Buchanan, James, Baron Woolavington 1849-1935, philanthropist and racehorse owner, was the youngest son of Alexander Buchanan, of Glasgow, by his wife, Catharine, daughter of William Mclean. He was born at Brockville, West Canada, 16 August 1849 and was brought to Scotland when he was a year old. Of delicate health, he was educated privately, and he was still quite a young man when he went to London to sell whisky for a Scottish firm of distillers. The turning-point in his life came when a friend, struck by his grit and perseverance, offered him some capital to open business on his own account, and in 1880 he established the firm of James Buchanan & company in a small office in Bucklersbury. After a hard struggle he managed to repay all that had been lent to him, and, as soon as he was master of his own business, he arranged various combinations and amalgamations which assisted him to build up a considerable fortune. An unusual feature of his career was that, although he lived to a great age, he was always a delicate man, constantly obliged to nurse his health. He made many friends wherever he went, and not one had anything but good to say of him. They described him as never having taken an unfair advantage of anybody, and as always ready to help those in trouble or difficulty.
Buchanan's experiences on the turf covered nearly forty years. He began to race about the end of the nineteenth century, and owned horses that won him many good races. His first classic victory was in the St. Leger of 1916, when, owing to the war, the race was run at Newmarket instead of at Doncaster. Buchanan was training with F. Darling at Beckhampton at the time, and it was to him that he sent Hurry On, a yearling which he had bought for 500 guineas. As a two-year-old Hurry On could not be trained owing to unsoundness, but as a three-year-old he ran in six races and won them all. Not only was he Buchanan's first classic winner, but he sired for him the Derby winners of 1922 and 1926, Captain Cuttle and Coronach. The last-named was probably the best horse that Lord Woolavington, as he had then become, ever owned. Although his debut as a two-year-old was only modest, the triumphs of Coronach as a three-year-old in the Derby, the Eclipse Stakes, and the St. Leger were resounding. In 1927 Woolavington was elected a member of the Jockey Club, and the last time that his colours were carried to victory was in a race at Worcester a few days before his death.
Much of the wealth which he derived from his business was devoted by Woolavington to philanthropy. He gave away large sums both to public objects and to charity. He bought the log-book of the Victory, written in the sailingmaster's own hand, and presented it to the British Museum, and when an appeal was made for funds to fit out the old Implacable as a training ship, he sent a cheque for the £4,000 needed for the purpose. He showed his love of animals when, in 1926, he gave £10,000 to Edinburgh University for its animal breeding research department: the university conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Law In 1928 he gave £125,000 to the Middlesex Hospital in memory of his wife, and at the same time placed £50,000 at the disposal of the King for the restoration of the nave of St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Not only did he give many other sums to good causes, but his private life was full of kind and generous actions known only to those who benefited by them.
Buchanan was created a baronet in 1920, was raised to the peerage as Baron Woolavington, of Lavington, Sussex, in 1922, and was appointed G.C.V.O. in 1931. In 1891 he married Annie Eliza Bardolph, widow, daughter of Thomas Pounder, upholsterer. She was a hospital nurse, and he met her on one of the voyages undertaken for the sake of his health. Her sudden death in 1918 was due perhaps to overwork in nursing the wounded in London hospitals. The only child of the marriage was a daughter. Woolavington died at Lavington Park, Petworth, Sussex, 9 August 1935
A portrait of Woolavington, by (Sir) J. J. Shannon, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1918. A cartoon of him, by Spy, appeared in Vanity Fair 20 November 1907.
The Times, 10 August 1935.
Contributor: Alfred Cochrane.