Professor Graham Battersby obituary

Born 1937, died 2019. Former Head of the School of Law.

Professor Graham Battersby

It is with great sadness that the University of Sheffield School of Law announces the death of Emeritus Professor Graham Battersby, who passed away on Thursday 3 January 2019.

Graham started his academic career in Sheffield. As he completed his finals at University College Oxford in 1960, Graham received a telegram from Roy Marshall (the then Head of Law at Sheffield) enquiring if he would like to come to Sheffield to teach law. After an ‘interview’ at Roy Marshall’s house, sat on the settee between Roy Marshall and John Wood, Graham was persuaded to take up a position as an Assistant Lecturer on a one year rolling contract. He stayed his entire career, in his own words “I never wanted to leave”. He was appointed to a Chair in 1971 and on his retirement from the Edward Bramley Chair of Law in 2002 was appointed Emeritus. Graham was called to the Bar in the Trinity Term 1964 and made an Honourary Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 2000.

In his time at the University, Graham was highly influential in the development and growth of the Law School. When he arrived in 1960 there were 56 students, by the time he retired there were well over 1000. Graham was Dean of the Faculty of Law three times, from 1968-1971 (after a period as sub-Dean) thereafter 1975-1978 and 1987-1991. He was Head of School in both the 1970s and 1980s too. His impact on the development of the School in that period cannot be overstated. For example, he was one of the key proponents behind the introduction of a Legal Practice Course to the Law School, and deeply involved in the development of the Commercial Law Unit too. Graham used his influence within the University to lobby for funding for strategic commercial law posts. This saw the very distinguished trio of Rob Bradgate, Geraint Howells and Peter Luxton recruited into the Law School. In the words of Prof. John Birds, “Graham’s foresight enabled us to establish what, in the 1990s, was without doubt the best commercial law research group in the North”.

It is possibly a result of Graham’s modesty that it is easy to overlook his academic contribution. Graham’s primary research interest was property law. His first published piece was an article on Easements and the Rule Against Perpetuities in The Conveyancer for 1961. This was followed by numerous influential articles that appeared in leading journals over the next five decades. Throughout his career, Graham was always keen to bring out the fundamental principles of the law of property, such as the meaning and nature of concepts such as ‘ownership’, ‘title’, and ‘possession’. His publications included analyses of types of property other than land, such as moveable objects (chattels), and intangibles (which lawyers call ‘things in action’). He wrote particularly influential articles on sale of goods, and title of stolen goods. Graham was also particularly interested in, and wrote extensively on, the ownership of the family home. His writings were frequently cited in court and referred to in judgments. Graham wrote jointly, both books and articles, with a number of other distinguished lawyers. With Gavin Lightman he wrote Cases and Materials on Real Property, published in 1965. There were also many other successful joint article-writing collaborations with colleagues at Sheffield. His work with Graham Ferris on land registration and overreaching remains highly influential. Graham's last piece of academic writing, appropriately entitled, Foundations of Property Law, was published in February 2018.

Elise Histed recollects that she was always in awe of Graham’s “knowledge of the deepest aspects of property law and the way he understood the patterns that property law wove around all the other aspects of law”. His ability was to shine light on the dark corners that people had so much difficulty in seeing and to show them how the pattern was connected. This skill was appreciated by colleagues and students alike.

Prof. David Townend was both a student and later a colleague of Graham’s:

“he was always supportive, with that careful, considered scholarship, ready to share his wisdom. I also remember him for his laughter and sense of fun. He carried his remarkable learning with a lightness that made him approachable and caring”.

Prof. Peter Luxton’s recollections of Graham sum up the thoughts of many of his former colleagues:

“What I will remember about Graham is someone who was polite, quiet, modest, restrained, helpful, erudite, quick-witted, and who possessed a razor-sharp intelligence. He threw himself whole-heartedly into anything he did, whether it was his writing and teaching, his music, or his playing of squash (and Geraint Howells, with whom he often played this exhausting game, will recall just how capable and indefatigable a player Graham was). Graham was a first-rate academic, and a good friend and colleague. He was a good man.”

At a recent graduation the Chancellor of the University, Dame Anne Rafferty, (herself a former tutee of Graham’s) told the graduates that if one wished to know if you were ‘doing well’ then a simple and universal definition of ‘doing well’ could be found by asking if you had made “a significant contribution to the greater good with integrity”. As a teacher, researcher, tutor, colleague and friend, Graham did very well indeed.