1st November 1875. The Fog of Chancery.

           Welcome to November.


                       So dull and dark are the November days. John Clare.


William the Conqueror admired the laws of Edward the Confessor (the Laga Eadwardii), which he made the Common Laws of England.

The multiplicity of English Courts of Law had grown out of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings’ Permanent Council which the reforms of the 19th century made an effort to integrate.

Medieval Common Pleas.

Medieval Court of Common Pleas.

Today in 1875 the Judicature Act became effective when the old system of Common Law and Chancery (Equity) Courts were abolished.

Courts which had existed since the Middle Ages were completely reorganized in 1873 and 1875 with a demand coming from leading industrial, commercial and financial interests, where complex commercial cases required attendance at different courts.

High Courts of Justice, Strand, London, early 20thc.

High Courts of Justice, Strand, London, early 20thc.

The judicature was now divided into a High Court of Justice and a Court of Appeal with the House of Lords as the final Court of Appeal.

Rigid distinctions between Common Law, and Equity (Chancery), dealing with writs and injunctions were now to disappear.

The 1873 Judicature Act, coincident with the new Strand Law Courts, united the Courts of Chancery, King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, Admiralty and Probate and Divorce into the Supreme Court.

Replacement came with three Divisions: Chancery, King’s Bench and  Admiralty Probate and Divorce (from 1969 the Family Division).

The ancient Common Pleas involving disputes between subject and subject and never involving the monarch, was dissolved in 1880, becoming part of Queen’s Bench.

Charles Dickens in his Bleak House fulminated against the interminable time, greed and injustice endemic in a system over which the Lord High Chancellor in Chancery, presided.

Famous in the novel was the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce which took so long to settle that the only people to benefit were the lawyers.

The famous opening of the novel opens with a description of fog which is synonymous with the fog and corruption of the Court of Chancery described against a murky November London scene.

‘London, Michaelmas seem lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth…Smoke lowering down from chimney pots…

Then there was the mire. Foot passengers jostling…and losing their foot- hold at street corners where…foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke…

Chancery by Thomas Shepherd 1830

Lincoln Old Inn (Old Hall, Chapel and Chancery Court, by Thomas Shepherd 1830

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are the muddiest near that…ornament for the threshhold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery’.

Ref: parliament.uk/judiciary.

Ref: googleimages/Pic of Autumn.

Ref: mimimatthews.com/Pic of Chancery.

Ref: homepage.ntlworld.com./old postcard of High Courts.

Ref. Eric van Hooydonk, 2003/googlebooks.

Ref: egreenway.com/months.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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