Suffering Suffragettes

Currently walking past this fine Lego suffragette each day, in the foyer of the Wills Memorial Building. It has got me wondering whether her location was chosen in the knowledge that the WMB, though it was not there at the time, was just about opposite the site of the WSPU shop and HQ which was trashed by a mob of anti-suffragists and/or enraged Bristol University students in 1913, without much, if any, of a police response. See, e.g., this

It also brings back good memories of some good seminars I organised with a colleague here at the Law School in 2013, on this subject, and of a fun bit of animation I assisted with at home – still out in the ether here.



Marguerite Gollancz: academia and the archivist

In a couple of days, I will be attending an event run by Selden’s Sister, a group of legal historians who are interested in uncovering, highlighting and celebrating the contributions of women to legal history. Going beyond the better known women historians of matters law-adjacent (Stenton, Cam, Putnam … ) and beyond England as well, the event will look at a number of very interesting women and their work.

Thinking about ‘women legal historians’ of the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries is not easy. In England, legal history has developed, on the whole, as LEGAL history: firmly attached to legal scholarship and the legal profession. And women had a long struggle to enter that world. We are not going to find ‘the female Maitland’. We can, however, find numerous female historians who took an interest in matters which come within a broad conception of legal history. There are those who managed to carve out an academic career for themselves, and duly became reasonably well known. As is always the case with the study of women in history, however, we should take the opportunity to think laterally and creatively, and not to assume that we can find women who might be classed as having made a contribution to legal history only within formal academic settings. There is a particularly good case for investigating and highlighting some of the pioneering women who worked as county and municipal archivists. One of these, and somebody whose career and life seem to me to be rather interesting, was Marguerite Henrietta Gollancz (1911-1981). This is a short introduction to somebody who might not be familiar, but seems very worthy of further investigation.

I see that the catalogue of Trinity College, Cambridge lists the authorised form of her name as ‘Gollancz, Marguerite Henrietta (1911-1981), daughter of Israel Gollancz’. Her father was certainly a notable figure, a professor of English and leading light in the British Academy, (and he can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) and no doubt his interests and encouragement, and provision of ‘a home devoted to books and study’,[i] helped shape Marguerite’s own inclinations and life-chances, but she was clearly a lot more than somebody’s daughter.

She went from South Hampstead High School to Girton College Cambridge, where she studied history and was taught by Helen Maud Cam, amongst others. She then took her study further in the University of London, and wrote an MA dissertation,[ii] supervised by C.H. Williams, on fifteenth century gaol delivery.[iii] She edited rolls of the fourteenth century sessions of the peace for the Northamptonshire Record Society, publishing in 1940,[iv]  (those two things qualify her as a legal historian, in my book).[v] During the war she took on administrative work for the civil service, and also worked with civil service records, in connection with the writing of a Civil History of the War. [vi]

Her career as an archivist took off after WWII, when, in 1947, she began work as the county archivist of Staffordshire and librarian at the William Salt library. The County Records Committee reported both her initial annual salary (£460 pa) and how this might rise in increments to ‘a maximum of £510 per annum plus bonus’. [vii] [I do find myself wondering what would have been deemed worthy of a bonus in the world of county archiving].

Newspapers give the odd glimpse of her life as a working archivist. She appealed for the public to bring in their old documents, stressing that there might be interest in more recent as well as ancient records.[viii] She gave a view in an apparently contentious issue of whether old Lichfield probate records should be brought back to Staffordshire.[ix]

In 1955, she resigned, having secured a job with Surrey County Council, as their archivist.[x] She then moved to Surbiton.[xi] She began work as Surrey’s first county archivist in 1956, and continued until her retirement in 1974. A picture of her in this role can be seen here.

In her obituaries, something of a point is made about the fact that she did not publish very much ‘on her own account’.

