Newham, London: The Poor Man’s Lawyer

A yellowing page of a 1900s pamphlet. In the centre, a pen and ink drawing shows a woman holding a child and a man bowing slightly to them, outside a door marked ‘Enquiry Office – Knock’. Around the drawing is text.
  Pamphlet describing some of the legal issues people sought help from the Poor Man’s Lawyer for. Courtesy of the Aston Mansfield Collection

When

1891 onwards

Where

Newham, London

Free and accurate legal advice is essential in ensuring that everyone has access to justice. The Poor Man’s Lawyer service at Mansfield House, established in 1891, was one of the first in the UK to offer free legal advice, with the model copied all over the country. The organisation helped inspire today’s legal aid system and Citizens’ Advice.

Barrister Frank Tillyard began the service by holding one session a week, advising on whatever local people needed help with. A committee was set up to assist Tillyard and, over the years many lawyers volunteered their services.

… quite a number of the compensation cases passed through our hands… we were able, by proper representations, to obtain a much larger sum for an injured girl than originally offered.

Mansfield House adviser’s report, after Silvertown munitions factory explosion,1917

Help for women and children was always a priority, with many cases involving what we now recognise as domestic violence. Female legal advisors were on hand to help in these matters. Tillyard compiled a guide for the National Union of Women Workers, to help female social workers give basic legal advice.

Domestic difficulties quite frequently lead to anxious situations: it is not unknown for the husband to be in one room with one lawyer and the wife in another room telling quite a different story to his lady colleague.

Mansfield House adviser’s report

The Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 founded our current legal aid system which made the Poor Man’s Lawyer at Mansfield House redundant. However, in 1998 Mansfield House set up the First Stop Law Shop providing free legal advice, until it closed in 2001.

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