Sir William Webb Follett

A plaque at Follett Lodge, Ferry Road, Topsham, EX3 0JN reads:

Follett Lodge. In this house was born Sir Wm Webb Follett, Attorney General B. 1798 –D. 1845

WILLIAM WEBB FOLLETT, eldest surviving son of a Topsham timber merchant, Benjamin Follett, and his Irish-born wife Anne, was born on 2 December 1796, and not 1798 as recorded on the plaque. Despite being a sickly boy, he went to Exeter Grammar School at 11, but was then tutored privately by Mr Hutchinson, the curate of Heavitree, before going to Trinity College, Cambridge. He began his legal career in 1814 in the Inner Temple, joined the western circuit after being called to the bar in 1824, and launched a phenomenally wide and successful legal practice that made him one of the most respected and wealthy counsel in the land. He had a reputation for winning cases by raising “unexpected objections of the most technical character”.

In 1832 Follett, a Tory, stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in Exeter. Two years later, Robert Peel made him Solicitor General and in the same year he became a KC and was knighted. The following year he was elected as an MP for Exeter but although he won subsequent elections, he was an absent MP, hardly ever visiting the city. In 1844 he achieved the height of his political success becoming Attorney General. However, the demands of being a politician and a successful barrister ruined his health and he died on 28 June 1845, aged only 48, and was buried in Temple Church, London. He left a widow, Jane, five sons and two daughters.

Follett bought large estates in north-east Devon where he never lived. Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery show him as an extraordinarily handsome man. There is a larger-than-life-size white marble statue in the Chapel of St Michael in Westminster Abbey of Follett wearing a barrister’s gown and holding a scroll that he rests on three law books. JM