Pioneering female academics and Polish ‘soldier students’ feature in book celebrating law in Dundee

Robin White

Pioneering female academics and Polish ‘soldier students’ are among those who feature in a new book celebrating the teaching of law in Dundee.

Dundee Law 1865-1967: The Development of a Law School in a Time of Change, is published by the Abertay Historical Society and written by Robin M White, a former senior lecturer in law and currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Dundee.

Dundee Law begins with the earliest recorded classes in the 1860s before looking at the development of formal teaching with the founding of University College Dundee in the 1880s and its subsequent affiliation to the University of St Andrews.

It explores the various people instrumental in initiating and delivering law teaching as well as details on the students, and how numbers and gender balance changed up to the point when Dundee became an independent university in 1967.

“I hope the book will appeal not just to those interested in the history of the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews, but also to local historians and to legal historians generally,” said Robin. “In researching this book I came across many fascinating characters, incidents and tales that tell the rich history of Law teaching in Dundee,” said Mr White.

As he outlines in the book, the first recorded law lectures in Dundee took place in 1867 and were driven by law apprentices and clerks who sought access to better professional training. They formed a Law Clerks and Apprentices Society with the local Sheriff (then Sheriff Heriot) as honorary president. One of the most important people involved in those early days was Sir Thomas Thornton, solicitor and town clerk, who financed some of the early lecture series.

Among the notable developments to take place over the next century was the appointment in 1939 of Christian Bisset, later Mrs Tudhope, as a lecturer in evidence and procedure, making her the first female law academic in Scotland, and possibly the UK.

Her students included members of the Polish Armed Forces who escaped their home country after the German and Russian invasions in 1939 and were formed into military units in or near Dundee. By arrangement, some of those who had been attending university in Poland were allowed to continue their studies and six graduated from the ‘Polish Law School’ in Dundee – Jozef Bieszczad, Ryszard Wrobel, Edgar Roll, Wladyslaw Chlebowski, Bronislaw Piotrowski, and Czeslaw Sercukzewski.

Prominent Dundee law graduates include several Scottish judges, including Lord Turnbull, Lord Malcolm, Lord Burns, Lord Summers, the late Lord Jones and, until her recent retiral, Lady Clark.

Tim Eicke, the current UK Judge in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, and Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir, a judge at the Old Bailey are also Dundee alumni.