The set now known as Wilberforce Chambers was founded by Andrew Clark in 1928, not long after he was called to the Bar. He served in the First World War and won an MC, but delayed his call to the Bar until 1928. His chambers were in 11 New Court, an attractive red brick Victorian building that used to stand on the corner of Carey Street and Serle Street. There he was joined, among others, by Richard Wilberforce in 1932 and Irvine Goulding in 1936.
Chambers closed down during the Second World War, thereafter re-opening in rooms on the first and upper floors of 3 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn. Andrew Clark took silk in 1943. He inherited his baronetcy on the death of his father in 1948. Between 1952 and 1960, when no new Chancery judges were appointed, he and Charles Russell QC were widely regarded as the leading advocates of the Chancery Bar.
Richard Wilberforce took silk in 1954. His most famous case was the Spanish Champagne case, in which he established for the first time that a passing off action could be maintained by a class of champagne producers to protect the name champagne, and that it was not limited to the protection of the goodwill of one individual producer as had previously been considered the case. In 1961 he was appointed a Judge of the High Court. Within three years he was appointed a judicial member of the House of Lords, where he earned a high reputation for the quality of his judgments. Irvine Goulding took silk in 1961, and was appointed a High Court Judge in 1971. He was succeeded as head of chambers by Victor Hallett.
The modern incarnation of chambers began in earnest in 1976 when Edward Nugee became the new head, taking silk the following year. From 10 juniors when he became head until he retired as head 30 years later, chambers expanded enormously. Many outstanding pupils became tenants, and experienced counsel from other sets also joined. The premises in 3 New Square were enlarged, but by 1993 proved too small; and the chambers moved, with half of its members occupying the Northern half of 8 New Square and further rooms in 7 and 9, and the other half occupying the new building, now 16 New Square, as remains the case today.
The range of work undertaken by chambers widened also during this time, to include patents and commercial work, and in particular pensions. Edward Nugee QC and Nicholas Warren were counsel for the successful parties in the first two modern pensions cases, Imperial Foods and Courage, and their success led to a flood of work relating to pension schemes coming into chambers, which caused Chambers UK to describe it as “the dominant set in the pensions field” as remains the case today.
Since this period chambers has continued to grow and diversify and now offers a full range of legal services across all of the main commercial, chancery and business law disciplines; and now stands at 76 members, with 36 QCs and 40 juniors.
Two former members of chambers are currently serving on the Bench: Sir Christopher Nugee, who was appointed a High Court Judge in 2013 and a Court of Appeal Judge in 2020; and Dame Joanna Smith, who became a High Court Judge in 2021. Other former members include Iain Pester, who is now a Chancery Master; Sir Terence Etherton, former Lord Justice of Appeal and Master of the Rolls, who retired in 2020; and Sir Nicholas Warren, who was appointed a High Court Judge in 2005 and retired in 2018.