Friday, 21 March 2014

Justice on the Strand

In my last blogpost I mentioned some big civil cases coming up in 2014. Most of these concern major commercial disputes. Occasionally one comes to the Royal Courts of Justice that has wider interest.

So presently argument finished a few days ago in the Court of Appeal on a claim by the Plantagenet Alliance that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling had consulted insufficiently before deciding where the remains of Richard III should be buried - their Lordships have reserved judgement.

I could go on to talk about the fascinating architecture and history of the RCJ, and of some of the famous cases that have come before it. However, better than that, I can give a link to a guest blogpost on the website of London Historians The post is by talented artist Liam O'Farrell, and covers a recent tour of the RCJ that I did for the London Historians group.

And the post not only contains the narrative of Liam's review, but also some contemporaneous sketches that he did.

Enjoy.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, and former law firm partner. On Saturday 19th April he is running a free 45 minute walk: The Essence of St James's , starting at 11am, followed by a two-hour walk in the same area, Exclusive Clubs and Posh Shops, starting at 2pm (£8 full price; £6 concessions)

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Inside and Outside the Law - Big Cases in 2014

Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand is tucked away in the North-East end of the complex, and is London’s High Court for civil litigation.

If you had reviewed the Courts Lists online or in the RCJ hall during the latter part of last year, you would have seen against Court 73: “Inquest into the death of Mark Duggan”.

This perhaps demonstrates how difficult it is to draw a clean line between matters of civil law – an inquest is not criminal proceedings even if activity of an alleged criminal nature might sometimes be associated with the proceedings – and matters of criminal law.

Cat and dog litigants fighting
- delightful detail hidden away behind the RCJ

Despite their being Crown Courts all around London as well as around the rest of the country, many members of the public associate criminal proceedings heavily with the Old Bailey, more precisely known as the Central Criminal Courts of Justice and situated within the City of London.

Here strode John Mortimer’s fictitious Rumpole, and the makers of TV crime programmes commonly serve up their take on the criminal law process with lashings of spicy private life on top.

So to provide a counterbalance to the crime focus that pervades the media, and courtesy of The Lawyer Magazine, here are a few of the big civil cases that are scheduled for hearing in 2014:

JP Morgan pursuing a banking claim against Berlin’s public transport provider, BVG
Two members of Saudi Royalty appearing in a case where gross misconduct is claimed against them in dealings where smuggling and funding of terrorism is alleged
A claim by the family of Boris Berezovsky against Russian businessman Vasily Anisimov, the latest in a serious of High Court spats involving Russian oligarchs
The Tchenguiz brothers, Robert and Vincent, bringing proceedings (with others) against the Serious Fraud Office with damages claims covering trespass, wrongful arrest, human rights breaches, misfeasance in public office and malicious prosecution, this all relating back to the collapse of the Icelandic bank, Kaupthing.
Arcadia Group litigating against Mastercard and others on a claim relating to service charges levied on retailers
The Trustees of the Mineworkers Pension Scheme and others claiming that there were “material misstatements and omissions” in a 2008 Prospectus issue by Royal Bank of Scotland leading to a Rights Issue.

One adds immediately that no doubt all of these actions are being vigorously defended, so no one should prophesy outcome.

The proceedings will deliver meaty work for the barristers and City solicitors involved. However, do not think that the actions will all get into court, or indeed see their way through full proceedings even if a case starts.

There is an old adage; “Better a poor settlement than a good judgement”, and unless a party has a point of principle that drives them to have their “day in court”, you can be sure that the pre-trial sword-waving will be accompanied by behind the scenes settlement negotiations, aimed to avoid escalation of costs and unwelcome publicity.

The final twist is that not all these cases will be heard at the Strand site of the RCJ. Sitting quietly off of Fetter Lane, 10 minutes walk away, is the Rolls Building court complex, described by the Ministry of Justice as “the largest specialist centre for the resolution of financial, business and property litigation anywhere in the world.”, and part of the RCJ

Here the behemoths of Roman Abramovich and Boris Beresovsky battled each other in 2011/12, and here will take place some of the battles outlined above....if, of course, they get to court.


The author is a former law firm partner and a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further information.



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Scandal and Secrets after Christmas 2013


On Saturday 28 December fellow Westminster Guide, Kathryn Prevezer, and I ran a walk entitled West End Scandal and Secrets. Below are some teaser photos. The walk covered stories from Fitzrovia and a little of Soho. We had great feedback, and hope to do the walk again during 2014.



An outrageous character was born here


A leafy square, and louche living


Not a happy place of work


A location once for the practice of the love that dared not speak its name


A raucous literary figure supped here...


...and another literary figure based a location in a novel on this place


Home to a smart hotel today and an infamous hoax of its time


From a hoax to a heist, near here


Symbol of an unhealthy story


The rest reveals characters from a neighbourhood


Famous folk passed through the doors of this hotel, but not to go to the bar


A character probably more notorious than any appearing at this theatre


The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in Westminster and in the City. See tabs for more information.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Moses Montefiore - London and...Ramsgate

As a teenager growing up in the Isle of Thanet in Kent, I didn’t take much notice of road names.

I may have been able to deduce that The Plains of Waterloo in Ramsgate had something to do with a famous British military victory, but Grange Road in the same town was just another road, and certainly not recognised as the road leading to the house designed by Augustus Pugin and as became his family home from 1844 until his death in 1852.


The Grange

Thus Montefiore Avenue was no more than a road with a pleasant name. Only years later did the scales drop.

The Bevis Marks Synagogue, in the eponymous street in the City of London, was completed in 1701 and is the spiritual home in the UK of the Spanish and Portuguese (Sephardic) Jews. More than that, it has been for long periods the religious centre of the Anglo-Jewish community.


The front of Bevis Marks Synagogue


Amongst the members of its congregation was Moses Montefiore. Born in Livorno, Italy in 1784, he went to school in Kennington, South London, and started his working career apprenticed to a firm of grocers and tea merchants. From this modest start he rose to become a foremost financier in the City of London.

Having achieved business success, Montefiore developed into a social reformer and philanthropist. He was knighted in 1837, and in 1846 Queen Victoria conferred a baronetcy upon him in recognition of his services to humanitarian causes on behalf of the Jewish people.

In 1831 Montefiore purchased a house with 24 acres of estate on the East Cliff of the then fashionable seaside town of Ramsgate. The house had previously been in the ownership of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of King George IV, though her tenure as Consort was brief (1820 until her death in 1821) and controversial.

Soon after buying the estate, Montefiore bought adjoining land and instructed the architect David Mocatta to design a private synagogue for him. It was commissioned in June 1833.

180 years later, the synagogue is not easy to find. Directions instruct you to ascend a narrow lane between numbers 101 and 103, Hereson Road, Ramsgate. The mystery delivers a thrill when the building, designed in a restrained Classical-Italianate style, comes into view. The design apparently imitates that of Montefiore’s ancestral synagogue in Livorno (a spelling infinitely preferable to the ugly anglicised Leghorn).








The most striking exterior feature is a clock, carrying the inscription: “Time flies, virtue alone remains.”



Alongside the synagogue is Montefiore’s mausoleum.



The house no longer exists, and the land has been returned to woodland, but you can imagine the splendour and the views out to the Straits of Dover.


A new role for the land

I attended secondary school at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, the alma mater of the Rt. Hon. Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister. Being of a minority religion, Roman Catholic, I was excluded, alongside those of other minority religions, from the religious part of the school’s Anglican assembly.

Only in researching this blogpost did I learn that the land on which Chatham House’s Junior School still stands, is the site of the former Townley Castle College, opened in 1890 and described by the Jewish Standard of 5 September 1890 as a high-class boarding school for young Jewish gentlemen. For this and other information above I am indebted to www.JTrails.org.uk .The Jewish heritage of Ramsgate runs deep.

And the Bevis Marks Synagogue received only minor damage during the Blitz of World War II. There is something pleasing in writing that sentence.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.


