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Sir James Parke, Baron Wensleydale (1782-1868)

This article was written by James McMullen Rigg and was published in 1895.

ParkeSir James Parke, Baron Wensleydale, judge, son of Thomas Parke, merchant, of Liverpool, by his wife Anne, daughter of William Preston, was born at Highfield, near Liverpool, on 22 March 1782. He was educated at Macclesfield grammar school and Trinity College, Cambridge. His college career was brilliant. He took in 1799 the Craven (university) scholarship, and in the following year a Trinity scholarship. His alcaic ode, ‘Pompeii Columna,’ gained Sir William Browne's gold medal in 1802. In 1803 he was fifth wrangler and senior chancellor's medallist in classics, graduating B.A. the same year. He took the members' prize and was elected fellow of his college in 1804, and proceeded M.A. in 1806. In 1835 the university conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.

Called to the bar at the Inner Temple in Easter term 1813, Parke rapidly acquired an extensive and lucrative common-law practice on the northern circuit and at Westminster. He was neither a great advocate nor a particularly skilful cross-examiner, but he had a singular knack of riveting the attention and winning the confidence of juries. His knowledge of the common law was profound, and his mastery of detail consummate.

In 1820 he appeared before the House of Lords as one of the junior counsel in support of the Bill of Pains and Penalties against Queen Caroline. He continued to practise at the junior bar until 1828, when he was raised to the king's bench, in succession to Sir George Sowley Holroyd, on 28 November and on 1 December following was knighted. On 14 August 1833 he was sworn of the privy council, and placed on the judicial committee.

On 29 April 1834 Parke was transferred from the king's bench to the court of exchequer, in which for nearly twenty years he exercised a potent, if not preponderant, influence. His judgments, models of lucid statement and cogent reasoning, were always prepared with great care, and usually committed to writing. His fault was an almost superstitious reverence for the dark technicalities of special pleading, and the reforms introduced by the Common Law Procedure Acts of 1854 and 1855 occasioned his resignation (December 1855).

St Andrew's

St Andrew's Anglican church, Ampthill.

By patent of 23 July 1856 he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Wensleydale of Walton in the county of Lancaster. The patent had at first (16 January) been drawn so as to confer on him a life-peerage; but the committee of privileges decided that the crown had lost by disuse the power of creating life-peerages, and a peerage in tail male was substituted. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 25 July.

Wensleydale was no party politician, and, except on legal questions, rarely spoke in parliament. Though in his later years a great sufferer from gout, he continued assiduous in the discharge of his legal duties, both in the House of Lords and the privy council, until shortly before his death, which occurred at his seat, Ampthill Park, Bedfordshire, on 25 February 1868. His remains were interred in Ampthill Church on 29 February.

He married, on 8 April 1817, Cecilia Arabella Frances, youngest daughter of Samuel Francis Barlow of Middlethorpe, Yorkshire, by whom he had issue three sons and three daughters. Of his children one only, the Hon. Charlotte Alice (married in 1853 to the Hon. William Lowther of Campsea House, Suffolk), survived him.

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