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OLD LAW HANDS


From Court Hand Restored, by Andrew Wright of the Inner Temple, first published in 1776; a convenient reference combining a number of hands in one place -- no need to leaf through pages of separate alphabets.   A larger version is available.

Chart showing letters 'A' through 'R' compiled from various old alphabets Chart showing letters 'S' through 'Z' compiled from various old alphabets


In the 1773 forward to his work Andrew Wright makes a case for studying the old law hands, which at the time were still in memory but rapidly fading with the passing of older practitioners.  His words are reminiscent of advice for genealogists and historians today.

One could practice law without knowing the old hands, he says, but Courts require the best evidence and often the best available is the original document.  He suggests that such knowledge would also benefit 'gentlemen of liberal education and large property' in the preservation of lands, manors, etc. from 'encroachment by designing men,' as it would the learned historian who should 'not depend entirely upon the Copying Clerk, who might, by an error in transcribing lose the true meaning of the original...'.  He continues:

Many young gentlemen of the Law, whose studies are much interrupted by large fortunes, and perhaps a natural gaiety of disposition, will, I make no doubt, in order to palliate their inattention to the knowledge now contended for, say, that numbers of the Records in the kingdom have been copied into the Works of many learned men, and therefore are as good evidence as the originals; in this I must beg to disagree...

and he cites cases in which the Courts rejected as evidence citations from such great works as Camden's Britannia, and Dugdale's Baronage and Monasticon , in one instance quoting '...the Court was of opinion that a general History was not sufficient to prove a particular right or custom.'

As an aid to studying the old hands, therefore, Wright developed his early handbook for paleography. His 'general alphabet' above is designed for convenient viewing of a number of alphabets at once rather than requiring the user to leaf through a series of separate plates.  It is not intended to be comprehensive.


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