Mary Carpenter has devoted over 30 years to public service in Bridgnorth and the local area. Sally Themans caught up with this former Justice of the Peace who has made her new home in Much Wenlock.
I first met Mary Carpenter when she came to meet me some 14 years ago to talk about the work of a magistrate with a view to my applying to serve as one. A beguilingly charming lady – she put me instantly at great ease despite a subtle undercurrent feeling that I was being ‘checked out’. As I got to know Mary better as a colleague, over the following years, I began to see her wicked sense of humour; her instinctive ‘feel’ for people and her determination that justice be served. But what marked her out was the tenacity with which she dealt with red tape and bureaucracy as she fought for the survival of the Magistrates Court in Bridgnorth – and all the good local knowledge and common sense that she brings to the heart of the community; or indeed the fearsome and rather charismatic tellings-off she would dish out to Saturday night miscreants on a Monday morning in court. I realised this Chair of the Bench possessed a steely determination for what she believes in; the cover of this book belay what lurked within.
“Mary always championed local justice, local decision-making and the dignity and solemnity of the court”
Appointed to the Bridgnorth Bench as a Justice of the Peace in the mid 1970’s, Mary just missed out on the time when the Town Hall housed the local Courtroom, to the new purpose-built court at Westgate. Here Mary served as a magistrate for 28 years, five of which as Chairman of the Bridgnorth Bench. In this role Mary always championed local justice, local decision-making and the dignity and solemnity of the court. She lived with her husband Jim just out of town in Eardington and then Trimpley; but Bridgnorth was very much her ‘local town’ where she immersed herself in everyday life.
When she retired from the bench – a couple of years after the Bridgnorth Magistrates Court moved to Telford – Mary devoted herself to nursing Jim, who was an invalid for a long period of time, terminally ill and needing constant care. However, she found she missed working in the Criminal Justice System and arranged her care commitments to accord her time to volunteer to work with the Witness Support Unit at Kidderminster Court. Mary bought her wealth of experience of the justice system to this much needed service. Like the lay Magistracy, people come from all walks of life to volunteer as witness support, and the work was described by Mary as “interesting and varied; the training was excellent and the other volunteers were extremely capable, and all bought something different to the role.”
“I love living in Much Wenlock – people are friendly and there’s lots going on”
In 2007 Mary moved to Much Wenlock – a town she had known and loved since the early 1960’s when she first moved to Shropshire, and is happy and settled here. “I love living in Much Wenlock – people are friendly and there’s lots going on.”
Magistrates or Justices of the Peace (JP’s) are appointed to serve their local area and be representative of their community. There are 140 Magistrates in Telford, a good number of whom live and work within Bridgnorth, Much Wenlock, Broseley and the surrounding areas. The role is unpaid and magistrates have to undertake extensive and continuous training, and agree to ‘sit’ for a certain number of courts per year.