Lois Hancock

Published 14th June 2024

Lois Hancock, formerly Lois Shawyer, died on the 5th April 2009 at the age of 102. She was a tribute to the legal profession, the first woman solicitor in South Shields and will always be remembered as an intelligent, intellectual person with a desire for life.

Lois was born on the 15th June 1906. She was educated at the Westoe Village Seminary for Girls and later at the Convent of Herck-la-Ville in Belgium. She took a law course at King’s College Newcastle, began her legal career around 1932 with Grunhut, Grunhut and Makepeace and in 1936 was articled to Victor Grunhut, in South Shields. The following year, she won the prestigious Rennoldson Prize (a scholarship established by Mr Rennoldson, a South Shields solicitor). Being admitted as a solicitor on 1st March 1941, she was one of only a few female solicitors at the time. By way of illustration, there were only 356 lady solicitors in 1957, 16 years later.

Her first employer Victor Grunhut described her in a reference as “most industrious, capable and takes great interest in all her work” and would “confidently recommend her to any position to which intelligence, hard work and loyalty to her employers are concerned”. This was written on 6th May 1941, and up until her retirement in 1970, we can confidently assume these traits were maintained to make her the formidable woman she was.

In 1954, she was appointed as Clerk to the Jarrow Magistrates – a highly respected position. Subsequently, her jurisdiction was increased to include Hebburn, Felling and Blaydon Magistrates Courts. She was the first female Magistrates Clerk in the North East and to put this in perspective by 1970, there were still only three in the whole of Britain.

Lois Shawyer married an accountant, Robert J. Hancock. After both of their retirements in 1970, Lois with 29 years of service as Clerk to the Justices, they took annual holidays to Sitges in Spain every winter. She lost her husband to cancer on 27th August 1997 and those close to her knew she missed him a great deal. In 2006 she celebrated her 100th birthday and received her card from the Queen. Unfortunately in the same year she suffered a fall breaking her hip but showed great determination to stay at home with the help of carers and friends. At her funeral Cecil Laverick who was formerly articled to Lois, thanked her friends Joan Douglas, Hazel and Jack Ancrum, and Jean and Ken Lockerbie for the help they gave her during this difficult period.

Lois was a regular attender at the Retired Solicitors Luncheons at Kingston Park. She attended her last meeting in October 2008 when she was 102 years old. With a love of life and a legal career spanning some 38 years, Lois will be sorely missed. Although female entrants to the profession now slightly outnumber their male counterparts, in 1941 upon her admission as a solicitor, Lois was one of only two lady solicitors in the North East. She really was a woman in a man’s world. Upon her retirement in 1970 she commented to the Shields Gazette that she had had a wonderful career and enjoyed “battling” with her fellow solicitors on points of Law. The then deputy chairman of the magistrates, Mr JW Grant expressed the gratitude of all the magistrates for her advice and commented “It is a great tribute to her that, to my certain knowledge for 20 years, this bench has never had a decision reversed on going on to a higher court”. She herself said “I would recommend any young woman interested to do as I did, but the main thing is that you have to like people. I don’t think it is any easier nowadays [1970] for a woman to go into the Law than in my day, although some doors have been opened a little wider”. After 102 years I am convinced that Lois would have happily been able to look back on her life with great satisfaction.

By Clementine Goodings Thanks are due to Ken Lockerbie and Cecil Laverick for the information provided to the Society and to Keith Bardwell from the South Tyneside Local Studies Library who found the Press Reports in the Shields Gazette.

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