John Skynner , Sir

John Skynner , Sir

b: 1723
d: 26 NOV 1805

SKYNNER, Sir JOHN (1724?-1805), judge, son of John and Elizabeth Skynner of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, was born in London about 1724, and was educated at Westminster school, where at the age of fourteen he became a king's scholar, and was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, at Whitsuntide 1742. He matriculated at Oxford on 19 June 1742, and graduated B.C.L. on 27 Jan. 1751. He was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn on 21 Nov. 1739, and, having been called to the bar in Michaelmas term 1748, joined the Oxford circuit. In Hilary term 1771 he was made a king's counsel, and appointed attorney-general of the duchy of Lancaster. In the same year he became a bencher of his inn. He was returned to the House of Commons for Woodstock at a by-election in January 1771, and continued to represent that borough until his appointment to the exchequer. He opposed the introduction of the Church Nullum Tempus Bill on 17 Feb. 1772 (Parl. Hist. xvii. 303-4), and on 3 April following was appointed second judge on the Chester circuit. He took part on 29 April 1774 in the discussion of the bill for the impartial administration of justice in Massachusetts Bay when he protested against the introduction of appeal for murder into America, and eulogised Blackstone's ‘Commentaries’ as one of the best books ever written upon the laws of this constitution (ib. xvii. 1294-5, 1296). On 12 April 1776 he was elected recorder of Oxford and presented with the freedom of that city. He contributed to the funds of the Bodleian Library (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. of the Univ. of Oxford, 1796, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 949), and (1789) presented a piece of plate to the Oxford corporation.

Skynner was appointed lord chief baron of the exchequer in the place of Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe [q. v.], and received the honour of knighthood on 23 Nov. 1777. On the 27th of the same month he was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law, and was sworn in as lord chief baron (Sir W. Blackstone, Reports, ii. 1178). After presiding in his court with much learning and ability for rather more than nine years, Skynner was compelled to resign, owing to ill-health, in the Christmas vacation of 1786-7 (Durnford and East, Term Reports, i. 551). He was admitted a member of the privy council on 23 March 1787, and retired into the country, living at Great Milton House, which he had inherited from his mother. He died at Bath on 26 Nov. 1805, and was buried in the south aisle of Great Milton church. Skynner married Martha, daughter of Edward Burn and Martha Davie. His wife died on 4 Dec. 1797. Their only child, Martha Frederica, was married, on 1 Aug. 1799, to the Right Hon. Richard Ryder, third son of Nathaniel, first baron Harrowby, and died on 8 Aug. 1821. A portrait, by Gainsborough, was bequeathed in 1832 to Lincoln's Inn by Francis Burton, K.C.; a replica hangs in the hall of Christ Church, Oxford. A letter written by Skynner to Thomas James Mathias, from Bath, and dated 28 Feb. 1799, is among the Add. MSS. in the British Museum (22976, f. 208).
[A few Memorials of the Right Rev. Robert Skinner, bishop of Worcester, 1866, pp. 53-7; Woolrych's Lives of Eminent Serjeants-at-Law of the English Bar, 1869, ii. 530-6; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, viii. 368–9; Wood's History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford, 1786, App. p. 294; Gent. Mag. 1797 ii. 1075, 1805, ii. 1176, 1820 i. 107, 1821 ii. 189, 1832 ii. 572; Annual Register, 1805, p. 512; Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 251, 318, 326, 547, 556; Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886, p. 1305; Lincoln's Inn Registers; Collins's Peerage, 1812, v. 718; Townsend's Calendar of Knights, 1828, p. 54; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 227; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, ii. 141, 154; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890.] From Allan Maclean Skinner's book about Robert Skinner DD, Bishop of Worcester. See Robert Skinner.

Sir John, like his kinsman Matthew, Chief Judge of Chester and Recorder of Oxford, was scholar of St. Peter's College, Westminster, to which be was admitted in 1738, and elected in 1742, student of Christ Church, Oxford; and in January 21, 1750, took his degree, B.C.L. Having been admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn, Nov. 21st, 1739, he was, on Nov. 17, 1748, called to the bar by that Society, and joined the Oxford Circuit; and on the 15th of March, 1757, he was one of the counsel present in Court at the Worcester Assizes, when, between two and three o'clock, p.m., as Sir Eardley Wilmot began to sum up in the last cause, a stack of chimneys fell through the roof, killing many. The counsel then in Court, being five in number, saved themselves under the stout table, and of these, four - Aston, Nares, Ashurst, and Skynner - after became Judges, the fifth (Mr. Griffith Price, afterwards eminent as a Chancery lawyer), dying a King’s Counsel. A graphic account of this is given by the Judge, ancestor of Sir John Eardley Wilmor Bart., now a Judge of County Courts.

“WORCESTER, 15th March, 1757.