‘In later years, her scholarly work was to be subordinated to the claims of her professional duties, to which she devoted much of her free time, and to the service of record publishing and local history societies. [xii]

‘Her official duties … and her commitment to assisting researchers and editors left little time for publication on her own account, but a number of notes and reviews from her pen have appeared in our publication.’[xiii]

To some extent this is given a positive spin (she was too busy being helpful to other researchers, and looking after her staff, to do so) but it is quite interesting that it is assumed that the only natural goal of somebody with a skill for history is academic-style publication. There is all sorts of gender-focused discussion to be had about that. In fact, to those of us working in modern academia, some of the activities of Marguerite Gollancz rather chime in with the sort of things we are encouraged to do: being ‘public historians’ and having ‘impact’. We saw her engaging with the public of Staffordshire, getting them to bring in their documents (co-production?). Newspapers record her exhibitions (e.g. in connection with the Festival of Britain and the Coronation of Elizabeth II, during her time at the Staffordshire Archive post), and her public lectures.[xiv]

Her commitment to the archives and the work of preserving historical documents was reflected in substantial legacies to archives with which she had been associated.[xv] I am not sure that that counts as ‘impact’, though it certainly shows dedication.

Marguerite’s papers are, fittingly, neatly catalogued in an archive. This, surely, is what she would have wanted.





Photo by Javier Balseiro on Unsplash


[i] Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th September 1947, p. 5.

[ii] Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th September 1947, p. 5.

[iii] Obituaries, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 6:8 (1981), 532-538; Marguerite Gollancz, ‘The system of gaol delivery as illustrated in the extant gaol delivery rolls of the fifteenth century’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 16.48 (1939) 191-3. I would like to track down that thesis.

[iv] Obituaries, JSA.

[v] Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th September 1947, p. 5.

[vi] Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th September 1947, p. 5.

[vii] Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th September 1947, p. 5. 2nd  August 1947, p. 3.

[viii] Burton Observer and Chronicle, 15th February, 1951, p.1.

[ix] Lichfield Mercury, 12th  October, 1956.

[x] Staffordshire Sentinel, 2nd December, 1955, p. 12.

[xi] Staffordshire Newsletter, 15th May,1981, p. 11.

[xii] Obituaries, JSA.

[xiii] D. R. Robinson, ‘Miss Marguerite Gollancz: Obituary’, Surrey Arch. Soc. Bulletin, 171 March/April 1981.

[xiv] Surrey Advertiser, 12th January,1963, p 14, noting that Gollancz was to lecture on ‘Cobham in the late eighteenth century’ at Stoke D’Abernon Village Hall. If the presence of the learned county archivist was not enough, attendees were promised old maps, documents and … best of all … colour slides taken by Mr A Bourne (who lived in the village).

[xv] Staffordshire Newsletter, Fri 15 May 1981 p. 11.

Judge Owen and the Business of Bees

Today, I went to a nice event at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, a Bee and Pollination Festival – lots of honey, hives, demonstrations etc. Inevitably, it got me thinking about the bee in legal history. Now, scholars of Roman law[i]  and Irish law in particular have taken an interest in property in bees, but, fascinating though that is, I am not going to go in that direction. No. I am going to my old mental stamping ground, the South Wales of the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and to another case featuring one of the characters in whom I have taken an interest in recent years – Judge Owen.

The Weekly Mail 14th October 1899 under the thrilling headline ‘Are Bees A Nuisance?’ notes that the good judge, at Cardiff County Court, had to decide a ‘fine point’ on this, but was not going to decide it straight away. The case of the buzzing peril had arisen between Juan Cascago, ship broker, of Valladolid, but resident, less glamorously perhaps, in Radyr (plaintiff) and Benjamin Davies clerk, Coedwyn, Radyr. Cascago wanted £20 in damages, plus an injunction to restrain Davies from keeping bees (or bees which caused a nuisance, anyway).

Judge Owen, as was his little way, made a joke of the case, reportedly causing laughter by his remark, ‘Ho, ho, ho! Here is some one wanting an injunction to restrain some one from keeping bees!’. Another report has him exclaiming that it was the funniest case which had been brought before him. Which seems a little strong. But, anyway, Owen thought it was ‘absurd’ to think an order could be made against keeping bees so as to be a nuisance, because it would be impossible to enforce, and there was discussion of an even weaker joke about the muzzling of bees, and of whether they could sting more than once.

