Webster, Richard Everard, Viscount Alverstone
- F. D. Mackinnon
- , revised by N. G. Jones
Webster, Richard Everard, Viscount Alverstone (1842–1915), judge, was born in London on 22 December 1842, the second son of Thomas Webster QC (1810–1875) and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1848), eldest daughter of Richard Calthrop of Swineshead Abbey, Lincolnshire. He was educated at King's College School (1852–8) and at Charterhouse (1859–61), before matriculating in 1861 at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated as thirty-sixth wrangler in 1865. He was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn on 28 April 1868, and took chambers in the Temple at 2 Pump Court, where he remained throughout his career. In 1872 he married Mary Louisa, daughter of Charles William Calthrop MD, of Withern, Lincolnshire. She died in 1877, leaving a son, who died in August 1902, and a daughter.
Webster quickly developed a large practice, and after a remarkably short period as a junior took silk on 26 April 1878. The swiftness of his rise reflected his particular strength as a barrister, which lay not so much in his advocacy or in his knowledge of law, as in his industry and mastery of the facts. Webster was appointed attorney-general by Lord Salisbury on 26 June 1885, refusing to become home secretary because he wished to continue his profession. He sat initially for Launceston, and then for the rest of his parliamentary career for the Isle of Wight.
He served as attorney-general from June 1885 to February 1886, from August 1886 to August 1892, and from July 1895 to May 1900. Until 1895, when he agreed to forgo the right to do so, he continued in private practice, and in 1888–9 appeared before the Parnell commission as leading counsel for The Times. In 1893 he appeared for Great Britain in the Bering Sea arbitration, and was appointed GCMG. In 1899 he was leading counsel in the Venezuela arbitration and was created a baronet early in the following year.
On 10 May 1900, having previously refused it, Webster reluctantly accepted appointment as master of the rolls in succession to Sir Nathaniel Lindley, and was sworn of the privy council. On 18 July 1900 he was created Baron Alverstone, of Alverstone in the Isle of Wight. Following the death of Lord Russell of Killowen, Webster was appointed lord chief justice of England on 22 October 1900. He was not a profound lawyer, and as a judge disliked making statements of principle, although he played an important part in the success of the court of criminal appeal, established in 1907. In 1903, with two Canadians and three Americans, he was an arbitrator on the Alaska boundary question. The decision, which was that of Webster and the three Americans, made him, and for a time Great Britain, very unpopular in Canada.
Webster resigned as lord chief justice on 20 October 1913 on account of ill health, and was created a viscount. In retirement he published his Recollections of Bar and Bench (1914), the literary quality of which was, as he admitted, impaired by his failing health. Outside the legal sphere he had a lifelong interest in athletics, having won the mile and 2 mile races for Cambridge against Oxford in 1865, and subsequently serving as president of the Amateur Athletic Association. Interested in music, he sang for forty years in the choir of Kensington parish church. He was generous with his money, and a keen billiards player, though some regarded his boisterous geniality as artificial. Webster died at Winterfold, the house which he had built at Cranleigh, in Surrey, on 15 December 1915, and was buried in Norwood cemetery on 18 December 1915.
- The Times (16 Dec 1915)
- Law Journal (18 Dec 1915)
- Viscount Alverstone [R. E. Webster], Recollections of bar and bench (1914)
- R. F. V. Heuston, Lives of the lord chancellors, 1885–1940 (1964)
- BL, family corresp. and papers, Add. MSS 61737–61740
- Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Kimberley
- CKS, letters to Aretas Akers-Douglas
- LPL, corresp. with Archbishop Benson
- U. Birm. L., corresp. with Joseph Chamberlain
- F. Verheyden, caricature, watercolour, 1883, NPG; repro. in VF (26 May 1883)
- S. P. Hall, pencil drawing, 1888–9, NPG
- S. P. Hall, group drawing, 1889, NPG
- S. P. Hall, pencil drawing, 1889, NPG
- F. Pegram, drawings, 1889, V&A
- Russell & Sons, photograph, 1895, NPG
- J. S. Lucas, chalk drawing, 1902, NPG
- J. S. Lucas, colour photogravure, 1902, NPG
- A. S. Cope, oils, 1903, Lincoln's Inn, London
- J. Collier, oils, 1911, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, London
- J. Brown, engraving (after H. T. Wells), NPG
- F. Dodd, etching, BM
- F. Lockwood, caricatures, repro. in Alverstone, Recollections
- London Stereoscopic Co., cabinet photograph, NPG
- Spy [L. Ward], caricature, chromolithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (1 Nov 1900)
- G. J. Stodart, stipple (after H. T. Wells), BM, NPG
- W. H., caricature, chromolithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (15 Jan 1913)
- oils, Harvard U., law school
- photograph, repro. in Alverstone, Recollections, frontispiece
Wealth at Death
£311,373 4s. 11d.: probate, 14 March 1916, CGPLA Eng. & Wales