Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Important libel action

This a weird one. A libel case between a teetotaller and a brewery director about the tied house system.

First a bit of background. The 1890's was when the majority of pubs were  being bought up by breweries. A process which would leave few independently owned pubs. By 1900, 90% of pubs were tied.

This is the longest article I've come across in the archives, almost a full broadsheer page of small type. Way too much for me to repeat it all. It shows how important the case was considered.

Hole and Co. v. Richardson.—This was an action brought by Messrs. James Hole and Co., brewers, of Newark-on-Trent, against Mr. John Richardson, J.P., Lincoln, for damages for libel.—Mr. Buszard, Q.C., and Mr. W. Graham (instructed by Messrs. Toynbee, Larken and Toynbee, of Lincoln) were for the plaintiffs, and Mr. Harris, Q.C., and Mr. Stanger (instructed by Messrs. Clegg and Son, Sheffield) for the defendant.—Mr. Graham said that the statement of claim claimed damages for certain slanders and libels spoken of them as to the conduct of their business. The defendant denied the allegations, denied the alleged meanings, and he said that the words were spoken on a public occasion, on a matter of public interest, without malice, and were privileged.

In opening the case Mr. Buszard said the action was brought by Messrs. Hole and Co., well known and eminent brewers, of Newark-on-Trent, to recover damages for libel, or two libels, written about them and circulated about them by Mr. Richardson, the defendant, who he (Mr. Buszard) believed was a prominent teetotaller of the city of Lincoln. Temperance was very admirable thing, but one did find occasionally the advocates of it, while they sought to diminish drunkenness and increase temperance, were extremely intemperate themselves in reference to the expressions which they used of those who did not altogether agree with them. He would briefly detail the circumstances of the libels. Mr. Richardson commenced his attack upon Messrs. Hole and Co., on the 29th September, 1890, but at that time he did not further specify them except that he alluded to a certain advertisement in the Corn Exchange, where he was addressing a meeting. Calling attention to that advertisement Mr. Richardson commenced his attack. He was seconding some resolution at meeting of the Lincoln Temperance Society on Monday, September 29th, 1890, and said he was always glad when he saw a fresh tradesman's advertisement in the Corn Exchange. Brewers' announcements always seemed to him like flags of distress — "Trade going bad, hang out another flag." The speech was directed against brewers in general, and against the manner in which they carried on their business, and against the system of "tied" houses. Continuing, Mr. Richardson said, "A short time back a number of persons were summoned before the Bench of magistrates where he was sitting for nonpayment of rates. Amongst them were one or two publicans. The Clerk observed it was a remarkable thing, and the rate collector said he had more trouble getting the rates out of the people who lived in brewers' houses than from any other residents of the city. He warned his hearers against taking 'tied' houses, and said in many instances the man who did enter upon one got into debt and was forced to go out with a ruined character and sometimes with a ruined pocket." Those remarks were, they would see, of a general character."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

It was that speech that kicked off the argument between Richardson and Marsland that eventually led to the alleged libel. Marsland, director at Holes, heard about Richardsons remarks and had a go at him at another public event. Why was he annoyed? Because Holes had just before put up adverts in the Corn Exchange. He took the remarks of Richardson to specifically refer to Holes.

"On the 10th December there was a meeting, dinner he thought it was, not of the brewers, but of the Lincoln Licensed Victuallers' Association, and at that dinner Mr. Marsland, a gentleman very well known in county, Mayor of Newark the previous year, and member of the Notts County Council, and managing director for Messrs. Hole and Co., took the chair. In consequence of the remarks by Mr. Richardson, having been published reflecting upon the trade of a brewer, which he (Mr. Marsland) ventured to say was as respectable a trade as any other, and as much recognised by law as a respectable trade as any other, it was not surprising to find Mr. Marsland took the opportunity of making some remarks in reference to the intemperate remarks Mr. Richardson had made on the "tied" house question. The speech was of considerable length and considerable eloquence. After alluding to the advertisement portion of Mr. Richardson's speech, and the advertising in these days of other firms, Mr. Marsland quoted the defendants remarks at the Corn Exchange. He (Mr. Marsland) took strong objection to those remarks, and said he considered the language used vulgar and insolent in the extreme. It was vulgar and insolent to those who were the owners of the property, and it was very vulgar and very insolent to the intelligence of the gentlemen who were tenants of such property. It appeared to be the utterance of a man warped and prejudiced, so narrowed down, that he could not bring forward an argument without fortifying himself behind a distinctly deliberate and dishonest statement. Mr. Marsland then challenged Mr. Richardson to meet him on any platform, when he said he would bring forward his tenants and let them speak their own minds."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

