Stilwell and Harby – Solicitors

Stilwell and Harby, 110 Maison Dieu Road,

Stilwell and Harby, 110 Maison Dieu Road,

On Thursday 5 January 2012, Maurice Sayers passed away. Before he died, Maurice very kindly lent me a scrapbook telling the story of his firm, Stilwell and Harby – Solicitors. The published article in the Dover Mercury, was dedicated to Maurice with thanks.

Uniacke, 110 Maison Dieu Road, the house occupied by solicitors Stilwell and Harby, was built for Herbert Stiff, of the Dover iron founder’s dynasty, about 1880. The house still sports characteristic Stiff cast-iron lintels and it would seem that Herbert was friendly with the Uniacke family from Halifax, Nova Scotia. James Boyle Uniacke (1799-1858) was the first Premier of Nova Scotia and his relative, barrister and president of the Bank of Nova Scotia, Andrew Mitchell Uniacke (1808-1895), died at 4 Camden Crescent. Herbert aged 48, died of consumption at Uniacke in 1897, leaving a wife and family.

For many years, Uniacke was the home of Henry Crundall, a local corn merchant. However, in World War II, on Sunday 20 October 1940, the already war battered St James Church next door, was hit by yet another shell. This went straight through one wall of the church, coming out the other and exploding. Uniacke’s adjacent wall was ‘sucked out’ but following the war, in 1946, the house was successfully rebuilt. The relatively ‘new’ southern wall of the building can still be seen.

Following the devastation of Uniacke, it would appear that Henry Crundall moved to Ashford, where he died in 1941. Following the war, the house was repaired and the Crundall family let it to the Ministry of National Insurance and other government bodies. In the 1960s, they put Uniacke on the market and Stilwell and Harby solicitors bought it and moved in on 3 October 1966.

Bass family sarcophagus - St Mary's Churchyard

Bass family sarcophagus – St Mary’s Churchyard

The history of Stilwell and Harby can be traced back to Thomas Bass who was born about 1774 and practised in Dover. He lived in Buckland where his son, Thomas Baker Bass (1807-1860) was born. When Thomas junior was old enough he joined his father in the practice and was admitted to the Chancery roll on 25 May 1830. Thomas senior died on 15 January 1840 and was interred in what became the family vault to the left of the entrance of St Mary’s Church.

Thomas, the son, was active in local politics and a representative for Castle Ward. This he resigned on 1 December 1847 and seven days later, he was elected Town Clerk. During his term of office, Thomas collated the Chamberlains’ accounts from the time of Henry VIII to 1784. These, like most of Dover’s archives, are now kept at Maidstone. Thomas was also responsible for drafting a number of bylaws that brought order to the anarchical sectors of the town!

Henry VIII at Dover for the Field of Gold Cloth window in the Stone Hall, Maison Dieu.

Henry VIII at Dover for the Field of Gold Cloth window in the Stone Hall, Maison Dieu

Thomas’s residence and practice was 68 St James’ Street and in 1851 he took James Stilwell into partnership. Nine years later, Thomas died and in his Will, he bequeathed a silver vase valued at £200 to be used to pay for a stained glass window in the Maison Dieu dedicated to Captain William Allen. A relative of Thomas, Captain Allen had rescued the ship Ann in Bombay harbour some years before and the underwriters had presented him with the vase. On his death, he bequeathed it to Thomas. The window it was used to pay for is the Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover for the Field of the Cloth of Gold, 31 May 1520.

James Stilwell was born about 1829 in Uxbridge and twenty years later was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. He was appointed Clerk to the Justices of the Borough of Dover in 1857 and Surrogate to the Judge of the Cinque Ports Admiralty Court in 1860. The following year he became the Register of the reconstituted Dover Harbour Board a position he held until his death on 22 May 1898. James had two daughters Eliza Amy (b1868) and Maud Ann (b1872). They married two brothers, Arthur James Harby in 1897 and Travers Bidder Harby in 1905, respectively.

St James Street c1890 before widening 4&6 on right, number 5 opposite

St James Street c1890 before widening 4&6 on right, number 5 opposite

Arthur Harby (1862-1900), was born at Snars Brook, Essex and joined the firm in 1882 as an articled clerk. He became a partner in 1888 when the firm was renamed Stilwell and Harby. By this time, the firm’s offices were at 4 and 6 St James’ Street and later extra rooms were rented at number 5, on the opposite side of the road. In 1894, following the widening of Woolcomber Street, the offices became corner properties and number 4 was enlarged with a new frontage on that Street.

