Mingay History Web Pages (MHWP)




This is quite an interesting document and comment on both the man and his work by a critic of the times.  The portrait is now in Boston USA and is worth a fortune.  Shame we can't get it back really.

There is a lot more information on Thetford and the Mingays, I hope to include it soon.

The portrait of James now hangs in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, US

"Since so well, with one arm, Mingay handles a cause,

How great, had he two, must have been his applause."

James' Will The Mingay Chandelier Thetford & Thomas Paine The Romney Portraits










Canvas, 50 by 40 inches


 HE career of James Mingay, K.C., whose splendid portrait by George Romney has done so much to perpetuate and to preserve his memory, forms one of the romances of the legal profession in thiscountry. Mingay‘s career has also a literary interest, for he is immortalized in Charles Lamb’s essay on "The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple," which was first published in the London Magazine of September 1821. For many years he was one of the most prominent men in England, particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk. There were published many memoirs of him, and after his death quite a crop of obituaries, though a full-length Life of this remarkable man has yet to be written. But the story will have to be pieced together from data gathered from very many sources, particularly from the newspapers of London and elsewhere. Not all of the stories, perhaps, would be authentic or flattering, for Mingay did not become an eminent lawyer without creating enemies. T. J. Mathias, in his Pursuits of Literature, refers to him as being "the glory of his gown".

Thetford, Norfolk, where he was born on 9th March I 752, is one of the most ancient, and, in early periods, one of the most important settlements in the eastern counties, and was a chief residence of the East Anglian kings. Mingay was educated at the Grammar School there, and this dates back to 1566. Other celebrities first saw light at Thetford, notably Chief Justice Wright, the President at the trial of the Seven Bishops—he died in Newgate and was buried with felons. Even more famous than Wright and Mingay, Tom Paine, the author of "The Age of Reason", and one of the leading figures in the establishment of the United States, was born here in 1737, only fifteen years before Mingay, who may have known this notorious man in early life. Mingay’s father was a surgeon, and both his parents seem to have been possessed of property. His tutor at the Grammar School was a Mr. Galloway*. From Thetford he went to Cambridge, entering Trinity College on 29th November 1768; his tutor here being Richard Watson, afterwards Bishop of Llandaff, who, in after years, also sat to Romney for his portrait. His progress in his studies must have been remarkable, for in 1770,when only eighteen years of age, he entered at the Inner Temple, and was called to the Bar in 1775.

He selected the Norfolk Circuit and soon had a considerable

*See note below

Dear Mr Mingay,
I have looked at the Roll of Headmasters and your ancestor's teacher was John Cole Gallaway (not Galloway - but that could be our carver's error when the board was put up in the thirties.) who was in charge from 1764 to 1778.
Yours sincerely,
David Seymour,
Head of History

Thetford Grammar School (21/05/07)



share of work, both in London and at Sessions. Even at the Bar he was conspicuous among his contemporaries for cool assurance; he is described as commanding in figure and confident in manner; prompt, clear in speech, and conspicuous for readiness and adroitness in cross-examination. In his profession Mingay was second only to Erskine, who dreaded him more than any other competitor, and they were usually pitted against one another.

Early in life, the exact date and the precise cause do not seem to be known, he suffered a serious handicap in losing his right arm, and this was in part supplied by a grappling hook, which, Charles Lamb tells us, "he wielded with a tolerable adroitness," and concerning which another wit wrote:


"Since so well, with one arm, Mingay handles a cause,

How great, had he two, must have been his applause."


