Saturday, 22 December 2012

Sold Mild Ale for Scotch Ale

The courts were hard in the old days. Three months for passing off Mild as Scotch Ale seems pretty steep.

Defrauding someone of 1s 2d - that's 6p in new money - seems a pretty trivial offence to merit serving time. Read the details of the case and see if you think he deserved it:


William Potter, 40, until recently licensee of the Saracen's Head Hotel, Chelmsford, was at Essex Quarter Session at Chelmsford on Wednesday sentenced to three months' imprisonment for attempting, by means of false pretence, with intent to defraud, to obtain 1s. 2d. from Frederick William Horsnell, at Chelmsford, on April 25. The allegation was that Potter sold mild ale for Scotch ale.

Sir Herbert Cunliffe, K.C., presided over the Court, which was crowded.

Mr. John Flowers, K..C., with whom was Mr. J. C. Llewellyn, represented the accused, who pleaded not guilty to obtaining the money, but guilty to attempting to obtain it.

This plea was accepted Mr. F,. H. Lawton, who prosecuted. Outlining the case, Mr. Lawton said that Mr. Potter was the licensee of the well-known hotel, the Saracen's Head, at Chelmsford, which belonged to Messrs. Wm. Younger and Co., Ltd., for whom Mr. Potter was the hotel manager. On April 25 two inspecting officers under the Food and Drugs Act visited the public-bar of the Saracen's Head. The Deputy-Chief Inspector for Essex, Mr. P. W. Horsnell. ordered two half-pints of mild ale. The barmaid told him there was no mild ale, only Scotch ale. The inspector then ordered, for himself and his companion, two half-pints of Scotch ale. He handed half a crown, and received 1s. 4d. change. Up till April 20, Scotch ale in the public bar cost 11d. a pint, and mild ale was 8d. After the budget of April 20, the respective prices were 1s. 2d. and 10d. Counsel continued to tell the Court that the officers made it clear that they were sampling officers. They took samples of the beer, and sent them to the analyst. Counsel told how the officers spoke to the cellarman, Mr Walters, and then Mr. Potter. Walters said that for a period of six weeks the Scotch ale engine in the public bar was connected with the mild ale barrel, and that during that time something like twelve barrels of mild ale were attached to the Scotch ale engine in the public bar, and a like number in the saloon bar. "So a certain considerable amount is involved," Counsel declared.

Telling the Court of Potter's previous excellent character, Det.-Con. V. H. Cook said Potter was native Tolleshunt Knights. He was first apprenticed to the catering department of a steamship company. In 1916 he joined the Army, saw active service in France, and was invalided home, suffering from trench fever and gas poisoning. He returned to the Army, and was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, being demobilised with the rank of Flight-Sergeant. After that he joined the Merchant Navy as a steward, leaving as chief saloon steward. Then he became a licensee, holding licences at Abridge, Brentwood, and Walton-on-the-Naze. His salary at the Saracen's Head Hotel was £4 a week, plus free accommodation, lighting, and board for himself and wife, plus 25 per cent, of the profits, or such a sum which would make his salary £260 per annum. "During the whole time, there has never been complaint against him," said the officer.


In a powerful plea for leniency, Mr. Flowers spoke of Mr. Potter's hitherto unblemished character. "Although he has pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain this money, I hope the Court will not come to the conclusion that everything that is said in the depositions is correct," said Counsel. "It was quite obvious, when we were instructed, that the accused had sold mild ale for Scotch ale. There was no escape from that, and that is why he was advised to plead guilty. But it was a guess the part of Mr. Walters - Mr. Potter does not wish to cast aspersions or throw mud at anyone — that anything like 24 barrels of mild ale were sold as Scotch ale. Nothing like that amount was sold as such. "What really happened here was a combination of circumstances which led a man of unblemished character to dishonesty. He has for many years been a successful licensee and the aim of such a man, I understand, is to keep and satisfy his customers. His deliveries of Scotch ale were, owing to the war, scarce. There had been trouble with the pipes, and he had pumped mild ale through them to clear them. It is true that he did sell mild ale as Scotch ale, but he says that 24 barrels is gross exaggeration. The utmost it may have been was five, seven, or eight barrels — he is not sure. I want, too, to impress this upon the Court. Every penny that was received was put into the brewers' account by Mrs. Potter. His object was to keep his customers, not order to put this miserable sum of money into his pocket. He was not in the least hard up."

