Field, William Ventris (DNB12)
FIELD, Sir WILLIAM VENTRIS, Baron Field of Bakeham (1813–1907) judge, born at Fielden, Bedfordshire, on 21 Aug. 1813, was second son of Thomas Flint Field of that place. After education at Burton grammar school he was articled to Messrs. Terrell, Barton & Smale, solicitors, of Exeter, his articles being subsequently transferred to Messrs. Piere & Bolton of Lincoln's Inn. In 1843 he became a member of the firm of Thompson, Debenham & Field, Salters' Hall Court, E.C. Having entered as a student at the Middle Temple on 15 Nov. 1843, and transferred himself on 17 Jan. 1846 to the Inner Temple, he practised as a special pleader from 1847 to 1850, and in the latter year was called to the bar. He first travelled the western circuit, where he enjoyed the friendship of John Duke (afterwards Lord) Coleridge [q. v. Suppl. I], but soon exchanged this for the Midland circuit. He was quickly recognised as a sound and painstaking lawyer, and obtained a large junior practice, chiefly of the kind known as commercial. Among his pupils at the bar was Sir James Fitzjames Stephen [q. v.], afterwards his colleague on the bench. In February 1804 he was appointed a queen's counsel, and in April of the same year was elected a bencher of his inn. He enjoyed for the next nine years a 'steady and lucrative' practice, and became the recognised leader of his circuit, though his name was not widely known to the general public.
In February 1875, upon the retirement from the bench of Mr, Justice Keating, Field and the transfer to the court of common pleas of Mr. Justice Archibald, Field was appointed by Lord Cairns to fill the consequent vacancy in the court of queen's bench. He was the last judge appointed to that ancient tribunal, which six months later became a division of the high court of justice, itself a part of the supreme court of judicature. He was also nearly the last person to be made a serjeant-at-law, and he was, like other judges in the same situation, re-admitted to the bench of his own inn when Serjeants' Inn was dissolved in 1876.
As a judge Field showed great learning, a keen and vigorous intellect, and a somewhat irascible temper, which was due to, or was stimulated by, a chronic disorder described by himself as a general irritation of the mucous membrane. But he never allowed physical inconvenience to interfere with the thoroughness of his work. In his later years he also suffered from increasing deafness, and as he insisted upon hearing everytliing that was said, proceedings before him usually lasted longer than his impetuous nature would have permitted in more favourable circumstances. His hastiness of manner occasionally involved him in warm controversy with counsel, but he showed no subsequent resentment.
Field had his share in the trial of important litigation. He decided in favour of the plaintiff in the first instance the remarkable case of Dobbs v. the Grand Junction Waterworks Co., and his judgment was ultimately confirmed by the House of Lords, which decided that houses were to be rated for water on the rated not the gross value; the successful litigant conducted his case personally against a great array of professional talent (Nov. 1883). The great licensing case of Sharpe v. Wakefield was also originally tried by Field. And in Dalton V. Angus, which decides the right of the owner of land to the 'lateral support' of his neighbour's land, the judgment of the House of Lords was in accordance with Field's answers to the questions which the peers had submitted to the judges.
In 1890 Field retired from the bench, taking leave of the profession in the chief justice's court. He was sworn of the privy council, and on 10 April was created a peer by the title of Baron Field of Bakeham near Staines, Middlesex. During the next two years he sat fairly often in the House of Lords, and with Lord Bramwell [q. v. Suppl. I] he differed in 1891 from the majority in the important case of the Bank of England V. Vagliano [see Lidderdale, William, Suppl. II]. His closing years were passed principally at Bognor, and he died there on 22 Jan. 1907, and was buried in a family vault at Virginia Water. Field married in 1864 Louisa, daughter of John Smith, who died on 24 May 1880 without issue.
A caricature by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1887.
[The Times, 24 Jan. 1907; Foster's Men at the Bar; Who's Who, 1901; personal recollections.]