Sir William Dale: papers, 1930s-2003

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Archive Reference: DALE 
Title: Papers of Sir William Dale
Dates: 1930s-2003
Level of description: collection (fonds)
Extent and medium: 4 archive boxes
Name of creator: Sir William Dale
Catalogue last updated: July 2022 


Biographical history:  Sir William Leonard Dale (1906–2000), lawyer and civil servant, was born on 17 June 1906 at The Rectory, Preston in Holderness, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the elder son and eldest of the three children of the Revd William Dale (1852–1934), Church of England clergyman, and his wife, Rose (1870–1963), daughter of Herbert Leonard, farmer, of Marfleet, Yorkshire.

After Hymers College, Hull, Dale entered into articles with solicitors in the city. After an external London University LLB, he read for the bar, supporting himself on a Gray's Inn scholarship and occasional appointments as a suburban church organist. Call in 1931 was followed by a London pupillage, practice briefly on the north-eastern circuit, and a return to chambers in the Temple. He then joined an English solicitor practising in Jaffa. In 1935 he applied for a legal post in the Colonial Office. On 12 September 1936 he married his second cousin, Emma Patricia Goulton (Biddy) Leonard (b. 1910/11), daughter of Thomas Goulton Leonard, stockbroker, but she was soon diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis and the marriage ended in divorce in 1943. On 30 November 1948 he married Elizabeth Romeyn Elwyn (1922-2002), an American architect, but that marriage, too, was childless, and they were divorced in 1953. She subsequently married the architect Henry Thomas (Jim) Cadbury-Brown.

Dale moved to an administrative position in the wartime Ministry of Supply in 1940, returning to the Colonial Office after VJ-day to the legal complexities of Raja Brooke's cession of Sarawak to the British crown. He was made CMG in 1951, in which year he fielded a request to identify a legal adviser for the new kingdom of Libya by promptly volunteering himself. He returned in 1953, despite the Libyan government's entreaties to stay on as a Supreme Court judge.

A move to the Ministry of Education in 1954 produced a change of work. But Lord Hailsham's arrival as minister in 1957 led to clashes, to which Dale responded by declaring himself semi-redundant, and taking up work for half the day at the Foreign Office. In 1961 he became the legal adviser to the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), and in the following year he was seconded to the central Africa office to help deal with the break-up of the Central African Federation. He was promoted KCMG in 1965, and retired a year later, a period which spanned the CRO's amalgamation with his old department, but not the final merger into a single Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In London on 17 June 1966, his last day in service, he married Gloria Finn (b. 1922), textile designer, of Washington, DC, daughter of Charles Spellman, stockbroker. They had one daughter, Rosemary.

A spell in the law officers' department (1967–68) was followed by a decision to move to Beirut as general counsel to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. Return home in 1973 opened the most productive and creative phase of Dale's legal life, and a working partnership with Kutlu Fuad, head of the legal division in the Commonwealth Secretariat, which had been founded in Dale's CRO days. First came a study of how to provide competent Commonwealth draftsmen, commuted into a fuller investigation into what legislative style would best meet the needs of newly independent countries, and unlocking Dale's interest in simpler approaches to writing statutes. Then came the call to take over the Government Legal Advisers course (another Dale–CRO creation), through which over the next quarter-century Dale persuaded eminent British figures into nurturing the practical skills of generations of overseas lawyers. The final flowering came in the decision of London University's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) to found a centre for legislative studies in Dale's honour on his ninetieth birthday. The mark of his continuing vigour and determination lay in his becoming its founding Director and establishing a firm base for its activity before stepping down shortly before his death.

Dale published in 1994 an autobiography under the title Time Past, Time Present, which told among other things how his most enduring published work (The Law of the Parish Church, 7th edn, 1998) first came to birth as the winner of a Gray's Inn essay prize in 1931. In 1983 came The Modern Commonwealth, a sound guide to that subject. But he was proudest of all of his Legislative Drafting, a New Approach (1977), which, though less a new recipe than a justified critique of the stuffiness of the English parliamentary drafting style, was well received. 

He died of prostatic cancer on 8 February 2000 at Compton Lodge, 7 Harley Road, Camden, London, and was buried at St Pancras Church, Finchley, London. He was survived by his wife and their daughter.


  • The Law of the Parish Church (7th edn, 1998). The first version of this was as the winner of a Gray's Inn essay prize in 1931.
  • Legislative Drafting, a New Approach (1977).
  • The Modern Commonwealth (1983).
  • British and French Statutory Drafting. The proceedings of the Franco-British Conference of 7 and 8 April 1986 (1986). Edited by Dale.
  • Time Past, Time Present, (1994). Autobiography.


Scope and content:  the collection mainly comprises correspondence, diaries, literary draft works and research materials created by Sir William Dale during the course of his legal career and personal life.


Language/scripts of material: English and French
System of arrangement: there was no discernible original order. 
Conditions governing access: open 20 years after last date on file other than material containing personal data.  Closed items are designated in red.
Conditions governing reproduction: copies may be made for private use.  Requests for permission to publish any material copied or extracts thereof should be made to the copyright holder.  A Copyright Declaration – request for copies or a  Copyright Declaration - self service photography form must be completed. 
Copyright: vested in the estate of Sir William Dale.  
Physical characteristics: paper and photographs


Archival history: deposited by Lady Gloria Dale in 2009.
Immediate source of acquisition: Lady Gloria Dale, widow of Sir William Dale.  Lady Gloria Dale died on 18th December 2013.
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: appraised by Zoë Karens in June 2022.
Terms of deposit: Deed of Gift/Deposit Agreement dated [date]
Accruals: No further accruals are expected.


Related material held elsewhere: ‘A Commonwealth Law Centre or Institute. A Note by Sir William Dale’, 7 June 1968, The National Archives, Kew (ref: CAB 148/86/14).


Archivist's note
Rules or conventions: original catalogue compiled in 2022 by Zoë Karens in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.
Date(s) of descriptions: 2022.

Page last updated: 14th September 2022

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