Over 300 years of legal history
Study the history of Farrer & Co and you study the history of English law. Having been in business for over three centuries, we’ve acted for Kings, Queens, Lords and Knights, as well as some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, statesmen and literary figures.
Our history could fill a space a thousand times larger than the one you are looking at, but we’ve gathered some selected highlights.
Farrer & Co is a leading law firm with around 380 people including 220 fee earners, of which 79 are partners.
Provisions came into force to allow legal disciplinary practices (LDPs). This paves the way for Farrer & Co to promote its first non-lawyer to Partner in May 2009 – Chief Financial Officer – which raises the number of Partners in the firm to 71.
On 1 December 2006 Farrer & Co converted to a limited liability partnership (LLP).
Farrer & Co is appointed Official Legal Partner to the British Olympic Association (BOA). Farrer & Co had worked with the BOA for more than 50 years, since the last London Olympic Games in 1948. Under the new partnership, Farrer & Co will provide legal advice to the BOA in support of the successful London bid to host the 2012 games.
Farrer & Co celebrates its tercentenary. The year also saw significant expansion and development of our core practices. In May 2001, the number of Partners in the firm reaches 52.
The firm is known for advising the Royal Family and the Royal Estates in a number of capacities. In the 1930s, Leslie Farrer (later Sir Leslie) advises the Duke of York (later George VI) personally and is subsequently involved in the sensitive negotiations over the abdication of his elder brother Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor).
Dickens was on very good terms with Ouvry. In January 1869, he wrote, “I murdered the girl from Oliver Twist last night in a highly successful and bloodthirsty manner. Ever yours, Charles Dickens.” Ouvry also features as a fictional character, “Mr Undery, my friend and solicitor” in a ghost story in the Christmas 1859 number of All the Year Round. The final piece of work the firm did during his life related to the production of Edwin Drood which he did not live to complete.
Dickens (whose first job had been as a solicitor’s clerk) derived a substantial income from giving readings, not only in this country but also in the United States. There is a draft of an agreement with Mr Evans of New York under which Dickens was paid £10,000 to go to the United States to give 80 public readings in New York and the adjoining states.
On 21 March 1868, Dickens writes from Springfield to Ouvry giving a detailed account of how hard he was working on the tour with “perpetual railway travelling in one of the severest winters ever known”.
Sir William Farrer buys the adjoining building, 65 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, although it was let until 1967, when the firm needed the space. In 1905, Sir William Farrer bought the northern half of No. 66 from the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the two halves were reunited. In 1930, Mr (later Sir) Edwin Lutyens remodelled the front of the building and restored much of it to its original appearance.
The firm has a number of connections with medical institutions over the years – and still does. In 1859 we are instructed by the General Medical Council (formed in 1858) for its general litigation, specific cases dealing with the registration of doctors, and disciplinary procedures.
Charles Dickens, by then a successful writer, asks Frederick Ouvry to handle his purchase of a house at Gads Hill in Kent. Ouvry becomes a close friend and advises on all of Dickens’ business contracts, including those for his speaking tour in America and a copyright dispute in New Zealand.
Ouvry also advises on libels, both where Dickens was accused of defaming others and where he himself was attacked. After Dickens’s death, Ouvry acted for his executors.
With a series of new partners failing to provide effective leadership, the firm find themselves requiring a heavyweight solicitor of the new generation who could provide the skills to run the firm. Frederic Ouvry, a partner in the city firm of Robinson, King & Ouvry of Tokenhouse Yard, is headhunted through Coutts.
Ouvry writes on 8 March to his brother Jack: “I am negotiating terms for going into partnership under the following circumstances. There is a firm of Farrer & Co, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, of very old standing and of first rate connexion, who amongst other clients represent the banking house of Coutts & Co… about a week ago one of the partners in that House called on me, and being satisfied with my personal appearance and with the enquiries they had made respecting me, they informed Farrer & Co that they approved of me as a partner.”
Ouvry is an outstanding success. Best known as acting for Charles Dickens, he advises a wide range of clients. He has strong interests in archaeology and book collecting, and is the only member of the firm to serve as President of the Law Society (1871).
The surgeon William Marsden moves into No 65 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Partly as a result of the death of his first wife he wishes to establish a hospital devoted to the cure and treatment of cancer patients. The firm advises the new charity from the outset and the Trustees decided to buy some land at Brompton for a purpose-built hospital.
Several partners continue on the committee of management of the Cancer Hospital (subsequently the Royal Marsden) for many years. The firm ceases to act when the hospital becomes part of the National Health Service in 1948 but we continue to act for its sister institution, the Institute of Cancer Research.
Following the death of King William IV, the firm acts in connection with a provision under the terms of his Will. The King owned the Royal Stud and he gave his successor, Queen Victoria, an option to purchase the horses. However, the Queen does not wish to take up the option and the firm advises on the best method of disposing of the horses.
General advice on private client matters remains a constant feature throughout the centuries. In 1820, the firm was advising the Duke of Wellington in connection with the insurance of his pictures. The Law Fire Office asked for a list of the Duke’s pictures for this purpose. He is inclined to refuse, but the firm assure him that they are the “most respectable office in the Kingdom”.
