The name Pittis has long been known on the Isle of Wight. However, the first record of a Pittis who was involved with the law is an Edward Pittis practising as an attorney in Newport in 1690. Certainly Richard Roach Pittis’s ancestors had carved their way on the Island in businesses such as grocers, pharmacists,estate agents, millers and as the postmaster of Newport.
A Richard Pittis,
the son of Thomas Pittis, was born in 1788. His father was a miller and grocer and Richard in turn carried on the business as a grocer in Newport and prospered. He married Mary Seymour and they had four sons. His second son also Richard
Pittis, worked as a Grocer, Wine and Spirit Merchant at 123 High Street, Newport. He married Amelia Roach in 1845 and they had six children, the third of whom was named Richard Roach Pittis who was born on the 16 January 1852. His younger brother Seymour Pittis was born in 1860. The other four children were daughters.
Richard Pittis had in 1848 purchased the site of the present offices at 64 Lugley Street, Newport and also Lugley House.
Richard Roach Pittis who was educated at Newport Grammar School and was very much a man of his town. In 1868 when aged 16 he was articled to his uncle Mr James Alfred Pittis who practised as a solicitor in Lugley Street, Newport from offices were on the southern side of Lugley Street approximately opposite to Roach Pittis’ present offices.
Richard Roach Pittis’ Father had purchased “Lugley House” in Lugley Street where he lived until his death in 1869 and where his widow continued to live with her children (including Richard Roach Pittis).
By the age of 21 in 1873
having qualified as a solicitor Richard Roach Pittis started his practice as a solicitor in offices at 121 Lower St James Street, Newport. On the 26 June 1880 Richard Roach Pittis purchased from the Trustees of his late Father’s Will, the stable and coachouse and built 64 Lugley Street.
Richard Roach Pittis’ first marriage in 1881 ended with a divorce in 1886.
Richard Roach Pittis was a sound lawyer in every sense of the term. He won the confidence of his clients and had considerable contacts in the local business and commercial world. It was said that he built up what was to be the largest and most influential legal practice on the Island. He was prominent in the promotion and incorporation of many local and Island trading companies and acted as a solicitor to many of them. He was one of the founders and first directors of the Isle of Wight County Press Newspaper and Publishing Co Limited.
Richard Roach Pittis because the part time Town Clerk of Newport and was Town Clerk at the time when his Uncle Francis Pittis was knighted by Queen Victoria at Osborne House. At that time Richard Roach Pittis was presented to Her Majesty.
Subsequently Richard Roach Pittis became a member of the County Council and was instrumental with another Newport Solicitor Mr Roby Eldridge, in establishing the technical school in Newport at Node Hill, originally called an Institute and the forerunner of the Isle of Wight College, the building later became Newport Secondary Grammar School and then Node Hill Middle School. It is now a Sixth Form College.
Perhaps however his greatest involvement outside of his firm was his devotion to the promotion of the Newport Literary and Debating Society of which he was president for many years. He was also a prominent member of the Isle of Wight County Club in St James’ Square and involved in its formation in 1896.
In the 1898
Directory of the National Telephone Company appears the entry for Newport “5……PITTIS ROACH……Solicitor……35 Lugley Street”.
There were only 31 entries for Newport, all business or professional, save one private house.
Richard Roach Pittis married Nina Marie Peverille in 1909. He purchased Lugley House (close to the office at 64 Lugley Street) andhe lived there until his death in 1913. Lugley House is currentlythe Head Office of the Medina Housing Association.
Richard Roach Pittis was undoubtedly a man of some wealth which he had gained from the practice of the law in his native town.Not only did he contribute to the intellectual life of the town but was very involved with the sporting activities having been president for many years of the Newport Cricket Club and Football Club.
He was also involved in many other sports. He promoted the work of local friendly societies especially the Oddfellows and was a governor of the Royal Isle of Wight County Hospital at Ryde and the National Hospital for Consumption, later the Royal National Hospital at Ventnor.
Richard Roach Pittis had been one of the prime instigators in the formation of the Isle of Wight Law Society in 1903 and was elected the first President, a position which he held until 1907.
