James Ramsay, 1786 - 1854
Portrait of James Losh 1763 - 1833
Portrait of James Losh

signed and dated "Ramsay 1820"

oil on canvas
76.20 x 63.50 cm. (30 x 25 in.)


Losh, James (1763–1833), barrister, was born on 10 June 1763 in Woodside, Wreay, near Carlisle, the fourth child and fourth of the eight sons (one of whom died shortly after birth) and one daughter of John Losh, gentleman, of Woodside, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of John Liddell of Moorhouse, Burgh by Sands, Cumberland. Educated privately, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1782, and graduated BA in 1786. He then entered himself at Lincoln's Inn, and, after being called to the bar in 1789, began to practise on the northern circuit.

On a visit to Paris in 1792, Losh narrowly escaped from the city during the September massacres, possibly owing his escape to the influence of Jean-Paul Marat, who had practised as a veterinary surgeon in Newcastle. Ill health later led him to spend some time in the Bristol area, where he cemented his friendship with William Wordsworth, whom he had met in 1795 at a gathering of radical friends (including George Dyer, William Frend, William Godwin, and John Horne Tooke). He also became a friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey.

In 1799 he settled as a barrister in Newcastle upon Tyne, rapidly acquiring an enviable reputation as a man of strict integrity and sound judgement, whether in the courts or as an arbitrator in industrial disputes. As a Unitarian he was debarred from holding civic appointments or public office, but, following the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828, for the annulment of which he had campaigned, the corporation of Newcastle in 1832 invested him with the highest judicial function in their gift, the recordership, and shortly afterwards with the honorary freedom of the city.

Losh was an active reformer and philanthropist. Among the causes which he espoused with fervour were the abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation together with total religious freedom, and, above all, parliamentary reform. A friend of both Charles (later second Earl) Grey and Henry Brougham, he used his influence in the northern counties to speed the passing of the Reform Bill. In the smaller world of Newcastle, Losh did valuable work towards the relief of indigence and the betterment of social conditions and educational standards; he was a leading figure in the improvement of services in the infirmary and the fever hospital, and the establishment of Sunday schools, infant and secondary schools, and mechanics' institutes. Always forward-looking, and abreast of industrial developments, he was a prime mover, as chairman of the directors, in the construction of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway.

Very widely read and a lover of drama and music, Losh was for some thirty years one of the most influential members of the famous Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1791 he published an edition of Areopagitica by John Milton, and in 1831 a translation of Benjamin Constant's Collection complète des ouvrages publiés sur le gouvernement représentatif et la constitution actuelle de la France (1818–20), as Observations on the Strength of the Government in France, and some of his reforming speeches were printed. He had a fine presence and was a forceful speaker. He was a devoted family man, and a friend to men of all religious creeds and political persuasions.

In 1798 Losh married Cecilia, daughter of the Revd Roger Baldwin of Aldingham, Lancashire. They had five sons and three daughters. Losh died in Greta Bridge, Yorkshire, on 23 September 1833.

T. S. Dorsch, rev.  DNB

On the staircase of the elegant neo-classical Lit and Phil building in Newcastle stands the imposing sculpted figure of James Losh, who lived at The Grove in Jesmond after 1802, having settled in Newcastle in 1798. His legal chambers were in Mosley St. Losh was friendly with both George and Robert Stephenson and was the first chairman of the Newcastle-Carlisle Railway. This was in addition to his other business interests in brewing, coal mining and alkali production. Losh supported George Stephenson in the controversy over the miner's lamp, and received an ill-humoured letter from Sir Humphry Davy for his pains. Debarred from high office because of his Unitarianism, Losh opposed slavery and child labour, and, a friend of Earl Grey, was a moderate progressive in politics, favouring reform of the voting system and religious emancipation. In Newcastle, he was active in support of local hospitals and schools for the poor. In spite of all this, his sentencing policy as recorder of Newcastle seems at times positively cavalier: Business in and out of court as Recorder. Several prisoners, mostly women, were there for offences not very serious in themselves but there were circumstances such as former guilt, connection with a bad gang, which induced me to transport four or five of them. It seems Losh used to speak of having seen Marat (q.v.) at his father's house, Woodside near Carlisle, doubtless in the 1770s. A pleasant tradition has it that when walking the perilous Paris streets at the height of the Terror of 1792, the lordly Losh owed his survival to the protection of Marat. Something of a literary figure himself, Losh published an edition of Milton's Areopagitica and a translation of one of Benjamin Constant's political works. Some of his own impressive speeches were also published. In his diaries, Losh emerges as an urbane and rather supercilious individual, whose complacent and often banal remarks have a strong hint of Mr Pooter in The Diary of a Nobody. He heard Paganini play, but thought his efforts 'much more wonderful than pleasing'. Losh was also a friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey (qq.v) , and often visited them in the Lake District, though as a product of the enlightenment, he found Wordsworth's manner of conversation 'too earnest and emphatic', and says of his poetry in 1801: 'Wordsworth... is too often defective in elegance of language and clearness of arrangement. He will notwithstanding some day be a great poet.' Losh remarks of Coleridge, after visiting Greta Hall in 1800: 'He rather talks too much, but so well one readily forgives him'; and of Southey in 1798: 'Southey very gentlemanlike and pleasing, but a little mark now and then of self-conceit, perhaps in reality only of estimating himself properly.' The poets certainly thought well of Losh, however, In March 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge were keen to invite Losh to accompany them on their trip to Germany. Southey visited Losh in Newcastle in March 1809 and writes to his brother on the 14th that Losh came 'nearer the idea of a perfect man than any other person it has ever been my good fortune to know, so gentle, so pious, so zealous in all good things, so equal-minded, so manly, so without a speck or stain in his whole habits of life.' Southey came again in June and again in May 1810. Losh took a cold view of Wordsworth's political apostasy, as he put it, and was not mollified by a letter from the poet in December 1821. Losh always thought Wordsworth's mystical poetic utterances superficial and in typical Pooterish tones goes on to say in 1824: 'I often endeavoured to cure him of this and until he was spoiled by over-praise and irritated by over-censure and ridicule, I flattered myself that my endeavours were not in vain.' A visit by the poet to Woodside in 1833 has Losh tactfully refraining from bringing up politics. This was a month before Losh's death. Wordsworth paid him the highest possible compliment when he said it had been a great blow to lose both Coleridge and Losh in one year. Alan Myers 2004


