Category Archives: General Rambles

Long rain, short reign

Very wet morning walk today – not easy to get myself going. Did see this curiosity though – an Edward VIII postbox. How odd to think of people putting these up, assuming that they were in for years of E VIII. Historical hindsight, eh? Not that I am either in favour of monarchy, nor at all sympathetic to E VIII (very dubious character). But an interesting little time capsule of a thing. And of course I was immediately set off thinking about a micro-legal-history project on the Laws of Edward VIII. No, no, no … far too many other things on my plate …

(Yes, it was dark – winter + obviously this)



Woman in 2030 – not long to go now …

Today, looking for something in HeinOnline, I stumbled across  F.E. Smith (Birkenhead), The World in 2030 A.D. (London, 1930). I had never seen this before, and was interested to see that it includes a chapter ‘Woman in 2030’ – summary – there will be ectogenesis, but we should know our place… must get working on that charm and wit, only 7 years to go …


What a nice man! I note, also that it is dedicated to his daughter, Pamela (p. v). I wonder what she made of Daddy’s thoughts on women.

In some ways – apart from the content, this is my ideal book, bringing together law, history and a sort of sci-fi (and the illustrations are great). But then there is the content – not just dubious sexism, but also all sorts of other stuff which is very questionable from a race point of view,

I am excited to see that, within 7 years we will have:

limitless cheap power (p.3)

no more epidemic diseases (p.7)

completely painless childbirth (p.11)

drudgery abolished by science (p. 17)

Though sadly, as p. 21 tells us …

And the ‘ideas of Asiatic peoples’ may mean that we don’t in fact get rid of epidemics (p. 21). Yes, there is plenty of racism (and eugenics) in here.


A few other odd suggestions

p. 36 – ‘Cavalry, organised as mounted machine-gunners, will come into their own again.

p.72 mentions a 16 hour working week (because, technology, science etc etc). Wouldn’t that be nice!

p.88 We will be on our way to being content with the ‘rule of experts’ rather than party politics.

p. 91 All children will go to university.

p. 92 The conquest of poverty will be in sight.

p. 103 ‘Dirt will have disappeared from the ordinary man’s experience.’

p. 107 ‘As wealth increases, we shall all be able to ride to hounds.’

p. 155 ‘British rule in India will endure.’

p. 191 Average life span will be 120 years, and life will end with euthanasia.









‘Emasculation’: they are still at it …

I have a long-standing concern with the metaphorical use of the concept of  ‘emasculation’ as a way of describing weakening something or effectively rendering it useless. (See older comments on it). Why – well, think about it, the message is ‘something with male genitalia good, powerful, strong; something without male genitalia feeble, damaged, pointless’. It is less frequently encountered in legal sources, these days, but not as absent as it should be.

A quick New Year scan of Westlaw shows that it came up in some recent cases, discussing the weakening of statutes, statutory provisions, powers, etc. (see, e.g., DPP v Bailey et al. [2022] EWHC 3302 at para 18; Interactive Ltd. v. Oovee Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 1665 at para 40; Novartis [2022] EWHC 959 (Ch) at 31). Particularly striking, perhaps, was its appearance in the Supreme Court (Lady Arden) in Triple Point v PTT [2021] UKSC 29 at 53, in relation to emasculation of a cap on liability by way of a ‘cap carve-out’ (which seems an odd mixture of different parts of the body, apart from anything else, though I suppose the ‘carve out’ idea has some resonance with the process of castration).

There is not too much resort to this sort of thing in modern legal scholarship, but I did note a pair of emasculations in an article in one of the most prestigious English law journals: see Neil Duxbury, ‘Final court jurisprudence in the crystallisation era’ L.Q.R. 2023, 139(Jan), 153-166, 165, in which a law professor chose to describe the practice of undermining or weakening precedents through the language of removal of male genitalia. It is very interesting to ponder what is the ‘spin’ on the subject matter of the article – jurisprudence, modern legal history of a sort – which is given by this emasculation vocabulary, to what extent its inclusion was uncritically carrying on the patterns of past analysis, to what extent it was a considered choice, and whether there is any sense in which it was necessary to use this metaphor in an article in 2023.




Photo by Esteban Bernal on Unsplash

Love and peace from Sir F. Pollock

Came across this today, and it is rather nice – lawyers, historians – let’s be friendly and interdisciplinary!

