Beatrice Honour Davy

For a woman who must earn her own living the Bar is the very last profession in the world

Beatrice Davy, Solicitor


Davy, was born at 29 Southernhay, Exeter, Devon, on 13 December 1885 to a physician father, Henry Davy FRCP and his first wife, Beatrice Mary, née Tucker (whose father was a solicitor). She had a brother, Francis, who died during the First World War and her mother died in 1905 when Davy was 20 years-old. Davy was educated at Grassendale, a boarding school for girls in Southbourne, Bournemouth, and continued to live at the family home with her father until after the First World War.

Davy’s father was knighted in 1919 for his significant war work (acting as a consulting physician to the southern command). Davy also had an important war career spent assisting Georgiana Buller, administrator of the Central Military Hospital in Exeter, in co-ordinating and supplying war hospitals in Devon.

After the war Davy moved to London, studying for the LLB law degree at King’s College, London, from which she graduated in 1921. On 24 January 1920 she was admitted as a student member of the Middle Temple. Two years later, on 17 November 1922, Davy was among the eight women who were the first to be called to the Bar at the Middle Temple.

On 17 February 1923 Davy was the first woman to appear at the Devon assizes, Weber v. Weber & Payne, where she successfully appeared for an abandoned husband in an undefended divorce case, in which the client was awarded a decree nisi and costs. On 2 November 1926 she joined The Inner Temple, ad eundem.

Davy contributed a chapter, ‘The bar’, to J. A. R. Cairns’s Careers for Girls (1928), in which she described the process of becoming a barrister, and the costs involved. She commented that:

For a woman who must earn her own living the Bar is the very last profession in the world.

(p. 53)

She was aware that a successful career at the Bar—one where a barrister might make more than was required to cover professional out-of-pocket expenses—required patience because of the need to be briefed by a solicitor. She lamented the fact that a ‘young barrister’s superfluous energy’ could not be used for social work because of the rules of professional etiquette.

1n 1931 she went into practice as a solicitor. She formed a partnership with Edith Berthen. Later Madge Easton Anderson was articled to the ‘Firm of Messrs Berthen and Davy of London’ and after qualification in 1937 joined the partnership which became ‘Messrs Berthen, Davy and Anderson’. The firm survived until 1951.

Davy was an advocate for the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child (NCUM), formed in 1918, which was concerned both with the welfare of unmarried mothers and their children, and also legislation affecting illegitimacy, and sought to remove the stigma attached to it. In 1939 she gave evidence on behalf of the NCUM to the House of Lords select committee considering the Bastardy (Blood Test) Bill which proposed the introduction of a compulsory blood test as a method of establishing paternity. It was contended that without this legislation the test would only be available to consenting and rich parties. Davy argued that the science was not sufficiently advanced to be of use in law courts, and expressed a fear that the magistrates would decide paternity on blood test evidence alone.

Davy remained in practice until 1951. She had been an early member of the London Soroptimist Club, founded in 1923. She died of cerebral thrombosis, cerebral arteriosclerosis, and arthritis of the hips, at her home, Rosemullion, Woodmancote, West Sussex, on 18 April 1966, and was cremated at Woodvale crematorium, Brighton. She left her estate to her friend, the dermatologist Dr Elizabeth Hunt.

Dr Judith Bourne

Programme Director for Law at St Mary’s University