It was pointed out that there had been a similar case recently, at Bath,[ii] but Owen persisted in thinking that the whole thing was a bit mad, and adjourned the case for a month so that the parties could come to an agreement.

Tantalisingly, no end is reported, so I am not able, at this point, to say whether Mr Davies was restrained, and his bees muzzled, or not. We are, of course, missing important aspects of context – what was the location of the hives, the size of the properties, the number of bees? It is not too difficult to imagine a situation of bee-keeping which might amount to a tort. Judge Owen, however, does not seem to have seen this – or at least he did not see the possibility of making an order which would stop the defendant from keeping bees which were causing a nuisance (as opposed to injunctions against individual bees). So – interesting on bees, but also telling on attitudes to what neighbours could do, and what they must tolerate. Injunctions were granted in similar situations in the 20th C (see, e.g., Halifax Evening Courier, 15th February 1939, p. 8) And, of course on the wit and wisdom of South Wales’s newspapers’ favourite Victorian/Edwardian judge.

The story also made it into the Welsh language press, (see Y Cymro, which, I note, does not translate ‘nuisance’, clearly a nasty English concept unworthy of being rendered in the old language … ).




Image: a bee, though this bee wants it made clear that it is not implicated in any bee-nuisance activities. Photo by Tania P on Unsplash

[i] See Paul du Plessis, Borkowski’s Textbook on Roman Law 6th edn, and Kearry v Pattinson [1939] 1 KB 471).

[ii] This is confirmed by other reports of an injunction against bee-keeping in a ‘congested district’, which had caused the plaintiff not to be able to use or tend her garden.

Wythcok man comes to a sticky end; ‘Clapp’ implicated

It’s been a while since I noted a medieval death story. This one (JUST 2/59 m. 3; AALT IMG 0009), coming from a Leicestershire coroner’s Inquest at Wythcok on Friday 23rd  March, 1386, has just one small point which captured my attention – and no, it was not even the rude-punnable location of the death. (FYI the deathplace seems now to be known as ‘Withcote’ – much less snigger-worthy …). The thing which drew me in was to do with what the entry shows about medieval popular understanding of science.

The entry tells it like this …

John Ludon of Wythcok, whose body was being viewed, had come a cropper in the fields of Wythcok, the previous day, at around the ninth hour of the day. Evidently he was out in a storm, and had the extreme bad luck to be hit by lightning. Or that is how we would see it. The entry, however, says that what hit him was a ‘thondurclapp’. I have undoubtedly gone on about how I like it when the usual Latin of these records breaks down and the writer reaches, instead, for a more earthy English word or expression. There is all sorts of very learned discussion of ‘code-switching’ in literature, and the trilinguality of the common law, but sometimes, it just feels as if the clerk did not know the right word in the more professionally exclusive languages. This one also gives us a little glimpse into ideas about how storms worked. John is hit in the arm by the thunderclap itself. I am not sure I have any grand conclusion on the basis of this – and certainly the idea that it was lightning and not thunder which hit people was known in classical antiquity – but, still, it is an interesting way of putting it. And another tiny snippet – the result of the ‘hit’ by the thunder-clap was an ictus (blow/wound) on John’s arm, and it was from this that John immediately died. Unlike the possible conclusion in classical antiquity (person hit by lightning is not to get proper religious burial, because such zappings were the will of the gods), however, John’s death was held to be a ‘misfortune’ or ‘accident’, and so he would have been fine to make his way into some consecrated Wythcok ground. A tiny bit of comfort then. I do wonder what medieval body-inspectors would have made of the characteristic scarring pattern found on (some) lightning strike victims, the Lichtenberg figure. That would probably have seemed pretty spooky, I would have thought.



Photo by Michał Mancewicz on Unsplash

Hedge funds and attempted enclosures: Darwall  v. Dartmoor National Park Authority and another [2023] EWCA Civ 927

The CA judgment in Darwall is out. I will confess that I thought it would go the other way – not because natural pessimism led me to expect things to turn out in the way opposite to my preference, but just because, given that changes to the extent of access to the countryside have become part of the likely programmes of political parties, it seemed as if it might be a plausible choice for the CA to say ‘this is one for Parliament to sort out, not us’. Got that one wrong.