Mingay’s career as a lawyer was rapid. In I784, when only thirty-two years of age, he was created King’s Counsel, and four years later he became Recorder of Aldeburgh, in Suffolk, a small seaport and fishing station which, until the Reform Act, returned two members of Parliament, and is "The Borough" of the poet Crabbe, who was born here in 1774. He became a Bencher of his Inn in 1785, was Reader in 1790, and Treasurer in 1791. James Mingay was elected Mayor of Thetford three times, 1798-1804; and it was in 1798, during his Mayoralty, that the Freedom of the Borough was conferred on Lord Nelson, who was born a few miles away. For many years he was Chairman of Quarter Sessions of Norfolk and Suffolk, and was thus a very prominent personage in public affairs in both counties. Mingay died at Ashfield Lodge, Great Ashfield, Suffolk, and was buried in the family vault at Thetford, being somewhat quaintly described as: "James Mingay, married man, aged 62." His wife was Eliza Corrall of Maid-stone, and she died on 1st February 1817. They had no children, and most of their property passed to their nephews and other near relatives. In his essay already named, Charles Lamb described him as "a blustering, loud-talking person, and tells us that he detected the substitute for the arm "before I was old enough to reason whether it were artificial or not. I remember the astonishment it raised in me."

Romney painted the portraits of both James Mingay and his wife in 1786-7; and a list of the various sittings will be found on pp. 106-7 of my Catalogue Raisonne of Romney’s works. They were what was then called "Half-lengths," i.e. each measured about 50 in. by 40 in., and for each of which the artist’s fee would have been about 40 guineas. James Mingay’s portrait was engraved in mezzotint by Charles Howard Hodges in October 1791, a very fine example of this accomplished engraver’s work. According to the Monthly Magazine of March 1801, Macklin, the publisher of the engraving, paid Hodges £50 for the work. The two portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Mingay were sent to Mingay’s London residence or office, Bedford Row, in July 1789, as duly entered in Romney’s books, and were paid for by Mr. Mingay himself on that date.




The portrait was bequeathed in his will to his wife, together with "the drawing of myself in crayons by Russell."

Mingay’s estate at Shotesham went to his nephew, William James Mingay, an officer in the Royal Navy, and presumably the family portraits went with it; how long his portrait by Romney remained in the family it is impossible to say, but by the latter part of the nineteenth century it had passed into the possession of W. Millers-Rawlinson , of Duddon Hall, Broughton-in-Furness, and here it remained until after his death. In 1902 it was the property of Mr. C. W. Rotch of the Reform Club. After that it was for some years in the collection of the late Sir George Donaldson, the well-known connoisseur. It was exhibited in the National Gallery, London, for three years during the Great War.

The portrait of James Mingay is one of Romney’s most successful and attractive delineations of legal celebrities:

Mingay is dressed in legal robes with large wig, the right arm is skilfully indicated or rather suggested, while the left hand rests on the table to right of which are papers and an inkstand. It is a matter of regret that this admirable portrait of a remarkable man is not in some public gallery in Norfolk or Suffolk, each of which county he served so faithfully. The fame of the Lawyer, like that of the Preacher, is largely of an evanescent chara6ter, brilliant and celebrated in his lifetime, and forgotten almost as soon as he is dead; and that of James Mingay was so completely forgotten that he is not even mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography, though Charles Lamb’s


incidental notice of him would always preserve his name from complete oblivion, even if Mingay had not sat to Romney for this portrait. It may be mentioned that Mingay was a book-man, for he had two bookplates engraved for his books, one as a Bencher of the Inner Temple, and the other with the Mingay arms quarterly with those of Fuller and Palmer.

The portrait of Mrs. Mingay, done at the same time, does not concern us, but it may be pointed out that when it was sold in May 1906 it fetched the then very high price of 6,2oo guineas, and is now, we believe, in the United States, whither so many of fine portraits by Early English artists have gone.


LONDON, 24th November 1928.

Clip of a court case won by James

More History Of James Mingay K.C.

