The Law and "Royal and Ancient" Kingston upon Thames throughout history - a special place in the legal world!

I have discussed the relationship between the bankruptcy jurisdiction and the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames on this blog before (see here and here). I thought it might be interesting to explore other general links between the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames and the world of law, particularly as I teach and research at Kingston Law School. I hope all Kingstonians, both residents and students, find the following of interest!

It might first be appropriate to outline a brief history of Kingston-upon-Thames. It was not always known by that name. It was first called Moreford - the Great Ford. Moreford was the first Saxon town erected in England. Following a destructive and ruinous raid by the Danes the town arose again, renamed as Kingston. In the year 838 the town was referred to as, "that famous place called Kingston" during a council of King Egbert. Kingston was named after King Egbert as the land upon which it sits was originally his land or ton.

His son, King Athelstane, gave Kingston its Royal town status. This was confirmed by King George V in 1927. Seven Saxon Kings were crowned in the town. They were: King Edward, son of Alfred who was crowned in Kingston-upon-Thames in 899. His son King Athelsane followed in 924, then his brother King Edmund in 939, then his brother King Edred in 946, then his son King Edwy in 955 and then his brother King Edgar in 973. King Edgar was crowned King of all England in Bath Abbey in 973. The last King to be crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames appears to have been Edward the Martyr in AD 975. Kingston-upon-Thames was therefore the Coronation town between 899 and 975. Some commentators think that earlier Saxon kings may also have been crowned in Kingston, i.e. Ethelwulf (839), Ethelbald (855), Ethelbert (858) and Ethelred (866). The Doomsday book of 1086 notes Kingston as having: five mills, a church, three fisheries, four thousand acres.

The first Royal Charter was granted to the town by King John in 1199. A second followed in 1208. Twenty Six Royal charters have followed, including one for the Grammar School (1561 - there is documentary evidence to suggest that the school has been in existence sine 1264) and one for the University. 1899 marks the opening of what is now the University, but the University Charter was granted in 1992. Dr Leonard Lawley, the first director of what was then the Polytechnic, thought it should have come earlier, i.e. in 1966. The History of the University (cited below) records: "the institution was bitterly disappointed when it learnt in 1966 that Battersea College of Technology [now Surrey University] rather than itself was to become a university. `We did think’, Dr Lawley told the newspapers, `we might be one of those colleges mentioned in the Robbins Report that would become universities, but 20 or 30 others probably thought the same’ [e.g. The Borough News, 7 January 1966]."

Back to the Royal Borough. By a charter of Henry VI, 14 March 1441 the Bailiffs and Freemen of Kingston were given the right to have a Common Seal. This was confirmed by a charter of Charles I on the 13th December 1629. Kingston was granted the right to use arms in 1572, the year after the second bankruptcy statute (An Act Touching Orders For Bankrupts 1571 (Stat 13 Eliz I, c.7)). The extinct Dukedom of Kingston relates to Kingston-upon-Hull. The first duke was Evelyn Pierrepont (1667-1726) who was created in that style on the 10 August 1715.

There are three main subjects which link Kingston-upon-Thames and the law, namely: (1) The Office of Recordership of Kingston-upon-Thames, (2) the Courts of Law in Kingston-upon-Thames, (3) and Kingston Law School (KLS), at Kingston University. These will now be considered seriatim:

(1) The Office of Recorder of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames
Kingston-upon-Thames has a unique honour in being the only Borough in England that has the power to appoint its own High Steward and Recorder. The office of Recorder of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, an unpaid post, was created by King James I in 1603 and has been held as an honorific, titular title by the Attorney-General of England and Wales ever since. The post is perhaps not as famous as the Recorder of London or the Common Serjeant of London, but it is still nevertheless a very prestigious office. Past incumbents of the Kingston-upon-Thames Recordership have included numerous Attorney-Generals over the last 406 years. Officeholders have included:
  • Sir Anthony Benn (1569/70-1618) - lawyer and judge - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: appointed 1610. He is buried in All Saints' parish church, Kingston. There is a monument erected in his memory which depicts him in his lawyers' robes.
  • Sir Edward Thurland (1607-1683) - lawyer and politician - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames (and Reigate and Guildford): appointed to all three in 1661.
  • Sir Francis Wythens (c.1635-1704) - judge and politician - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: November 1685.
  • Sir Horace Edmund Avory KC (1851-1935) - judge - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: appointed 1902.
  • Lord Somervell of Harrow OBE, QC - Politician and judge - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: 1940-1945.
  • Lord Shawcross QC - Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Barrister and Politician - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: 1946 to 1951.
  • Lord Elwyn Jones CH, PC, QC - Lord Chancellor, Nuremberg Prosecutor, author - Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames: 1968 to 1974.
  • Lord Rawlinson QC - Conservative Attorney-General - Recorder of Kingston upon Thames: 1975 to 2002.
(2) Courts of Law in Kingston-upon-Thames
Save for a number of brief spells when the Surrey Assizes were held elsewhere (i.e. in Guildford, Reigate, Croydon and Southwark) Kingston-upon-Thames played host to the Surrey Assizes from the reign of King John until they were abolished in 1971. Kingston now has a tier one Crown Court (some Kingston Crown Court judges are pictured to the right processing into Kingston Parish Church on the 29 September 2009). A number of interesting cases took place at the Surrey Assizes in Kingston, including:
  • Henry Bickerstaffe (bap. 1606, d. in or after 1661), Digger, who was prosecuted for trespass in Kingston, but then went on to become keeper of the town gaol!
  • Elizabeth Billington [née Weichsel], (1765–1818), singer, who as a 12 year old accused her godfather, the violinist Joseph Agus (1749–1798), of attempted rape. He was convicted at Kingston Assize on the 19 March 1778.
  • Frederick Calvert, sixth Baron Baltimore (1732–1771), author and libertine. In 1768 he was charged with raping Sarah Woodcock, a London milliner, at his country house at Epsom. He was tried at Kingston assizes on 26 March 1768.
In more recent times many famous and infamous trials have taken place in Kingston Crown Court including: the recent prosecutions against alleged 7/7 conspirators, alleged rapes in celebrity nightclubs, sexual assault by a nurse of a psychiatric patient, alleged theft from the Queen's composer, and many, many more. Kingston Crown Court also served as an inspiration for BBC One's Garrow Law.