(from F. Pollock, Oxford Lectures and Other Discourses (London, 1890), 45(

Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Legal History goals for 2023 …

[Editing out the latter parts of this chapter, celebrating Empire in a very hubristic way …]



Ladies – know your place!

A couple of newspaper snippets caught my attention today, both on the topic of female incursion into the male domain of history. In one case, from 1895, this seems to have been treated with some scorn:

In the other case, from 1901, I suppose it is treated with some amazement:

I must say, a night out watching a child answering history questions sounds absolutely thrilling! Why doesn’t somebody bring that back?



Not giving up the day job

Sometimes the spirit moves me to attempt a cartoon. Snag: absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever. Nevertheless, I am moved to share this fine work of comparative legal historical art created during a very good presentation on an aspect of contract law history, as a contribution to the gaiety of nations on a dark November day …



Law, love, lies … and poetry

The law is a wordy profession, and, in some ways, it is not surprising that, at various points in history, lawyers have felt that they might turn their mind and hand from the deployment of words in argument to their employment in the drafting of poetry. It does not usually go well. Attempted poetry was one of the offences committed by the Welsh solicitor in this story from the newspapers of 1894.[i] Another involved serious (and bad) lying. The thing which got him, in the end, however, was his breach of a promise to marry a young woman.

In 1892, Mr James Benjamin Price, solicitor, of Neath, found himself on board a steamship, the P & O ship Carthage, which was bound, eventually, for India. He also found himself  in the company of, amongst others, a Miss Grace Rani Mitchell (19 at the time of the trial, so 17 at the time of the voyage), orphaned daughter of Mr James Mitchell, formerly of West Norwood, and, more interestingly, god-daughter of the Rajah Rampal Singh of Oudh (her mother’s sister having married him). They met on the hurricane deck. Before the ship got to Malta, he had proposed marriage. The young lady, quite properly according to the conventions of the time, sought her guardian’s consent. There followed a period of separation – she in India, he in Britain – and much correspondence. This is where the poetry comes in, and some of the lying. His letters were ‘unusually amorous’, and talked up his wealth, his lands, his legal practice. Miss Mitchell said ‘yes’, once she had her guardian’s consent. She returned to Britain, no doubt keen to get married to this amorous, wealthy catch of a man. Price, however, was not to be found. Miss Mitchell’s enquiries were met with a telegram from Price’s uncle, telling her that price had died ‘suddenly, at Bristol, from blood poisoning’. This was completely pants on fire untrue.

Price did not manage to evade detection, because plucky Miss Mitchell went and hit the archives, looking for primary sources (find myself liking her …). There was, it turned out, no death certificate. Price was unearthed. He made  a failed attempt to pay Grace off with £20, and tried to persuade her that she would be open to ridicule, if she went ahead with legal action. But Grace was not having it. The matter ended up in court – the London Sheriff’s Court in Red Lion Square –  a breach of promise suit. He could not say much, really – he had been caught red-handed (or burnt-bottomed, as a result of the combusting smalls?). There was substantial evidence that he had promised marriage, and that he had broken his promise. All he could do was try and argue that he was an absolutely huge liar, and that, despite his tales of wealth, assets, success, he was actually rather impoverished. This succeeded to some extent, and the damages award of £300 might have been higher, had he really been as wealthy as he had made out to Miss Mitchell.

A very dim view was taken of Mr Price’s conduct, and, in court, there was, apparently, applause, when an official said ‘happy was the woman who had escaped becoming the wife of such a man as the defendant’. The plaintiff herself received good press – she was ‘a prepossessing young lady, stylishly dressed, wearing a large feather boa.’ That does indeed sound a stylish accessory for a court-room appearance.

And what of the poetry? Well, there is an interesting suggestion that a solicitor writing poetry is rather ridiculous: ‘That a solicitor, of all people in the world, should take to writing love poetry appears to be an inversion of the order of nature, which, if the example were widely followed, would throw our whole legal machinery into inextricable confusion.’ Probably it is both the overall reputation of the law as a prosaic thing, and also the idea of solicitors’ work as not hugely intellectual, in comparison to that of the ‘upper branch’ of the legal profession, that contributed to this idea of incongruity. There is likely to be more than a touch of snobbery there. On the other hand, the poetry (and, mercifully, only a couple of lines are reproduced) really is pretty bad:

“Though now in another country

and many miles apart

I cannot see my darling,

but no other has my heart!”

