Friday 14 July 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 13. Barrister

We started this exploration of the life and chess of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863-1950) with his obituary. In it his sparring-partner chess-wise and professionally, E. G. Sergeant, noted that Herbert was still practising at the Inner Temple even at the end of his life. As documents from their Archive show, he was formally called to the Bar in 1887, thus embarking on nearly 60 years of professional service. I have not located any pictures of Herbert in wig and gown, but this one from around 1900 shows him looking like he means business. It is the one held by the Jewish Museum referring to his "busy pursuit of a lawyer's profession."

This episode, and the next, will provide edited highlights from Jacobs' long, varied, and colourful legal career - they may also provide some illuminating vignettes of Victorian and Edwardian society. The episodes may turn out to be of particular interest if they reveal whether he put his knowledge and skill at the disposal of his chess colleagues (if ever they found themselves in hot water): ditto the Suffrage movement, which he supported so vigorously up to the outbreak of World War One. This research relies almost exclusively on cases reported in the regional press and accessible via the British Newspaper Archive. As a consequence it cannot claim to be comprehensive of his professional practice: a sample derived from contemporaneous newspaper reportage risks skewing towards the unusual, the amusing, and the salacious (for which readers of this post may be exceedingly grateful).    

Most references in the BNA are to 1900 and later, but a couple of exceptions from 1889 suggest an interest connected with his relationship with concert singer Agnes Larkcom (who he was to marry in 1888). They concern musical copyright. In early February (London Daily News 8 Feb) Jacobs was hailed as "a learned counsel who has devoted a good deal of attention" to the subject. The first case concerned the kind of remote issue that would be meat and drink to our learned friends: the application of international copyright agreements in domestic legislation. A few days later a rather more homely case was engaging Herbert's interest: that of Miss Bessie Bellwood, a music-hall entertainer (or "a professional singer" as described to the court) with a 'saucy' act.

From here

She had performed the suggestive "Life's a Game of See-Saw" some forty times over the previous two years. Now the composer asserted his exclusive copyright, while Bessie claimed he had passed it on and so she was within her rights. Mr Justice Cave was not impressed when Jacobs put this point on her behalf, and he fined Miss Bellwood £2.00 a pop (St.James Gazette 18 Feb 1889).
In 1900 Herbert edited and "brought carefully up to date" (Globe 20 Feb) Stevens' Elements of Mercantile Law "a better survey of the wide domain of commercial law is not to be found in the whole field of legal literature". This was the third edition of this doorstop of a volume. He made a "practically new-work" of it in the post-war 6th edition of 1920 (The Scotsman 23 Feb 1920), and was still at it in 1938 when he editing the tenth edition.

Note also "formerly law tutor" - another string to Jacobs' bow

After 1900 we get in to the period of vigorous suffrage agitation covered in episodes 10 and 11 and while there is a trail of press references to Jacobs' cases, none of them is associated with the struggle. Otherwise they suggest a varied portfolio - perhaps the lot of any practicing barrister: you take the cases as they come along.

So, in 1900 he was in Maldon in rural Essex representing the plaintiff in a neighbour dispute. Farmer's dog chases hare into adjacent farmer's copse. Neighbour shoots dog. Owner is somewhat upset and sues. Cue quip from the defendant's barrister: "It was a sort of hare restorer". "Laughter" in court: and even more when Jacobs produced as evidence the skin of the dog (deceased). 40 shillings damages plus costs was awarded (Chelmsford Chronicle 19 Feb). A good day's work, after which Herbert escapes back to London...

Which is where we find him next: holding a watching brief at the Old Bailey in a case of bank fraud (St James Gazette 20 Feb 1902), which as a city man, sounds rather more up his street. Then to Brighton for a dispute over stabling costs (Sporting Life 10 June 1902), and back again to London and its Music Hall to represent the divorce petition of Miss Vesta "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow" Victoria, in McAvoy v McAvoy.

From here

Miss Vesta alleged cruelty and "abominable treatment" by her husband of six years, Fred McAvoy, manager of the Euston Palace of Varieties. Unfaithfulness as well: for example in the Queen's Hotel, Westcliffe-on-Sea on the 2nd November 1901, where Fred signed-in as "Mr. May" (given away by his hand-writing as identified by Vesta). Fred retaliated: on their wedding night she was "not chaste", she had six children already, and had carried on subsequently with - among others - "even....[her] own coachman". All of which was denied by the applicant, with doctor's certification where necessary. Clearly it was not a marriage made in heaven, Fred and Vesta were not a good match, and Mr Justice Bucknill sagely granted a decree nisi with costs. (Illustrated Police News 14 Nov 1903).

Now a leap of five years before Jacobs appears again, in a case of "barber's rash" - a kind of ringworm - caused by insanitary tackle, towels etc, in an age when chaps were routinely shaved by the high-street Sweeney Todd. Mr Kerr, a barber, of Raynes Park had been ordered to pay damages to a client infected after a nick with the cut-throat - two others had also complained - and now Kerr appealed, to salvage his local reputation, presumably. Jacobs successfully represented the afflicted Mr Hales of Wimbledon. For some reason all this was reported in the distant Belfast Telegraph 6 July 1908.

