Ralph Gaby (1861-1927)

Ralph Gaby.Ralph Hale Gaby was born in Hackney, Middlesex in the latter part of 1861 to Edward Gaby, a merchant, and Emily Cruickshank Gaby née Hale. He was baptised in the parish of Hackney on 29 October 1861.

By 1871 Gaby’s father had died and the boy was living with his widowed mother, two elder sisters, one elder brother and one younger sister at Green Park Buildings, Bath: an address once inhabited by the novelist Jane Austen. Emily Cruickshank Gaby is listed in that year’s census as a ‘landowner’ (the family owned and occupied St Edith's Marsh, Bromham according to Ralph Gaby’s obituary in The Times of London). The census shows that the family were wealthy enough to employ four servants: a nurse, a housemaid, a domestic cook and a page.

According to Oxford University Alumni records Ralph Gaby matriculated at Worcestershire College, Oxford on 20 October 1881 (then aged 20), and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884, which led to a Master of Arts.

It seems that upon graduating Ralph Gaby returned to Wiltshire. He married Mary Elizabeth Matravers, daughter of Thomas Matravers, at Melksham, Wiltshire on 29 April 1886. The 1891 census shows Ralph and Mary Elizabeth Gaby living at London Road, Chippenham with their three-year-old daughter Margaret Emily Gaby, and two domestic servants. His occupation is recorded as ‘Solicitor’s Clerk’.

His Times obituary reveals that at some point during the early 1890s he was admitted to the firm Keary & Stokes of Chippenham as a Solicitor. He acted as Honorary Secretary of Chippenham Cricket Club, which The Times states ‘owed much to him’.

By 1892 Mr Gaby had left Wiltshire and joined Dr Frederick Goodwin in partnership at Memorial Buildings in Hastings, East Sussex. The partnership, entitled ‘Goodwin and Gaby’, was to be short-lived, however. It was dissolved in March 1894, most likely due to the ill health of Frederick Goodwin, who died of heart disease on 5 February 1897, aged just 34. After Dr Goodwin’s departure from the practice, Ralph Gaby continued to run the firm from its Memorial Buildings, Hastings office.

Between 1899 and 1902 Mr Gaby played a leading role in the movement to obtain the incorporation of Bexhill as a municipal borough. On his proposition a working committee was formed in 1899 to campaign for the grant of a charter to the then urban district. He drew up the petition to the Queen in Council, and was the first person told by the Home Office that the charter had been granted. After it had been signed by King Edward VII, it was given to Mr Gaby’s London agents, and later handed to a deputation from Bexhill.

The firm’s address appears as Memorial Buildings, Hastings on notices in The London Gazette for several years, but in 1906 it changes to 17 St Leonards Road, Bexhill, and then the following year to 8 Cambridge Road, Hastings. At that time the firm was styled ‘Gaby and Stapylton-Smith’ due to a temporary merger.

Mr Gaby was a well-respected and important figure in the local legal community and in 1920 he became a founder member and the first Honorary Secretary of Hastings & District Law Society – a post he remained in until his death.

By 1921 H. J. A. (Allen) Hardwicke, who had qualified as a solicitor under Mr Gaby before the Great War, was a partner in the firm, which had adopted the more familiar title of ‘Gaby and Hardwicke’. It had opened an office at 3a Sea Road, Bexhill, while its Hastings office had moved a few doors to 1 Cambridge Road.

Ralph Hale Gaby died aged 66, on 9 October 1927, and was interred at Bexhill Borough Cemetery. He had lived at the time of his death at ‘The Cabin’, Jameson Road, Bexhill, where he had resided since at least the time of the 1911 census. His estate was valued at £10,353 16s, 6d. Glowing tributes were published in the Hastings and Bexhill newspapers as well as in The Times of London.

The Hastings and St. Leonards Observer remembered him as a talented lawyer who devoted much of his spare time to helping the local community:

…his presence in Court was always a genial one because the tougher the case he had to conduct, the more subtly he would handle it, and the judge or Bench, as well as the occupants of the court, were often amused at his witticisms at the expense of his opponent. He was always a graceful loser… he was a valued contributor to the columns of the “Observer” on topics of more than usual importance, and he always had a knack of writing in a compelling manner.

He was a prominent figure in opposing the installation of trams on the sea front and, representing the Goodwin Estate, he was able to give valuable advice to the frontagers association. The removal of the old St Leonards archway had in him a strong advocate. He was also a member of the old Improvements Association, and helped to found the West Country Association. He was an original member of the Hastings Rotary Club.

In all matters concerning the town’s welfare he was always ready to give sound and apt advice. He was a member of the Borough Association for many years, and always recognised the value of advertising the town as a health and pleasure resort, was a strong supporter of the Cricket Week in its early days, and was a subscriber to the Sussex County Cricket Club. An enthusiastic cyclist, he was a rider in the early days of the “penny-farthing”, and the Continent was his happy hunting ground awheel for his summer vacations. The Hastings Law Society will deplore the loss of an able secretary, as well as one of its oldest and most trusted members. He leaves a widow and daughter.

Ralph Gaby’s funeral service was held at St Barnabas Church, Bexhill on 14 October 1927 and was conducted by Rev C. G. G. Dean. Among the mourners were Mrs De Kretser (Mr Gaby’s daughter), his friend and business partner Allen Hardwicke, Mr R. F. Boutwood (former Head Clerk at Gaby Hardwicke’s Hastings office), Mr J. C. Hillman, J.P. (President of the Sussex Law Society), Mr C. A. Pead (President of the Hastings and District Law Society), Mr A. D. Thorpe, J.P. (Mayor-elect of Hastings), the Bishop of Lewes and a host of professional colleagues. Mr Gaby’s widow was too unwell to attend.

A mass of floral tributes covered the top of the hearse and were carried on four of the mourning coaches that followed. It was a fitting send-off for a man who had done much for the local community.

Ralph Gaby's graveThe memorial inscription from Hastings & District Law Society

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