Our former Head of Chambers Lorna Cole was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1950. She began practice in Leeds where she had been raised and also attended university. On the 1st May 1951, at an event where she had been forced to dine alone in a corridor whilst male Barristers socialised together, she was (briefly) admitted to the main hall and permitted to join the North Eastern Circuit. Her determination in the face of adversity blazed the trail for female Barristers.
At around this time Circuit records document that there were concerns about the “goings-on” of Barristers in Hull. In the immediate post-war years there were two individuals practicing in Hull, Stringer Taylor and Arthur Stevenson. They were individuals of dubious reputation supported by a Clerk who was “scandalously dishonest”. The reputation of the Hull Bar, such as it was, amounted to a disgrace. The presiding Judge of the North Eastern Circuit resolved to remedy the situation and with the assistance of the Leader of Circuit encouraged two young West Yorkshire based Barristers – Jack Walker and Richard Hutchinson – to move to Hull and set up reputable Chambers.
Chambers was formed, it is understood, in 1952. Jack Walker had been in practice in Bradford but had an East Riding family connection and was happy to move to Beverley. Richard Hutchinson was a graduate of Hull University. The two of them brought dignity and respectability back to the City and built the reputation for sound legal scholarship and practical advice. They operated initially from Victoria Chambers on Bowlalley Lane where they rented rooms from Andrew M. Jackson Solicitors.
Messrs Walker and Hutchinson were soon joined by Lorna, whose husband Carl Rosen was a senior partner in the Hull firm Graham and Rosen. They remained a small set in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The founding members were joined by two Hull University professors. Fred Taylor had been a tutor of Richard Hutchinson at Hull University. He was renowned for two things; his academic brilliance and his eccentricity. Hugh Bevan came to Hull from Wales. He was a family lawyer and was the author of published text in that field. He also served in the city as a Justice of the Peace. They both predominantly remained academics but did some work at the independent bar.
Michael Barker, also a Lecturer at the University, joined Chambers in the early years. Following a distinguished academic career (First Class honours in Mathematics before the same in Law and Bar Finals) he became known as an outstanding advocate. Although thought to be destined for Silk he opted for the Circuit Bench where he sat in the old Beverley Crown Court.
Jack Walker and Richard Hutchinson were also appointed Circuit Judges. HHJ Walker was appointed in 1972 and sat in Beverley with HHJ Barker. Regrettably for local practitioners Richard Hutchinson’s appointment, in 1974, was to the Midlands and Oxford Circuit where he sat for many years as the Recorder of Lincoln.
Lorna of course became Head of Chambers, the first female Head of Chambers on Circuit. She shunned judicial appointment. She preferred the company of her “chambers family”. Lorna was a pioneer for women at the Bar. We are all indebted to her for the platform she laid on this Circuit for female barristers. She held the position of Head of Chambers for more than 20 years. It is not known what became of Taylor and Stevenson although one is rumoured to have left the Bar and became a greengrocer.
Chambers continued to grow throughout the 1960’s. Members included John Myers and also Pritam Singh who was later appointed Queen’s Counsel having moved to Chambers in London. He is thought to be the first Barrister of Sikh origin to have achieved the distinction. Another significant recruit in those days was to the clerking team. When the previous clerk left, a search of the Circuit found a young and ambitious junior clerk in Newcastle called John Kennedy. He accepted employment on 1st May 1965 which was his 21st birthday. The staff then consisted of a secretary, a typist and John Kennedy. By this time, they had moved into Imperial Chambers on the whimsical corner of Bowlalley Lane at its junction with the Land of Green Ginger.
Chambers expanded rapidly from around 1970. Tom Cracknell and Michael Mettyear joined along with Peter Heppel, Ashraf Khan, Keith Lawrence, John Finestein and long serving civil practitioner Paul Miller. Highly regarded former Head of Chambers Bernard Gateshill arrived in 1976 as the pupil of Tom Cracknell. He had also been an academic at the University before coming to the Bar. At that stage, Bernard recalls, there were twelve members of chambers. Tom Cracknell and Michael Mettyear would later serve the City of Hull and the East Riding for many years as Circuit Judges. HHJ Mettyear was, until his retirement in 2015, the longest serving Resident Judge in the country and HHJ Cracknell, although predominantly a criminal lawyer, served a similar period as Designated Family Judge until he retired in 2017.
The expansion of chambers included a move to a more modern and properly equipped set of Barristers Chambers on High Street in Hull’s old town. The premises were located opposite Wilberforce House and so the name of this pioneering anti-slave trade campaigner, who would forever be associated with Hull, was enthusiastically adopted. Chambers chose this name prior to their London based counterparts of the same name. The current premises in Bishop Lane were identified and purchased, from the Midland Bank, in 1996. Chambers was officially opened by the Lord Chancellor Lord MacKay of Clashfern.
It is from these premises that many Barristers of great distinction practiced prior to achieving judicial appointment. They include DJ John Finestein, HHJ Heppel QC, HHJ Sampson, HHJ Tremberg, HHJ Bury, HHJ Murray, HHJ Hirst, HHJ Cracknell, DJ Simon Pickering and HHJ Thackray QC. All of these individuals practiced alongside one-time Parliamentary candidate, dentist and potato merchant turned Barrister Paul Genney who continues to entertain jurors and mildly irritate Judges in the Crown Court.
Wilberforce Chambers continues to support and promote the study of law at the University of Hull in acknowledgement of the significant contribution made by the University to the careers of the many Barristers who chose to settle in the city after graduating from the faculty of law.
Chambers is grateful to Bernard Gateshill, HH Robert Taylor and HH Tom Cracknell for their assistance in the compilation of this short history of Chambers.