Active in local politics, Arthur was on the Executive of the Dover Liberal Party. Together with solicitor, Augustus Montague Bradley, between 1892-4, Ramsay Macdonald, (1866-1937) tried to persuade them that he should represent Dover as a Liberal candidate for Parliament. The negotiations broke down and eventually Ramsay Macdonald, as a representative of the Labour Party, became an MP and Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister in 1924.

Major Arthur James Harby, Cinque Ports Volunteers

Major Arthur James Harby, Cinque Ports Volunteers

On the death of his father-in-law James, Arthur was appointed Clerk to the Justices. He was very much involved in Dover’s sporting activities – he was elected the captain of the rowing club in 1895. However, his greatest interest was Cinque Ports Volunteers, in which he held the position of Major. Tragedy struck while Arthur was inspecting the Volunteers at Sandwich on 3 July 1900. Arthur was thrown from his horse and killed; he was 38 years old.

Arthur’s younger brother, Travers Bidder Harby (1866-1948) was articled to his father in 1884, admitted as a solicitor in 1889 and was partner in a practice in the Strand, London. On the death of his brother, he took over the Dover practice and also his brother’s position as Clerk to the Dover Borough Justices. Like his father, Travers was appointed Surrogate of the Court of Admiralty of the Cinque Ports.

Travers Bidder Harby

Travers Bidder Harby

A keen oarsman, Travers was elected captain of the rowing club, and was one of the club’s Senior 4. At the time, they were merited as the ‘most outstanding crew in Britain.‘ Prior to World War I, Travers was the chairman of the Council Entertainment’s Committee and successfully organised a special function to celebrate the coronation of George V in 1911.

During in World War I, Travers commanded No1 Detachment of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. This was responsible for the defence of the town from air attack. Following the war, he was particularly interested in the welfare of the elderly and was appointed the Treasurer Dover Hospital, Clerk and Treasurer Alms House Trustees and Clerk to the Gorely (Almshouses) Charity. He was also the Registrar to the Buckland and Charlton cemeteries.

Henry Wallace Youden

Henry Wallace Youden

Henry Wallace Youden (1873-1956) joined the firm in 1888 as a junior clerk, later articled to Arthur Harby. The latter’s premature death in 1900 prevented Henry from continuing so the articles were put on hold. Albeit, he was eventually admitted as a solicitor in March 1923 and taken into partnership with Travers Harby on 1 July that year.

His son, George Henry Youden joined the firm on leaving Sutton Valence School in September 1921, was articled to Travers Harby and admitted a solicitor on 2 May 1927. The following year, on 1 March 1928, the County Court Judge refused to hear a case that George was acting on behalf of the firm. The reason given was the George was not a partner. At lunchtime that day, George was taken into the firms’ partnership and returned to Court that afternoon, to be congratulated by the Judge! He then proceeded to hear the case!

Early in 1929, Major Dacre Carder died from injuries sustained during World War I. He too was a solicitor, in a joint practice with his father, Eugene Carder, in Market Square. In order to help out, George was transferred to that practice until Eugene’s death in 1935, when the firms amalgamated.

1934 saw the installation of Lord Reading as Lord Warden attended by Travers Harby as the Surrogate of the Court of Admiralty of the Cinque Ports. The following year Travers represented the owners and tenants of property in the Adrian Street area where the council were seeking to demolish the houses. Although the council won, they were forced to pay more in compensation than they expected.

George Henry Youden

George Henry Youden

Four years later, on 18 November 1938, Travers retired as Clerk to the Magistrates of the Borough and his partner, George Youden, was appointed in his place. A few months later, following the death of another of Dover’s solicitors, Sydenham Armstrong Payn, Stilwell and Harby absorbed his practise.

Geoffrey Crawford joined the firm in the 1930s but was called up in 1939. His Regiment was involved in the fighting to stop the Japanese advance in South East Asia and following the Fall of Singapore managed to get to Sumatra. Sadly, he was killed in the jungle by a sniper bullet near Pelambang.

