Just north of Wincanton to the east of the road to Bruton is a locality known as Roundhill. Here, in 1510 was born a boy who would become a senior personage in the judicial system of England and establish the system of reporting law cases that is still followed today. Thus, he paved the way for legal precedent, a concept that lies at the heart of our justice system.
Through affiliation to Strand Inn during the 1520s and Middle Temple from about 1530, James Dyer was called to the bar c1537.
He continued his rise as bencher in the 1540s and serjeant at law from 17 October 1552. He became MP for Wells around 1547 and in 1553, became a knight of the shire for Cambridgeshire where he was, by then, based. He attained the highest echelons of our justice system with appointment as Justice of the Peace for Cambridgeshire and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1553 – a role currently fulfilled by Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Further advancement came as judge of the court of common pleas in 1557, becoming Chief Justice of the Common Pleas from January 1559 until his death in 1582. (Common Pleas Division was abolished on 16 December 1880, its function merged into the King’s Bench Division, with the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas becoming Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales).
These were Tudor years; until 1547 the king was Henry VIII. He, of course, was succeeded by the boy king, Edward VI, who reigned for only six years, dying aged 15. Queen Mary I then succeeded, followed in 1558 by her sister, Elizabeth I.
Sir James obviously conducted himself with probity and avoided the upheavals that beset the years of Henry’s reign and the difficulties that came with the reign of a minor. He also navigated through the more regressive ways of Mary, his career culminating in the times of Gloriana.