When sitting on the Bench could be a bit of a squeeze
In 1350 the Justices of the Peace Act first established the role of the magistrate.
Their powers were originally much greater than they are today: even 350 years ago they could sentence prisoners, including children, to be hanged, transported, whipped or put in the stocks, as well as taking responsibility for many aspects of local government.
The first female magistrate did not take office until 1920.
With half the six Leicestershire court houses closing this year, it is strange to recall that there was a court at tiny East Norton as recently as the late 1960s, squashed uneasily between the village pub and the Old Police House.
Only when this was replaced around 1958 was the old building converted to provide waiting rooms and lavatories for the court.
Before that, the White Bull facilities were used, the names of witnesses being loudly called throughout the pub as they were required. Eventually the court was briefly moved to the council offices at Thurnby.
The Bench included Lord Hazlerigg of Noseley, his sister Edith and Monica Lloyd. The five members of the East Norton Bench would all customarily sit together for a short day once a fortnight.
Arthur Hazlerigg, descended from a leading Parliamentarian in the Civil War, had captained Leicestershire County Cricket Club in the 1930s and won an MC in the war; Edith was County Commissioner for the Girl Guides. Monica Lloyd was a hard worker, committed to much voluntary work in the district, and a keen magistrate.
Her husband Lt Col PH (Pen) Lloyd originally sat ex officio, in his capacity as Chairman of the Leicestershire County Council, but later became a JP in his own right, sitting in Market Harborough.
Another East Norton magistrate of the time was Julian Thorne, whose daughter Joan Weatherstone joined the Harborough Bench.
A century ago, seven magistrates would sit together in places such as Market Harborough. In 1911, the Chairman was J W Logan, also the MP for the town, a controversial and sometimes pugilistic politician, but an exemplary employer. He was a JP for 40 years.
Other magistrates came from leading local families, the farming community and those who had built up successful local businesses: Major Pochin, Mr Kendall, Mr J W Newcombe, property dealer and surveyor, and the Symingtons.
When Helen Jefferies, later chairman, joined the Harborough Bench in the late 1930s, when barely 30 years old, they must still have been sitting on an actual Bench rather than in chairs, for she recalled how, as the smallest and youngest, she was pushed right to the end and struggled not to fall off.
Lutterworth was chaired by the inspirational "Squib" Burton, a legend on the motor cycling circuit in the 1920s and 30s.
Colleagues included retired army officers and professional men who could sometimes take a more robust approach to resolving local issues than would be possible today, perhaps using their army connections or, in Squib's case, his garage, to help a young tearaway find a job combining discipline with excitement.
An exhibition to mark 650 years of magistracy in the city and county is launched on April 12 at the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, in Wigston. It will be opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Jennifer Lady Gretton, and the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland, Dr Laurence Howard, JP.