Anyway, no doubt I will revisit this, and may update/beef up as I wade through the CA livestream, but it seems worth noting a few immediate thoughts. So –

What is it about?

Alexander and Diana Darwall sought a declaration that people had no right to ‘wild camp’ on Dartmoor, where they owned (a lot of) land. ‘Wild camping’, is, helpfully, defined for us by Underhill LJ as:

a modish phrase which I understand to mean camping overnight in a place which is not a dedicated campsite

There had been an idea that there was such a right in the National Park there, even though there was not generally such a right in England. In the High Court, (: [2023] EWHC 35 (Ch)) Darwall won, and the relevant National Park authority appealed.

Why is it interesting?

Well, it is a fight on the borderline of the extent of a landowner’s power to exclude and the right of the public to obtain access to England’s wild places.

Essentially, it was uncontroversial that the public had access to the National Park for purposes of (for example) walking – so there were definitely some limits to the Darwalls’ rights as landowners, but was wild camping (i.e. camping other than at a designated site, with permission) allowed as well, or not? In the High Court, a judge (Flaux J) had said no. The CA (Vos MR, Underhill and Newey LJJ) however, were convinced that that was incorrect:

‘57. I, therefore, conclude that the grant to the public of “a right of access to the [Dartmoor Commons] on foot and on horseback for the purpose of open-air recreation” does allow members of the public to rest and sleep, whether by day or by night, whether on the ground or in a tent. I do not think that the use of the word “open-air” means that a tent cannot be used for the necessary incidents of walking …’ [Vos]

Despite being about pretty big principles, the CA case was argued on the less-swashbuckling territory of construction of certain legislation specific to Dartmoor itself, and particularly the following words: “the public shall have a right of access to the commons on foot and on horseback for the purpose of open-air recreation” –  Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 s. 10(1).


What not-entirely-legally-relevant hares has it set off running in my head?

I thank myself for asking. Well I do I find it rather interesting that there is considerable variation, in the judgments and in newspaper coverage, in the way in which the Darwalls are described. They are ‘farmers, landowners and commoners’ in one place [H Ct 4; CA, 33], which gives a certain spin to things to most people, I would imagine. Farmers – well, they are often treated as a bit special in Land Law, aren’t they (see various proprietary estoppel cases which seem to view farmers and their ways as not like other people, even if they are running rather large concerns in a business-oriented way)? And ‘commoners’ sounds very rustic and old world. Not quite how things are here – as various journalistic sources tell us, Alexander Darwall is not a life-long tiller of the soil, herder of beasts etc., but somebody who was primarily a hedge fund manager, acquiring land in the National Park relatively recently, and using it for, amongst other things, pheasant shooting and deer stalking (see, e.g. the Guardian , which also notes certain political activities).

I also rather enjoyed some of the gymnastics involved in trying to argue that camping was, or was not ‘open air recreation’ (either because canvas meant it was not ‘open air’ or because recreation had to be something physically active and could not be stationary) (see e.g. CA at 55).

Almost finally, one thing which often strikes me as worthy of further study, though I have not made a thorough-enough study of it to say much about it, is the judicial performance of emotion. Expressions of ‘real sympathy’ for the landowners at 72 (CA, Underhill LJ) – what do we think? In a judgment which otherwise seems to be at pains to keep to the statutory construction task, that choice did stand out to me as interesting.

Actually finally, and despite his being on ‘the wrong side’, I do have to award a special gold star for creativity to Timothy Morshead KC, who is reported to have made an allusion to a famous poem by Keats, relating to those ‘long in city pent’, which, although it does mention not being in motion at all times, seems to describe access to the countryside on a day basis, rather than camping, neatly supporting his clients’ case (H Ct, 40).


A good one for a Land Law reading list?

