The earliest records of the Harrogate & District Law Society go back to 1918 and show that between then and 1922 the Society had three ‘Chairmen’, Francis Barber, Edwin Raworth and J A Eddison, and after that Presidents took charge, starting with W H Hutchinson, whose grandchild is still working in Hutchinson & Buchanan in Ripon. The first female President was Mercia Cato in 1976.
The Honorary Secretaries of the Society were supplied by Titley Paver-Crow and Fedden (part of what is now Barber Titleys) from 1918 onwards and and it was only in 1984 that an outsider took over the role. Similarly the Society’s Treasurers came from Kirbys (formerly Kirby Son and Atkinson) from 1918 to 2001, when Erik Thompson retired.
For a full list of Presidents and Secretaries to date click here.
The Society has had a long history and its members have always been at the heart of the Harrogate and district community. Member firms have usually been based in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Pateley Bridge but for a while we had members in Otley, because Newstead Walker & Myers had offices there.
During the Second World War from 1939-1945 the Society was at the heart of dealing with a number of issues thrown up by wartime conditions and conscription and, as the minutes say, “Registration of Solicitors for special war work, pooling the services of members for the benefit of members serving National Service and representation of Solicitors before the Hardship Committee.”
Joint meetings between the Society and the Harrogate Medical Society have taken place since 1934. There are records of a meeting in January 1948 on the subject of “Psychiatry and the Law”, the speaker being a Dr Brisby of H M Prison Leeds. The meeting was held at the then Imperial Café, now Bettys shop on Parliament Street, Harrogate. At a later date lawyers and medics were joined by local clerics for their joint meetings, and these continue to date.
Legal Aid was first introduced after WWII in 1949 and Jim Butterworth took on the job of “temporary part-time secretary” of the Legal Aid section of the Law Society, with Mr Mc Call as his alternate, covering Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Pateley Bridge. In the early days the operation was very simple and ad hoc operating from Mr Butterworth’s office at Raworths; a far cry from the massive bureaucracy of modern day Legal Aid /Legal Aid Agency and the Legal Services Commission.
The Annual Banquet – The earliest record of an event that was later to become the famous Banquet was a Dinner held at the Crown Hotel in 1935. The following year’s event was cancelled “owing to the death of His late Majesty King George V”, but after that the event grew in reputation to become a lavish and much sort after invitation.
At the height of its glory it was a multi course banquet invariably attended by the presiding High Court Judge, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales from London, The Harrogate County Court Judge, The Mayor, The County Court Registrar, The President’s Chaplain and guest speaker, who was usually one of the top QCs on the North East Circuit. The food and drink were exceptional and it had the reputation among judges and in London as being one of the, if not the, most desirable banquets to attend.
The Banquet became a victim of the 1990s recession when many firms felt that they could not justify such as event in times of financial stringency. The final Banquet, in a cut down form, took place in 1997.
Annual Service – For many years it was customary for the President to arrange a Sunday Service at his or her church followed by a drinks party. This died out in the early 1980s.
Postal Strike – In 1981 there was a strike of postal workers that paralysed much of business and legal work. Within 24 hours of the start of the strike the Society had a document handover system operating with neighbouring societies. Within a week any solicitor could communicate with any other in an area bounded by Newcastle, Carlisle, Manchester and Sheffield. Shortly afterwards the Land Registry, Banks and Building Societies joined in. This scheme lead directly to the setting up of the Document Exchange (DX) system through which the majority of inter-lawyer and conveyancing correspondence moves to this day.