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Laying down the law

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: December 01, 2005

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ATTEND almost any public meeting of note in Stone and town solicitor Trevor Ralph Mardling is likely to be there.

Normally seen resting his formidable frame on one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs so beloved of primary schools and village halls, he makes pertinent points from a position near the back row.
Dressed in his trade’s standard garb of suit, shirt, tie and shoes, this modern-day throwback to the age of Dickens is the first to admit his manner can niggle the unfortunate souls on the receiving end.
"Many people look at me as being rather harsh and rude, but I try to be an individual and to help other people - that’s what I consider my job to be," he says firmly.
Jowled, bespectacled and with greying hair, it is easy to see why the man who joined forces with Kenneth Crick to form a firm which became an integral part of Stone’s High Street scene remains an intimidating physical presence, too.
But, as those familiar with the haunts of the legal eagle will tell you, a scratch of the talons over the skin of what may seem the most cut and dried carcass can reveal a wholly different proposition underneath.
Mardling candidly acknowledges he can appear uncaring, but an hour in his presence unearths less prickly facets of his personality.
Gentle, engaging and amusing, the 59-year-old, who claims to be loyal, not frightened by authority and capable of standing up for the individual, is blessed with a trait so typical of those who move in circles of justice.
He uses words sparingly but those he does use convey his point with precision and clarity and avoid lapsing into the pointless, irrelevant, dull or banal.
Sitting in his first-floor office above the street, a sea of paper, files, and legal tomes threatening to submerge the furniture and floor space within, these short replies augur well for a pithy insight into the experiences of a man who has remained, so to speak, within the law for most of his life.
Born in a nursing home in Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Mardling grew up in nearby Tunstall, where his father Leslie, now 86 and originally from Meir Heath, worked as a farm labourer and driver for Downing’s, the brickworks.
His mother Vera (nee Jackson), who died several years ago, ran a corner shop in Tunstall inherited from her mother. A "strong character", she regularly served the young Robbie Williams, later of pop combo Take That.
Mardling, who, incidentally, went to school with Williams’ father Peter, enjoyed a "happy", sibling-free childhood in Tunstall, passing the 11-plus after seven years at Summerbank Junior School before moving to Hanley High School until the age of 18.
Introduced to the law by one of his mother’s childhood friends, he spent the next five years articled at John Marshall’s, a two-partner practice in Stoke, a firm later taken over by Grindey’s.
Employed without charge and paid £2 a week at a time when the norm was to charge £1,000 for the full five years, Mardling passed all of his six Law Society finals and his pay rose to £5 a week.
The young solicitor moved to Rees Jones in Hanley, helping to set up a criminal defence department during a seven-year stint. The 30-year-old Mardling, who had moved to Stone several years earlier with new wife Helen, joined Crick’s one-partner firm to form a partnership which still bears both men’s names. They met in the Crown, at the time the centre of Stone’s social whirl.
"He persuaded me to come and join him," Mardling says, explaining his gamble. "It took a long time. It was quite a big thing. I was going from a large practice with five partners and four legal executives to just me and Crick."
The two solicitors formed a close working and personal relationship and Mardling, lured with the prospect of greater independence and a bigger salary, found his new role challenging, and became a partner in 1984.
However, their partnership was to end tragically only years later when the diminutive Crick, a heavy smoker with a penchant for gin and tonic and a love of motor racing, died from crippling lung disease emphysema.
On losing Crick, the son of a former Alleyne’s High School deputy headteacher, his partner says: "It was a big blow but it worked out. I had been here long enough to be known. That was the trouble in those days. You had to be known."
Mardling, suddenly in charge of a firm with a reputation developed since it was established in the early 1950s, oversaw a seamless transition and partly to honour his much-missed ex-colleague has never been prompted to update the company’s name. Astonishingly, he has been in the trade for 40 years.
"It’s been a great life. The greatest part is that you deal with people. I’ve dealt with some of the richest in the country and some of the poorest," says a man once dubbed "Tricky Trevor, Defender of the Punks".
"I’ve no regrets about being in the law," he continues. "The only thing about coming to Stone is that it’s a full life commitment.
"You’ve got to be totally committed in a small town. Whenever you go out, there’s always somebody who asks you about something. The big difficulty is knowing whether they are a criminal or not."
As with other faces of Stone, like Stafford Mayor Councillor Joyce Farnham, town councillor Harry Brunt and former traders John and Vera Ferrie, Mardling has witnessed the town evolve.
"It’s got far larger. When I first came, I would walk up the High Street and know everybody, which is not the case now.
"I’ve always treated Stone as two parts. You have the people who have lived here a long time, and those who are here just in transit. This is reflected in my clients."
Struggling not to betray an increasing urge to return to his papers, the solicitor reveals that he and wife Helen live in Oulton and have been together since making their vows at Christchurch, Hilderstone, in April 1970.
They have two grown-up children, both of whom live in London: Paul, a computer specialist and Sarah, a nurse. Paul’s daughter Anna, 15 months, is, quite clearly, the apple of grandpa’s eye.
Mardling’s free time is in short supply but some of what he does have is expended via scouting, an activity to which he has had a life-long commitment.
First a cub, then a scout and later a Queen’s scout, all with St Aidan’s in Tunstall, he is now president of Stone Scouts and vice-president of Stoke-on-Trent Scouts, a group he once chaired.
Mardling hopes one day to travel to Kenya and Australia, to spend more time with his wife and family and to devote more hours to pottering in the garden. But these prospects seem, for the moment at least, distant dreams, for he has no plans to leave the law.
His intentions are sure to cheer anyone considering buying a house, making a will or committing a criminal offence, but dampen the spirits of Kenya, Australia, his wife, family, garden, and, of course, those unfortunate souls on the receiving end of his pertinent comments at public meetings of note in Stone.

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