James Mingay was of a family that had long been prosperously settled in Norfolk and Suffolk. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, records many of them as at various Cambridge colleges. There had been among them an earlier bencher of the Inner Temple; this was Francis Mingay, of Lethal St, Margaret, Suffolk, and of Trinity College, Cam­bridge, who was admitted a student of the Inner Temple in 1593, was called to the bar in 1600, and became a Bencher in 1617. His mother was a sister of Sir Edward Coke, of the Inner Temple, His son and heir, Francis Mingay, was admitted a student in 1621. There was also a Henry Mingay, admitted in 1595 and called to the bar in 1603,

The family and name seem to be now almost extinct. In the Direc­tories of Norfolk and Suffolk, and the London Telephone Directory, I find only two entries 'Misses Mingay’ at Norwich, and a Mingay. a jobmaster, at Chigwell in Essex.

James Mingay was burn at Thetford, 9 March 1752, and was baptized at St. Peters Church on 10 June. His father was James Mingay a surgeon, who died in 1801, aged 83, and he was the youngest son of William Mingay, who died in 1761,

He was educated at Thetford Grammar School under Mr, Galloway The loss of his right hand is said to have happened when he was a boy from an accident at Cringleford MillCringleford c.1915, near Norwich.

He was admitted a Pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, or 29 November 1768, Tutor Mr. Watson. He became a Scholar in 1769 but never took a degree*. He became a student of the Inner Temple in 1770, his lather being then described as of Gimingham, Norfolk, He read in the chambers of Charles Runnington, see picture below, was called to the bar in 1775, and joined the Norfolk circuit.

At the Bench Table on 18 June 1784 a Petition was read from several members of the Inn, as a result of a meeting at the Devil Tavern, pro-posing a conference between the Benchers and Messrs. Mingay and Law on the subject of admission to the garden. The Benchers declined but professed themselves ready to consider any application ' presented in the accustomed mode '. Accordingly on 26 June 1784 a memorial on this subject was received, and it was ‘ordered that the Gate into the Garden next Harcourt Buildings be opened by the Gardener to all members.’ This is the gate which to-day is kept open to admit 'all members’ into the garden. 


On 26 November 1784 Mingay was created a King's Counsel, and was sworn in the same evening before the Lord Chancellor (Thurlow) at his house in Great Ormond- Street. On 25 January 1785 he was called to the Bench at the Inner Temple, on presenting his patent is King's Counsel. He was Reader in 1790 and Treasurer in 1791.

It is still the practice for an Inner Templar who is made King’s Counsel to ‘present his patent’ to the Bench, by sending it round to the Treasury, But nowadays he has to wait for election to the Bench—in my own case for nine years. See Footnote 1.

There was a Bench Table Order on 21 June 1797: ‘Ordered that 4 mahogany elbow chairs, and 10 other mahogany chairs, be made for the use of the Parliament Chamber under the direction of Mr. Mingay.’

As an advocate Mingay was second only to Erskine, and they were constantly employed on opposite sides. Mingay was slightly the senior at the bar but the junior in age: for Erskine was born in 1750, and called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 3rd  July 1778. Erskine got into the front row before Mingay; he had a patent of precedence in May 1783, and Mingay took silk eighteen months later. Mingay retired from prac­tice in the year in which Erskine, aged fifty-six, became Lord Chancellor.

Lord Campbell, in a passage describing the powers of Erskine, quotes a comparison between him and his rivals, ‘Had he not the coarse humour of Mingay, the tormenting pertinacity of Gibbs, or the interrogative astuteness of Garrow ' (Lives of the Chancellors, 4th ed., vol. ix, p. 80). There are many anecdotes of their contests. One is about an action against a stable-keeper for not taking proper care of a horse, Mingay, for the plaintiff, said the horse was put into a bad stable, with nothing to eat but musty hay, and ‘to such feeding the horse de­murred’. ‘He should have gone to the country ', retorted Erskine. (Townsend, Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges, 1846, vol. i. p. 438

1 Roger North had his patent as King's Counsel on 26 October 1682, and was called to the Bench of the Middle Temple 27 October 1682,    Autobiography (1887), pp. 126, 139

But Erskine did not always get the better of Mingay

And Mingay, like Erskine, but unlike many men who have ultimately succeeded, did not have to wait for business. He took silk within nine years of his call, In the year in which he was so promoted, 1784, the Wits Magazine printed this distich, On hearing Mr. Mingay in the Court of King's Bench,

Since so well, with one arm, Mingay handles a cause, How great, had he two, must have been his applause.

