Obituary: George Squibb
Wednesday 12 January 1994
GEORGE SQUIBB helped to make legal history in 1954 when he successfully appeared for the plaintiffs in an action brought by Manchester Corporation against the Manchester Palace of Varieties for the latter's alleged misuse of the Corporation's coat of arms. The case was the first to be heard in the High Court of Chivalry since 1737, and, so far, the last. The Court was presided over by the Earl Marshal's appointed surrogate, the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, whose appearance, robed as a Doctor of Civil Law, combined with the presence of assorted heralds wearing levee dress, lent the proceedings unusual distinction.
The revival of the Court of Chivalry, which escaped abolition in the wholesale law reforms of the late 19th century, was largely due to George Squibb's study of its history and detailed knowledge of its records. Indeed, it was Squibb himself who at the outset established the court's continued existence and jurisdiction to the satisfaction of Lord Goddard. Squibb's subsequent publications Reports of Heraldic Cases in the Court of Chivalry (1956) and The High Court of Chivalry (1959) stand as remarkable testimony to the author's formidable scholarship in this field.
The occasion for the court's renaissance provided Squibb with a unique, if unlooked for, forum in which all his principal talents and interest coincided: his skill as an advocate, his passion for legal history, his fascination with heraldry and his antiquarianism. And it was thus entirely fitting that, five years later, Squibb was appointed Norfolk Herald Extraordinary - an ancient office established by King Henry VIII - in recognition of his contribution to heraldry and the law of arms. In 1976, moreover, he was himself appointed Earl Marshal's Surrogate in the Court of Chivalry, and continued to hold this post until his death.
In contrast to his remote kinsman William Oldys, who was briefly Norfolk Herald Extraordinary in the 18th century and was described by a contemporary as a mean-looking man, addicted to low company, rarely sober and wholly ignorant of heraldry, George Squibb's outwardly purposeful bearing was a true reflection of a man of great learning and application. He possessed the quality of industry to an almost phenomenal degree - business was despatched immediately, letters invariably dealt with by return - and over his long life he contributed more to the furtherance of knowledge in heraldry and genealogy during his spare time than most others employed full-time in that field.
A modest man, with a dry manner and a quiet sense of humour, Squibb was descended from an ancient Dorset family, and it was there that he chose to make his home for more than 50 years. Another kinsman, Arthur Squibb, was foisted upon the College of Arms as Clarenceux King of Arms by Cromwell's Parliamentarians in the 17th century. Squibb was educated at King's School, Chester, and Queen's College, Oxford. In old age, having occasion to describe himself as 'feak and weeble', Squibb recalled that he had met Dr Spooner, the Warden of New College, Oxford, but that, regrettably, the Warden had 'uttered no Spoonerism'.
An early and acutely developed interest in genealogy and heraldry prompted Squibb as a young man to toy with the idea of pursuing a full- time career as a herald, but he plumped for the law instead. After completing his BCL at Oxford in 1930 he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple. Squibb's attachment to his Inn was extremely strong. He served both as Master of the Library and as Treasurer - and, although at heart a countryman, for more than 40 years during legal terms he occupied a flat high up in Paper Buildings.
Squibb entered the chambers of RM Montgomery KC and became a pupil of AM Trustram Eve (later Lord Silsoe), eventually inheriting much of Trustram Eve's practice and going on to become head of chambers. Squibb's practice as a junior was concerned chiefly with property law, rating and valuation, and planning work. In 1954 he became Junior Counsel to the Crown in Peerage and Baronetcy Cases, an appointment he held only briefly (and brieflessly) until taking silk in 1956, although later he was appointed Honorary Historical Adviser in Peerage Cases to the Attorney General. From 1956 he practised principally at the Parliamentary Bar, dealing mostly with local government work.
His legal work and the numerous appointments, official and honorary, which Squibb accepted throughout his career were never permitted to interfere with a steady stream of faultless scholarly writing. Beginning with a paper on The Law of Arms in England (1953), Squibb went on to publish a number of substantial books, among them, in addition to his important works on the Court of Chivalry, Founder's Kin (1972), an examination of hereditary privileges at Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere, Doctors' Commons (1977), a study of the practitioners of canon and civil law, and Precedence in England and Wales (1981). From 1955 he also regularly produced magisterial and completely reliable editions of heraldic and genealogical source material for the Harleian Society.
In 1962 Squibb was appointed President of the Transport Tribunal. When the work of that body was greatly reduced by statute, Squibb became the first Chief Commons Commissioner, a post involving adjudication in disputes over common land, one admirably suited to his antiquarian tastes. It was only in 1985 that Squibb relinquished this appointment, and retired finally to Dorset. In retirement, although he became increasingly immobile, Squibb's scholarly output accelerated: he produced one Harleian Society volume for each of the three years before he died, and had mapped out projects to keep him fully occupied well into his 10th decade. Ever the man of industry, Squibb was writing scrupulously crafted, handwritten letters to friends and colleagues to within a day of his death.
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