Mmm – corny. Though I suppose there can be few of us who would relish having our clumsy expressions of love in letters, or indeed bad poetry, picked over in court and newspapers.

I do wonder what became of Mr Price and his legal practice after this. On his evidence, he had been disappointed as to an inheritance, and the practice was not really flourishing – and this was at least part of the reason that he had not gone through with the wedding to Grace. So I am assuming that he did not become a big figure in the legal profession.  Grace does seem to me like a bit of a star – and wouldn’t this all make rather a nice one-off courtroom drama?

In comparison to many of the events in law-courts – certainly the other grisly cases I have been looking at lately, this seems relatively light stuff:  nobody died, and the young woman did get some financial compensation for her disappointment (interesting question as to what she actually lost by not getting married to a lying humbug, one might have thought … but the jury said £300 plus costs). Going beyond seeing it as somewhat light, though, breach of promise cases were frequently treated as a bit of a laugh: certainly, they gave newspapers and their readers a chance to nose a bit into the often-ridiculous personal lives of others, and, though there had long been grumbling about the fairness of breach of promise actions (lying, exaggerating women …. poor, poor men manipulated and fleeced … familiar bleating), the Birmingham Gazette gives a good indication of the general attitude:

‘Can any man with a fit and proper sense of humour really desire to abolish breach of promise cases?’

… which is an interesting thing to ponder: legal cases as comic entertainment for a wider public. In many ways, this was the heyday of such nosy commentary in newspapers, since, at this point, they had both divorce cases and breach of promise cases to cover, in this light, joking, intrusive fashion. Apparently it sold units.







Image – feather boa. I am imagining Grace turning up like something out of Drag Race – completely historically accurate … Photo by Alexandra Vázquez on Unsplash

[i] See also these:

SOLICITOR’S BREACH OF PROMISE.|1894-05-05|The Cardigan Observer and General Advertiser for the Counties of Cardigan Carmarthen and Pembroke – Welsh Newspapers (

Breach of Promise Case.|1894-04-27|South Wales Echo – Welsh Newspapers (

-Neath Breach of Promise Case. ..|1894-05-11|South Wales Echo – Welsh Newspapers (

MITCHELL V. PRiCE.|1894-05-02|Evening Express – Welsh Newspapers (

Law and low literature

It is a wet morning and I am stuck indoors, an arm stiff from a Covid jab: not up to doing anything terribly energetic, but in need of some distraction. Naturally enough, I have turned to reading about some favourite topics – law, humour and poetry (loosely so-called). All of them come together in this report of goings-on in a county court in Cardiff, in 1907: Lloyd Meyrick, ‘Limericks and Law’. It alludes to the occasion, on 8th May 1907, when a judge, William Stevenson Owen, at Cardiff County Court, brightened up a dullish case by breaking out into a limerick.

This tale contributes to the image of this particular judge as something of a funny fellow. Newspapers of the period could not get enough of his ‘humorous’ remarks and caustic quips. Meyrick noted that, in court, Owen elicited laughter, ‘weak cackles and short hysterical yelps’, that he was known as one for ‘polished periods and sparkling epigrams’, but it was only at that point that he had revealed an ‘unsuspected vein of poetry’.

Mentioned in passing in this report were limericks about ‘A young lady from Chichester’ and another young lady, this time from Exeter, but Meyrick did not give the verses themselves. I had a bit of a search for possibles and found some rather rude ones.[i] (At least there was no hint of people hailing from Nantucket. If you don’t know, use your imagination). But, perhaps not surprisingly, there was no serious rudeness in Judge Owen’s court.

Luckily, the judge’s own limerick was reproduced in other, anonymous, reports, from 8th May 1907. Here it is in all its glory:

There was a young woman of Chichester

who went to see a solicitor.

He asked for his fee,

she said “Fiddle-de-dee:

I simply called as a visitor”.

Have to say the rhymes are a bit dodgy, but, according to the ‘stage directions’ in the newspaper report, the response in court was loud laughter. The newspaper report does not really explain what the nature of the case was, but it does seem likely to have involved an issue of whether somebody was consulting a solicitor professionally or not. Did he make it up there and then (in which case some struggling rhymes would be forgiven), or did he sit up for hours the night before, composing and polishing it (in which case, they would not)? In any case, it all adds to the picture of power-dynamics in court at this point, and, so it seems to me at least, the self-regard of judges.

I have quite a collection of judicial ‘humour in court’ reports now, and also a fair bit of material on Owen, who does seem worth investigating further.