Artist biography

Ramsay, James (1786–1854), portrait painter, was the son of Robert Ramsay (1754–1828) of Sheffield, a carver and gilder who later became a dealer in prints and plaster models. Thus Ramsay was brought up in an atmosphere of artistic activity, this being intensified when Francis Chantrey, then a precociously talented youth, became an apprentice to Ramsay's father in 1797. In the following year his father published two mezzotint portraits of well-known Sheffield men painted by the Chesterfield artist E. Needham. The engravings were produced by John Raphael Smith and, possibly influenced by Needham and Smith, Ramsay became attracted to a career in art himself. By the age of fifteen, when he joined the family business, he was already a talented artist, his father announcing in The Iris (Sheffield), on 12 February 1801, that the services of ‘Ramsay Junior’ were available as a ‘Portrait and Miniature Painter’. In 1803 Ramsay left Sheffield, taking with him a self-portrait, and, after showing it to an old friend of his father, Robert Pollard, in London, was successful in having it accepted by the Royal Academy. He was then only seventeen and, uncertain of his future in London, returned to Sheffield on a number of occasions over the next four years for what he advertised locally as ‘short stays’. He was probably the James Ramsey who entered the Royal Academy Schools in March 1805 when his age was given as twenty-one. However, he soon established himself as a successful portrait painter in London, and three years after his first arrival there exhibited at the Royal Academy a portrait of Henry Grattan which was engraved in mezzotint by Charles Turner; in 1810 one of John Townley, and in 1813 that of Lord Brougham. In 1814 at the Royal Academy he varied his exhibits for the first time by showing two scriptural subjects: Peter Denying Christ, and Peter's Repentance, and in 1819 sent views of Tynemouth Abbey, and of North and South Shields. He also exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists. His main work for the remainder of his life, however, was portraiture of well-known people. One of the most notable of these was his friend and fellow artist Thomas Bewick, of whom he painted at least three portraits; the earliest of these was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1816 and engraved by John Burnet (National History Society of Northumbria, Newcastle); the remaining two at the Royal Academy in 1823. One of these 1823 exhibits showed Bewick alone (NPG); the other consisted of a group portrait including Ramsay and his wife (Laing Gallery, Newcastle). His other sitters included James Northcote RA and Charles, second Earl Grey (1824). Although he once contemplated practising as a portrait painter in Scotland following the death of Raeburn (letter to Reid, the Leith bookseller, quoted by Jane Bewick in a letter to her brother Robert Elliott Bewick, 12 Aug 1823, Huntington MSS HM 17315), Ramsay remained based in London for some forty years. In 1848, however, he decided to move with his wife to practise in Newcastle upon Tyne, a town with which he had long been connected through his several portrait commissions in the north-east of England, his friendships with brother artists in the area, and his regular appearances at various exhibitions there. He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy while at Newcastle, showing several portraits of local celebrities, including George Hawkes, first mayor of Gateshead (1848), and William Armstrong (1854). He died after a long illness, at 40 Blackett Street, Newcastle, on 23 June 1854. Examples of Ramsay's work are in the Carlisle Art Gallery, Hull Art Gallery, and Newcastle Central Library, and in the collections of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle and the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

R. E. Graves, rev. Marshall Hall  DNB