A piece of English legal history is at risk of leaving the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the £56,250 auction price for the copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover owned by the judge at the 1960 obscenity trial - complete with annotations by the judge's wife.
The copy was owned by Sir Laurence Byrne, who presided over the trial which famously ushered in the permissive society. It contains annotations and two pages of notes with a list of page numbers with short content summaries. The principal hand is that of Byrne’s wife Dorothy, who had studied the book and prepared a list of the pages she had annotated. Later notes have been made by the judge himself during the trial.
Dorothy Byrne also sewed a blue-grey fabric bag for her husband to carry the book to and from court.
Lady Chatterley, DH Lawrence's last book, was published to test the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, which introduced a 'literary merit' defence. After Penguin Books' acquittal it quickly sold three million copies. Sir Laurence Byrne's copy was sold to an anonymous online bidder in October last year. Today the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest said the departure of the book from the UK would be a misfortune because of its close connection to our history and national life.
The committee chairman deferred a decision on whether to grant an export licence until 9 August.
Committee chairman Sir Hayden Phillips, said: 'The prosecution of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most important criminal trials of the 20th century. Judge Byrne’s copy of the novel, annotated by him and his wife, may be the last surviving contemporary "witness" who took part in the proceedings.'
Arts minister Michael Ellis said: 'I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this important part of our nation’s history in the UK.'