Friday, 4 October 2013

Garden Court - the Chambers open for Open House

Open House London has locked up for another year. After a 2012 of suffering bewildering ballots and a wobbly website, the hard-working OH devotees have gone back to basics in 2013 and have queued, or in the case of some at Battersea Power Station have valiantly sought the end of the queue before giving up.

Amongst the gems on display was a building  that combines Grade 1 listed architecture, the home of a British Prime Minister, and the fictional home of one of Charles Dickens’ darkest characters.

57-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields is on the western side and is the home of barristers Garden Court Chambers. The set moved here from Middle Temple Chambers in 2005.



57-60 comprises two joined buildings. 59-60 (also known as Lindsey House) was completed in 1640, and 57-58 around 1740. At various times they have been joined, separated, and joined again.

The last joining was done in 1802 by Sir John Soane. The client was Spencer Perceval, best known for being the only serving Prime Minister to have been assassinated in office, Margaret Thatcher having come close in Brighton in 1984 at the hands of the IRA.

59-60 is often attributed directly to the design of Inigo Jones. There seems a doubt over how far he was personally involved, but it is accepted that the house is in his style, and the property is the only remaining one of its type in the Fields, thus giving a flavour of what was London’s first garden square.


59-60

57-58 has not been rated so strongly architecturally, but Samuel Pepys was impressed with it, though found the rent expensive at £250 p.a.


57-58, as can be seen

Connections with these historic names spring up as you walk through the house. The reception of 59-60 has a fireplace that dates from Perceval’s occupation from 1791 to 1812.



In the same room there is a deep safe, said to be where Perceval kept his Ministerial Red Boxes.



Perhaps the most striking interior feature is the Soane elliptical staircase that runs from the basement of 57-58 to the top of the house. It is apparently only one of three still known to exist, one of the others being in Soane’s house on the northern side of the Fields.


A vertiginous view from the top of the elliptical staircase

Dickens has a physical connection with 57-58. There is a record that here in December 1844 he read his Christmas story “The Chimes” to a group of friends.

This leaves the fictional side, and that dark character. This is Tulkinghorn, the menacing lawyer from Bleak House, much of the book having been set around the Fields, Lincoln’s Inn and Chancery Lane. Dickens placed Tulkinghorn’s home at 57-58, and as you wander the floors you can recall its description by Dickens as:

“...a large house, formerly a house of state. It is let off in a set of chambers, and in those shrunken fragments of greatness lawyers lie like maggots in nuts.”

We should not associate with that description the good people of Garden Court Chambers, who open the building on OH weekend with warm generosity, and whose barristers deliver tours in a tone of modest amateurishness that belies the keen communication skills and mastery of facts that are usually seen only  in court. And even better, we don’t have to pay m’learned friend’s hourly rate.

This is a terrific location. If you haven’t visited yet and it continues to appear on the Open House list, do mark it down as one to take in.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, and former law firm partner, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

London and Edinburgh - the Crystal Connection

The architecture of Scotland's capital is so Gordon Brown, oozing dour gravitas from the sandstone, and proclaiming its prudent psyche. The banking debacle has not damaged Edinburgh's image for the visitor, and the August overseas tourists throng Princes Street to marvel at apparently cross-dressing local males wearing heavy woollen skirts and bellowing out patriotic tunes on the bagpipes.

The Chamber of the Scottish Parliament

There is the odd architectural exception, such as the Salmond smooth modernity of the Scottish Parliament, but tradition rules, and the splendour is overseen by Edinburgh Castle, albeit that from some viewpoints the site does resemble an attractively located block of mansion flats.


Rooms with a view

Amidst this array of sandstone stands the Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. From an exterior view it is not prepossessing, but this is due largely to the effect of time and weather on the building. Built between 1861 and 1888 (an original building with subsequent extensions), its foundation stone was laid on 23 October 1861 by the omnipresent Prince Albert.


