Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 15, 2020
Webpage updated: March 15, 2020




James Elliott Pillar was born at number 15 Longfield Terrace, Plymouth, on April 30th 1866 to Mr John and Mrs Elizabeth Mary Long Pillar.  Soon after his birth his father, who was a stone quarryman, died at the very young age of 35years and was buried at the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Cemetery on October 16th 1866.  James Elliott Pillar was baptized at Charles' Church on May 15th 1867.

The 1871 census shows him living at number 14 Westwell Street with his widowed mother, where she was a toy dealer.  Like many future Mayors of Plymouth he attended the George Street Baptist Day School under Mr F J Webb.  From his home he watched as the ramshackle buildings on the corner of Westwell Street and Bedford Street were torn down and replaced by the wonderful new Guildhall, Law Courts and Municipal Offices.

By 1881 James had become a tailor's apprentice and by 1891 was a tailor's cutter. 

On December 20th 1895 Mr James Elliott Pillar married Miss Maria Jenkyns (or sometimes Jenkins) at the Camborne Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.  The couple moved in to number 13 Longfield Terrace, Plymouth, just two doors from his widowed mother, and by 1901 he was an outfitter in his own right and a Wesleyan Methodist lay preacher.  His business was at number 6 Tavistock Road in Plymouth.  At the time of the 1911 census he and his wife were living at number 1 Barn Park Road, Peverell.

During the Great War he served on the Plymouth Board of Guardians and then in 1920 began his political career as one of the representatives for the Pennycross Ward.  Twice he served as Deputy Mayor, under Mr R J Mitchell and Mr Ambrose Andrews.  He served on every Council Committee except the Gas and Electricity ones and he was vice-chairman under Alderman R W Winnicott of the Water Committee during the enlargement of Burrator Reservoir.  Mr Pillar became chairman of a special committee formed to look into questions concerning the Corporation's gas undertaking, which led to the establishment of a Stores Committee to co-ordinate all the contract work of the Council and superintended the disposal of surplus stores.  As chairman of the Allotments and Cemeteries Committee he was responsible for the addition of a crematorium at Efford Cemetery.  He became leader of the Liberal Party on the Council in 1931 following Alderman G P Dymond's elevation to Mayor.  In November 1934 he was elected an Alderman.

A further acheivement of his time in local government was the adoption by the Council of the Local Government and Other Officers' superannuation scheme.

In addition to being a member of the Independent Order of Oddfellows at Devonport he was also a Fellow of the Geological Society and held memberships of the Plymouth Institution, the Plymouth and District Free Church Council, and the Plymouth and District Wesley Guild, in many of which he served as an officer.  At a meeting of the Plymouth branch of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Old Comrades Association he revealed that he had once been a member of the Duke of Cornwall Volunteer Battalion at Camborne.

Alderman Pillar was chosen to be Mayor of Plymouth for the period 1934-35. 

In his final years he became rather accident prone.  He had already suffered two falls when on Christmas Day 1934 during an official visit to the Prince of Wales's Hospital at Devonport (the former Royal Albert Hospital and Eye Infirmary), he slipped on some steps and injured his spine.  Although he continued with his duties he was forced to wear a head and neck support. 

On May 6th 1935, when His Majesty King George V celebrated his Jubilee, the King granted Plymouth the dignity of having a Lord Mayor and Alderman Pillar was thus immediately elevated to that position, thus becoming the City's first Lord Mayor.  At that time he and his wife were living at number 7 Barn Park Road, Peverell.  In spite of his ill health he managed to attend a special banquet held on May 17th 1935 to honour the bestowal of the dignity of Lord Mayor upon the City.  His Deputy, Lieutenant-Commander Edward William Rogers, Royal Navy (1881-1936), was undertaking his other duties on his behalf.

Alderman James Elliott Pillar passed away peacefully at his home, 7 Barn Park Road, Peverell, during the afternoon of Friday July 12th 1935.  As a mark of respect the City Electricity Department extinguished all the illuminations on Plymouth Hoe, the Guildhall, Devonport Column and the Church of Saint Matthias.

The funeral service was held at the Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Plymouth, on Tuesday July 16th 1935.  The funeral procession was led by the Chief Constable of Plymouth, Mr W C Johnson, and four mace-bearers carrying the Civic Maces draped in black.  The Deputy Lord Mayor, the Town Clerk and other civic representatives followed. The service was conducted by the Reverend G Leonard Robinson, minister of Mutley Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, who had been the late Lord Mayor's chaplain.  The coffin was born by Police Inspector J Hingston, Police Inspector F Boundy, Police Sergeant C Avery, Polioce Sergeant H Beswick, and four Police Constables all under Police Superintendent J T May.  The service was attended by his widow and his brother, Mr J Hayne Pillar in addition to the civic, public, religious and business leaders from all corners of the City.  The body was interred at Efford Cemetery.

His widow, Mrs Maria Pillar, died in Plymouth on October 17th 1952 at the great age of 86 years.