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Hamson, Charles John Joseph, 1905–1987 (jurist and known as Jack)



Charles Hamson was born in Constantinople on 23 November 1905, the fourth child and elder son in the family of two sons and four daughters of Charles Edward Hamson, vice-consul in the Levant service, and his wife, Thérèse Boudon, whose father was a French architect–engineer engaged in building lighthouses in the Bosphorus. He was at school at Downside, and in 1924 entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a scholar, and read for the classical tripos, obtaining first classes in both Part I (1925) and Part II (1927). He then turned to law, first in Cambridge, where he later won the Yorke prize (1932), and obtained the LLB (1934) and LLM (1935), and then at Harvard, as Davison scholar in 1928–29. Despite a visibly bad eye, he fenced at Cambridge, and was captain of the university épée team in 1928. Hamson began teaching at University College, London, but in 1932 he returned to Cambridge as assistant lecturer, where, the war years apart, he spent the rest of his life as a fellow of Trinity, as university lecturer (1934) and then first reader (1949) and later professor (1953–73) of comparative law. In 1933 he married Isabella, daughter of Duncan Drummond, farmer, of Auchterarder, and his wife, Grace Gardiner; they had one daughter. For twenty years from 1955 to 1974 he edited the 'Cambridge Law Journal' and served on many university administrative bodies. He was chairman of the law faculty from 1954 to 1957 and was elected honorary fellow of St Edmund's House in 1976. Hamson became an internationally recognized authority on comparative as well as common law, serving as secretary for the United Kingdom National Committee for Comparative Law and assistant secretary for the Bureau of the International Committee of Comparative Law, and president of the International Academy of Comparative Law from 1966 to 1979, correspondent of the Institut de France from 1961, and visiting professor in numerous universities overseas. His services to the study of comparative law, and particularly the laws of England and France, were acknowledged by the award of honorary doctorates by seven foreign universities as well as by his designation as a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. He received the extreme compliment of a translation into French of his book 'Pouvoir Discrétionnaire et Controle Juridictionnel de l’Aministration' on the French conseil d'état. Hamson was called to the bar by Gray's Inn in 1937. Though not a practitioner, he became a bencher in 1956 and, unusually for an academic, treasurer in 1975, when he was also appointed Queen’s Counsel. At the outset of the Second World War, Hamson volunteered for service, sending his wife and young daughter to the United States. Seconded to the Special Operations Executive, he was sent to Crete to plan clandestine operations and prepare for resistance in the event of a German invasion. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Germany from 1941–45 where he resumed his vocation by teaching law to his fellow prisoners, at first without the aid of any books. While a prisoner he wrote a manuscript which is part personal history of the Cretan misadventure, part reminiscence, but in the main an analysis, in philosophical mood, of his understanding of himself and his own state of mind. This document, which remained virtually unknown until his death, was published by Trinity College in 1989 under the title 'Liber in vinculis'. Hamson’s published work appears mainly in the form of articles or shorter notes but the volume of his publications is relatively small. However, he is remembered as a gifted speaker, not only in the classroom, but at national and international gatherings and delivering talks on BBC radio. Hamson contributed to several BBC radio series of which 'Law in Action' was the most significant. He was appointed by the BBC to serve on an advisory committee to supervise the series and also contributed many talks during his long association with the programme. Hamson was a Roman Catholic, and a deeply religious man. He was a member of the Cambridge University Catholic Association (CUCA) from 1964 to 1976 and was appointed president in March 1965 but resigned shortly afterwards over his disagreement with Alfred Gilbey, the University chaplain, on Gilbey’s continuing support for the maintenance of separate Catholic chaplaincies for men and women. Hamson’s wife died in 1978, and he returned to live in Trinity where he died on 14 November 1987. Source: J. A. Jolowicz, 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'; personal papers

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


The Papers of Charles Hamson

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.9957
Scope and Contents

The collection principally consists of draft texts, offprints and correspondence relating to articles, lectures and broadcasts delivered by Hamson. Some correspondence, most of which concerns various honours and offices held, is also included, together with a small number of items relating to Hamson’s school and university education.

Dates: 1921 - 1989
Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for researchers using Cambridge University Library. Some items of personal correspondence have been closed.