A Brief History of John W Pinkerton & Son

John Wallace ("J.W.") Pinkerton commenced business in 1904 in an office in High Street, Ballymoney as John W Pinkerton, Solicitor and operated as a one man practice for 34 years. His son John Laidlaw ("Jack") Pinkerton joined the firm as an Apprentice in 1935 and when he qualified in 1938 he was made a partner. The firm then changed to John W Pinkerton & Son, the name under which it continues to practise to-day.

Although J.W. was a sole practitioner, he was fortunate to have excellent staff, a benefit that the firm continues to enjoy to this day. For example, William Beckett joined the firm as a law clerk just after the First World War and retired in 1963 aged 82! Gretta Morrison came to the firm as a temporary typist for a month and stayed for 40 years! Such was the quality of his staff that he was able to be a member of the Council of the Law Society of Northern Ireland for over 20 years, being President in 1937. He was still a member of Council at the time of his death in February 1949. He was on his way to a Law Society meeting when he dropped dead in the street in Belfast, aged 70.

After 10 years in partnership with his father Jack suddenly found himself as a sole practitioner. Not only that but he agreed to be co-opted to fill the vacancy on the Council of the Law Society left by the death of J. W.

In about 1951 the firm moved from High Street to larger premises in Linenhall Street which always exuded a warm atmosphere, the heat from the solid fuel stoves in each office coupled with the all-pervading smoke from William Beckett’s pipe. It was the duty of the apprentice to clear out and light the stoves each morning. Whilst the office may not have been state of the art, the firm certainly kept up to date with technology. Audio typing was in use in the firm in the 1940’s and we acquired our first word processor in 1969. In 1962 the firm moved across the street to the premises it occupies to-day.

In 1968 Jack took on as an apprentice Eric Noel ("Toby") Wilton, MBE, who had recently retired as a senior district officer in Northern Nigeria and who had served in the Royal Navy during the War. With Toby qualified in 1971 Jack was able to take on the role as President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland. He was the first ever second generation President of LSNI. At that time he also took over the practice of W Headly Smyth in Coleraine and for a number of years the firm had two offices, one in Ballymoney and one in Coleraine.

In 1976 Jack’s daughter-in-law, Joan, qualified as a solicitor having previously been a senior welfare officer. The Coleraine office was closed that year and resources were concentrated in Ballymoney. Jack’s son John joined the firm after a career in industry and qualified as a solicitor in 1985. Jack retired in 1986 (although he continued as a consultant) and Joan became a partner along with Toby Wilton. History unfortunately repeated itself in February 1989 when Jack also dropped dead on his way to a Law Society meeting, aged 73. In the space of ten months the firm went from five solicitors to two but Joan and John carried on in partnership together for a further five years, shouldering the additional workload by the simple expedient of working much longer hours.

In October 1994 Joan was diagnosed with cancer and retired immediately. She died in February 1995 aged 52. In the meantime Frank Dillon joined the firm and stayed until 1996 when he left to set up on his own. Richard Rountree, who had been in practice on his own in Omagh, joined the firm and was made a partner in 1999. In 1996 John re-married and in 1998 his wife, Sue, who previously had been Director of Information Services with Messrs Wilde Sapte, Solicitors, in the City of London, left her job in the Bar Library to provide maternity cover for Mary Platt, our senior probate clerk. She stayed on as a law clerk after Mary’s return from maternity leave and concurrently studied for an Open University LL B which was awarded in 2003.

John became a member of the Council of the Law Society of Northern Ireland in October 1995 and in 2003 became President. He has the unique distinction of being the first ever third generation President, certainly within the island of Ireland and probably within the United Kingdom. Once again this was only possible due to the hard work and loyalty of the staff in the firm. At the time of writing he is still a member of Council and of a number of its committees. The year that John was President he took on a young law graduate, Steven Flynn, to help keep his files moving in his absence. Steven stayed on, went to the Institute of Professional Legal Studies and qualified as a solicitor in 2008. In the meantime, Sue had attended the Institute and qualified as a solicitor in 2007. The firm is now back up to four full time solicitors.