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Professor Angus Hornby 1922-2009

Professor Angus Hornby

Professor Angus Hornby

8 October 2009

We regret to announce that Emeritus Professor Angus Hornby died on Sunday 4 October at the age of 87. Professor Hornby held a Chair of Law in the then Faculty of Law at the University of Bristol from 1961 until his retirement in 1985.

Angus Hornby, who died on 4 October, was a Professor of Law at the University of Bristol from 1961 until 1985 and was, on three separate occasions, Dean of the Bristol Faculty of Law.

It seems odd, but those who are by nature conservative, often end up by presiding over change.  So it was for Angus Hornby.  The Law Faculty at Bristol had been founded in 1933, but there had been a significant decline in student numbers during the war years and there were no graduations at all in the years 1942, 1943, 1946 and 1947.  Even during the late 1950s, the University of Bristol had only just over 40 law graduates per year.  Angus Hornby’s arrival in Bristol coincided with a period of significant expansion. During the 1960s the number of students entering the Bristol Faculty more than doubled while, at the same time, the status of the Faculty as a School ‘approved’ by the Law Society for the instruction of articled clerks was terminated.  In other words, the University was both expanding its provision in Law and, simultaneously, setting itself free from the oversight of the bodies concerned with the practising profession.  A period of radical change began in 1962, a year after Hornby’s arrival, and at a time when he took over the role of Dean for the first time.  As one of Angus Hornby’s subordinates, himself later to be the head of another law school founded in the 1960s, wrote “the increase in student numbers was matched by the greatly improved quality of the intake.  Whatever may be true in other subjects, in law quite clearly more meant better.  The problem of the undergraduate-articled clerk faded away.  Academic appointments became generally full-time and there were many more of them.”   By the time of Angus Hornby’s retirement, Bristol’s Faculty of Law was three times the size it had been when he arrived and its size, like that of many other English law schools, has continued to increase significantly since his retirement.

Angus Hornby did not only preside over expansion.  He represented a new kind of university law teacher.  Before his time, university professors of law, outside Oxford, Cambridge and London, had almost all been administrators as opposed to scholars.  By the time he retired, that had changed completely; and he was one of those who oversaw the change.  Malcolm Lewis, who ran the Bristol Law Faculty from 1933 until his untimely death in 1955, and Archie Coutts, who overlapped with Lewis and then with Hornby, were both administrators.  Those who became professors during Hornby’s time in Bristol  –  Philip Pettit, Michael Furmston and Stephen Cretney  –  were all major scholars (even if  effective administrators too). 

James Angus Hornby was born on 15 August 1922, a twin son of James and Evelyn Hornby.  His parents had met at the end of the First World War, when his mother nursed his badly-wounded father back to health.  His mother was from Scotland, hence the Christian name by which he was always known, but his father came from the North-West and he was brought up near Manchester.   As a young boy he underwent treatment for a problem with his hearing, but something went wrong and he was left profoundly deaf.  It was a handicap of which he never complained and which he appeared to bear lightly, but there is little doubt that, as with many other deaf people, he suffered a degree of isolation.  He was educated at Bolton County Grammar School and then went on to Christ’s College Cambridge where he spent the war years.  He took his BA in 1944, the LLB in 1945, was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1947, and then took his MA in 1948.  The particular associations of Cambridge colleges have varied over the years.  In those days, Christ’s appeared to have a link with the North.  This was before it became the rugger players’ college, and then an academic hothouse.  Angus’s brother Alistair, from whom in childhood he had always been inseparable, also went to Christ’s; their sister, Eileen, went to Newnham.  For three children from their background in the North all to have made it to Cambridge in those days was no mean achievement.

It seems that Angus had originally thought of undertaking practice at the Chancery Bar, and he did spend a short time in chambers, but his hearing was an impediment and in 1947 he was appointed to a lectureship at Manchester.  He remained there until he was offered the Chair at Bristol.  While he was at Manchester he served under Harry Street, one of those who pioneered the spread of scholarship in English provincial law schools. Hornby’s publications were all in the general area of Chancery.  His book “An Introduction to Company Law” appeared in five editions between 1957 and 1975 and his 1962 article in the LQR on “Covenants in Favour of Volunteers” is still an authoritative exposition of what remains a highly technical, if now somewhat old fashioned, topic.

In spite of his deafness, Angus loved music.  It was one of his passions and it was a matter of regret that, in his final years, his hearing deteriorated to the point where he found difficulty in listening to recordings of works he had always loved.  His other interests were walking, particularly in the Lakes and the Alps, chess, and, when he was younger, cricket and golf.  The greatest misfortune he suffered at the time of his retirement was the death of the brother in whose company he had hoped, and expected, to pass most of his leisure time.  Towards the end of his life he suffered a fall in which he injured his hip and, after that, his mobility was reduced.  But he spent his final years in an Anglican retirement home in Bristol where he was well looked after, was very happy and could lead the orderly life which he always prized.  He cared little for personal possessions, spent almost nothing on himself, and, on his death, left significant gifts to charity.  His was a life well spent.

The obituary, provided by Professor Roger Kerridge from the University's School of Law, was first published in The Times on 9 November 2009.



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