the subject of a PhD thesis by Robert Andrews that provides information on Sir James that supplements his DNB entry: 5
Park was remembered as a stern and proprietorial figure, who conducted his judicial duties with a reputation for maintaining a high degree of courtroom punctuality and etiquette. His record of gaining convictions is said to have made him a favourite of government when attempting to convict ‘eminent malefactors’. Not surprisingly, he gave out harsh sentences, a fact that has led some historians to be critical of him. Park may, of course, have been a stern judge, though he was not averse to acts of judicial kindness. For instance, as a barrister he is known to have sought clemency on at least one occasion to get a capital forgery conviction reduced to transportation. Additionally, Park’s membership within the Philanthropic Society and his association with Stevens, attest to a figure with charitable interests. On his death, Park was not remembered as an uncaring judge, but a kind and charitable individual who often helped the poor.
The aspect of Park’s life that most impressed observers was his fervent High Church devotion to the rites and teachings of the Church of England. This is seen in his publication in 1804 of a short tract promoting the frequent reception of Holy Communion. 6
An insight into his character is provided by the following anecdote that Andrews quotes from The Gentleman’s Magazine:
At the Winchester assizes, … Sir Frederick Williams was stopped in the very threshold of his exordium by the worthy judge [Park], who said, ‘I really cannot permit it, Brother Williams; I must maintain the forensic dignity of the bar.’ The advocate looked unutterable things at his lordship, and said, ‘I do not understand you, my lord.’ ‘Oh, yes, you do; you have a most extraordinary wig on; a very extraordinary wig indeed; really I can’t permit it. You must change your wig. Such a wig as that is no part of the costume of this bar.’ 7
Sir James’s Wikipedia entry includes the following, but gives no source:
He was said to bear a striking physical resemblance to King George III, which led to much gossip about his true paternity. He dismissed all such talk with the remark: ‘King George III was never in Scotland and my mother was never out of Scotland’. 8
1 ‘Sir James Alan Park’, n.d., https://www.ancestry.co.uk/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/6655202/person/182091198849/media/5fb1862d-72cd-4d6e-a2e2-5f9aff38fe46?_phsrc=eTA220&usePUBJs=true&galleryindex=1.
2 ‘Park, Sir James Alan (1763–1838), Judge’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, n.d., https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/21274; ‘Honorary Recorder’, Preston City Council, n.d., https://www.preston.gov.uk/article/1369/Honorary-Recorder.
3 ‘Park, Sir James Alan (1763–1838), Judge’.
4 Robert Hutcheon, ‘Hon. Sir James Allan Park – Facts’, n.d., https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/person/tree/6655202/person/182091198849/facts.
5 Robert M Andrews, ‘William Stevens (1732-1807): Lay Activism in Late Eighteenth-Century Anglican High Churchmanship’ (PhD thesis, Murdoch University, 2012).
6 Andrews, 5–6.
7 Andrews, 5 fn. 19.
8 ‘James Alan Park’, in Wikipedia, 17 April 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=James_Alan_Park&oldid=1083098732.