Mr Justice Cave was not in a good mood as he sat in the courtroom of Gloucester’s Shire Hall on the second morning of the Winter Assizes, which took place in November 1895. Shire Hall was undergoing some building works and on this morning, an incessant hammering disturbed the court proceedings.
Increasingly irritated, Judge Cave exclaimed that if the noise was not stopped, he would ‘send someone to prison’. The Deputy Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Police, Nehemiah Philpott, said that he had sent the Inspector and another officer to find the source of the noise and order them to be quiet. For a short while, peace was restored, but then the hammering started again. Cave said, ‘I cannot have this going on. Bring that man to me.’ DCC Philpott then left the court to look for the miscreant. In the meantime, the trial which had been taking place was suspended.
Philpott returned to the courtroom not long afterwards, alone. The judge asked him, ‘Where is that man I told you to bring to me?’ Philpott replied, ‘My lord, he is not a man belonging to this building at all.’ It appeared that the noise was not coming from Shire Hall itself, but from a neighbouring property. Justice Cave then told the DCC: ‘I do not care whether he belongs to this building, or who he is.’ When Philpott told him that he did not know who the man was, Cave replied sternly, ‘Then go and find out, or I shall send you to prison’.
Philpott set off again and Cave commented to the court, ‘The police here seem extremely incompetent.’ He then ordered the trial to proceed, and after a while Philpott arrived back in court, accompanied by a workman. The judge ordered the man to come forward, then told him he must not make a noise while the court was sitting. The man said that he did not know he was doing wrong. He was told he must go away and not make any more noise, then he was allowed to leave. The rest of the trials that day were heard in peace.
The scene in the court was reported in the local newspaper, The Citizen, that same evening, under the heading, ‘The Hammering Nuisance, the Judge and the Police’. The story was rapidly repeated in many other publications nationwide. The Citizen reproduced a column which appeared in the periodical Truth, which reported that DCC Philpott had been ‘terrified’ when he was threatened with prison, and that when the erring workman was brought before the judge, ‘To the relief of all present, the offender was not ordered away to instant execution, but was merely admonished and dismissed.’ The report continued that the workman had been in the employ of a contractor on a building in the neighbourhood and that the DCC ‘had to enter the premises and virtually arrest the man to carry out the judge’s command.’ There was some speculation as to whether this was legal.
Cave’s remarks about the competence of the Gloucestershire Police and his treatment of the Deputy Chief Constable caused great indignation amongst the local citizens. On the day following the report in The Citizen, two letters were printed in the same publication. The first, from Abel Evans of Southgate Street, Gloucester, stated that he believed a great number of readers would agree with him that the Judge’s comments about the police were uncalled for, and he hoped Justice Cave would see his way clear to withdraw his remarks. The second letter, from ‘R.J.V.’ of Oxford Street, Gloucester, said that a great injustice had been done to DCC Philpott and the Gloucester Police Force. The remarks by Justice Cave ‘must have hurt the feelings of many Gloucester citizens’. The writer wondered whether Cave expected all trade to be stopped in the neighbourhood of Shire Hall during the Assizes and if so, would the Judge be prepared to pay compensation for loss of earnings to all those affected?
A few days after the incident, an ex-City High Sheriff, Councillor HRJ Brain, presided over the annual dinner of the Tyndale Cycling Club. In a speech to the gathering, Brain noted the ‘regrettable language reported to have been used with reference to the police by the learned Judge at the recent Assizes’. He had met many judges during his time as High Sheriff and had read Cave’s remarks ‘with astonishment and regret’. No city in England, he said, had a police force more competent, and the DCC was deservedly respected by all sections of society. He only hoped Cave had not been speaking seriously.
On 23 November, the Gloucestershire Chronicle, in its section called ‘City and County Notes’, commented that Cave’s latest visit to Gloucester would be remembered for some time ‘for the manner in which his Lordship thought fit to speak of our local police force’ and the ‘strong indignation’ caused by the Judge’s remarks to DCC Philpott and his threatening to send him to prison, in the presence of police constables.
In December, the Gloucester Journal reported that ‘Mr Justice Cave’s attack upon the police had been taken up in an official quarter.’ At the quarterly meeting of the Gloucestershire Standing Joint Committee, held on the last day of that month, the Chairman stated that he had written to the Lord Chancellor, who had replied that the matter would receive serious consideration. At the next meeting of the Standing Joint Committee, which took place in April 1896, the Chairman informed the members that he had received a communication from the Lord Chancellor who regretted the incident, but no more could be done. However, the Chairman believed that his complaint to the Lord Chancellor may have had some good effect. Beyond that he could say no more.
The ‘good effect’ to which the Chairman alluded may have been the announcement in January 1896 that Justice Cave had been moved off the Oxford Assize Circuit, of which Gloucestershire was part, and onto the Northern Circuit. Cave would preside over no more trials at Gloucester.
In early November of 1895, rumours had begun circulating that Cave would retire from the Bench the following March, when he would have completed 15 years’ service and would be entitled to receive a pension. However, despite increasing ill health, he changed his mind about retiring and continued until August 1897, when he finally tendered his resignation. He didn’t enjoy his retirement for long, as he died on 7 September 1897, aged 65.
A long obituary appeared in the Gloucester Journal on 11 September 1897, which remarked that, ‘His burly figure, rubicund face and brusque manner were familiar on the Oxford Circuit, as was his curt, “That won’t do, you know”, with which he was wont to pull up counsel who tried to occupy untenable positions.’ The report inevitably reminded readers of the incident in Gloucester in November 1895, when ‘his lordship threatened to commit DCC Philpott to prison because he was annoyed by a workman hammering in the vicinity of the Court’. This incident might have been ‘characteristic of his short temper in recent years’, but shouldn’t detract from the many kindly things said about him in the various obituaries.
The report then quoted from some of the obituaries. The Daily Telegraph asserted that Cave was a strong, if not a great, judge, who had been a sound lawyer and ‘one of the most impartial men that ever adorned the Bench’. The Standard opined that Cave was ‘not one of the great judges’, as he was subject to several serious limitations. His temper was often short, especially in later years, when he had to contend with increasing physical infirmities, which made him hasty and irritable. However, Cave had great qualities too, and it was said that in earlier times on the Midlands Circuit, he had entertained all his colleagues with his humorous stories. The Times stated that if Cave had died or resigned some years ago, the almost universal verdict would have been that few more efficient Judges had sat on the Bench in recent years. However, the last years of his career had not been as distinguished as the first, as increasing bad health appeared to have impaired his vigour.
It was revealed that Cave’s main physical problems were chronic dyspepsia and increasing deafness. The latter infirmity no doubt contributed to his bad temper on that infamous day in November 1895, as he probably couldn’t follow what was being said in court because of the terrible noise coming from outside. However, whatever the reason behind his outburst, Cave would long be remembered in Gloucester as the judge who once threatened to send Gloucestershire’s Deputy Chief Constable to prison.
Newspapers (all on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk):
The Citizen, 19 Nov, 20 Nov, 22 Nov, 27 Nov 1895
Gloucester Journal, 7 Dec, 14 Dec 1895, 4 Jan 1896, 11 Apr 1896, 11 Aug, 11 Sept 1897
Gloucestershire Chronicle, 23 Nov 1895, 18 Jan 1896
Illustrated London News, 11 September 1897
©Jill Evans, 2020