In 1790, James Farrer purchases the southern half of 66 Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the son of Attorney General James Wallace. The rooms are substantial and the Farrers consider them of a style suited to the clients for whom they now largely worked.
The building has a distinguished past. It was originally the home of Lord Powys before being destroyed by fire in 1684. It was restored by the Treasury under Sir Christopher Wren’s direction as an official residence for the Keeper of the Great Seal. Wren, the Surveyor of Buildings, inspected the ruin on behalf of the Treasury and reported that it was “very imperfect, a great part of it being without floors, ceilings, wainst or firehearths” and advised that “considerable expense” was needed.
The building was refurbished at a cost of £1,030, some £120 over estimate. In 1694, as the residence of Keeper Sir John Somers, it was in the Peacock Room that the Charter of the Bank of England was sealed.
The Times publish an article which suggests that some of the Royal Princes were insincere in their expressions of joy at the King’s recovery, so the Duke of York instructs us to prosecute for libel. The Court imprison the editor, John Walter, for a year – a rather harsher penalty than would be imposed today, although he did manage to escape exposure in the public pillory.
The firm advises the then Duke of York, Frederick, on his purchase of an estate at Weybridge in Surrey and later, the sale of his estate at Allerton in Yorkshire. The Duke borrows a large part of the purchase money from Thomas Coutts, although some is borrowed from the Farrer brothers themselves. Farrer & Co’s involvement with Mr Coutts in this transaction is the start of an excellent working relationship with the bank that continues to this day.
In the 1780s, we are instructed to sue Richard Brindsley Sheridan, the well-known dramatist, whose plays The Rivals and The School for Scandal are still performed. He is also a theatre manager and an MP, but has little grasp of money matters.
The first of a number of cases the firm handles against Sheridan is on behalf of a previous tenant of the Opera House to whom Sheridan owed rent. Ultimately the firm is forced to repossess the theatre. Later we enforce a mortgage on his house owed to Thomas Coutts.
Matrimonial matters are resolved rather dramatically in the 18th Century and a divorce in which we are advising involves an attempted duel in Hyde Park between Lord Ligonier and his wife’s lover, Count Alferi. Luckily for the Count, Lord Ligonier considers him to be such a poor swordsman that he cancels the duel and receives a great deal of public credit for his gallant restraint.
The name of the firm now includes Farrer, and from this point until 1999, there is no period when at least one Farrer (usually several) are not partners in the firm. Down the years, there are 17 Farrers in all, with a number of other Partners related to them by blood or marriage.
Oliver Farrer leaves the firm, largely because another employee, James Gordon, is made a partner. The firm doesn’t prosper. Nicholas Coulthurst retires on health grounds and brother Matthew dies four years later.
Gordon doesn’t run the firm well on his own and Oliver Farrer returns in 1767 on terms that lead to the departure of Gordon and Oliver becoming a partner and sole proprietor on Matthew Coulthurst’s death. Shortly after that, Oliver is joined by his brother James.
Among the firms for which we act as London agents, the most important is Baldwin & Parker solicitors of Halifax who give the firm a great deal of varied work over many years.
Another solicitor who sends a number of cases to the firm is James Farrer who practises at Clapham in West Yorkshire. His sons wish to settle in London and on 3 November 1759 Oliver Farrer, then aged 17, joins the firm to serve the last two years of his articles.
Oliver has left a detailed account of his life and work. From qualification in 1762 his hours increased and he says: “During the last year of my Clerkship until I left them I may fairly say I managed and actually did all the material Business, working from 5 in the morning till 11 or 12 at night, Sundays included.”
The firm advises Sir John Pitt, who is appointed Surveyor General of Woods and Forests, which later becomes the Crown Estate Commissioner. Pitt handles much of the routine administration of the Royal Parks and other properties, including arranging for repairs to the Serpentine.
Excellent records kept by the Coulthursts mean that we have registers, precedent books and complete sets of accounts from this point onwards. They show a flourishing practice. In addition to a number of wealthy individuals with landed estates such as John Pitt and his nephew George (subsequently Lord Rivers), the firm also act for institutions such as municipal councils.
An important part of the firm’s practice constitutes agency work for firms, particularly in the north of England, who need a London representative to handle personal attendances in the courts and Parliament. This is a time when many of the rules which govern modern English law, particularly in the area of commerce, are being worked out.
The firm also develops a substantial practice in relation to private Acts of Parliament whether for divorce, converting common land to private, or rearranging family trusts and empowering the sale of family estates.
In these early days, lawyers are very much ‘men of affairs’ (never women) and handle all aspects of a family’s business. Farrer & Co is one of the few major London firms that still provide this kind of service – although now over 40 per cent of our lawyers are female.
Samuel Buckley organises the production of The Daily Courant, the first daily newspaper to specialise in publishing stories from continental journals for English readers.
We trace our foundation to 1701 through a practice started by an uncle and nephew, both called Tempest Slinger. In 1701 Tempest Slinger Junior came from Lancashire to be admitted to Gray's Inn to practise as an attorney and solicitor and set up an office at 5 New Square where he remained until his death in 1728. Following his death, his life-long friend Robert Atkinson (also from Slaidburn in Lancashire) took over the practice until his death when the practice passed to two brothers, Nicholas and Matthew Coulthurst (relatives of the Slingers) who moved the firm to 18 Chancery Lane.