“Front Door to the Past”

One aspect of having a great affection for law publishing is that I have a tendency to search for its characteristics and qualities elsewhere. For me, it sets a general standard for non-fiction and published information provision. Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, I find myself looking for snippets of law publishing in many unlikely places and am pleased to find it frequently. My enjoyment, not long ago, of Philip Wood’s The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers, in which the author stresses the centrality of law to human survival was, in part, for such reasons. Lawyers rarely make great writers but they are sometimes quite good at presenting and analysing the mix of fact and opinion to achieve direction and help encourage rational understanding.

I confess also to having a vested interest. Jennifer Brown, my partner, has just self-published under her own name imprint, her first book, Front Door to the Past, which is a work based on extensive social history research. It has been a lengthy and undeniably tortuous experience, however ultimately enjoyable and satisfying and has stretched her, an award-winning artist and teacher at her core, to explore and understand many disciplines in which she had not previously been expert. One of these was the law. She certainly did not set out to research and write a book which dealt with legal issues but inevitably, to a certain degree, this could not be avoided.

Front Door to the Past provides an exploration of the history and ownership of a single Victorian house, our home until not long ago, and its surroundings in an unassuming part of North London. It tracks through the centuries, uncovering a surprising web of people, places and events linked by their connection to the land. The project began several years ago with a passing wonder as to who had been the previous residents of the house in question. The result is a detailed work that straddles a period from around 1152 to the 21st century. Jennifer writes in her preface “As every picture tells a story, every house tells a great number of them”.

The modern part of the story begins in the late 19th century with the early lives and later arrival in London of two brothers, Samuel and George Candler, the former beginning a career as a practising solicitor, the other as an estate agent and property developer. Their business as well as family lives are intertwined and George becomes the builder and first resident of the house. The account progresses through the lives of many people – family, locals, neighbours and the occasional person of great note, as well as back though ownership of the land under and around the house to discover something of a treasure of mystery, intrigue and surprise. Then, going back further to more ancient times, the book explores the lives, deaths and transactions of earlier owners of the land and others connected to it. From the period after the dissolution of the monasteries, progressively the land passes down through a series of wealthy owners until the middle of the 20th century. In consequence, the research encounters a host of major and minor personae such as Samuel Pepys, Oliver Cromwell, Robert Walpole, Ernest Shackleton, Alfred Hitchcock, together with monarchs, pirates, warriors, early American settlers and others on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

Throughout the research and writing, aspects of law would emerge in such forms as significant legal cases that formed part of the story, private and public statutes that were created for or touched upon the creation or disposal of fortunes, land and property transactions and, of course, the massive issue of wills and probate. The further back the research went, problems of old and obscure documents, of Latin, French and old English and of the legal procedures of the day, were substantial. Few modern lawyers would have been much the wiser in comprehending that which needed to be understood and interpreted for purposes of a modern book. Nevertheless, it was not possible nor desirable to hide from the law. It was pleasantly surprising, as time passed, to observe progressively greater ease in handling and understanding lengthy, handwritten and comprehensive wills from centuries ago, in reading and finding the core issues in case reports and private Acts of Parliament and in searching out and interpreting various deeds, memorials and indentures. In addition, the fact that one particular law firm, the one in which Samuel Candler was a partner, originally Waterman, Wright & Kingsford but having evolved over nearly 200 years to form part of the present DAC Beechcroft, played a key part of much of the story, is a relevant factor.

In order to tell the story that is Front Door to the Past, it would have made no sense to circumvent legal personae, documents, principles and reasoning. Such is the nature of the law that it invades every aspect of life. Hence, in writing and structuring the book for publication, it was necessary, in the interests of quality, to follow rules and formats more commonly seen in more traditional law books. The most obvious, which clearly applies not just to legal research is that of ensuring that no proposition is included without substantial supporting evidence and citation and where that is not possible it is properly relegated to and identified as supposition. The work makes reference to a handful of decided cases which required to be shown as such. While a decision was taken, as was appropriate, to avoid tables of cases and statutes, the index provided appropriate signposting to them. Detailed appendices were produced to deal with deeds and other legal documents. Lengthy footnotes would have been a step too far.

The result is, I believe, a book which to is be welcomed on many levels and which is most informative, rewarding and enjoyable to read. It is published by Jennifer Brown. It is a substantial 483 pages in length and paperback, priced at £24.99 Sterling, ISBN 978-0-9955599-0-5 and can be purchased via and elsewhere.

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