A woman of fierce determination, Agnes Twiston Hughes qualified as a solicitor in 1923 and thus became the first Welsh woman to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Born in 1896, the younger daughter of solicitor John Williams Hughes, Agnes was trained by her father; on qualification she joined him in his practice in Conwy, North Wales and remained there until she retired in 1961 after 38 years of working in and for her local community.
A formidable woman, she came from an exceptionally determined family; her father, whose own father was a joiner and builder, finally qualified as a solicitor at the age of 41, having worked as a solicitor’s clerk since the age of 19. After training in England, he moved back to his native Wales and set up his own practice in Conwy, North Wales. Imbued with the strong Welsh belief in the value of education John Hughes sent both his daughters to the Welsh Girls School in Ashford, Middlesex and then to the Bangor County School. Fiercely intelligent, and described later as a woman who did not suffer fools gladly, Agnes not only obtained a BSc in Economics from London University but also won 3 major prizes and came first out of all candidates, male and female, in the Law Society Finals Class of 1923.
Agnes spent the whole of her life in Conwy and her entire professional life at her father’s firm, J W Hughes & Co, first as his articled clerk and eventually as its Senior Partner. In many ways her career was strikingly similar to those of male solicitors of that era, who became part of the establishment of country towns, using their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of their fellow citizens and their civic positions as one of the few ways that solicitors could legally “advertise” their services.
Agnes became first a local Councillor and then in 1954 the Mayor of Conwy. She enjoyed striding along the golf links at Conwy Golf Club bordering the sea and in 1948 was elected its Captain. To be able almost simultaneously to manage a practice and to represent her town and her golf club suggests an uncommon energy and stamina. Agnes did not marry, but then neither did almost 40% of the women who qualified as solicitors in the first decade after the passing of the 1919 Act. Perhaps she was simply too ferocious for members of the male sex. It is rumoured that she could reduce male councillors to tears and was described as “that old battleaxe” by some male members of her profession, although there were also those who would testify to her kindness and the good advice that she gave her articled clerks and younger solicitors.
Certainly she lived life to her own idiosyncratic standards, insisting that the annual church service which was part of the Mayoral Year should be held at the Welsh Methodist Chapel where she worshipped rather than at the Parish Church of St Mary which had been customary. A chain smoker, her image lingers in the memory. One of her articled clerks said with affection that “she could make you tremble in your boots. The day I qualified I went to see her sitting behind her desk in six cardigans, because the office was unheated. She smoked like a chimney. And she said to me, “Well done, Janet. I have only one thing to say to you, never assume anything my dear and good luck.”
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and Champion of First 100 Years
Photograph courtesy of The Law Society of England and Wales