I’m off to visit my old alma mater. Actually, I did not know it was my alma mater until I had a telephone call inviting me. I had always thought the AM was Hull where, in middle age, I took a masters in criminology – but no, the call was from the University of Law. 

Morton landscape

James Morton

I protested I had not been there. Surely, even I would remember that? And, no, I had not even been to the College of Law. But I had been to Gibson and Weldon, which apparently made me one of the oldest living graduates.

Over the years, Gibsons had moved up in the world from when it was a crammers for failures. I had never thought I had ‘graduated’, merely passed, but it is a sign of the times that everything now has a grand title and a petrol pump attendant has become the ‘junior executive for an international oil company’. (No, that’s not me writing. It is John Gregory Dunne in True Confessions, when the lawyer’s daughter becomes pregnant and the bridegroom has to be given some status uplift before the wedding.)

In my day, Gibsons did not even have the cachet of the School of Law. There, in a morning, you passed the rows of what were then known as ‘working girls’ in the Bayswater Road, under the control of a man whom the journalist Duncan Webb described as the ‘most evil in London’.

Back then, Chancery Lane was even seedier. Fine at the Law Society Hall’s end, but as one progressed up the street, down went the area. Gibsons was in a dingy basement about a third of the way up on the right. I went there after my fourth failure in the finals. Maybe it was the third failure. As the years go by I knock failures off my CV, so soon I shall have passed at the first attempt.

I was asked by the AM for my recollections of the place and who was the most inspiring person I met. The answer is that it was a man whose girlfriend wore harlequin shoes. I was on crutches at the time and he carried my books. The pair wanted me to go to Cheltenham races with them one day but, perhaps foolishly, I declined and went to the matrimonial law lecture instead.


James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor