Rooted in Wetherby, Hartlaw began with the Fitzgerald-Hart family. A group of local government lawyers, they worked for several generations before acquiring the private practice of Langhorne and Barnes, which was established in Wetherby in 1932. The staff comprised one part-time solicitor, one secretary and a clerk, all working from a single room and corridor above what is now Craggs Cobblers in Westgate.
In 1971, the practice moved to Bank Street, an historic building dating back to 1750, which was then in use as a transport hotel. Bank Street held a liquor license, at a time when there were over 140 licensed premises in the “coaching” town of Wetherby, halfway between London and Edinburgh.
At first the solicitors practice occupied only one floor of the Bank Street building but gradually it grew to use all three floors and even the cellar. Even so, by the late 1980’s Hartlaw needed even more space and acquired 10 Market Place Wetherby, which is currently the Leonard Cheshire charity shop.
Market Place was used for conveyancing only under the trading name ‘First Call’. It boasted a modern shop window with sales particulars and invited clients to drop in whenever they wished without an appointment. The staff even wore uniforms - very modern for the time!
In the 1990’s, Hartlaw moved to its present premises in James Street. This building had been in use for many years as a joiner’s workshop with an undertaker’s attached (the coffins were made on the first floor and then dropped down to the ground floor). It needed complete refurbishment to provide modern offices with ground floor reception.
As Hartlaw continued to grow, even these new offices were not sufficient for the expanding staff, and the current office has been extended twice and is now a three-storey building of approximately 5000 square feet. The latest extension, which involved a completely new roof, meant the firm moving temporarily out. For quite a few months we were in two industrial units, which boiled in the summer and froze in winter!
There are no longer any Fitzgerald-Harts in the firm, the last one, Mark Fitzgerald-Hart, the grandson of the founder of the firm, having retired 20 years ago. We presently have a set up of almost 40 staff and 9 partners!
In the good or bad old days, high street solicitors did almost everything and were what is known as ‘general practioners’. All that has changed, and the modern Hartlaw has partners in charge of departments specialising in business and property, family matters, wills and probate, and court work. A great deal may have changed in the law in the past 80 years or so, but Hartlaw retains its commitment of service to the local community of Wetherby.
63 St James Street, Wetherby