Edward Holroyd Pearce (Lord Pearce)

There were three ‘public men’ in the family in my mother’s generation. One was her brother Edward Holroyd Pearce, who became Lord Pearce, another was her cousin Ashley Bramall, a Labour Party Member of Parliament who became Chairmen of the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority), and the third was Ashley’s younger brother Edwin Bramall, who became Field Marshal Sir Edwin Bramall, Chief of the Defence Staff (the top military man in Britain), an appointment he held during the Falklands campaign against Argentina. Dwin Bramall taught me to ice skate, and Ashley was a fellow member of the Skinners’ Company – I saw him sometimes at livery dinners, at Skinners Hall in Dowgate Street, London.

Since he was a close relative Philip and I, when we were young, saw a good deal of Edward and his wife Erica – a daughter of the well known landscape painter Bertram Priestman. It was a happy marriage, made in 1927, about a year after my own parents married. They had two sons, Bruce and James. Bruce was almost exactly the same age as me. Both boys became QCs, but sadly, both they and Erica died before Edward died.

Edward Holroyd Pearce was born in Sidcup, Kent, in February 1901, and after going to his father’s prep school he went on to Charterhouse and then to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he got a first in classical honour moderations (1921) and a third class in literae humaniores (1923). At Oxford he was impressive at games. He was called to the bar in 1925 by Lincoln’s Inn and the Middle Temple. But before World War II in 1939 his promising career as a junior barrister was interrupted by TB. In those days there was no cure. His doctor, Dr Beaumont prescribed: “Supper and breakfast in bed – always eat something at lunchtime, have a pause – no theatres, no evening parties.” After a period in a sanatorium in Switzerland he was able to continue with his practice, but for at least 20 years had to be careful about his health, while keeping his problem to himself lest it frighten his clients. His flat in London was destroyed by bombing early in the war.

He was deputy chairman of East Sussex quarter-sessions in 1947, was appointed a High Court judge in 1948, and knighted. In 1957 he was made a lord justice of appeal and a privy councillor. From 1962, when he was created a life peer, to 1969, he was a lord of appeal in ordinary. As a judge he was popular and successful, with a clear mind and a friendly manner.

When he retired in 1969 he became Chairman of the Press Council, and continued with that until 1974. He was also chairman of the appeals committee of the Takeover Panel until 1976, and served on other commissions and committees – notably (as chairman) the committee on ship-building costs from 1947-9, and the royal commission on marriage and divorce from 1951-5. He was a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1948, and treasurer in 1966. As past master and past member of the court of the Company of Skinners he was a governor of Charterhouse (1943-64), Tonbridge School (1945-78), and Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse.

He became a household name in 1971, when he was appointed chairman of a commission set up by Harold Wilson’s government, to determine the reaction to the proposed constitutional settlement for an independent Rhodesia. The Pearce commission reported in May 1972 that the terms were massively rejected by the Africans, and the status quo continued.

He was very hard-working, readily approachable, smiling and good-humoured. He used plain language when unravelling problems at the bench and in the Law Reports. His simplicity of expression and manner made him an ideal chairman of committees.

He was a witty after-dinner speaker, and I remember how proud I was to have him as an uncle when he spoke after dinner at Skinner’s Hall one evening when I was there, and had the company split their sides laughing! He told me afterwards that his rough rule for a successful speech was to spend an hour on every minute of it. Both he and Aunt Erica were talented artists, who held shows together or separately, and he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy. He was also an ardent collector of pictures and sometimes sculpture. At their home in Crowborough, Sussex, on Crowborough Common, he and Erica made a lovely garden. In about 1960 he bought one of many sculptures for the garden, for under £100. Just before his death, this ‘Dancing Faun’ turned out to be an important work by a sixteenth-century Italian sculptor, Adriaen de Vries, and was sold for £6.2 million in a London sale. He died on 27 November 1990.

Amongst his many gifts was light-hearted poetry. He was very close to my mother when they were young. Here are two poems he wrote for her when she was training to be a doctor:

To Effie – medical student

When tender maid to thoughts inclines
Of guts and tubes and intestines
And leaves her socks and downs her knitting
For heavy smells and gases splitting
Takes up in fact the whole gamut
Heart calls to heart and gut to gut
Leaving the feminine arts
To women of less sterling parts
How can she fail to make relations
Feel conscious of her innovations?

Pa who once lived in blessed ease
And brushed his clothes just when you please,
Now daily scrapes from off his togs
The guts of effervescing frogs.

And Ma has got to bear her part
And help her hubby’s harrowed heart.
She fishes ganglia from the broth
And wipes amoeba off the cloth.
A boiled oesophagus egad!
In father’s soup – this is too bad!”

In Edward’s room a perfect blizzard
Of pipes and pulses gut and gizzard.

Peg stands the strain with level head
And sorrows slightly for the dead.

Jac likes to follow with the tide,
Besides it gives him where to hide.
Hid ‘neath a heap of rotting flesh
He slips from bedtimes greedy mesh.

So all and each we find affected
In ways we couldn’t have expected
All, all except our dear Euphemia,
Who glories as the house grows steamier.

Effie’s trip to Italy with Clairmonte, of London
School of Medicine for Women, by EH Pearce
aged 19, as transcribed by Effie. 7 April 1921

Dear Effie, I feel I must write you
A letter replete with advice:
How to deal (tho’ I don’t want to fright you),
With folk that you meet who aren’t nice!
Don’t ask them to share your tomato,
And should they ask you, it is plain
You must answer them back in staccato,
And threaten to pull up the train;
And think it no folly to hang up your trolley
On the chain of emergence; then all will be jolly.

Shake off the dull cares that now trouble you,
Let out your whole soul on the spree,
Forget the dull L.S.M.W,
The Dog-fish, the Dirt and be Free!
The hydra l’immune is rejoicing
And free flies the finch on the fen
Ungutted amoeboe are voicing
Their joy to have nuclei again
For the doctors are scattered!
Once more the stray-cat-herd
Can sit down to breakfast with nerves not quite shattered.

You are off to the land of the love-tales
Of ROMANCE! and Ghiacciato (the ice)!!
Where travellers from all the world dove-tail
At the Pinto (sic) – but now for advice –
Maccaroni should always be eaten
This way: Wind it all in a skein
With a hoist of the fork; if you’re beaten,
Why you try it again and again!
You’ll soon get the habit; just open and grab it;
and imbibe it en bloc like an eager-souled rabbit

Think that each thing of Beauty you gaze on
Is a gem for the rest of your life
To enrich your memorial blazon
(When too old for the surgery knife)
So take out the inwards of Italy
Degut her of beauty and joy
If you don’t – you’ll repent, oh most bitterly.

(Final lines illegible)