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William Hepworth Dixon, 1821-1879

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1821.06.30
Place of Birth: Great Ancoats, Manchester
Date of Death: 1879.12.27
Place of Death: London


William Hepworth Dixon a historian and traveller. He was the son of Abner Dixon of Holmfirth and Kirkburton in the West Riding of Yorkshire, who came from the puritan Dixons of Heaton Royds in Lancashire, and Mary Cryer. Their eldest daughter died in Dublin on 20 October 1879, and not long after their eldest son, William Jerrold Dixon, also died.


Between 1842-43 Dixon wrote articles for the North of England Magazine, signing his name W. H. D. In December 1843 he first wrote under his own name in Douglas Jerrold's Illuminated Magazine. In 1846 he was briefly editor of the Cheltenham Journal and then moved to London at the recommendation of Jerrold.

In 1850 he published The London Prisons and was appointed a deputy-commissioner of the Great Exhibition. His Life of William Penn was published in 1851. He was called to the bar on 1 May 1854. He had already decided to follow a career in journalism, having been making regular contributions to the Athenaeum and Daily News. From January 1853 to August 1869 he was the editor of the Athenaeum.

Following the appearance of an article by F. G. Stephens in the Athenaeum on 28 June 1862, JW wrote to Dixon on 1 July 1862 concerning Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl (YMSM 38): 'May I beg to correct an erroneous impression likely to be confirmed by a paragraph in your last number? The Proprietors of the Berners Street Gallery have, without my sanction, called my picture "The Woman in White." I had no intention whatsoever of illustrating Mr. Wilkie Collins's novel; it so happens, indeed, that I have never read it. My painting simply represents a girl dressed in white standing in front of a white curtain' (#13149).

In 1863 Dixon helped to found the Palestine Exploration Fund, of which he later became chairman. At the general election of 1868 he was invited to stand for Marylebone but declined. In 1869 he was appointed justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster. He was a very active member of the London Schools Board from when founded in 1870 until 1872. On 4 October 1872 he was created a knight commander of the Crown by Kaiser Wilhelm. An explosion of gunpowder on the Regent's Canal demolished his house at 6 St James Terrace, Regent's Park on 2 October 1874. He was very widely travelled, visiting Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Palestine, the Baltic provinces, United States and Canada. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Society of Antiquaries, and Pennsylvania Society.

His works of non-fiction include: The French in England, or Both Sides of the Question on Both Sides of the Channel (1851); Robert Blake, Admiral and General at Sea, based on Family and State Papers (1852); The Personal History of Lord Bacon from Unpublished Papers (1861); The Story of Lord Bacon's Life (1862); Memoirs of Lady Morgan (1861); The Holy Land (1865); New America (1867); Her Majesty's Tower, 4 vols (1869-71); Free Russia (1870); The Switzers (1872); History of Two Queens, 4 vols (1873-74); Royal Windsor, 4 vols (1878); British Cyprus (1879). He also wrote the fictional Diana, Lady Lyle, 3 vols (1877); and Ruby Grey, 3 vols (1878).


Kelly's London Post Office Directory, London, 1859 et seq.; Clements R. Markham, Fifty Years Work of the Royal Geographical Society , 1881; 'William Hepworth Dixon', Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997 (accessed 14 May 2003).