Slater Heelis hosts traditional feast to mark anniversary

Messenger Newspapers: From Peterloo to C3PO: 240 years of service From Peterloo to C3PO: 240 years of service

FROM defending the Manchester police force in the Peterloo Massacre to training the man who would go on to play C3PO in the Star Wars films, Sale law firm Slater Heelis LLP has packed a lot into the three centuries in which it has been practising.

2013 marks 240 years of service for the firm, which it recently marked with a recreation of the Slotherem Roll lunch, a feast that was traditionally organised by the firm’s trainees for the Partners.

The time-honoured feast ran from 1824-1930, stopped during the war then started up again in 1973 and has been held every year since. Once a year the junior clerks were required to provide refreshments for other members of the office including Madeira wine, macaroons, pigeon pie and cream-cakes.

On November 8 Slater Heelis re-created the feast once more – complete with traditional fare - at their offices in Sale, inviting current and former partners and staff including (left to right in photograph) 89 year old Bob Curl; a Partner at the firm until 1988; former Partner Jarlath Walsh; Partner and Head of Private Client Chris Partington; Partner and Head of Commercial Property Will Henson; Partner and Head of Residential Property Edward Michell; Managing Partner Mike Fox; wife of former Partner Roger Groarke, Bernadette Groarke, Christine Hamlin; Partner and Joint Head of Family Mike Hamlin; Nonie Curl.

The origins of Slater Heelis date back to 24th August 1773, when William Fox, son of a tea merchant, was admitted as a solicitor, an event which was followed four months later by the Boston Tea Party and, three years later by the American Declaration of Independence, making Slater Heelis older than the United States of America! When William Fox began practising law, Manchester was home to just 41,000 inhabitants compared to over 500,000 in the city centre alone today.

After practising law for more than 25 years, William Fox left behind the profession to become a partner in a banking firm, handing over the business to his successors John Sharpe and William Eccles.

In 1819 Manchester experienced the terrible Peterloo Massacre, after which the firm acted in defence of the police. James Wroe, then editor of the Manchester Observer wrote pamphlets entitled "The Peterloo Massacre: A Faithful Narrative of the Events" which sold out nationwide. The Government instructed the police and courts to go after the Manchester Observer, with Fox’s firm acting for the police, and Wroe was arrested and charged with producing a seditious publication. As a result the Manchester Observer was almost continually shutdown from late 1819 onwards, finally being replaced by the Manchester Guardian.

In 1833, when William Fox died, Thomas Slater and Stephen Heelis were in place as partners at the new firm and their names have remained in the firm’s title ever since. In the following years the firm acted for many illustrious Manchester families including the Earl of Wilton, the Clowes Estate and the Bridgewater Estates.

Other clients during this era reflected the changing nature of industry and the development of Manchester itself and included the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company and the Old Quay Company. It was as solicitor to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company that William Slater attended the opening ceremony and witnessed the first recorded railway accident when William Hukisson MP unwittingly stepped back onto the track and was fatally injured by the train. The firm also acted for many charities and educational institutions including Manchester Grammar School (William Slater and William Fox both attended the school, as did many of the later staff including current Managing Partner Mike Fox) and Henshaw’s Blind Asylum (now Henshaw’s Society for Blind People) for which the firm drafted Thomas Henshaw’s will in 1807 followed by a final codicil in 1809 and continue to fundraise for today.

In the early years the majority of the firm’s work was in conveyancing but William Slater also became an able Parliamentary lawyer, fighting a number of actions that have made legal history. Rylands-v-Fletcher established the new doctrine that a land owner owed a strict duty to his neighbor to prevent the escape of water accumulated in a reservoir onto his land. The chains of conveyancing work also helped to forge the history and landscape of Manchester city centre with the sale of ‘valuable buildings in Quay Street’ in 1835, which became The Owens College and is now the premises of the County Court. William Slater continued to practise for 65 years and last attended the firm’s Princess Street offices on 8th November 1889, dying just four days later at the grand age of 93.

Stephen Heelis became a similarly celebrated figure, particularly in Salford where in 1853, without ever having sat in the council, he was unanimously elected alderman and later Mayor of Salford for two terms. He even turned down a knighthood during his period in office, declining “the proffered honour from private considerations” according to his obituary. He was one of the founders of the Manchester Law Society, twice serving as President but is perhaps best known for his connection with Beatrix Potter who married his relation and fellow William Heelis in 1913. The memory of Stephen Heelis is kept alive today by the medal which bears his name, which is awarded each year by the Manchester Law Society for outstanding results in certain portions of the University of Manchester LLB examination.

