The initials, HMG, are a contraction of the name of Herbert Mallam Gowers, the title under which the firm practiced following a merger in 1995. This name represented the two main strands of old Oxford practices, Thomas Mallam & Reeves and Herbert & Gowers.
1788 - 1833
The Mallam name (see opposite) is by far the oldest. It is probable that one Richard Mallam founded Mallam estate agents and auctioneers in about 1788.
Richard’s elder son Thomas set up a separate auctioneering and furniture broking business at 126 High Street, Oxford. To make ends meet, Thomas also traded as a grocer, tobacconist and timber merchant, all apparently from the ground ﬂoor premises at 126 High Street. The upper ﬂoors were the family living quarters. In 1833 Thomas sent one of his sons, also a Thomas, to London to serve ﬁve year articles as a solicitor in Westminster (the fee for this was £305).
1838 - 1850
The younger Thomas was enrolled as a solicitor in 1838, the year after Queen Victoria came to the throne. His original certiﬁcate of enrolment still hangs at 126 High Street. This younger Thomas set up practice in Turl Street. There his ﬁrm remained until his father’s death in 1850. It is possible that the younger Thomas had in the meantime moved into the living accommodation at 126 High Street. His father had bought a large freehold plot on the Woodstock Road on which he built the substantial house named The Shrubbery and which is now the lodgings of the Principal of St Hugh’s College. So it seems likely that the older Thomas moved out of 126 High Street into his new house and his son moved in.
After his father’s death, the younger Thomas moved his practice to the upper ﬂoors of 126 High Street and then, in 1853, he went into partnership with a Charles Mallam. Charles gave way to a George Mallam. Some years later (but before 1887) the two Mallams, Thomas and George, were in a dispute which led to the dissolution of the ﬁrm. George left to found a ﬁrm in St Aldates. This ﬁrm later appeared as Mallam Lewis & Taylor, which itself merged with Darbys in the 1990s.
The First World War
Before the First World War, the ﬁrm started by Thomas Mallam was run by a grandson, also Thomas, and a cousin, Frank Mallam. They employed an unadmitted clerk called Fred Grimsdale. He wanted articles but could not aﬀord the premium. Fortunately, Fred was oﬀered articles by another Oxford solicitor, Henry Galpin. His ﬁrm eventually became Marshall & Galpin which now forms the backbone of the Oxford branch of Royds Withy King. Fred returned to the Mallams after he qualiﬁed in 1927 and was given a partnership. The ﬁrm prospered under the name of Thomas Mallam, Grimsdale & Co. Two mergers then occurred before the merger with Herbert & Gowers. These were with the Thame ﬁrm of JP Cave & Co and the Oxford ﬁrm of Reeves & Haynes.
Herbert & Gowers traces its origins to another Oxford solicitor, Andrew Walsh, who practiced at 116 St Aldates from shortly before the First World War. This ﬁrm ran under the name of Andrew Walsh & Co. Mr Walsh seems to have had a wide practice. He featured heavily in representing Bliss Mill of Chipping Norton when the Mill went on strike in 1913 – 1914, appearing in the magistrates’ courts to defend allegations of assault perpetrated by management employees (in at least one of them the opposing advocate was George Mallam). Other clients involved substantial land owning and banking families.
The Era of Lord Nuffield
However, he had as his principal client one William Morris, later the ﬁrst Lord Nuﬃeld. Mr Morris made the move from bicycle manufacturer to car assembler in 1912. The business prospered and Cowley was developed as a major auto construction plant. Morris Motors Limited, incorporated in 1919, brought together a number of businesses then owned by Mr Morris. Andrew Walsh was Mr Morris’s legal advisor and was instrumental in many of the acquisitions and much of the development of the Morris business. Later Mr Walsh became involved in the corporate business and the charitable foundations including Nuﬃeld Hospitals and Nuﬃeld College.
Mr Walsh worked closely in cooperation with Reginald Thornton, Mr Morris’s accountant. Reginald then went on to found Thornton & Thornton in King Edward Street, later to become Thornton Baker and now the ﬁrm of Grant Thornton. Mr Morris was knighted in 1929 and ennobled in 1934.
In the 1930s Mr Walsh’s ﬁrm merged to become Andrew Walsh and Bartram. Bartram later went on to found Cecil Bartram & Rogers, practicing in the High Street until the 1980s.
In August 1942, following the death of Andrew Walsh, the ﬁrm of Andrew Walsh & Co split so that Andrew Walsh’s son and Andrew’s brother, Tufton, by then partners, each went their separate ways. One took the name of Andrew Walsh &Co, which later changed its name to Andrew Walsh Lightfoot & Co and was practicing out of 114 High Street until the late 1960s.
Two other partners, Lionel Herbert and William Gowers, formed the new partnership of Herbert & Gowers. Herbert & Gowers ran their ﬁrm out of 6 King Edward Street.
By that stage, Mr Herbert and Mr Gowers were the solicitors who principally acted for Lord Nuﬃeld and his associated businesses. Both were astute as lawyers and both successful in business.
In time the ﬁrm took over numbers 7 and 8 and part of number 12 in addition to number 6 King Edward Street. However, long after the death and retirement of Mr Gowers and Mr Herbert and in 1985 the ﬁrm left King Edward Street for Botley.
Meanwhile, oﬃces had been opened in Bicester during the early 1970s and in London at the Temple. The ﬁrm also proudly proclaimed the address of its Paris operations although, in truth, this was little more than a telephone and serviced oﬃce. An oﬃce in Abingdon, opened in the 1980s, was fairly swiftly closed. The London practice split oﬀ and subsequently merged. The Paris telephone was disconnected at the same time.
It was in 1995 that the merger then took place with Thomas Mallam, Reeves. At this time Herbert & Gowers were still in Botley. At the end of their lease the ﬁrm closed its Botley oﬃce so that all staﬀ now became based either at 126 High Street or in Bicester. That remains the case to this day.
In 2009 the firm ceased practising as a traditional partnership and became instead a limited liability partnership. The firm took the opportunity at the same time to shorten its name to HMG LAW LLP.