Books (and gavels!): Sir William Garrow (biography) by John Hostettler and Richard Braby

13 April, 2010 at 11:31 pm 3 comments

Jones: I get my livelihood as honestly as I can.
Garrow: That is exactly what I thought; honestly if you can, but if not?

William Garrow was born on 13 April, 1760, and he was-

What? Now wait a moment: 13 April? Now look at this… if I’d known earlier, I’d baked a cake, but for now, let’s celebrate Sir William Garrow’s 250th birthday with a book review.

SIR WILLIAM GARROW
His Life, Times and Fight for Justice

by John Hostettler and Richard Braby

Waterside Press, Hardback, 272 pages

Aside from BBC1 TV’s prime-time drama series “Garrow’s Law”, the story of Sir William Garrow’s unique contribution to the development of English law and Parliamentary affairs has been kept from the general public due to an intriguing quirk of history. This book tells the real story of the man behind the drama.

As I never heard of the authors before, my greatest worry about Garrow’s biography was that it had been written by lawyers for their peers. Once upon a time, writing hundreds of pages of legal papers was part of my job, so legalese is not completely foreign to me. However, I prefer my resources to be readable without having a legal adviser on speed-dial for emergency translations.

“I will put it now to you” that I was positively surprised when, some pages into the book, it became clear that the authors had found the right words to satisfy both groups of readers: the curious professional and the professionally curious ones. I’m aware that the biography of a lawyer is probably not the first choice when it comes to reading for leisure, but I can promise you that you will not be bored. Be prepared for a wake-up call, though – by diving into the legal world of the 18th and 19th century, you might get to appreciate our legal system more once you realise just how much it has changed for the better in terms of humanity and the value and respect given to human life.

Some will argue (and to a point I agree) that today’s society is too focused on the criminals and does not do enough for the victims. But still, who would want to return to a time when people got hanged for a theft of goods worth 30s? I mean, who but the readers of the Daily Fail?

This book contains Garrow’s history, his family background, his unusual relationship with Lady Sarah, (married? Not? Yes? What? When? Quoi?) some of his cases (with excerpts of his cross-examinations) and describes the changes he initiated in British law and, as a consequence, in British society. It’s well-structured, easy to read and understand.

Don’t let “Garrow’s Law” fool you, though: Sir William Garrow wasn’t a knight in shining armour. In fact, the aggressive young barrister fighting for the “underbelly” of society went, as Geoffrey Robertson QC puts it so eloquently in his foreword, “over to the dark side”;  became the cruel bite to Pitt’s hysteric bark. “Did success spoil William Garrow?” I’m afraid that yes, it did. But this doesn’t change the fact that Sir William Garrow was one of those men who shaped the foundations of the world we know today. Just how exciting is that?!

And as we’re already talking about “exciting” – The Garrow Society has definitely found its place among my favourite websites. Go! Read! And believe it or not, a recent article revived the “Gavel Gazing Incident” (you might remember, we mocked it here: brow-beating and pearl-clutching over at The Guardian regarding the presence or not-presence of gavels during trials in the 18th century… yeah, Balrogs: winged or not?)

“(…) Secondly, Richard Braby, who is a direct descendant of William Garrow, has in his possession a wooden gavel which has come down through his family and may have been used by Garrow. (…)”

“(…) Can anyone reading this note give a definitive answer as to whether in the eighteenth century (or at any other time) English judges have used gavels? (…)”

Have a look at the gavel – a truly awesome thing. And if you have any information regarding 18th century gavels, I’m certain it would be very welcome. I think I have seen illustrations of court scenes from the 18th century where gavels were present, but I have none in my collection. Can anybody help?

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Entry filed under: 18th century, books, garrow's law, resource. Tags: , , , , , .

Writing/resource: 18th century chapbooks discovered! Resource/news: The Laki Haze in 1783, or why grounded planes are not the worst case scenario

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chelsea  |  18 April, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I’ve been eyeing this one for awhile and I’m so glad to hear that it’s worth reading. Thanks for the review, I look forward to reading it!

    That website looks great too. I’m going to go explore it now!

    Reply
  • 2. 2010 in review « Joyful Molly  |  2 January, 2011 at 10:49 am

    […] The busiest day of the year was December 6th with 569 views. The most popular post that day was Books (and gavels!): Sir William Garrow (biography) by John Hostettler and Richard Braby. […]

    Reply
  • 3. thelegalblog.weebly.com  |  2 August, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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    Reply

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