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Gibbs, Vicarylocked

  • P. W. Hammond

Vicary Gibbs (1853–1932)

by Lafayette, 1927

Gibbs, Vicary (1853–1932), genealogist and gardener, was born at Hampstead, Middlesex, on 12 May 1853, the second surviving son of the prominent banker Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819–1907) and his wife, Louisa Anne (d. 1897), third daughter of Dr William Adams. He was great-great-nephew of the judge Sir Vicary Gibbs (1751–1820), whose dry humour he was supposed to have inherited. George Edward Cokayne (1825–1911), the original compiler of The Complete Peerage, who in 1873 changed his name from Adams, was his mother's brother, and married his father's sister. Gibbs was educated at Eton College and (from 1873) at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was awarded a third class in classical moderations in 1874. In 1880 he was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn. He became, however, a partner in the family business of Antony Gibbs & Sons, merchants and bankers, from 1882 to 1932, and a director of many other business concerns. In 1892 he was elected Conservative member of parliament for the St Albans division. In 1904 the Contractors Act (1782) was invoked against Gibbs and his brother Alan, also an MP, as their business had accepted an Admiralty contract; both brothers resigned their seats and stood at by-elections, Vicary Gibbs being defeated and Alan returned unopposed. Vicary Gibbs stood unsuccessfully for Bradford Central in 1906.

By a family arrangement Gibbs continued to live at Aldenham House, near Elstree, where he developed gardens of worldwide renown. He gradually built up a magnificent collection of the rarer trees and flowering shrubs, especially of American thorns, exhibiting a keen eye for variations of foliage and habit. Opposed to the formal garden associated with Reginald Blomfield, he was possibly influenced by the work of prominent contemporaries William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. Gibbs regularly issued catalogues of his surplus plants at moderate prices. He also published many pamphlets on aspects of gardening, and was vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society and holder of the Victoria medal of honour in horticulture.

Gibbs was also an accomplished genealogist and published articles in the journal The Genealogist. He contributed information to the first edition of The Complete Peerage, and had the insight to take it over and plan a second edition on a new scale. He spent many years collecting material and the first volume was published in 1910, dedicated to his uncle. After the original issue of volume 5 in 1921 ill health forced him to relinquish the editorship to Herbert Arthur Doubleday, whose name had been associated with that of Gibbs on the title-page since volume 3, published in 1913. With the publication of the fifth volume Gibbs also ceased to be responsible for the cost of the enterprise, for which he had paid in full until 1919. Until his death he continued to give valued advice to the editor, and notes contributed by him appeared in all subsequent volumes, even after his death, up to the last volume in 1998.

Gibbs's revised edition of The Complete Peerage dealt with medieval peerages with a far higher degree of scholarship than did Cokayne's original work, which relied too much on printed sources, such as William Dugdale's The Baronage of England (1675–6); it also bears witness in its less austere footnotes to the remarkable range of Gibbs's reading and information. He delighted in apt quotations which give a thumbnail portrait or a vignette of contemporary manners and often reflect his characteristic sardonic humour. The Gibbs and Doubleday edition still remains a standard work.

Gibbs died of encephalitis, unmarried, at his London house, 12 Upper Belgrave Street, on 13 January 1932. He was buried in Aldenham church.


  • The Times (14 Jan 1932)
  • The Times (22 Jan 1932)
  • GEC, Peerage, new edn
  • private information (1995)
  • J. Foster, Men-at-the-bar: a biographical hand-list of the members of the various inns of court, 2nd edn (1885)
  • d. cert.
  • G. R. Searle, Corruption in British politics, 1895–1930 (1987)


  • GL, business and family papers
  • RBG Kew, corresp.
  • LUL, letters to J. H. Round
  • W. Sussex RO, corresp. with Oswald Barron


  • R. G. Eves, oils, exh. 1925, National Provident Institution office, London
  • Lafayette, photograph, 1927, NPG [see illus.]
  • J. D. Miller, print (after G. Richmond), BM
  • J. B. Wirgman, portrait, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£146,972 9s. 11d.: probate, 15 June 1932, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

J. Foster, ed., , 4 vols. (1887–8), later edn (1891); , 4 vols. (1891–2); 8 vol. repr. (1968) and (2000)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)