In 1952 our 75th accession, a deed of land in Cowbridge, was deposited by the firm of H.J. Randall, Solicitors of Bridgend and in 1961 our 75th accession came from Stockwood Solicitors, another firm practising in the town.
Thomas Stockwood is listed as a solicitor in the 1865 trade directory working from an office in the town hall, whilst the Randall family began practicing law in Bridgend when William Richard Randall opened for business in Nolton Street in the 1880s.
The papers of these firms (refs. DRA and DST) illustrate the variety of material that can come to us from solicitors’ offices. Solicitors are involved in many of our most important life events, compiling and safeguarding our wills, handling divorces and overseeing house sales, so we expect to find legal documents such as copies of wills and deeds to properties and land included in their collections.
However, solicitors often played significant roles in their local communities, acting in a legal capacity for many official bodies, as well as agents for landed estates and manors and other local organisations in which they had a personal interest. Randall of Bridgend, for example, acted as land agents for the Earl of Dunraven and stewards of many local manors. Thomas Stockwood was clerk to the magistrates and agent to the Dowager Countess of Dunraven. He was also Honorary Secretary to the Rest in Porthcawl, and the collection includes a letter written to him from Florence Nightingale in 1871, where she comments on plans for a new building.
Both collections reflect the varied interests of the solicitors as well as their diverse clientele and include papers relating to collieries, local families, public utilities, agriculture, railways, the Glamorganshire Rifle Volunteers and poetry.
The importance of finding out what records were held by solicitors was recognised in the early days of the Record Office. In 1947 letters were sent by County Archivist, Madeleine Elsas, to local firms all over Glamorgan. The responses to the letters offer a fascinating glimpse of post war life for many solicitors. Some in Swansea reported that most of their historic records had been ‘destroyed by enemy action or saturated with water following such action’. The war had other consequences with one firm in Pontypridd reporting that ‘most of our old files and documents relating to the last century and the early part of this century were either used as salvage during the late war, or destroyed in office reorganisation at the end of the war’.
However, the speculative letters from the Record Office did encourage many firms to search ‘out old boxes and bundles’ as one solicitor described it and resulted in the deposit of many rich and varied collections.