Gibbs, Vicary 1853-1932, genealogist and gardener, was born at Hampstead 12 May 1853, the third, but second surviving, son of Henry Hucks Gibbs, afterwards first Lord Aldenham [qv.]. He was great-great-nephew of the judge Sir Vicary Gibbs [qv.] whose dry humour he was supposed to have inherited. His mother was Louisa Anne, third daughter of William Adams, of Thorpe, Surrey, fellow of the College of Advocates, Doctors' Commons. George Edward Cokayne [qv.], the original compiler of The Complete Peerage, who in 1873 changed his name from Adams, was his mother's brother, and also married his father's sister.
Gibbs was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he obtained a third class in classical moderations (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. In 1892 he was elected conservative member of parliament for the St. Albans division, but in 1904 he voluntarily vacated his seat, on the ground that his business had accepted an Admiralty contract, and was defeated at the ensuing by-election.
By a family arrangement Gibbs continued to live at Aldenham House, near Elstree, and there he developed gardens the fame of which was world-wide. His tastes were against formal horticulture, and he gradually acquired a magnificent collection of the rarer trees and flowering shrubs, especially of American thorns. The beauties of his garden were freely shared, for he regularly issued catalogues of his surplus plants at moderate prices. He had himself a keen eye for variations of foliage and habit.
For many years Gibbs had been collecting material for a new edition of The Complete Peerage, which he dedicated to his uncle. The first volume was published in 1910, and four volumes had appeared by 1916. In 1920 Gibbs relinquished the editorship to Henry Arthur Doubleday, whose name appears on the title-page of the original issue of vol. v (1921). After the appearance of vol. v he ceased to bear the major part of the expenses of the enterprise; these he had defrayed in full up to 1919. He continued, however, to give valued advice until his death, and excerpts from the copious material which he had prepared will appear over his initials in all the later volumes. By 1945 the work had been carried down to vol. x (Oakham to Richmond). The revised edition treats of medieval peerages with a far higher degree of scholarship than did Cokayne's original work, which relied too much on printed sources, especially on Dugdale's Baronage; it also bears witness in its less austere footnotes to the remarkable range of Gibbs's reading and information. He delighted in appropriate quotations which give a thumbnail portrait or a vignette of contemporary manners and often reflect his characteristic sardonic humour. Genealogists and historians are doubly in debt to his learning and his generosity.
Gibbs died, unmarried, at his London house 13 January 1932. A portrait by J. B. Wirgman is in the possession of Lord Aldenham, and another, by R. G. Evans, is the property of the National Provident Institution.
The Times, 14 and 22 January 1932
Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 1904
Contributor: Michael Maclagan.