In 1897 Slater Heelis merged with another Manchester firm Wood Williamson & Colley. On 30th December 1896 21 gentlemen from the respective firms sat down to a banquet at the old Albion Hotel on the corner of Piccadilly and Oldham Street with the menu including such delicacies as Mock Turtle soup; Cod and Oyster sauce, Boiled Turkey and Plum Pudding; and on New Year’s Day 1897 the two firms amalgamated. As the firm grew it also began to change and evolve. Oxbridge began to give way to redbrick candidates and new offices were also opened in Sale and Handforth. Women were also beginning to swell the ranks of the firm and records from 1907 show two Lady Clerks, Laura Robinson and Florence Mary Clarke.

The firm also saw the impact of the two World Wars of course, with a number of solicitors being called up for active service. Hugh Colley Irvine, the senior partner, died in 1965 having suffered for 50 years from the effects of mustard gas burns received during the First World War and Neville Williams, who worked for the firm until his death in 1972, also suffered for 30 years as a result of severe war wounds sustained in the Second World War. In more recent years Slater Heelis also represented the last IRA defendant to be tried in Manchester in 1984 before all IRA trials were moved to London.

Slater Heelis continued to act in landmark legal cases including the 1932 ‘snail in the bottle’ Donahue-v-Stephenson case which created the modern concept of negligence in law by setting out general principles whereby one person would owe another person a duty of care. Mrs Donohue drank a bottle of ginger beer in which she found a dead snail. She fell ill and sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Stephenson. The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached, because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product's safety would lead to harm of consumers.

Between 1897 and 1907 the number of partners had grown from four to five; the staff had increased from 15 to 34. Today the firm has over 80 members of staff, and Slater Heelis has also enjoyed the remarkable long-term loyalty of those who have served it for most (and in some cases all!) of their working lives. Elizabeth Mary Sullivan retired in 1972, having completed 57 years with the firm; Sam Williamson retired in 1970 after 25 years as Conveyancing Managing Clerk.

Current partner Mike Hamlin joined in March 1975 and Quality Standards Manager Margaret Fox celebrated 41 years in February this year. The firm has also had a budding film star in its ranks. Anthony Daniels, who went on to play C3PO in the Star Wars films, originally trained as a solicitor at Slater Heelis in the 1970s before becoming an actor.

In 1999 Slater Heelis Sale merged with Collier Littler bringing the two firms together and re-establishing the full service business that Slater Heelis has had a reputation for since 1773. The firm reverted to the Slater Heelis name in December 2009, becoming an LLP in 2012.

Today the firm continues to go from strength to strength and has seen a significant period of growth in the past six months, taking on 14 extra staff with turnover on track to increase by the end of 2013. The firm’s continued success is as a result of a strategic programme of department expansions, lateral hires and mergers including Stephen Locke of Nicholls Locke, Timperley who joined Slater Heelis LLP as a Partner in July, making the firm the successor practice of Nicholls Locke, a highly successful four strong property law firm with a strong and loyal client portfolio. Other major additions to the Slater Heelis LLP firm this year include corporate lawyer and first female president of the Manchester Law Society Katharine Mellor from DWF; Tarran & Co, the city centre personal injury firm and Kate Rayner who joined from Marilyn Stowe Family Law, making the Slater Heelis Family team one of the largest in the region.

Managing Partner Mike Fox began work at Slater Heelis in 1977, getting the call for the interview while working a part time job in the sewers underneath Stockport! Mike said: “We are hugely proud of our heritage and the fact that we can trace our history back to the 18th century. Our enduring success is very much down to the relationships we have with our clients – both commercial and private individuals - and we value that as much today as we ever have. The partners who were able to join us recently for the Slotherem Feast, 240th anniversary event, represent an ethos that we still have today across the business and we are proud to continue to see the impact of reputation, quality and treating people well embedded in our culture. Since the very first days of the firm, and I believe one of the main reasons for our longevity is that we’ve always put reputation, standards and our staff before profit making and plan to continue to do so for the next three centuries.”

www.slaterheelis.co.uk is a respected and long-established full service law firm based in South Manchester that has been awarded Lexcel, the national Law Society’s law management quality mark, for ten years running. With origins dating back to 1773, Slater Heelis LLP now employs over 80 people who offer in-depth legal expertise to commercial and private clients across the fields of employment, property, corporate and commercial, litigation, family, conveyancing and wills and trusts. Slater Heelis LLP works with a diverse client base that ranges from sports personalities and entrepreneurs, to national PLC's, local government and not-for profit organisations.

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