Richard Roach Pittis had no children but his brother, Seymour Pittis, who lived at Hale Manor, Arreton had a son Charles Pittis who was born in 1895 and in 1911 was articled to his uncle, Richard Roach Pittis, clearly with the intention that he would follow on in the practice of his uncle.
However, in 1913
Richard Roach Pittis’ health started to decline and he died at Lugley House on the 14th July 1913. His hoped successor, Charles Pittis, had not completed his articles and could not take over the firm.
The funeral took place on Friday 18th July at St Thomas’s Church with the attendance of the “Great and the Good” of the Town and County. The County Press detailed those attending the service and those sending the many floral tributes.
Following his death in July 1913 the practice of Richard Roach Pittis was purchased by Alexander Young-James (then age 28) who named the practice “Roach Pittis & Co”. He had been admitted as a Solicitor in 1908. In October of 1913 he married and came to the Isle of Wight where he lived in “Lugley House”; soon thereafter he joined the Princess Beatrice’s Isle of Wight Rifles, a Territorial Regiment.
He was also joined in the Territorials by Charles Pittis his then Articled Clerk. Both Mr Young-James and Charles Pittis were called to the colours in 1914. Mr Young-James was killed at Sulva Bay Gallipoli Turkey on the 12 August 1915. At that time he was a Lieutenant and news of his death was brought to his widow by Princess Beatrice who was then the Governor of the Isle of Wight.
With the death of Mr Young-James and with his Articled Clerk serving abroad with the Isle of Wight Rifles, the practice was held together by the Managing Clerk George Long, with periodic visits from one Herbert Richard Palmer a solicitor then practising in Nuneaton who was the brother in law of the late Mr Alexander Young-James. However, a further blow was when Charles Pittis the Articled Clerk was killed in action at Gaza in 1917 having previously been awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry at Gallipoli. There is an impressive brass tablet to his memory erected in St George’s Church Arreton by his parents Mr and Mrs Seymour Pittis. So ended the direct link of the Pittis family with the firm.
Following the end of the war in 1918
Herbert Palmer came to the Isle of Wight. Herbert Palmer was another very able man. He had been born in London on the 6 June 1880, where he served his articles. In December 1913 he had married Alexandrina Mimi Young-James. Herbert Palmer came to the Island in 1919 and set up home in Dover Street, Ryde and remained there until after the death of his wife in 1959, living at that time in the Long Cottage, Dover Street, Ryde.
Like Richard Roach Pittis there were no children of the Palmer marriage.
Undoubtedly Herbert Palmer was a man of considerable ability as a very persuasive advocate in the court setting, both before the Magistrates and the County Court. He also had considerable acumen in the business and commercial side of the practice and was well respected. Like his predecessor Richard Roach Pittis he became director of the County Press and had involvement with other local companies.
From Richard Roach Pittis’ time W.B. Mew Langton & Co Ltd, the brewers, whose offices and brewery were located in Newport had been with their Directors substantial clients of the firm. Herbert Palmer maintained this connection with the company and Directors.
Herbert Palmer was appointed Clerk to the Justices for the Borough of Newport. At that time the Isle of Wight was divided into three Petty Sessional Divisions the Boroughs of Newport, and Ryde and the remainder of the County. Herbert Palmer accepted the appointment and to celebrate a photograph was taken showing the complete staff of the firm – there was not one lady in sight as Mr Palmer’s secretary/typist/assistant was a young man. The appointment of Clerk to the Justices entailed additional work and Cyril Caplehorn who had gone to the firm in 1923 as a 14 year old office boy was promoted from being a litigation assistant also to dealing with the administrative work required to issue the Summonses and keep the records of decisions.
In 1936 Percival Harman was taken into partnership by Herbert Palmer and John Baker also entered into articles on his sixteenth birthday. John was later to have great influence in shaping the future of the firm. At this time there was another Articled Clerk, Leslie Jay who was older than John Baker, he qualified as a solicitor in 1937 and was retained as an assistant solicitor with the firm.
