Mrs Mary Prew was welcomed to the offices of AmicusLaw in Ilminster recently by Dr Nicholas Bevan, Jess Coombes and Andrew Lewis. Mary, now aged 92, in fact opened the Ilminster office of the law firm in 1958 when it was known as “Saul McQueen and Prew”, Mary’s late husband, Edward Prew, being one of the partners of the firm. “When we first set up, there was just one secretary and me” said Mary “and I was the first lady solicitor in Ilminster – in fact I think there were only three or four in Somerset in those days”. The Ilminster office now has a staff of 10 people, and 80 across all offices.
Mary did five years training in Clitheroe before qualifying as a solicitor and taking her first job in Sheffield “I was never paid a salary for my five years’ training and just received a bottle of perfume at Christmas”.
It was a chance meeting which brought Mary to Somerset: she drove her parents down to stay with friends in the area for a week and they introduced her to neighbours who had a son, a young solicitor, called Edward, who worked in Taunton. It was Edward who persuaded his fellow partners to take a chance and open an office in Ilminster at number 11 East Street, with the purchase of the adjoining premises, number 13, coming some years later as the firm continued to expand.
Mary and Edward married in 1959 and had two children, Jeremy and Susan. Mary and Edward first rented a property in Taunton and thereafter arranged to buy and renovate three cottages in Ilminster which then became the family home. “Life in the Office was very different in those days as, although we had a typewriter, a lot of the old deeds, which we had to store and sometimes examine, were still handwritten on parchment”.
Mary entered fully into the life of the local community, being elected a town councillor, and has many fond memories of the office, her work colleagues and her clients during her long stint with the firm, until her retirement in 1985. Her room was at the front where reception is now, and she could look out of her window and see all that was going on in the town. Mary stressed the importance of having empathy with her clients, a quality which is still so vital today.