A broken commercial contract, a High Court judgement, the purchase of woodlands with disputed access; and back to the High Court again, this time The Chancery Division, all within about 10 years.
The court hearing ran for around 10 days before His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC. My side brought into the action two more parties who owned other land over which the ancient roadway ran. Better to sort out the whole issue once and for all. There were lawyers everywhere. One or two solicitors for each party, a barrister and his pupil. It was clearly going to be an expensive, though interesting, occasion.
There were many highlights in the hearing. One of the regular users of the roadway was a certain ‘Dad’ or ‘Pop’ Redding. He was a handyman who did odd jobs locally with his horse and high-sided pig cart. I had taken a bus load of interested locals, who had supported me, to court for one day to hear the evidence on their road. Dave, from one of the long-standing Bellingdon families and another handyman, is now in the witness box. He takes up the story (and I edit), eagerly awaited by his friends and neighbours.
Courts are not like Perry Mason scenarios. The barrister asks the question and the witness advises the judge on the answer. The barrister asks about ‘Dad’ Redding. Dave hesitates, turns to look at his friends and blushes a bright crimson: “I work with my hands, not my head Your Honour”. Take your time, Mr. David” replies His Honour Judge Paul Baker. “Well, Dad Redding was the local handyman with a pig cart who did odd jobs for local people like moving things. When he had finished what he had to do and had a few pounds in his pockets, he would often drive down Ramscoat Lane to Chesham to go to the pub. I think it was where The Cricketers now is and there was a horse trough outside. Well, he would stop the horse and go into the pub. The horse would turn itself round in the street all on its own and wait for him outside. And when closing time came, he would come out to go home. When I say ‘come out’, he wouldn’t just come out, he would be carried out. He would be carried out, Your Honour, because he could not walk Your Honour. He was carried out, and I don’t know quite how to say this, Sir, because he was…because he was…pissed Your Honour. (Ho ho ho went the assembled audience of locals). The people then would slap the horse on the rump and the horse would take him all the way back up Ramscoat Lane and home.” Dave, as a kid then with his friends, would see the driverless cart coming up through the woods and tie the horse to a tree for a joke. So when Dad Redding came round, he would have a clue where he was.
Over the days, evidence was gathered, barristers argued points of law and precedent; and expert witness said their piece. On Tuesday, 18 July, 1989, His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC delivered his judgement. We had run our course. It was gripping stuff siting there quietly as he went through each item of consideration. It took him until page 35 to deliver those magic words: “Viewing all the evidence I find this an ancient vehicular highway used (from 1189 and…?ed) from time immemorial along the line of Ramscote Lane”.
I was told that this was the first time in English judicial history that a roadway open to all traffic had been ‘proved’ in an English Court of Law. I suspect I have a lot to owe Dad Redding for this. I should also add that almost within the next week all the neighbouring fences that had been blocking my other rights of way had been mysteriously moved.
The Judgement of His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC is attached (50 pages) -