When the war commenced in 1939 this had a denuding effect upon the staff of Roach Pittis & Co and Leslie Jay left to serve in the army as did Percival Harman, and after he qualified in 1941 so did John Baker and two other members of the staff, Arthur Westmore and Aubrey Cooper. John Baker served in the RAF. Percival Harman was awarded the Military Medal when serving as a parachutist in North Africa, he returned to the office in 1946 as a Partner and John Baker as an assistant solicitor. In 1946 Tony Gale had commenced articles of clerkship with Herbert Palmer, he qualified as a solicitor in 1951 and then left the firm for national service.
John Baker had been admitted to partnership with Herbert Palmer and Percival Harman and all seemed set for the future, however, it became apparent that Percival Harman was suffering from long term ill health and in the mid-fifties he was diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis which resulted in his retirement from the firm in 1957. By this time, Herbert Palmer was aged seventy seven and the weight of the practice was falling upon John Baker.
In January 1958 Tony Gale who had been in Northern Rhodesia practising as a solicitor and barrister returned and joined the Roach Pittis & Co Partnership in the place of Percival Harman so that there were once again three partners.
In April 1961 Herbert Palmer died and John Baker and Tony Gale carried on the practice from 64 Lugley Street where Richard Roach Pittis had set up his practice in the 1873. John Baker gradually became involved in more commercial work and this side of the practice developed very considerably especially with Walter J Rugg & Co Limited, the Vectis Stone Company Limited and Upward and Rich Ltd. These companies all expanded from the Island onto the mainland and eventually were taken over by much larger companies. Tony Gale was more inclined towards litigation and advocacy. After a few years of reorganisation the time seemed ripe to think of expansion.
In the 1970’s additional premises in Lugley Street were purchased and converted into offices.
Islander Tony Holmes joined as a Trainee Solicitor and remained as an Assistant Solicitor until becoming a Partner in 1976. Tony Bradshaw had joined as an Assistant Solicitor in 1980, becoming a Partner in 1983. Likewise Christopher Prew had joined in 1982 becoming a Partner in 1986 on the retirement of John Baker. During this period of expansion the decision was made to modernise the name of the firm from “Roach Pittis & Co” by dropping the “& Co” the present title reflecting the continuity from Richard Roach Pittis establishing the Firm in 1873.
By the 1970’s it was apparent that country firms of solicitors would need to have expertise in specialist areas of practice. This had already been recognised in Roach Pittis with John Baker (until his retirement) concentrating in the fields of agricultural and commercial work; in these areas he was joined by Tony Holmes. Tony Bradshaw headed up private client work and acted for various charities and long term trusts.
Tony Gale’s work was mainly criminal litigation and planning, he was joined by Christopher Prew who later concentrated on civil litigation with a specialism in personal injury work. In 1991 Deborah Harman who joined the firm working in criminal litigation and family law.
In the 1980’s
Lugley Cottage was purchased, enabling a car park to be provided for the Partners, staff and the use of clients.
Philip Ledger, another local man, joined Roach Pittis in 1988 and became a Partner in 1991, helping to fill the need in the expanding commercial practice of the firm.
In 1993 Deborah Harman became a Partner. In 2002, her husband having retired, Deborah decided to retire too and went to live in Spain.
On 30 September 1994 Tony Gale, having reached 65, retired from the firm he had joined as an articled clerk in January 1946.
In 1996 Tony Holmes was appointed a Director of the Isle of Wight County Press so continuing the link from the formation of the Company by Richard Roach Pittis in the 19th Century, to Herbert Palmer in the early to mid 20th Century.
In 2003 Barry Arnett became a partner in the firm so strengthening its position in criminal litigation.
1st September 2008
saw a significant step in the history of the firm when the local Newport practice of Matthews Henshaw Verrinder merged with Roach Pittis, three Solicitors joining the firm, Keith Verrinder, Peter Ricks and Lee Peckham. Keith Verrinder and later Lee Peckham becoming partners in Roach Pittis. Janet Bell joining to head up the Family Law Department. This resulted in a further strengthening and consolidation of the firm in the field of litigation.
Emma Gifford joining the firm in 2010 on Philip Ledgers’ retirement to work in the commercial field together with Ian Bradshaw in the Private Client Department.
The firm of Roach Pittis with its slowly changing make up of partners and staff as the years pass, is still eminent in commercial, agricultural, private client and litigious work as it has been for over 130 years, based in its Lugley Street, Newport offices.