The Day I Sought The Judge's Advice (16 March 1973)
With all Bletchley’s progress over the past 27 years in terms of population and employment, it is interesting to note that in one respect at least it has sustained a fall in status during that times.
I refer to the removal of the area’s County Court from Bletchley to Leighton Buzzard which occurred some few years ago. You could argue that the departure of a county court or bankruptcy court from a town is a sign of prosperity. That may be so. But historically it is a setback.
Gone now is the judge in his wig and touch of purple. Gone are the registrar and the barristers, some of them quite notable, in their wigs and silks. And not least in the panoply of this department of justice, gone with them also is the usher.
A STRONG CAMPAIGN
Which is surprising. From all I have gathered of the Bletchley of between the wars, there was a strong campaign for the transfer of the court to the town and it was an event when it finally arrived. Bletchley was now going places and all that.
But the court was held in the council chamber. Other rooms were also occupied by the judge for matters taken “in chambers” and by the legal profession for robing. Over the years with the increase in the council’s business and the pressure on accommodation the court seemed to become an embarrassment. At any rate, few tears seemed to be shed when it left for Leighton.
My first Bletchley judge was Judge Forbes. But very shortly afterwards his place was taken by Judge A. McNicol Hamilton. He reigned for the next 18 years and I soon came to have the greatest regard for him, both as a judge and as a gentleman.
Though courteous to everybody, he could be stern when needed and not least with members of his own profession. But he was kind with witnesses who were obviously new to such proceedings and he had a sense of humour which often brought a twinkle to his eyes and was occasionally expressed in words.
At the end of some cases, having decided the terms of an award, he would turn to the press table just a little below to his left and ask: “So much over two years – how much is that a month?” or some such question. I hope no answer of ours ever resulted in anyone paying more than he should. But I do not think so. I reckon he knew the answer before he asked and just wanted an independent check.
County court work is not easy for reporters. I will not go into all the reasons. Just take it from me that criminal courts are child’s play by comparison.
I have not always passed unscathed. At the end of one important case in Bletchley I still had not grasped the significance of what had seemed a key point. How could I check? I decided there was nothing for it but to ask the judge himself in his robing room afterwards. This I did. And he made it all crystal clear in just a few words. I do not know how many reporters have been so helped by judges. But on that occasion at least the Gazette really did have a report “on good authority.”
This is where I must mention that wonderful county court personality, Mr William Bambrook. I wish I could do justice in just a few lines to that short, thick-set officer with the bearing of a guardsman and voice of a stentor who was county court bailiff for 35 years before he retired at the age of 77 . (H)e was also the usher at Bletchley.
The council chamber rang when he opened the court with “O yea! O yea! All ye that have business . . .” and then he flipped a smashing salute as he ended the summons with “God save the king!”
On one occasion a case was dragging on wearily when the judge ordered the next witness, named Cole, to be called.
Out marched Mr. Bambrook “Cole, Cole!” he called in a voice calculated to awaken anybody who slept.
Whereupon Judge Hamilton smiled quietly into his papers and murmured, “It sounds as though he’s selling it.”
Yes, Mr. Bambrook can look back upon a long-life of public service done conscientiously and well.
LOOKING FOR A RATTER
As regards the Registrar’s Court, the one that dealt with the smaller-money cases, this was often fruitless, from the newspaper angle, but occasionally it produced a tit-bit.
Like the time when a well-known resident of the station area complained that he had literally been sold a pup. He wanted a dog that was a good ratter. So he advertised for one in a national weekly. He got a reply and sent off his money.
A dog arrived all right, but according to him it turned tail and fled at the first sight of a rat.
He won his case. I don’t remember what happened to the dog.