I send this by express, on purpose to prevent your being frightened, in consequence of a most terrible accident at this place. Between two and three, as we were trying causes, a stack of chimneys blew upon the top of that part of the Hall where I was sitting, and beat the roof down upon us, but, as I sat up close to the wall, I have escaped without the least hurt. When I saw it begin to yield and open, I despaired of my own life, and the lives of all within the compass of the roof. John Lawes, my clerk, is killed, and the attorney in the cause which was trying is killed, and I am afraid some others. There were many wounded and bruised. It was the most frightful scene I ever beheld. I was just beginning to sum up the evidence, in the cause which was trying, to the Jury, and intending to go immediately after I had finished. Most of the counsel had gone, and they who remained in Court are very little hurt, though they seem to have been in the place of greatest danger. If I am thus miraculously preserved for any good purpose, rejoice at the event, and both you and the little ones will have reason to join me in returning God thanks for this signal deliverance; but if I have escaped, to lose, either my honour, or my virtue, I shall think, and you ought all to concur with me, in thinking, that the escape is the greatest misfortune. I desire you will communicate this to my friends, lest the news of such a tragedy, which fame always magnifies, should affect them with fears for me. Two of the jurymen who were trying the cause were killed, and they are carrying dead and wounded bodies out of the ruins still, &e.

He was, in 1768, elected member for Woodstock, in the parliament which met May 10; and June 19, 1771, became a bencher of Lincoln's Inn, on being made a King’s Counsel. April 3, 1772, he was appointed a Puisne Judge for Chester, Montgomery, Flint, and Denbigh, and was re-elected member for Woodstock. This same year he had the honour of acting as steward at the Westminster Anniversary. At the general election in 1774 he was again elected M.P. for Woodstock, and in 1775 he showed his interest in Herefordshire, which be always cherished, as the original seat of his familly, by subscribing £100 to the Hereford Infirmary, then about to be established. His mother's grandfather, Thomas, in 1644, being on the King's side, accepted the office of Mayor of Oxford, and was Colonel of the townsmen of Oxford, reviewed on Bullingdon Green by Charles I. The influence of the family long continued at Oxford, and Sir John was on April 12, 1776, elected Recorder of Oxford, with the freedom of that city. In the inventory of their corporate plate, article 13, is “a soup tureen, cover, and ladle," on both,
“the gift of the Honourable Sir John Skynner, Recorder of the City, for the use of the Mayor, 1789;” and on each were engraven, as they now appear on the walls of Lincoln’s Inn dining hall, the Skynner arms, on a ground sable a chevron or, three griffins’ heads, argent, erased. He left the Society of Lincoln’s Inn, according to custom, Nov 27, 1777, on taking the degree of Serjeant-at-Law, when his friend, Francis Burton, gave his rings, with the motto “Morem Servare," and December 1st he was made Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and received the bouour of knighthood. In December, 1786, he resigned the office of Lord Chief Baron, and on March 23rd, 1787, he was sworn in, as a member of the Privy Council. On September 8, 1778, he appointed his friend Francis Burton, his deputy, as Recorder of Oxford, and afterwards, May 26, 1797, resigned, by deed, the office of Recorder of Oxford, in favour of his friend Francis Burton, then a Puisne Judge of Chester, &-e., who (having been treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn in 1792), gave to that society, dear to them both, the excellent picture of the Chief Baron, by Gainisborough, bequeathed to him by Sir John, and which now adorns the Parliament room there, in the same spirit, as that, in which the present Earl of Harrowby has recently given to Lincoln's Inn, the portrait of his ancestor Sir Dudley Ryder, as the most appropriate place for its permanent appreciation. He had the honour, as an old Westminster scholar, to be appointed April 17, 1780, one of the trustees of Dr. Busby's charity; he always took great interest in Westminster School, and to the last kept up his friendship for his old school-fellow Sir Elijah Impey. After he had resigned the office of Lord Chief Baron, he retired to the seat he inherited from his mother, Witley Court, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, which he enlarged and beautified, enjoying frequently the society of his old friend and brother Judge, Ashurst, who resided at Waterstock, the adjoining parish. On her monument in Milton church, we find that Martha, wife of Sir John Skynner, and daughter of Edward Burn and Martha Davie, died December 4, 1797. It may be pleasing to those who think that the education of eminent men is most frequently conducted by their mothers, to direct attention to the fact, that his father died when he was five years old. Sir John died at Bath, aged 82, and was buried in the vault of his mother's family, in the church of Great Milton, where, on a plate over his grave, is written:

In a vault beneath
lie the remains of Sir John Skynner,
son of John and Elizabeth Skynner,
one of His Majesty's
Most Honorable Privy Council,
and sometime
Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer,
who died the 26th day of November, 1805.

