Sir John Pennycuick
"One of the really great judges of his generation" ii





Other sources

  1. My mother, Alba McConnell (née Pennycuick)
  2. 'In Memoriam Sir John Pennycuick', transcript of a hearing in the High Court of Justice 15th January 1982, before Sir Robert Megarry (Vice-Chancellor) and the Judges of the Chancery Division
  3. Correspondence with Clare Sargent, archivist at Radley College
  4. 'The Pennycuicks', notes written and compiled by James A.C. Pennycuick and Janet Buchanan (.pdf file) [pages 59-60]

Family trees

Pennycuick FT
Family trees of the Pennycuick, McDonald and Farrell families

Other information

Sir John Pennycuick obituary, Times
Sir John Pennycuick: obituary

The Times, 15th January 1982

Sir John Pennycuick comments by Lord Scarman
Sir John Pennycuick: comments by Lord Scarman

The Times, January 1982

Pennycuick arms
Sir John Pennycuick: Arms (College of Arms, 29th January 1979)

Coat of arms (summary of text)

A request by Sir John Pennycuick to have armorial bearings assigned was approved on 27th April 1978. The arms were assigned as follows:

Arms: "Quarterly Gules and Ermine in each quarter Gules a Hunting Horn stringed Or a Bordure quarterly Ermine and Gules"

Crest: "On a Wreath Argent and Gules a demi figure representing a Lowland Scot of the late 18th century proper coat Azure cuffed Or braided and buttoned Gules equipped for hunting with over the left shoulder a crossbelt therefrom at his back a quiver furnished with arrows Or holding with the sinister hand by the hilt and pommel Or quillons also Or a sword over the same shoulder Argent in the dexter hand a horn winding the same Or and wearing a Tam-O'-shanter also Or the band checky Gules and Argent"

Assigned 29th January 1979

A. Colin Cole (Garter)

Anthony R. Wagner (Clarenceux)

Abbey Road Abbey Road
7a Abbey Road, St Johns Wood (home of the Pennycuick family in the 1930s and 1940s), then and in 2018

Old Manor House


Old Manor House, Maids Moreton (in 2022)

John Pennycuick Wimbledon Lucy Pennycuick Wimbledon
John and Lucy Pennycuick (née Johnstone) at Wimbledon

Sir John Pennycuick visits Periyar
Indian newspaper article on the visit of Sir John Pennycuick to the Periyar dam
Sir John Pennycuick
Sir John Pennycuick, photo by Godfrey Argent, 1969

Print in possession of our family

(Also in the National Portrait Gallery3)

My grandfather John was the first male of his Pennycuick line to be born in England, following his father's retirement after 35 years in India. Academic and sporting like his sisters 'D and D', he entered the legal profession, becoming a barrister and later a High Court judge - highly regarded by his colleagues, and as a man, modest and unassuming.

Life and career

John was the last child, and only son, of Colonel John and Grace Pennycuick (née Chamier). Four of his five sisters were born in southern India where Col. John was Chief Engineer in the Madras Presidency. The family returned to England in 1896 and settled in Camberley, where John was born three years later - his nearest sister was Hilda, 11 years older. He attended Eagle House School in nearby Sandhurst, then Winchester and New College, Oxford. After serving briefly in the Coldstream Guards after the war, he entered the legal profession: he became a barrister in the Inner Temple in 1925, 'took silk' (i.e. became a Queen's Counsel) in 1947, and was elected a 'Bencher' (a senior member of an inn of court) in 1954.

Sir John Pennycuick appointment to the High Court
Sir John Pennycuick: appointment to the office of High Court Justice

26th April 1960

At age 61 he was appointed a High Court Justice in the Chancery Division (the division of the High Court dealing with business, trusts, probate, insolvency and land equity) and received a knighthood that year (see letter of appointment, left). One area he specialised in was family law and the guardianship of children, which at that time fell under Chancery. In 1970 he was made the senior judge of the Chancery Division, receiving the newly revived title of Vice-Chancellor. In 1974 he retired from full-time court work but continued to sit in the Court of Appeal; in that year he was also appointed to the Privy Council, a body of advisers to the Queen. He served as Treasurer (effectively 'Head') of the Inner Temple from 1978 to 1979.

Sir JohnPennycuick arms at Inner Temple
Arms at the Inner Temple

After his death in 1982, various articles, for example the Times obituary and subsequent comments by Lord Scarman (left), gave insights into the nature of the man and his work. His successor-but-one as Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Megarry, met with the Chancery judges to give an appreciation of Sir John's life, fortunately transcribed for posterity.ii Only the surnames of these gentlemen are given in the document, but they are likely to be Allan Heyman (Bar, Middle Temple), Christopher Heath (Junior Bar, Lincoln's Inn) and David Hirst (Common Law Bar, Inner Temple). (The quotation at the top of the page is from Mr. Heath.) The impression from these articles is of a learned, fair-minded man of the law, witty and self-effacing, and with a deep understanding of humanity.


By long tradition the armorial shields of Inner Temple treasurers are hung in the dining hall. Sir John's shield (see photo, above right) is dated 1977 and is essentially that of the Pennycuick family - see page on "Free for a Blast". Thank you to Celia Pilkington at the Inner Temple Treasury for the photo. The following year a full coat of arms was ordered from the College of Arms, presumably also in connection with his post as Treasurer, and granted in 1979. This magnificent document (left) features the shield as above, plus the crest and motto of the Pennycuick family, with a full description in the correct armorial language.

