Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Littledale, Joseph

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LITTLEDALE, Sir JOSEPH (1767–1842), judge, born in 1767, was eldest son of Henry Littledale of Eton House, Lancashire, who was of a Cumberland family. His mother was Mary, daughter of Isaac Wilkinson of Whitehaven. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, was senior wrangler and Smith's prizeman, and graduated B.A. in 1787 and M.A. in 1790. He entered at Gray's Inn, and practised as a special pleader until 1798, when he was called to the bar on 28 June. It was during this time that, being asked what his politics were, he gave the well-known answer, ‘My politics are the politics of a special pleader.’ He joined the northern circuit, and attended the Chester sessions. In 1813 he was appointed counsel to the university of Cambridge. He enjoyed a good practice. On 30 April 1824 he was appointed, in succession to Mr. Justice Best, to a judgeship in the court of king's bench, though he had never been made a king's counsel or sat in parliament, or had any government recognition, beyond being appointed Hullock's colleague in managing the government prosecutions in Scotland in 1822. He took his seat on the first day of Easter term, 5 May 1824, and was knighted on 9 June. Consisting as it did of Abbott, Bayley, Holroyd, and Littledale, the court of king's bench at this time was one of the strongest ever constituted, and Lord Campbell speaks of this as the golden age of justice (Lives of the Chief Justices, iii. 291; Autobiography, i. 421). Littledale resigned owing to failing health on 31 Jan. 1841. He was sworn of the privy council, but died shortly after at his house in Bedford Square on 26 June 1842. He left 250,000l. His only daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Coventry, barrister-at-law. In character he was a lawyer, and little more—‘one of the most acute, learned, and simple-minded of men,’ according to Lord Campbell, but he was respected and even beloved by those who practised before him. He edited Skelton's ‘Magnyfycence, an Interlude,’ for the Roxburghe Club in 1821.

[Foss's Judges of England; Arnold's Life of Lord Denman; Gent. Mag. new ser. xviii. 319; Times, 20 June 1842; Ann. Reg. 1842.]

J. A. H.