His only child, Martha Frederica, was married, by special license, at Lambeth Palace, August 1st, l799, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, (who was connected with the Skynner family, by the marriage of his sister Jane (who died April 29th, 1799) with his old College friend, and Sir John's cousin, the Rev. William Skynner, M.A., of Pembroke College, Oxford, (son of William Skynner, of Oriel College, Oxford, M.A., Rector of Sherston, Wilts), Prebendary of Hereford, Rector of Brasted, Kent, and of Eastnor, Herefordshire, and Chaplain to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, dying May 15th, 1795, in the 68th year of his age, was buried at Hampton Bishop, Herefordshire,) to the Right Honorable Richard Ryder, M.P. for Tiverton, and brother of the Earl of Harrowby, she having, as announced by the Annual Register, according to the quaint fashion of that day, £100,000 for her fortune. She died August 8th, 1821.

It would appear,.by a brass plate in the south aisle of Great Milton Church, that a brother and sister of the Judge are buried with him.

In a vault beneath
lie the remains of William Skynner, Esq.,
son of John and Elizabeth Skynner,
he died the first day of July, 1797

Also of
Elizabeth Skynner, daughter of
John and Elizabeth Skynner, died the
14th, day of October, 1802

His brother, the Rev. Thomas Skynner, who was born at Great Milton, and baptized there January 17th, 1727, admitted scholar of St. Peter's College, Westminster, in 1742, aged 14; elected to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, 1746; published, in 175 I, some latin hexameters among the academical lamentations on the death of Frederick Prince of Wales; M.A., 1753, Prependary of Exeter Cathedral, 1768, Canon Residentiary of Exeter and Archdeacon of Totness, 1769, D.C.L. March 7th, 1772, Precentor of Exeter, 1775; he was also Rector of Pinhoe, Devon; he was Steward of the Westminster Anniversary in 1784. On his death, he had a monument, in the south aisle of Exeter Cathedral, with this inscription-

Near this place rest interred the remains
of Thomas Skinner D.D,,
successively A.D. of Totness,
and Precentor of this Church,
whose honor and interests
he was always zealous to promote;
to the calls of Charity, or public spirit,
his purse was never shut;
at every place of duty,
hid attendance was regular and exemplary,
even when ill health might have pleaded a dispensation;
to his houses a munificent benefactor,
the one he re-built from the ground,
and added to the ornaments and convenience of the other:
at length, lamented by all, he closed a valuable life
in his 61st year, August 7, 1789.

Sir John was descended from Stephen Skynner, of Le Byrtons, near Ledbury, eldest brother of Thomas, the Bishop's Grandfather, - which Stephen is the ancestor, of numerous other branches, of the family of Skynner, of Ledbury. His burial at Ledbury, Sept. 14th, 1557, is one of the earliest entries in the eldest resister of that church; and his will, an antiquarian curiosity, is preserved in Cardinal Pole's register, now in the library at Lambeth Palace, where it was proved November 27th, 1557, the See of Hereford being vacant, and the Bishop's there closed, by reason of the death of Bishop Purefoy.
  • 1723 - Birth -
  • 26 NOV 1805 - Death - ; Bath
  • 1738 - Fact -
  • 1742 - Fact -
  • 17 NOV 1748 - Fact -
  • 15 MAR 1757 - Fact -
  • 1768 - Fact -
  • 19 JUN 1771 - Fact -
  • 3 APR 1772 - Fact -
  • 1774 - Fact -
  • 12 APR 1776 - Fact -
Edward Skynner
1634 - 1672
Margaret Browne
- 18 MAY 1729
John Skynner , Sir
1723 - 26 NOV 1805
John Smythe
- 8 JUN 1764
Elizabeth Smythe
1694 - 18 MAY 1769
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) John Skynner
Marriageto Elizabeth Smythe
FatherEdward Skynner
MotherMargaret Browne
PARENT (F) Elizabeth Smythe
Death18 MAY 1769
Marriageto John Skynner
FatherJohn Smythe
MotherElizabeth Gundry
MJohn Skynner , Sir
Death26 NOV 1805Bath
Marriageto Martha Burn
MWilliam Skynner
Death1 JUL 1797
FElizabeth Skynner
Death14 OCT 1802
MThomas Skynner , DD
Birth17 JAN 1727(Date of baptism) in Great Milton
Death7 AUG 1789South aisle of Exeter Cathedral
Family Group Sheet - Spouse
PARENT (M) John Skynner , Sir
Death26 NOV 1805 Bath
Marriageto Martha Burn
FatherJohn Skynner
MotherElizabeth Smythe
PARENT (F) Martha Burn
Death4 DEC 1797
Marriageto John Skynner , Sir
FatherEdward Burn
MotherMartha Davie
FMartha Frederica Skynner
Death8 AUG 1821
Marriageto Richard Ryder
[S6627] 'A Few Memorials of the Right Rev. Robert Skinner, D.D., Bishop of Worcester, 1663.....'
Descendancy Chart
John Skynner , Sir b: 1723 d: 26 NOV 1805
Martha Burn d: 4 DEC 1797
Martha Frederica Skynner d: 8 AUG 1821