John Gregory was born in Norwich in 1945, but grew up in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Although none of Mr Gregory’s forebears are thought to have been solicitors, both his parents worked for Currey & Co Solicitors of London. His mother was secretary to the senior partner, Dougal McPherson, and his father, an accountant, worked in the firm’s estate department.
Mr Gregory was educated at Eastbourne College Prep School and then Eastbourne College. Although he attained the requisite A-level grades, he did not secure a place at university. “When I left the College I took a holiday job as a bus conductor in Eastbourne,” he recalls. “This job went on longer than originally planned until my father informed me one day that as all the solicitors he knew were well off, he had decided that a solicitor was what I should become. I had little or no choice in the matter!”
Accordingly Mr Gregory undertook articles of clerkship at Coles & James in Eastbourne, under John Cheesbrough. After qualifying in 1969 he moved to London and worked at Wilde, Sapte & Co and then at Gouldens in Chancery Lane.
Yearwood & Griffiths
“Whilst at Gouldens I married and moved out of London,” Mr Gregory recalls. “Finding the daily commute tiresome I started to look for a job back in Sussex. My two older sisters were friends of John Raeburn, the then junior partner in D. W. Harrison & Yearwood. That firm was looking to recruit an assistant solicitor and a chance meeting between John and one of my sisters, who was aware I was looking to leave London, led to my joining DWH&Y at the very moment it merged with Tomkins & Bowes. This was in June 1971. The firm then became known as Harrison, Yearwood, Tomkins & Bowes but a year later was re-titled Yearwood & Griffiths.
“It was a small provincial practice, typical of those days, with three partners, three legal executives (one dealing solely with probate, another solely conveyancing and the third with both probate and conveyancing) supported by shorthand secretaries and two cashiers using handwritten ledgers. A tea and coffee lady and an office cleaner made up the team.”
Mr Gregory had joined the firm on the understanding he would be handling conveyancing and probate matters only, but within a week of starting discovered that the majority of his work comprised civil (mostly divorce) and criminal litigation, the latter ranging from motoring offences to murder. This arrangement continued for seven years until Patrick Donaldson joined the firm and took sole charge of litigation. Thereafter Mr Gregory took over the conveyancing and probate work he was originally engaged to undertake.
He says, “Until the firm’s merger with Gaby Hardwicke, Yearwood & Griffiths remained very much as it was when I joined. Over time audio secretaries replaced the shorthand ones but they continued to use electronic typewriters rather than PCs and the handwritten accounts were never computerised. The number of partners increased to six to include myself, Michael Bugden and Patrick Donaldson. Assistant solicitors came and went with each boom and recession, and eventually when Tim Yearwood and Jack Griffiths retired, the number of partners was reduced to four.”
Gaby Hardwicke merger
When asked about the 1995 merger with Gaby Hardwicke Mr Gregory recalls, “A few years before the merger itself, Peter Taylor and I had discussions on the subject but my partners were not prepared to proceed at the time. Largely thanks to Peter’s initiative, fresh talks began in about 1994. In very simplistic terms it was felt that Y&G’s strength in its probate and estate work would complement Gaby Hardwicke’s strength in conveyancing and litigation. In organisation, technology and manpower, however, Gaby Hardwicke was streets ahead of Y&G.
“One of several reasons why the merger was so successful was that my partners and I got on very well with the Gaby Hardwicke partners. They were a really pleasant group of people and we liked, respected and trusted them all.
“The influence of Peter Taylor on the development of Gaby Hardwicke since the merger cannot be overstated. As the smaller of the two firms the partners of Y&G were concerned that we might be swamped by Gaby Hardwicke and that our own staff would be the casualties. There were remarkably few such casualties and Peter handled this aspect of the merger with firmness but with sensitivity.
“Specialisation enabled the formation of strong departments, which in turn led to the recruitment of high-quality specialist lawyers. At the risk of these comments turning into a panegyric to Peter Taylor, it should nonetheless not go unrecorded that the fine firm that Gaby Hardwicke is today is very largely due to his inexhaustible efforts, his shrewd business acumen and his willingness to take risks. Without Peter (always tirelessly supported by his wife, Jill) and the hard work of the partners and staff, all of whom were prepared to buy into his vision of the future, Gaby Hardwicke would not have prospered and become the spectacular success story it has.”
Reflecting on his years at Yearwood & Griffiths Mr Gregory states, “During the Y&G years I was very fortunate to have John Raeburn and Michael Bugden as partners. Despite John’s blatant misrepresentation of my role with HYT&B back in 1972, we worked happily together for some 25 years and enjoyed some interesting times on the golf course. Michael was a consummate probate and trust specialist, producing work of the highest quality.”
Away from the law, as a spectator Mr Gregory has an interest in most sports, and as a participant has enjoyed squash, golf and windsurfing. He also has a keen interest in vintage cars. He retired from the Gaby Hardwicke partnership in December 2004 and now lives in south-west France.
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Key partners (pre-1945)
Key partners (post-1945)
- George Herbert
- Jethro Arscott
- John Midgley
- Peter Taylor
- Malcolm Walker
- Geoffrey Baker
- Michael Bugden
- John Gregory
- John Raeburn
- Bryan Sagar