Winners and Losers
Thus we can follow Jacobs' career on the circuit as he learnt his craft. He represented the losers: the front-man of a gold mining syndicate in the Forest of Dean which was not paying out on shares (because there was no gold) (Gloucester Echo 18 June 1908). He represented the winners: for example, a disputed claim for unpaid commission on a business transfer (Lincoln Chronicle 21 May 1909). He also prosecuted: for example, the Keeper at the Royal Society of British Artists, Carew Martin (Sheffield Evening Telegraph 9 March 1910), grandson of John Martin (the Victorian painter of apocalyptic biblical scenes). Guilty, as charged, of embezzlement from his employers, Carew got nine months, but escaped any higher form of retribution.

John Martin (1759-1854)
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (1852)
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle on Tyne 

As indicated above, we don't find anything in the newspaper record in this period reporting Herbert Jacobs advising or representing the Men's League for Women's Suffrage - of which he was a founder in 1907 - nor the women's suffrage movement more generally. Of course, this doesn't mean he didn't, and I did find short piece in the Men's League Monthly of September 1912 in which he gives a legal analysis of the term "political prisoner" (relevant to convicted suffragettes). Nonetheless this doesn't count as committed legal advocacy of unpopular causes, as witness some campaigning lawyers in our own time who use the law to assert the rights of the weak against an overbearing state or other powerful interests. Herbert seems to have been rather more conventional, regarding himself as a servant of the legal apparatus seen as a neutral tool for the administration of justice available to whomsoever availed themselves of it.

Come The Judge
We do get however, in connection with his appearances in court, a number of references to him as a chess-player, most interestingly because Jacobs was now, 20 years into his professional career, stepping up to the judiciary - in the Sussex County Court. "Chess Champion as Deputy Judge" declared the Hastings Observer 27 November 1909: "Mr Jacobs was formerly champion of the City of London Chess Club". He was busy that day, dispensing justice in nearly thirty cases. He appears again the following year, but, as there were fewer cases to report, there was more commentary on his chess.

"Mr. Jacobs is a chess player of the dashing order..."
Eastbourne Gazette 23 March 1910

Jacobs appears again in 1911 when once again Judge Scully telegrammed his excuses, this time for a court sitting in Lewes (Sussex Express (October 13 1911).  On the same page the paper also went into some detail about the Annual Meeting (on the Monday just gone) of the Lewes Franchise Society, which had only been formed the year before. The energetic Hon. Secretary of the Society was Mrs Valance, who - we might assume - was the wife of Dr Valance, himself Secretary of the Lewes Chess Club a decade later. You can see one of his games in another series here (which explored chess and the Bloomsbury Group - Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived nearby).

Federation Row
The Great War of 1914-18 will be a convenient cut-off for this episode, especially as we have now followed Jacobs to a significant place in his legal career: as a County Court judge (albeit only a deputy), attained in spite of his high profile in the women's suffrage movement, and his parliamentary adventure in 1910. However, before we follow him into the war years (and some more legal/chess connections) it is worth noting the following case as it perhaps had rather more prominence than the run of the mill briefs described hitherto. This would have been in the light of the status of Jacobs' client, the plaintiff, Mr Thomas Greenall, J.P. for Salford and prospective parliamentary candidate in the February 1910 General Election for the Leigh constituency (for Labour - a point omitted in all the press reports - he came third).

Thomas Greenall J.P.

Greenall was also President of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation, and already had an interim injunction against Joshua Batty of Pendleton who had slandered Greenall as per this clipping:

Sheffield Daily Telegraph  13 June 1910

In court Jacobs said that the slanderous allegations had continued: to the effect that property - houses in "Federation Row" - had been acquired improperly, and that Greenall, a J.P., had consistently lied. The plaintiff got his permanent injunction to restrain Batty (who didn't defend the case), with costs. Once again, one couldn't argue that Jacobs was here a Robin Hood figure representing the underdog against the rich and powerful - though maybe it was a little more elevated than the affairs of a minor music-hall artiste. Greenall eventually went on to serve as a Labour M.P. from 1922 to 1929.

As for the world of entertainment, and extra-marital goings-on, just one more example, since this was often the nature of Jacobs' appearances in the press. It once again illustrates the barrister's lot. This time Herbert was appearing (at the King's Bench, London) for the defendant, a Mr Collier "described as a bank manager" (Shields Daily News 30 October 1912), accused of reneging on his promise of marriage to Miss Mary Ferguson "an actress". They met on the Liverpool to London express, and by the next day he had proposed. "There were hundreds of telephone calls, 120 letters and telegrams all in the space of 16 months". Some of these were read out in court to "laughter". If nothing else, the case illustrates the toe-curling, excruciating, and intrusive, nature of the proceedings when "breach of promise" was at issue: private intimacies were pored over in court, and gleefully reported in the press. There is no need to repeat any of them here. Mr Collier's defence, by the way, offered by Jacobs, was that after his "affection had petered out" the young lady had "exonerated him from keeping his promise". According to other, more restrained, reportage in the Lincolnshire Echo of the same day, he gave no evidence on his own account (perhaps an honourable hara-kiri, as advised by Jacobs) and she was awarded £200 damages - a hefty amount in those days.

