Dad was born in London in 1923, to Lucie and Owlie, in their flat in Olympia but then, when not away at school, spent his childhood at their home, Plas Llwyn Owen, Llanbrynmair, in mid-Wales. A magical house, still cherished by our cousin James and his family, and where Dad continued to have many holidays all through his life – with all generations of family, black Labradors and springer spaniels – rough shooting, family cricket on the lawn and picnics in the rain. Nothing has really changed, except the cast of characters, and the central heating, over the last hundred years.
He had a very happy childhood, the adored youngest of three children, his brother, Philip, and his half-sister Fiona, Granny’s daughter from her first marriage.
He went to Horris Hill prep school, and then on to Winchester College. He loved Winchester, blissfully untroubled by the future sporting blues and intellectuals it is famous for, but it must have seeded his lifelong loves of sacred music, cathedrals and, he insisted, brown bread ice cream.
Dad joined the Rifle Brigade straight from school, aged 17, one year into the War, but he then contracted severe meningitis, which took him out of any further active service. I am just glad he survived, and was able to follow his very distinguished father, Wintringham, aka Owlie, later a High Court Judge, and Philip, his brother, into a career at the Bar. He was Called to the Bar in 1948 by Middle Temple and joined Mr. Scarman’s Chambers at 2 Crown Office Row.
In 1949, Dad was acting as his father’s Marshall when Grandpa was on Circuit. A dinner was given for some dignitaries and Dad’s job was to make sure it all went smoothly, and everyone got fed, including the visiting drivers. One of whom, was sitting outside, in the freezing car with the dogs. Dad was told by one of the guests, a Major Holliday, that his ‘driver was fine, because it was his daughter, and she’d got some sandwiches’. Well, I think you can imagine Dad’s reaction to that?. The driver was duly hauled in to dinner (which she probably hated). That is how Yvonne, our lovely mum, met Dad.
After the birth of Emma and I, and once established in Perry Green, Dad threw himself into building up his practice. He worked like a demon, writing up pages of reports, in that immaculate, blue-black handwriting – the anxiety of getting to court and conferences every day on time, with the dodgy trains, must have been a challenge. Dad was once witnessed having been snowed in at Bucklers, being driven to the station, by our dear farming neighbour, John Prior. Dad was standing up on the back of John’s tractor, immaculate in his bowler hat and overcoat, with rolled umbrella and briefcase, looking like a charioteer as they chugged off to the station in the snow.
Dad and his brother both took Silk in 1963, and Dad was made a Bencher of Middle Temple in 1969. 2 Crown Office Row was such a distinguished set of Chambers, that later became Fountain Court. Dad was enormously proud of the fact that the late, great Lord Bingham, was his pupil in 1959/1960 and he, Dad, was able to watch Tom’s fine career to Master of the Rolls, the Lord Chief Justice and finally the Senior Law Lord. Dad always said, of course, he had taught Tom everything he knew (tongue firmly in cheek).
I can’t talk about Dad’s career without mentioning the dreaded Robert Maxwell, who cast such a long shadow. In 1969, Dad was appointed as one of two inspectors to investigate the financial shenanigans behind the sale of Pergamon Press, Robert Maxwell’s publishing company. After three long years, the inspectors reported back that Robert Maxwell was not, in their opinion, fit to run a publicly quoted company. This was brave stuff because Maxwell was a very wealthy, litigious bully and he appealed against this ruling, which fortunately was thrown out. But the City Establishment chose only to remember that Maxwell had appealed, and much to Dad’s despair and chagrin, instead of going to prison for serious fraud, Maxwell got back into business within a few years, ultimately buying up The Mirror Group Newspapers. In 1991, when Maxwell was found drowned in the Atlantic having fallen off his boat, did the depth of his long-term criminality come to light; he had been looting millions of pounds from The Mirror’s Pension Fund to shore up his other companies. Although it did take 20 years, it was a very sweet ‘I told you so’ moment for Dad, as Sky News, ITN and the BBC all traipsed out to Snaresbrook to interview him.
Although he believed in fun, he knew that life was serious and precarious, which is probably what made him a good Judge, eventually becoming Senior Presiding Judge at Snaresbrook Crown Court. Dad was very proud of Snaresbrook and loved his time there. According to people who have written to us, he had a profound effect on the staff and the atmosphere, as it seems it was a happy place to work. He loved the HR element to the job. His door was always open, and he liked knowing everyone and taking an interest in what was happening to all of his staff.
Dad had immaculate dress sense and always looked terrific. I am sure he was the last man standing to wear spats; Dad would play it down, and say they were just to keep his feet warm. Well, he did have some summer ones as well! So we know he wore them because they were smart (he even mowed the lawn in them). He was always elegant whether in the white dinner jacket, the Panama hats, the seersucker suits, using giant silk handkerchiefs, beautiful Italian silk ties, and always the tie pin. Towards the end of Dad’s life, he was still able to tie his own bow tie, long after he had forgotten where he lived.
Dad was very generous, whether with his time, presents or hospitality. He loved introducing his great nieces and nephews to opera and classical music, taking every opportunity to march them off to the Theatre Hafren in mid-Wales. He was such an optimist. One great niece, Rhiannon, wrote to us this week, saying how when she got her Degree, one would think she had won the Nobel Prize for Science, such was Dad’s enthusiasm. She also said that, as a small child, she thought he was called Great Uncle Owen, because he was just so great. He adored entertaining, with Mum, whether Sunday lunches at home, or dinners and lunches in Boodles; his club he loved so much. I am sure many of you in this Church have probably had one or other of them, and I hope you’ve all tasted one of his memorable White Ladies.
In 1995 he retired from Snaresbrook and had to learn how to occupy himself without annoying Mum. Trips back to Plas Llwyn Owen, with his adored black Labradors, and his return to playing the flute occupied his time. In Much Hadham, Elizabeth Abbot was Dad’s patient accompanist, and she remembers fondly the sound of Dad, with bottles of red wine, clanking up to her door at the Rectory.
I have to mention his love of Italy and the wonderful holidays we had. Mum, Emma and me doing the Renaissance, and Dad counting the knives and forks in the Michelin Guide for where we were to have lunch. He used to drive us heroically through France and Switzerland to get there. His only grasp of foreign languages was limited to ordering a gin e tonica and asking for the bill.
My thanks to Emma, who gave up her very successful career as a Film Editor in Australia, to come back to Much Hadham years ago, when the ship was beginning to founder – first to help look after Mum and then to give Dad such a happy time at home for as long as possible, helping him do all the things he liked, watching the racing, looking smart, and sitting in the drawing room, with Bertie, and a large gin and tonic.
This excerpt was taken from Master Stable’s daughter’s eulogy given at his funeral on Monday 16 December 2019. With kind permission, it has been edited and re- produced for the Middle Templar.