William Pickford was a leading lawyer of the early 20th century who served as Master of the Rolls (the second most senior judge after the Lord Chief Justice) from 1919 to 1923.
He was born in Manchester on 1st October 1848, the son of a merchant, Thomas Edward Pickford, and his wife Georgina (née Todd-Naylor). His Pickford ancestors had been carters who in the 18th century established the business which would in due course become the well-known removal company. Thomas Pickford died in 1859 and his wife moved her family to a house in Parkfield Road in Liverpool L17. William Pickford was educated at Liverpool College and Exeter College, Oxford. He entered as a student of the Inner Temple in 1871, being called to the bar in 1874. In 1875 he joined the northern circuit, beginning at the local bar at Liverpool with chambers in Harrington Street. His work was mainly in the commercial field, although in 1889 he was junior counsel at the assizes for Florence Maybrick in the sensational murder case.
In 1880 he married Alice Mary Brooke and the couple set up home at 101 Bedford Street L7 (now demolished), later moving to Lowood House in Lyndhurst Road L18. In 1892 they moved to London.
William Pickford’s reputation as a lawyer was not based upon great oratory or even on being especially learned. However, he was seen as a very efficient and effective individual and his rise through the ranks of the legal profession was steady and inexorable. Becoming a judge in 1895, in 1907 he was appointed to the High Court, Kings Bench Division, which brought him a regulation knighthood. In 1914 he was promoted to the Court of Appeal as lord justice and sworn of the privy council. In September 1918 he accepted the post of president of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court, being raised to the peerage as Lord Sterndale. (This was after the small estate of King Sterndale in Derbyshire which had been purchased by his great-grandfather.) In October 1919 he was appointed Master of the Rolls, a post he held until his death, aged 74, on 17th August 1923.
His daughter, Mary Ada Pickford, became a Conservative Member of Parliament.
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