During the Battle of Britain, in the summer of 1940, Dover solicitors were advised to move out of the town for security reasons. During one of the air raids a tombstone from Old St James’ Churchyard, some 80 yards away from the offices of Stilwell and Harby in St James Street, was blown into the air and landed on the firm’s roof going through it. Travers quickly arranged for all the firm’s deeds and documents to be sent to new premises in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. To deal with local clients, an office was opened at the home of Mrs Violet Carder in London Road, Kearsney.

The war took its toll on the St James Street offices and all were demolished except No 5, which is now a listed building. After the war, on returning to Dover, Travers obtained a 21-year lease on 20 and 22 Castle Street. However, he did not practice there long, as he died on 13 December 1948 aged 82.

James A Johnson Dover Town Clerk 1944-1968

James A Johnson Dover Town Clerk 1944-1968

The following year saw a legal case that was to affect the firm’s relationship with the council for years to come. In order to combat inflation stringent price policies were in force and the price of newly built houses was fixed by a licence. In 1949, a former town councillor, Fred Dolbear, offered a house in Mount Road for £1,275 while the licence was fixed at £1,025.

The case was taken to court by the Corporation’s Town Clerk, James A Johnson. Dolbear was found guilty and fined the maximum penalty, £100. That should have been the end of the matter, but the Town Clerk immediately issued a summons against George Youden, in his capacity as Clerk to the Magistrates, for aiding and abetting. The magistrates dismissed this but Johnson appealed to the King’s Bench. They reversed the decision and Youden was fined £25 with £25 costs.

At the time, besides George Youden, the other senior partner was Ronnie Brydone (1909 -1987), who joined the firm in 1946. Their office boy was Maurice Sayers, who joined the firm on 21 September 1942. He had been a pupil at Dover Boys’ Grammar school and evacuated to Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire, for the War. However, fed up, Maurice returned to Dover and joined the firm. He was 13-years old! Called up and joined the Army as a conscript at 18, Maurice returning to Stilwell and Harby in April 1949. He persuaded George Youden to take him as an articled clerk in 1956, passed the final exam in 1961 and became a junior partner the following year.

When James Stilwell, the great-grandson of the first James Stilwell, qualified as a solicitor in 1962 the firm was at a low ebb and he had to seek an opening elsewhere. With the lease expiring on the Castle Street property, the firm bought Uniacke, 110 Maison Dieu Road and moved in on 3 October 1966. Two years later George Youden retired.

The move seemed to impart new enthusiasm and the firm went from strength to strength. Maurice Sayers became a senior partner when Ronnie Brydone, described as a fantastic eccentric, retired in 1971.

Partners of Stilwell & Harby c 1985. Courtesy of the late Maurice Sayers

Partners of Stilwell & Harby c 1985. Courtesy of the late Maurice Sayers

By the early 1980s the firm had eight partners whose photo was taken about that time, they were:
(Pix LtoR):

1. William (Bill) Writer joined the firm about 1970 and became a partner in 1974.

He left 110 to open an office in Douglas Avenue, Hythe in 1975, but remained a partner until he retired in 2008, aged 65.

2. Robert (Bob) Ludlow joined the Hythe Office in 1975 and retired in 2008.

3. Thomas Stephen (Tom) Cowell joined the firm in 1971 and was made a partner in 1972. Opened an office in Deal about 1985, remaining a partner for about three years. He left to set up a firm in his own name.

4. Ronald (Ronnie) Brydone who ceased to be a partner on retirement.

5. Maurice Sayers, senior partner of Stilwell and Harby (Dover Office) retiring at the age 68 in 1996. Maurice passed away on Thursday 5 January 2012.

6. Bernard Henry (Barney) Lock joined the firm in August 1982 on his retirement as senior partner of Knocker Bradley and Pain – now Bradley’s. He was a partner at the Deal office until he retired in 1990.

7. Peter Sherred, a former Dover District Council solicitor, joined in January 1981 and remained a partner until about 1992, when he left to join Bradleys. He also took Holy Orders.

8. Peter Brothwell was a partner in the Folkestone office but the partnership was dissolved in March 1987

The possible photographer was Jeremy Garner a partner Dover Office.

At the time of writing, the firm is run by Patricia Sayers (married name Comfort), the daughter of Maurice, and Jeremy Garner with associate solicitor, Claris Muir. Stilwell and Harby remain a busy practice, as well as Jeremy, Patricia and Claris they employ two senior legal executives and about ten staff.


  • Dover Mercury: 13, 20 & 27 December 2012

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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