Victorian London - Legal System - Courts - Chancery


Is celebrated as a manufactory of suits which generally last a very long time. The best method to obtain one is to get a legacy left you by a lawyer; for gentlemen who have been engaged as attorneys and solicitors have either so great a regard for their profession, or so great a fear of it, that they usually contrive to leave plenty of employment for those who follow them. Persons who have had Chancery suits describe them as rather unpleasant, being as difficult to get out of as a pair of wet leather breeches.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1842

The Lord Chancellor's Court, or High Court of Chancery, is, after Parliament, the highest court in the Kingdom. It is not a court of law, but, strictly speaking, a court of equity; and is held during term in Westminster Hall, out of term the Lord Chancellor sits in Lincoln's Inn Hall; but in cases of pressing necessity, when no regular sittings are held, grants injunctions, and disposes of other matters at his private residence. In the Court of Chancery all causes or suits, as they are called, are determined not upon viva voce evidence but upon affidavit; the ground of their maintenance being, that a plaintiff is incapable of obtaining relief at Common Law.
    The Rolls - The Master of the Rolls is keeper of the Rolls or Records. His court, in Chancery-lane is also a court of equity, but appeals against his Honour's decision may be made to the Lord Chancellor.
    The Vice-Chancellor's Court, established in aid of the Lord Chancellor's court in 1813, is in Lincoln's Inn, but in term time his Honour sits in Westminster Hall.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

ROLLS HOUSE and CHAPEL, CHANCERY LANE. A place where the rolls and records of the Court of Chancery are kept, from the reign of Richard III. to the present time. The Master of the Rolls sits in the Rolls House in vacation time. Salary of the Master, 7000l. a year. ... A new Record Office to contain the whole of the Records of the kingdom is about to be built, it is understood, on the Rolls estate. A good Record Office is much needed. 

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

The above are all the courts of law which we find sitting at Westminster to-day ; so we transfer ourselves to Lincoln's Inn, and to the Court of Chancery, which sits in a chamber under that picturesque little cupola that peeps out among the trees, and forms such a pleasant object in the view from Lincoln's Inn Fields. The Court of Chancery and its puzzling maze of professional purlieus have been with us a favourite lounge any time these twenty years. It is the best locality for observing the physiology of legal life, from the acts and deeds of the Lord Chancellor himself, down to the mad doings of the law students, and of the grand army of quill-drivers enlisted under the inky banners of the law stationers. Here, in times past, we have watched the. restless face of Brougham, and listened to his terse and vigorous language, while day after day, and week after week, he got through an amount of work that startled the lawyers out of their old routine.
    But to return to the Court. The present Lord Chancellor is on the bench as we enter, and a case of almost general importance is under debate. The villanies of a wholesale swindler, who at this moment is on his way to exile, have defrauded a railway company to the amount of nearly a quarter of a million. The holders of preference shares, conceiving themselves secured by their guarantee, have refused to bear any proportion of the loss, and, suing the company for their dividends, have obtained from the Vice-Chancellor a verdict in their favour. From that decision the company have appealed, and the merits of the question are again under discussion. How the decision will finally rest is not at this moment apparent ; there are a good many anxious faces visible in the ranks of spectators ; and it is by no means improbable that among them are persons whose income for the next year is dependent upon the fiat of the judge, and who may be hurled into poverty and want by the reversal of the late decree. On the other hand, if the decree is established, the suffering, though individually less, will be more widely diffused, and a still greater number will be stinted in their means and embarrassed in circumstances. Such are the contingencies of one man's villany. 
     We leave this matter in debate, and proceeding down Chancery Lane, and entering a quiet close on the left-hand side, find admission to the Rolls Court. Here the attendance is small, there being but little accommodation beyond a bare bench for the public. The Master of the Rolls sits alone without any state, and the Attorney-General is also present, engaged in the cause. The question is one concerning the validity of a will; and as we enter, the depositions of certain witnesses, bearing upon the sanity or non-sanity of the testator, are being read over. The matter will not come to a decision today. Already the shades of evening are beginning to close upon the proceedings ; it is too dark to make out the identity of the statue which stands in a niche in the wall over the head of the Master. The white wigs of the counsel below bob up and down in the gloom, while the faces beneath them have resolved into shadow; we hear the monotonous voice of the advocate as he reads doggedly on ; and then there is a low murmur of voices, a rustling of garments, a crunching of legal paper, and the iterated " thud" of the swinging door, as, one after another, the audience depart in silence from the spot. We take these demonstrations as warnings of dismissal, and, thinking we have had enough of the law courts for one day, make our escape before the general break-up.

The Leisure Hour, 1858