Pennycuick Johnstone Wedding
Wedding of John Pennycuick and Lucy Johnstone, December 1930

L to R: Stanley and Jessie Johnstone, Joe, Lucy, Mie Johnstone, Grace Pennycuick

Bridesmaid: Jean Holms-Kerr; page-boy: John Randle Simcox

(others not known)

Photo in possession of our family


Joe, as he was known in the family, married Lucy Johnstone in Handsworth in 1930 (the couple met on the tennis circuit the year before). Lucy was the daughter of Stanley Johnstone, a respected Birmingham jeweller, and granddaughter of George Hope Johnstone. They lived initially at 7a Abbey Road, St Johns Wood (the house has not changed much over the years - see photos left), just around the corner from John's sister Bryda. Their daughter Alba was born during this time (see below). During the war the family (including Bryda) were evacuated to the Old Malt House in Ashford Hill near Newbury, home of the Spranger family (acquaintances of Joe's). Their son John was born there in 1943.

Sir John Pennycuick and Alba
Sir John Pennycuick with Alba, late 1930s

Photo in possession of our family

Towards the end of the war the family moved to the Old Manor House in Maids Moreton in Buckinghamshire.3 This beautiful 16th-century house, complete with outbuildings, fields and a tennis court, was the family home for some 30 years. The date above the fireplace is 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada. See the page on Stanley Johnstone for the fine embroidered picture of the house, made by Lucy's mother Jessie in 1944, perhaps as a house-warming present. After Lucy died in 1972, Joe and John lived in the Old Manor House for a time; later they moved to Joe's flat in the Temple, and the house was sold.

'The Vols'

Sir John's principal hobby was postcard-collecting and photography, which he started in the 1920s. He travelled around Britain and Europe with his Rolleiflex camera, buying postcards of towns, buildings etc., which were then bound in many, many volumes ('the vols', as they were known in the family). The postcards were later supplemented by his own photographs. The presentation of the images, with hand-printed titles and beautiful, hand-drawn maps, reveals an extraordinary love of detail and precision. The collection was bequeathed to the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments, and is now housed partly (the England portion) at the Historic England archive in Swindon and partly (the portion for the rest of the world) in the Witt Library of the Courtauld Institute of Art, in Somerset House. Both parts of the collection are in the process of being catalogued and digitised, and will hopefully at some stage be available online.4

Postcard of the cathedral in Königsberg, East Prussia, probably 1920s
Postcards of Hamburg and hand-drawn map of the itinerary, 1922
Part of Sir John's postcard collection in the Courtauld Institute, 2018


John inherited his father's sporting talent and was a fine tennis player, as were his wife Lucy and sister-in-law Mie. He played in the men's singles at Wimbledon six times between 1925 and 1931, reaching the third round (R32) twice.5 It seems he was a master of the cunning lob.ii Lucy and Mie were also a strong ladies' doubles pair throughout the thirties, and in 1930 the three of them played in both singles and two doubles competitions. Joe and Lucy were married in December of that year - they had met at a tennis tournament in Folkestone (where Joe's sisters lived) in 1929.

Mullperiyar site
The Periyar Dam, photograph by Sir John Pennycuick

John visited his father Col. John Pennycuick's great work, the Mullaperiyar Dam in southern India, probably in the 1960s or '70s, and took the photographs shown on that page. Below left is a cutting from an Indian newspaper about the visit.

Sir John was member of the Council (i.e. a Governor) of Radley College, a public school in Oxfordshire where the author was at school. He was partly instrumental in advising the school on the sale of some land, which proved to be a sound decision, enabling Radley to use the funds released to improve its facilities.iii

Alba Pennycuick


Alba McConnell, née Pennycuick, in Salzburg in 2000


Joe's daughter Alba (my mother) was born in 1935 in Handsworth, while Lucy was staying with her mother Jessie. (The name Alba is Latin for white, but is also the Gaelic for 'Scotland' - a hint at the Pennycuick roots maybe?) She grew up in the Old Malt House and the Old Manor House, where she became keen on riding on tennis. She attended St Joseph's Convent school near Tamworth, along with several of her cousins - see the page on Stanley Johnstone for details. She then went to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she read French (St Joseph's was run by French nuns). At Oxford she met my father Peter, son of Dr. W.S. McConnell. They married in 1958 in Maids Moreton (see wedding photo in the Old Manor House on the Home page), a few miles from where Peter had once lived. They lived near Beaconsfield, where their two children Sara and Mark were born. Alba took up golf, which she played well into her eighties. In 1975 the family moved abroad with Peter's work, to France, then Belgium, then Cleveland, Ohio, finally returning to Buckinghamshire in 1995, where Peter sadly died four years later.

Dr John Pennycuick


Dr. John Pennycuick, with Alba and Iris McConnell, 2016
In contact with the physical world, by John Pennycuick
In Contact with the Physical World, by Dr. John Pennycuick


Alba's brother John, like his father, was educated at Winchester and New College Oxford, where he took a D.Phil. in Philosophy. He published a book, In Contact with the Physical World (Allen & Unwin, 1971), which endeavours to offer solutions to the problem of perception. He is the last in this line of five John Pennycuicks.