It is noticeable that in all these breach of promise and divorce cases - and there are more (unfortunately) in the next episode - Jacobs was generally to be found representing the women in the disputes (even if not the one above). In that sense he could be said to have represented the less privileged party, and to have been applying the principles he absorbed from his reading of John Stuart Mill.  

Sober Habit
So, we'll look at another breach of promise case next time, one that involved, if only tangentially, a famous chess player, stronger even that Herbert; but before we adjourn this episode here is another case, from 1913, that demonstrates the sheer variety that befell a barrister of the time, and - on a more grandiose note - the fickleness of fate. It was a coroner's inquest (before a jury) into "The Sydenham Tragedy" (Illustrated Police News 23 Jan 1913). The facts present as if a gruesome whodunnit. Jacobs, incidentally, was representing the interests of the executors of the deceased, Mrs Sarah Wood, aged 80: widow of a mill owner, and daughter of an engineer who knew Brunel. It was Mrs Wood's custom, given her great age, to spend the winter in bed at her home in West Hill, Sydenham (a well-to-do Victorian suburb in South London).

West Hill, Sydenham
With thanks to L.B.Lewisham

Her local bank manager had not seen her since July, yet her servant had withdrawn £25 from Mrs Wood's account on January 10th. After the baker had noticed, over several days, the bread uncollected from the window-sill, the police broke in and found the Mrs Wood unconscious on the floor. She died minutes later. The post mortem gave "exhaustion for want of nourishment" as the cause of death. One's suspicions naturally fall on her domestic help of 25 years' service, Miss Maria Leeson, aged 62, even though she was described as "absolutely reliable and trustworthy". And dead. She was found "huddled in a heap" at the bottom of the kitchen stairs with multiple fractures and, according to the report in Nottingham Evening Post 20 Jan 1913, with a swollen liver consistent with alcoholism (an unfortunate juxtaposition with a character reference given a few paras earlier: that "she was of sober habit").

As if to disappoint their readers, the several papers which covered the tragic story conceded that there was no foul play: the coroner and jury were satisfied with the explanation that Miss Leeson had tripped over a bag of onions (elicited by a question to a witness from Jacobs, in a cameo appearance) and had fallen to her own death two or three days earlier. Consequently Mrs Wood was left without food and unable to summon help. Sadly, a horrible double tragedy behind the net-curtains of West Hill, Sydenham.

Silly Point
To conclude this episode on a lighter note, it is worth remembering that Herbert was playing chess all the while. For example in August 1913 he was at the British  Championship at Cheltenham - in episode 4 he appeared in this photograph, seated second left, looking very sharp, boater removed for the camera.

Imagine him, then, in whites out in the middle applying his judicial skills in a friendly cricket match. Gerard Killoran has posted on the English Chess Forum the first-hand account of Herbert doing just that in the match between The Chess Players and a local Cheltenham team. It was given in The Globe 13 September 1913: "Mr. Herbert Jacobs officiated as umpire...'It was quite an eye-opener to see Jacobs sprinting across the field when a left-hander was batting'". There is no need to get in to the technicalities as to why, when the batsmen changed ends, this re-positioning was necessary if one was a left-hander. We only need admire the nimbleness of the 50 year-old Jacobs, and his knowledge of the finer points of the umpire's craft. The local team won by 10 wickets. The Globe's chess columnist was Isidor Gunsberg who will return next episode.

For a further curiosity: there is another cricket reference in relation to the Cheltenham Congress following the 166 move win by Miller over Uber (who was the Chess Players' top scorer, bowled out on 28 - he and Miller are standing next to each other above; P.W. Sergeant went in at number 9 but managed only a duck, his famous Century was yet to come). The Falkirk Herald, 27 August 1913, notes that Miller and Uber played their game over the course of a week, fitting it "in the intervals between other matches (sic)...bets were freely offered by sporting onlookers that it would outlive the Congress, or at least reach 200 moves". The Sporting Times 23 August added that "the good people who discuss 'How to brighten Cricket' may now cheer up."

To be continued in a week's time.

Previous episodes: 1. Beginning in Croydon2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar3.City Champ4. Congress Man5. A Load of Old Cablers6.Engaging Agnes7. Congress Man Replayed8. Madame Larkcom9. Jacobs Crackers10. Votes for Women!  11. Votes for Jacobs! 12 Intermission Riff; and forward to 14. Still at the Bar  15. Down the Line; 16. Finale

Lost in History; and more Chess History   



Ilkley Chess said...

The plaintiff in the Bessie Bellwood case was George William Hunt...
...who added a word to the English language with his 'Macdermott's War Song' whose chorus ran as follows:

We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do...
We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too!
We've fought the Bear before... and while we're Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople...

And so 'Jingoism' was born.

Hunt was buried in Stoke Newington cemetery - however Jingoism lives on



Martin Smith said...

By jingo! Thanks Gerard.

With a bit of luck, these may be the live links that Gerard gives

Martin Smith said...

Nope. Sorry, they don't seem to work.

ejh said...

Look all right to me.