According to Crabb Robinson's Diary (1869, vol. ii, p, 116) Erskine never made more than 7,000 guineas in a year, and Mingay confessed that he only once made 5,000 guineas, But these figures, on the scale of fees then paid, indicate an enormous amount of business, In the Inner Temple Library, in the Muniment Room, there is preserved the back-sheet of a brief of Erskine's. The indorsement is as follows: ‘King's Bench, London, Anderson ag The Royal Exchange Ass Coy. Brief for the Defts. To be tried by a Special Jury at the Sitting after Hilary Term 1805. Mr. Erskine. 10 Gns. Mr. Solr Gen1, Mr, Park, with you. Consult Fee 2 gns more, Winter, Kaye, Beckwith, & Fresh-field.’ The case is reported on appeal, when it was argued by the juniors only, in 7 East 38.

A Solicitor-General has been debarred from private practice since 1895. Let any one who knows the present standard of fees think of a special jury case in which an ex-law officer, a second silk, and a junior are briefed, and of the sort of fee that the modern Mingay, as second leader, would receive, and he will realize what a volume of work must have been involved by Mingay's 5,000 guineas in a year, if he, or Erskine, only had ten guineas in such a case, He must have made a great fortune for those days; and he retired from practice at the bar when not much above fifty years of age.

He made two unsuccessful attempts to enter Parliament, In July 1794 Windham had to seek re-election at Norwich on becoming Secretary-at-War, and Mingay opposed him: but he only polled 770 votes against Windham's 1,236, In November 1806 he stood for Thetford, where about fifty voters had the pleasure of electing two members of Parlia­ment. The result of the poll was,

Lord William Fitzroy     18

James Mingay, K.C.      17

Thomas Creevey          14

But the Commons' Journals on 4 February 1807 record, Select Committee appointed to try the Petition of Thomas Creevey report that James Mingay is not duly elected a Burgess for the Borough of Thetford, and that Thomas Creevey is duly elected '.

Mingay was also active in public affairs in his own country. In 1788 he was elected Recorder of Aldborough, now called Aldburgh, and J.P, for Thetford in 1806, after he had given up practice. He was also Chairman of Quarter Sessions for Norfolk and Suffolk for many years. Thetford was then an Assize town on the summer circuit, and Mingay often sat as Special Commissioner,

He was mayor of Thetford three times, 1798-9, 1800-1, and 1804-5. In his first year of office Lord Nelson was made a freeman of Thetford, and the document admitting him, dated 13 October 1798, and signed by Mingay, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital.

The 1783 Law List gives his address as 4 King's Bench Walks; in 1795 it is ‘ 10 opposite the Temple Church ‘ and 26 Bedford Row; in 1803 it is 10 Farrar's Buildings, (see footnote 2) and Thetford, Norfolk. In 1809 he has no address in the Temple, but is put down as of New Place, Thetford, and Ashfield Lodge, Suffolk.

He married Eliza Corrall, of Maidstone, who survived him and died at Maidstone on 1st February 1817, They had no children.

2.This means what was rebuilt in 1875was ‘Farrars Buildings’. Till the end of the 18th century the set was called ‘The Staircasefronting the Church Door’. And later as 10 Farrar Buildings. There was only one staircase, and the ‘10’ comes from an old system of numbering all the staircases from the top of Inner Temple Lane. So in the old Paper Buildings the firststaircase was No. 11. The system of numbers for houses was first employes in the Inns of Court. Harben, A disctionary of London (1918), says of Great Prescott Street: ‘It seems to have been one of the streets in which the houses were disguished by numbers instead of signs, as Hatton in his description of the street in 1708 mentions this as worthy of note at the time, the staircases in the Inns of Court and Chancery being also likewise distinguished’.