Working from the newspaper archive (the easiest place to start!), the Welsh newspaper obituaries[ii] give us these apparent facts about his life:

1834       Born (1st February). Son of William Owen, of Withybush, Pembrokeshire (deceased), from a ‘well-known and highly-respected family in the county’.

?date    Married to Miss Ray, Kent family, had three daughters and a son.

1856      Called to the Bar 1856. Became a Chancery barrister. Travelled the South Wales Circuit. ‘An accurate  lawyer and a skilled equity draftsman’.[iii]

1883      Appointed County Court Judge in Mid-Wales

1884      Transferred to ‘Circuit No. 58’ (County courts at Cardiff, Newport, Barry, Chepstow, Abergavenny, Tredegar, Pontypool, Monmouth, Ross, Crickhowell and Usk.

1895      Chair of Pembrokeshire Quarter Sessions. Chair of Haverfordwest Quarter Sessions. Retired 1907.

1909      Died (4.30 a.m., 20th October) , at home in Abergavenny, Ty Gwyn, after an operation on ‘an internal complaint’.

1909       23rd October. Funeral, parish church, Llantilio Pertholey, nr Abergavenny. Grave on south side of church.

At the time of his death, he sat on the County Court Bench.


His legal views

Obituaries[iv] emphasise some detailed, technical views:

  • opposition to the judgment summons system (on the grounds that it encouraged credit)
  • support for a reduction in the time allowed for the collection of debt under Statute of Limitations, from 6 to 2 years.


His character or characterisation: ‘dry humour’ and ‘caustic and scathing observations’

In death, he was called a man ‘of strong character and striking individuality’,[v] and, in private life, ‘a charming host and a man of warm-hearted disposition’. [vi]

it was commented that he was ‘noted for the dry humour which he introduced into the prosaic proceedings of the county court’, and that ‘his smart, laconic commentaries frequently provoked laughter’. On the other hand, his ‘caustic and scathing observations … were things to be dreaded, as many a solicitor [would] admit’.[vii] There is a lot to interrogate there – both in terms of the apparent nature of his ‘dry humour’, and also the slightly sniffy suggestion that the proceedings of the county court were ‘prosaic’. My initial reading suggests that he was very keen to play up the importance of this, apparently scorned, jurisdiction. More on that in due course!

Obituaries noted the speed with which he picked up common law, that his judgments were rarely upset on appeal, that he was very fair to prisoners, in Quarter Sessions, and, in the County Court, ‘very much alive to the processes of the court being used to oppress the poor’, with particular attention to claims made by tallymen and moneylenders, and not to ask too much of poor defendants in terms of paying debts. Much, much more to say, I am sure, once I can delve further into his cases and the reports.

I note that the obituaries do not mention his poetical efforts. They do say that he had a ‘distinguished career’.[viii] That was clearly in law rather than literature, though.





Image from The Evening Express, 20th October, 1909.






[i] Chichester:


A pious young lady of Chichester

made all of the saints in their niches stir

and each morning at matin

her breast in pink satin

made the bishop of Chichester’s britches stir

(shame about the double use of stir, to my mind, but Chichester/britches stir is rather skilful).



There was a young lady from Exeter,
So pretty that men craned their necks at her.
One was even so brave
As to take out and wave
The distinguishing mark of his sex at her.

(grim and creepy, obviously).

No refs to author, nor date,  given.

Just how the Exeter verse mentioned by Meyrick was thought to end, we can’t be sure, but the first two lines were not quite the same as the rude version above – it began ‘There was a young woman from Exeter/ and a happy young man sat next to her’ [needs another syllable, doesn’t it ‘Sat down next to her’?]

[ii] See, e.g., ,. DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-22|The Cambrian – Welsh Newspapers (  JUDGE OWEN DEAD|1909-10-20|Evening Express – Welsh Newspapers ( DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-29|The Welshman – Welsh Newspapers (

[iii] DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-29|The Welshman – Welsh Newspapers (

[iv] ,. DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-22|The Cambrian – Welsh Newspapers (

[v] DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-29|The Welshman – Welsh Newspapers (

[vi] DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-29|The Welshman – Welsh Newspapers (

[vii] ,. DEATH OF JUDGE OWEN.|1909-10-22|The Cambrian – Welsh Newspapers (

[viii] JUDGE OWEN DEAD|1909-10-20|Evening Express – Welsh Newspapers (