Lord Hardwicke in a bin, 290 years too late.
Hardwicke Chambers is rebranding itself as Gatehouse Chambers because of its discomfort at being named after an advocate of the slave trade.
Several law firms and chambers were targeted during the Black Lives Matter protests for their historic links to slavery, including Hardwicke Chambers.
It had the misfortune of having taken its name from the building in which it was founded in 1991, which had in turn been named for Lord Hardwicke, an 18th century Lord Chancellor who co-authored an opinion in 1729 which provided slave owners with a legal justification for keeping people as chattels.
“The discovery of the provenance of our business’ name did not sit comfortably with our values as an organisation", said Brie Stevens-Hoare QC, Hardwicke's Joint Head of Chambers.
And so last summer its members decided to pick a new name "signifying strength and trustworthiness, but also access to new adventures and opportunities": Gatehouse Chambers.
A gatehouse is traditionally the most heavily armed part of a fortification because, as an entranceway, it is especially vulnerable to enemy attack. It means Hardwicke's new name fittingly evokes a barrister protecting her client where he is weakest, and pouring boiling oil over the other side if they walk under a murder hole.
PJ Kirby QC, the Joint Head of Hardwicke, insisted, "It’s not about paying lip service to this issue but truly living out these values and that’s why changing our name was an important decision for us".
However, Hardwicke’s decision sets an awkward precedent for other businesses in the sector tainted by historic links to slavery.
Farrer & Co is named after Oliver Farrer, a founding partner who helped slave owners in Jamaica claim fortunes in compensation when slave labour was abolished in the British colonies in the 19th century.
And while Freshfields founder James Freshfield was a member of the pro-abolition Church Missionary Society, he also acted for slave owners from the Caribbean.
Neither firm would tell RollOnFriday if they now intended to erase all mention of their problematic partners, and Amanda Illing, Gatehouse’s Chief Executive, said it wasn’t for her set to pontificate on the right approach.
“It’s very difficult for us to comment on what other firms should be doing”, she told RollOnFriday. “All I can talk about is the reasoning behind our decision to rename and what it meant for us. The Hardwicke name didn’t fit with our ethos, values and who we are as an organisation and it was time for a change.”