In 1785 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In 1786 he gave to St. Mary's Church, Thetford, a set of silver communion plate, and in 1791 to St. Peter's Church a brass chandelier, and iron fencing for the churchyard.

In 1806 he retired from the bar, and went to live at Ashfield Lodge, Great Ashfield, Suffolk, near Bury St. Edmunds, He died there on 9 July 1812, The Gentleman's Magazine (vol. lxxxii, p, 187) says: ‘At Ashfield Lodge, near Bury St. Edmund's, James Mingay, esq., Senior King's Counsel, a Bencher of the Inner Temple, Recorder of Aldborough, and many years Chairman of the Quarter Sessions of Norfolk and Suffolk. He practised as a King's Counsel twenty-two years, and during that period was distinguished as the powerful rival of his friend, Lord Erskine, As an advocate Mr. Mingay possessed a persuasive oratory, infinite wit, and most excellent fancy.’

He was buried on 17 July 1812 in the family vault at St, Mary's, Thetford. The late Mr. W. P. Courtney quotes passages from his will, dated 20 March 1812, with a codicil of 18 May, which display, as he says, ‘ the wealth and vanity of Mingay. He is careful to direct that a marble monument to himself shall be erected in St, Mary's, Thetford, ‘that shall state that I was a King's Counsel, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, many years an acting Magistrate for Norfolk and Suf­folk, and by special commission for Thetford, and that I was returned to represent the said borough (my native place) in Parliament'. One could hardly expect him who dictated that message to posterity to add, ‘ but I was unseated on petition '. He also provided for ‘a neat marble monument' to be erected in the church of Shotesham All Saints, near Norwich, to his grandfather, William Mingay, and others of his family, He left a large estate, and made many bequests.

In St. Mary's Church, Thetford, a tablet was erected, recording what he had directed. It adds, ‘In the exercise of the several and relative duties of a son, a husband, and a friend, he was equalled by few, in that of a kind and considerate brother surpassed by none, He died possessing the regard and esteem of a numerous acquaintance, and meriting the goodwill and favourable testimony of a grateful family’.

Mingay and his wife both sat to Romney. The portrait of himself he left to his wife by his will; her own he had presumably given to her.

His portrait was sold at Christie's on 5th July1092 for £231, Her por­trait was sold at Christie's on 26th May 1906 for £6.150.

On 14 November 1791 there was a Bench Table Order thanking Mr, Mingay for the gift of his portrait. This must he the fine mezzotint by C. H. Hodges after Romney, which now hangs in the Benchers’ Reading-room (No, 109 in our printed Catalogue).

The British Museum Catalogue of. Engraved British Portraits (vol. iii, p. 246) records four portraits of Mingay: (1) the above mezzotint, by C. H. Hodges after G, Romney, published by T. Macklin, 1791; (2) a half-length, after the same picture by Romney, oval, in stipple, engraved by J. Hopwood, and published by J. Badcock, 1803; (3) similar to the last, from a drawing in crayons by Bartolozzi; (4) a hall-length, stipple, engraved by T. Hardy, after a painting by J. Russell.

His arms, as a Reader, in the Inner Temple Hall, are: Quarterly, first and fourth, or on a bend azure three leopards' faces argent, second, argent three bars and a canton gules, third, argent a chevron gules between three mullets sable, on a chief azure as many stags' heads caboshed or.

The biography of Mingay that mighht well have been in the Dictionary of National Biography is an article by the late Mr. W. P, Courtney in Notes and Queries, 11th series, vol. viii, p. 41, from which I have derived much information.


I am uncertain of the origin of this document. However, I publish it in good faith of its authenticity, and apologise is advance of any copyright infringement.


Robin Mingay December 2008




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