Counsel explained that 25 per cent of the profit on, say, ten barrels of Scotch ale, sold as mild ale, would be the "paltry, miserable sum of £10 or £11."

Mr. Flowers referred to the accused's past fine character, and added: What is his position to-day? It is an awful tragedy. His occupation has gone for ever. He can never be a licensee again. That is an absolute certainty. He has lived all these years with never the finger of scorn pointed at him by anybody — a man of excellent character. I ask the Court to consider his great agony of mind, the very considerable expense he has been put to, and he throws himself at the mercy of the Court expressing the deepest regret for what he has done. A term of imprisonment, after all he has suffered, would be the end of him. If the Court takes a certain course, it may be that he will get back into the Merchant Service again. That is his aim."

Passing sentence, the Chairman said: "This case has given us very considerable anxiety. We have listened and given proper weight to what has been stated on behalf of the accused. It is a very serious offence. It is impossible to disguise the gravity of the offence which has been committed. One of the unfortunate circumstances in connection with the case is the ease with which frauds of this kind can be committed. We have given due regard to what has been said about the character of the accused, but frauds of this kind are very often carried out by people who have hitherto borne good characters. After the most careful consideration in this case, have come to the conclusion that we can do no other than inflict a term of imprisonment." Dejected and stunned, the accused walked down the dock steps. His wife, who was the only witness, apart from Det.-Con. Cook, was in Court at the time."
Essex Newsman - Saturday 27 June 1942, page 4.

You know what's brillliant about this? The fact that it was a William Younger tied house. One a very long way from Edinburgh (Chelmsford is in Essex). Why's that so great? Because it means that I know exactly what that Scotch Ale was: Younger's No. 3.

Several things tell me it can't be No. 1 Scotch Ale. The price for starters. No. 1 was about 1070º. Now way it would have been that cheap. And the fact that it was on draught. I'm pretty sure No. 1 was usually only available in bottles.

You're in luck, because I have details of the beers involved. A couple of years too early, most of them, but the one from 1941 is pretty close. That particular one cost 12d a pint, according to Whitbread.

William Younger Scotch Ale and Mild Ale
Year Beer Style OG FG ABV App. Attenuation hops lb/brl
1939 3 Strong Ale 1053.0 1017.0 4.76 67.92% 0.61
1939 XX Mild 1032.0 1011.5 2.71 64.06% 0.31
1939 XXX Mild 1037.0 1014.0 3.04 62.16% 0.36
1941 Scotch Ale Scotch Ale 1046.3 1013 4.32 71.92%
William Younger brewing record document WY/6/1/2/76 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002

The Saracen's Head still exists.


Gary Gillman said...

This was ridiculously harsh, and testifies a time when society still had semi-primitive leanings despite the cultivated language of the judge and counsel.

Perhaps we've gone too far the other way today, certainly in Canada that argument has been made, but a sentence like this for a few pounds profit, considering too his loyal war record and the fact that he had been injured in service, is to be highly regretted (to use mild words in an instance where more vigorous ones would not be inapposite).

It should probably be looked at as a further stage in a process of long term change, e.g. it wasn't, comparatively, all that much later than the time hanging was finally abolished for property offences.

A fine and perhaps a suspended short jail term would have been sufficient in a case like this and would have deterred the accused from doing it again.

Some of the greatest contributions to Western civilization have come from British law and legal administration but sometimes the progress stalled and this little case - not so little to the accused and his family - was an instance, IMO again.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I suspect the punishment would have been much less in peacetime. Profiting unfairly in wartime was very much looked down on.

Gary Gillman said...

Good point, I hadn't seen the 1942 date, and assumed it was sometime in the 1920's. Still, I think we have come a long way from that time..