Yes – clearly an important area, and something which is ripe for a bit of debate about the limits of rights in and to land. Also shows that fights about pretty fundamental principles can be tied up in painstakingly detailed analysis of the wording of statutes, so rams home the Land Law lecturer’s favourite instruction: you need to be precise! Also –it weighs in at a mere 20 pages: see, proprietary estoppel case judges – you don’t actually have to get into 3 figures…




Photo by serena saponaro on Unsplash

Words about words (in English and Welsh) about deeds not words

This is a paper I wrote in 2013, as part of a project to mark the anniversary of some ‘suffragette’ incidents in Bristol and elsewhere. Clearly, I never quite got around to tidying it up into a state suitable for submission to a journal. Maybe I will, one day, but, having come upon it as I clear out my home of many years, I thought I would put it out there in the world at least, and maybe it will be of interest to people looking for material on the suffrage campaign, on Abergavenny, or on Wales. I have more material on this, and especially a number of intriguing suffragette-related poems in Welsh to finish turning into English, but I think there are some points which can be made now (and, realistically, I have my hands full for the next few months, so, unless the whole thing is to be put back behind the back-burner, it feels like time to offer it up to the silent void). A bit of Swedish death cleaning (except, not off just yet, and in English/Welsh, not Swedish).

Coming back to these stories after a decade, two things strike me. First of all, the issue of a clash between different groups, with different claims to a history of bad treatment, brought into conflict, which we see in the ‘Suffragettes v. Eisteddfodwyr’ tension, has come to resonate even more than it did in 2013. I am not of the view that history has direct, simple, lessons for the present, but it is certainly interesting to think about the compound clash of identities involved in the episodes to be considered here – sex/gender, class, language, nation – all taking place in the fluid border country of Monmouthshire, which happens to be my native soil.

Off it goes … far from perfect, but has its good points …

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Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Messing with the Temporal Prime Directive

I think I had better record this confession, in case there are consequences … I have just entered a ‘research output’ on my institution’s system, like a good little Starfleet Officer, but somehow got the year of publication wrong. So it is down as ‘published’ … but in 2026 not 2023, and I can’t change it. What chaos might that cause? Well, if space and time become royally screwed up … sorry everyone!

Voyager's route home

Further thoughts upon the Pon Farr

On a previous stardate, back in 2020, I wrote a piece about a classic Star Trek episode, ‘Amok Time’ (1967). This is the one which features a trip to Vulcan, and Spock being on heat – due to the seven-yearly pon farr mating urge – and not even vaguely logical. Obviously, my inner legal historian (OK, not all that ‘inner’ …) was intrigued by the ‘trial by battle’ between Spock and Kirk over the minxy T’Pring (Spock’s fiancée, who was keen to dump him for a rather buffer Vulcan called Stonn). Now, in my continuing – possibly impossible – mission to watch everything Star Trek, I have seen a Voyager episode from 30 years afterwards, ‘Blood Fever’ (3:16, 1997), which takes up some of the threads from ‘Amok Time’, and expands upon some aspects of Vulcan mating and marriage customs, in the lore of the Star Trek universe. It also, perhaps, raises some questions about the pitfalls of trying to maintain storylines and ideas over a long period of time, when attitudes in our own world may have moved in important ways.

Anyway, the episode involves a male Vulcan engineering ensign, Vorik, going through the pon farr and focusing his attention on half-Klingon, half-human Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres. Vorik proposed to her (declares koon-ut-so-lik). She refused him, but he would not take ‘no’ for an answer and attacked her. She punched him out. However, the physical contact involved in their fight (he had her by the neck at one point, and held her face in a similar way to the famous ‘mind meld’ position) ‘infected’ her through sort of rapey telepathic bond, and Torres began to go into a version of the pon farr with Klingon characteristics. She still wasn’t attracted to Vorik, though, and pursued Lieut. Tom Paris, while they were stuck on a rather desolate planet, on an ‘away mission’.

The implications of the pon farr for those who could not get to Vulcan was explored. The deal with that is that, if they can’t mate or fight, or perhaps suppress the whole thing through meditation, a (male?) Vulcan may well die. So what to do? The whole problem is not helped by the Vulcans’ ‘Victorian’ attitude to the whole sex thing and insistence that the pon farr is terribly private. Vorik says insists that  he can try and get on top of it, and ‘resolve [his] situation privately.’ Meditation is mentioned, but there is a strong hint at Vulcan wanking too (or is that just me?). Certainly wank-adjacent is the Doctor’s scheme of programming a Vulcan woman on the holodeck for Vorik.