Part of Scotland's cultural heritage

The catalyst for the construction of the Museum was the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, which fuelled the populace's eagerness for education, and general interest in the arts and technology, and this link may give a clue to the title of the blogpost.

After the end of the Exhibition, the building, the work of Sir Joseph Paxton, was dismantled and relocated to South London, where it became known as the Crystal Palace and remained there until destruction by fire in 1936.

Captain Francis Fowke, engineer and architect, was clearly influenced by Paxton's masterpiece as he contemplated the design of the Museum building. The modern entrance to the Museum is into an arched undercroft, but as you ascend the escalator there opens up the spectacular Main Hall.


Entrance through the Undercroft



And a wonderful view then opens up

Slender iron columns, rounded arches and curving staircases create a sense of grace and symmetry, and the lightness and airiness come from a wood and glass roof, sitting 24 metres above the floor of the Hall and running the whole 81 metres of its length.

........and now towards the other end of the Hall

Sadly at this time there can be no in situ comparison, but that may be about to change. There is recent news that a wealthy Chinese businessman, Mr Ni Zhaoxing, wishes to sponsor the construction of a replica of the Crystal Palace on its original site.

Such stories of philanthropic largesse rarely materialise as an executed project - however, you never know. But whether Mr Nhaoxing's compatriots, who at some point in their tourist visit to Edinburgh will be shovelled into the grounds of the City's castle for the military spectacle of the Tattoo, will ever be seen happy snapping in the Main Hall, is another matter.

And by the way, The Fringe is brilliant.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Watts in London and Guildford?


The answer is the marks of the life and achievements of George Frederick Watts, artist and Royal Academician, born in 1807 near Bryanston Square in London, and dying in 1904 at Compton near Guildford, Surrey.

Visitors to the National Portrait Gallery in London may have seen portraits on display from time to time under Watts' so-called Hall of Fame, where he painted the great and the good from late Victorian society, perhaps one of the most noted of whom is Roman Catholic Archbishop Manning.

Another sitter was the actress Ellen Terry, and Watts' studies include her in the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet, a work he completed in 1864, coming eleven years after the completion of the work of the same name by (then Pre-Raphaelite) Sir John Everett Millais.

Millais' muse for his portrait was Elizabeth Siddall; Watts' muse, Ellen Terry, had another connection with him  - Watts married her in 1864 (he 47; she 16), allegedly in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent her from becoming an actress.

The Ellen Terry portrait can be found in the Watts Gallery in Compton, a small Surrey village where Watts resided from the beginning of the 1900s with his second wife, Mary Seton Watts (the Ellen Terry marriage only lasted a year).


Springing from George and Mary's Arts and Crafts ethos, the simple building (refurbished in 2008/09) is home to over 100 of Watts' works, and demonstrates the range of his output, including the monumental works in the Sculpture Gallery, and Found Drowned, one of his Social Tragedy paintings, where the corpse of a woman is depicted lying on the bank of The River Thames, with the industrialised South London hinterland showing beyond Hungerford Bridge.


However, what fascinates many London livers and visitors is Watts' project under which he started (with Mary completing the work after his death) a 50ft open air gallery of ceramic tile panels in Postman's Park in the City of London, each panel depicting some tragic act of late Victorian heroism.

What was equally fascinating was to come across, on a visit to The Watts Gallery, a series of quirky external panels in homage to/ the Postman's Park display.

So here is an intermingled selection from the respective locations:












































This last one is the odd one out, appearing in Postman's Park

As the first plaque sets out, Watts developed the Postman's Park project as an attempt to uplift society with records of heroic behaviour. The 21st c. visitor may be equally moved, but alternatively may recoil from a perceived panoply of mawkish late Victorian sentimentality.

Worse still might be to descend to pastiche and have Watts turning in his grave (assuming that the hearse successfully reached the cemetery without one of the mourners being tragically run over while trying to save a dog from running in front of the funeral cort├Ęge - you get the picture).

Nevertheless, one should as ever leave conclusions to the visitor - but in any event do get down to the Gallery if you have a chance.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs guided walks in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details..