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John Gurney-Champion's Professional History - Early Years

View profile for Nick Gurney-Champion
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My grandfather (Frederick Shepherd Champion) was a solicitor admitted in 1862.  He had two sons who were solicitors, one of whom was my father (Frederick Cecil Gurney Champion) who was admitted in 1893.  He gained first class honours and the Law Society’s prize in the Solicitors Honours Examination held in January of that year.

My grandfather and his two sons practised as solicitors in the family firm of F.S. Champion & Sons at Brighton, Eastbourne and London.  One of my father’s sisters married a barrister who became the County Court Judge for Sussex (Judge Frank K. Archer K. C.).

My father retired from the family firm as senior partner in 1910 and went on a trip around the world as a special correspondent of the Financial Times, following which he took up in farming in the New Forest for a few years.

In 1922 at the age of 52 he married his first cousin, a Miss Gurney, and changed his surname by deed poll to Gurney-Champion and decided that he would need to return to the law for his livelihood.

He started by making a special study of legal aid, then in its infancy, and wrote a book called Justice and the Poor in England, which received international acclaim.

In 1926 he moved to the Isle of Wight and purchased the practice of a solicitor called Edwin Parker, who practised from and owned 37 Quay Street, Newport, Isle of Wight, but had an additional office at Freshwater, Isle of Wight in rented accommodation.  My father took over both offices and Parker’s name and called himself Parker & Gurney-Champion.

In or about 1938 my late deceased partner, J. Paul Darch, joined my father as an assistant solicitor.

In 1939 at the age of 16 I entered into five years Articles of Clerkship to my father.  A month later the 1939-45 War broke out.

In 1940 I went to London to sit the Solicitors’ Intermediate Examination with bombs dropping all around us and succeeded in passing this.  In 1941 Paul Darch was called up for service in the Army, from which he was released in 1946.

In 1942 I was called up and spent 6 years in the Army before being released in 1948.

During the War the Isle of Wight was a restricted area and business was at a low ebb, so my father closed the Freshwater Office.  In 1944 he had to have a serious operation and the Army released me on compassionate leave for 6 months to run the Newport Office whilst my father was convalescing, under a special dispensation from the Law Society.

Thereafter I spent all of my Army service in the Far East (India, Burma and Malaya) and was involved in the Japanese War Crimes Trials.  I was British Advisory Officer to the Japanese defence in Rangoon, Burma.  Those convicted could petition the Army Council to review the decision and I assisted in the preparation of these petitions, a number of which were successful, as a result of which I was given the job of prosecuting officer on a travelling War Crimes Court in Malaya with the rank of Major.  This was a very interesting experience.  My biggest trial took 6 weeks with 12 accused and resulted in them all being convicted with 5 sentenced to death by hanging and the rest given terms of imprisonment.  I was then aged 23 with only 3 years as an articled clerk behind me! 

One interesting experience that I had in Rangoon was to be detailed as mandatory witness to see the execution at dawn of a member of the Japanese Armed Force with whose defence I had been involved in an advisory capacity - a usual case of a lawyer having to attend the execution of his “client”!

I returned to the UK in 1948 and, after a 6 month course at Gibson & Weldon in Guildford, I took the Solicitors Final and Honours Examinations (they were then two separate exams) in March 1949, gaining Second Class Honours and two Law Society prizes.  These were the Sheffield Prize (so called because the money for it was donated by a Sheffield Solicitor) for the best candidate in the Final Examination and the Broderip Prize for the best paper on the subject of real property and conveyancing within all the Honours Examinations for the year 1949.  I was also awarded the Ford Prize (awarded each year to the most promising Articled Clerk) by the Hampshire Incorporated Law Society.

The Law Society excused the remaining years of my articles on the grounds of war service.  I was admitted as a solicitor in May 1949 and immediately entered into partnership with my father and Paul Darch under the name of Parker & Gurney-Champion at 37 Quay Street.  Sadly, my father died a month later leaving me and Paul continuing as partners at that address.

Paul and I decided to re-open the Freshwater Office, but, before we had done so, the local manager of the Halifax Building Society for Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight strongly recommended us to open an office in Portsmouth rather than in Freshwater as he thought there were much better prospects in Portsmouth, and he volunteered to find suitable office premises there for us, which he duly did.  Our Portsmouth Office opened on 1st April 1958.