Catalogue ReferenceD/EX1410
TitleLegal and personal papers of Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795-1854), judge and writer.
RepositoryBerkshire Record Office (code: GB 005)
Extent45 vols, 1 bdl
Admin HistoryThomas Noon Talfourd was born in Reading on 26 May 1795, and baptised at Broad Street Independent Chapel on 12 July 1795.
He was the son of Edward Talfourd, a Reading brewer, and grandson of the Revd. Thomas Noon, minister of Broad Street Chapel, 1764-1796. He was educated at Mr Church's school, Chain Lane, Reading, from 1799 to c.1805, at the recently founded Mill Hill school for dissenters, 1808-1810, and at Reading Grammar School, 1810-1812, where contemporaries were later to recall him as a dull, stupid boy (see D/EX 1432/1/5). He then studied law with Joseph Chitty between 1813 and 1817. Talfourd was called to the bar in 1821, at the same time working as legal reporter on the Oxford Circuit for the Times, in order to supplement his income (he had married in 1822 after a seven-year engagement). The Law Magazine, in its obituary, described Talfourd 'a sound rather than a first-rate lawyer', at his best when sympathising with his client's cause. He became a serjeant-at-law in 1833, and was elevated to the bench in the court of common pleas in July 1849.
Talfourd was elected MP for Reading in 1835 and 1837, lost his seat in 1841, but was reelected in 1847. His principal achievement in Parliament was the introduction and passage of a bill concerning the custody of infants; he also introduced an early copyright bill in 1837. Thomas Noon Talfourd's other claim to fame was as a writer. His first publication in 1811, when he was still a schoolboy, consisted of a volume of didactic poetry, and he wrote a number of tragedies, the most celebrated being Ion. As a child, he had been forbidden to see Shakespeare plays, perhaps due to his parents' religious beliefs. He was a friend of Coleridge, Godwin and Hazlitt, and particularly of Charles Lamb, whose executor he was. Talfourd was responsible for publishing Lamb's letters and memorials. He was also a great admirer of Wordsworth. In the years before his call to the bar, Talfourd supported himself largely by writing literary and theatrical criticism, and pamphlets on various subjects including the punishment of the pillory, which he believed he was instrumental in abolishing.
He died suddenly of an apoplexy at Stafford on 13 March 1854 while addressing the jury on the subject of the estrangement of the classes in English society. He was buried in Norwood Cemetery, London. Portraits of him are to be found in the National Portrait Gallery and Reading Council chamber. The papers deposited here consist principally of Talfourd's notes on cases he heard as a judge at various criminal and nisi prius proceedings at Assize courts and the Old Bailey, and hearings in banc.
The notebooks' principal difficulty for the researcher is the handwriting, which was clearly done at speed - many witnesses' depositions are reproduced more or less verbatim. To assst with this difficulty, calendars of the cases heard have been compiled and appear here under the relevant notebooks. The criminal cases heard included rape, murder, manslaughter, burglary, housebreaking, robbery, theft, assault, infanticide, arson and bestiality. Talfourd's most famous case as a judge was probably that of Robert Pate, sentenced to 2 years imprisonment at the Old Bailey in July 1850 for attacking Queen Victoria in the street. The most tragic was that of Ann Good of Wallingford, tried at Reading Assizes in March 1853 for cutting off the head of her newborn child. (She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.)
AcquisitionTransferred in October 1996 (acc. 5905)
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