The Vulcan is confined to his quarters – presumably justified on grounds of protection of the rest of the crew. He escapes, however, and follows Torres down to a planet where she is working, to ‘consummate their union’. It is not clear that her consent is in any way relevant to him. Seeing Torres and Tom Paris about to have sex, Vorik challenges Paris (the koon-ut-kal-if-fee). Torres steps in and takes the challenge and is allowed to do so. The two fight, Torres wins, and this purges both of them of blood fever.

What do we learn, in terms of law, customs and practice surrounding marriage and sex?

There is some expansion on the Vulcan trial by battle idea …

  • It is possible for a woman to fight
  • It can be fought without the ritual weapon, the lirpa
  • Fighting itself gets rid of the pon farr chemicals
  • Fighting need not be to the death, nor on Vulcan, to have this effect.

… and Vulcan marriage …

  • Arranged marriages are the norm
  • If it is logical to assume that one’s betrothed is lost, one may seek another mate

What do we learn about Star Trek and gender?

So – we are thirty years on from ‘Amok Time’: how has the mood changed with regard to ideas about gender and sex? Well, there are positive things: Torres is definitely her own woman, active, respected and brave, and she gets to participate directly in the ‘trial by battle’ section of the story, rather than sitting back decorously and letting the men fight it out. But there may be a bit too much emphasis on the nobility of Tom Paris, not wanting to have sex with B’Elanna while she is ‘under the influence’ – I mean, obviously this is good, but, dramatically, it is being set up as a balance to the attempted rape by Vorik on Torres, and the icky (at best) holodeck sexbot idea. And the joking discussions of Klingon ‘rough sex’ might not be beyond questioning.

I am left wondering about the choice to maintain, or bring back, the pon farr idea in the 1990s. I can see why it was tempting to bring in the conundrum of how to deal with desire in the situation of the long journey home of Voyager, but the (real) world changed quite a lot in those intervening years (challenges to and much removal of the marital rape exception, improvements in understanding of rape myths and gender inequality) and the narrative of virtually irresistible sexual urges in a male of a particular species (however muddied in gender terms by the transmission to Torres) might have been best left in Stardate 1967.



Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Some personal (sort of legal) history

Still clearing out my home of many years, and finding many ‘gems’ from past lives. Very odd to come across something I hadn’t thought about for decades – the essay I submitted for the university admissions process, back in the deep past. A history essay, which clearly appealed, for some reason, to those making these decisions. Sure it would not have been the stammering, nervy, nerdy, interview that swung it. So thank you, Catherine the Great, I suppose! Also – in palaeographical news – my handwriting does not look like that any more!




Assize (still) matters (?)

Clearing out a lot of stuff from my house, as times are very much a-changin’ … came across a cache of overhead projector slides from some long-ago talk on price regulation (odd how that has just hit the news again …). Time to get rid, seeing as I don’t think OHPs are actually going to be coming back. But these are great, so I thought I would snap them for the blog.

Both images come from the Liber de Assisa Panis, a London MS about bread price/quality regulation. That sort of thing was an important part of my PhD thesis, and also formed the basis of an article with the main title ‘Assize Matters’. Not sure whether the editor of the Journal of Legal History at the time did, or did not, get the smutty joke, which owed something to these suggestive car ads … A career high in any case: can’t beat a good pun.

Smut aside, I do love the fact that the top image shows a bit of a space-planning fail. The artist seems to have made everything a bit too big, so that the horses pulling the sledge had to be squashed in (or were the horses drawn by somebody else?) The second one is much more rough and ready, and they decided not to bother with the horses at all. Very ‘relatable’ – horses are hard. I remember that my big sister used to arrange any drawings featuring horses in such a way that she only had to draw the horse’s backside, tail and back legs, because horse heads were so difficult. We are a very artistic family … Also love the fact that this cruder drawing has a label, so we can be in no doubt that it is John de Stratford, whose transgression appears in the entry beside it.  Just in case the likeness was not absolutely apparent.

Enough reminiscing – time to move on (though not dragged on a sledge, I hope ,,,)