There is also a County Court (which has a Bankruptcy jurisdiction) and a Magistrates Court in Kingston.

(3) Kingston Law School (KLS) - Illustrious speakers at KLS through the ages and some notable alumni
Law has been taught in what is now the University since the 1940s. There has been a Law School in Kingston since the early 1960s. A dedicated law library was opened in 1968. Teaching was originally based at Penryn road, but in 1979 the School of Law was moved to our current location, i.e. the refurbished Coach House on the Kingston Hill campus. One early head of school went on to take silk (Joe Harper QC). Teaching delivery now includes the LL.B., LL.M. and Ph.D. degrees as well as the PG Diploma in Law (peviously the GDL). Over 2,755 law students have passed through the doors of KLS over the last forty years.

There is a vibrant research culture at KLS. Commissioned research has been undertaken for numerous Government departments (BIS, Ministry of Justice) and articles written by members of KLS frequently appear in REF 4 standard journals (i.e. Modern Law Review, Journal of Business Law, Cambridge Law Journal, etc). A number of leading textbooks are produced at the School, including five Oxford University Press (OUP) textbooks (see: Darbyshire on the English Legal System (Sweet & Maxwell (S&M)), Bermingham on Tort (OUP), Durston on Evidence (OUP), Humphreys on European Law (OUP), Pitt on Employment Law (S&M), Broadbent on Public Law (OUP) and Broadbent on Social Work Law (OUP), Allen on Business Law (Pearson), Tolmie on Insolvency Law (Cavendish), Youngs on Comparative Law (Cavendish), Jeanpierre on French Law (Pearson)). Learned monographs have also been published by Fionda (Youth Justice (Hart) and Public Prosecutions (OUP)) and Durston (four monographs on 18th Century Criminal Law).

There have been numerous illustrious speakers who have visited the School since its foundation. These have included a Lord Chancellor, a Vice-Chancellor and two Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (now Supreme Court Justices) as well as a Chief Justice of Sierra Leone (Justice Gelaga King). The Lord Goff of Chieveley, the Lord Slynn of Hadley, the Viscount Hailsham of St Marylebone LC, Sir Robert Megarry V-C, and the Lord Borrie have all delivered lectures at KLS (pictures forthcoming!). Famous practitioners have also delivered lectures at KLS including: Professor David Graham QC, Professor Monty Raphael, Christine Laing QC, and others. Members of Parliament have spoken at the School, including Mr Edward Davey MP and Dr Jenny Tonge MP. Mr Zac Goldsmith MP has also been a recent visitor.

Notable Alumni and LLD recipients
KLS has had its fair share of illustrious alumni throughout the years. There are hundreds of practicing solicitors and barristers now in firms and chambers across the world who received their initial legal education at KLS. A number enjoyed the experience so much that they went into academia! Academics who studied at KLS include:
Here follows a small sample of leading practitioners who also received their law degrees from KLS. These include:
A number of KLS graduates have gone on to the bench, including:
  • His Honour Judge Ebraham Mooncey, Circuit Judge, Lincoln Crown Court,
  • District Judge Kevin Gray,
  • Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti, High Court Judge in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court,
  • District Judge Maureen Read,
  • Mr Recorder John Ryder, also of 6 King's Bench Walk.
Other illustrious KLS graduates include:
Recipients of KLS honorary Doctorates of Law (LL.D) have included:
For over 800 years Kingston-upon-Thames has played a key role in the administration of justice. For over 40 years KLS has played a not insubstantial role in teaching the practitioners of tomorrow. Long may both activities continue!

Further Reading
For a brief but relatively thorough history of Kingston upon Thames see: Forsdike, AW & Knowlden, AG. The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames: A Survey of the Royal Borough and its Amenities. Published at the Guildhall, Kingston upon Thames, 1938. For a history of Kingston University see: A History of Kingston University by Professor Michael Gibson. For further information on local history in and around Kingston see Kingston University's Centre for Local History Studies website.

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Anonymous said…
Extremely interesting John!

It will make graduation all the more sweeter!