It didn't stop there. In another speech Richardson went into greater detail about brewers' crimes against their tenants:

"Some months ago I stated publicly on this platform that more than once, or twice, or thrice, I had known respectable honest men who had been induced to become tenants of brewers, 'tied' houses ; they had to pay very heavily for the inventory ; had been compelled to sign agreements to buy their drink from a certain brewer, and to pay dearly for it ; they had been permitted, and sometimes encouraged, to get into the brewer's debt, and then they were altogether under the brewer's thumb, who could do as he liked with them, and turn them off if he liked at short notice, whenever he got another tenant. I repeat that statement to-night. I warned honest, respectable men against  being entrapped into signing such agreements. I repeat the warning  . . . . . It is a matter of the commonest notoriety that these discharge their tenants at short notice without any consideration, where, when, and how they like . . . . . I contend that these tenancies are 'bogus' and the whole transaction is a fraudulent violation of the licensing laws, which prescribe that every licensed-holder should be the real license-holder and occupier of the house. But it is a common custom before a tenant enters into possession to get him to sign to a blank transfer, and then the brewers can do as they like with him."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

This was what would eventually cause Richardson a stack of grief. But, as it looked as if it were against brewers in general, there wasn't much anyone could do to object. Because he hadn't referred to a specific case, it was impossible to prove him wrong.

This is where it gets really strange. A teetotaller in St. Leonards wrote to the local paper quoting Richardson's remarks about tied houses. It seems he'd frequently been in arguments in the paper with a certain Mr. Smith, who wrote a letter asking for details of a specific case. He also wrote directly to Richardson asking "Will he give the name of the tenant, brewer, or house where the tenant was turned out after three days' notice? Will he give name of the tenant where the tenant had signed transfer of his license to the brewer before he took possession?"

Richardson then made his big mistake - he quoted a specific case. It seems that Mr. Smith had been trying to draw him out and trap him.

"I have received a copy of the Chronicle of the 17th September, containing a letter from Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith charges me with making statements about 'tied' house tenants without mentioning any particular brewer's name, and that, therefore, no one took the trouble to reply. If he had read the speech to which he referred, he would have seen that far from that being the fact, the speech was in reply to an attack upon me by Mr. Marsland, the Mayor of Newark then, now managing director of the firm of Hole and Co., brewers. Mr. Marsland has not, to my knowledge, ever attempted to deny any of my statements, but within a few weeks of that time I received, among others, a letter from one of Mr. Marsland's late tenants, confirming them, and bitterly complaining of the treatment he had received. The following is an extract from his letter: 'Is there any chance of prosecution against him for turning me out on four days' notice ?'"
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

He'd now specifically accused Holes of maltreating their tenants. But he still wouldn't say who the tenant was. Marsland had to take out a summons to discover the name. Details of how the tenant came to be evicted put the case in a completely different light:

"So far as the tenant got into arrears having been induced get into debt, the reason why he was parted with came out. He was a man, they had found out, named Chas. Buxton and the reason why Hole and Co. were compelled to part with him was because he got drunk on his Premises, and was convicted by the magistrates for the offence. It was, therefore, not thought safe to keep him as tenant, because the license, by having a drunken tenant, would be very likely imperilled by drunkenness being committed on the premises. Actually at the same time he was convicted of drunkenness there were two others convicted of drunkenness on the same premises. It was a very odd complaint from a teetotaller that he should complain of a brewer getting rid drunken tenant. He (Mr. Buszard) could not see what course a respectable brewer could pursue but get rid of man who was likely to bring the trade into ill repute. He was not turned out at four days' notice. He was a young man, and up to a certain time he was a well-conducted man. His father, himself a respectable man, had, he (Mr. Buszard) believed, induced Mr. Marsland to take him into the house. Having been convicted of drunkenness on his own premises, his father went Mr. Marsland and  pointed out to him it would very much better for the man to got out, and it was by arrangement with the man's own father that he was got out."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

Being convicted of drunkenness was very serious for a publican. It meant he would almost certainly lose his licence when it came up for renewal.

Now here's the good bit. When Marsland's lawyer tries to demonstrate how respectable and prosperous Holes were:

"The trade of the Company appeared to be increasing and prospering, this being the natural result of the way which the business was carried out. The number of their tied houses 1885 was only 31, and at the present time it was 92. Their annual turnover 1885 was £20,000, and at the present moment it was over £70,000. In addition to that they had an enormous free trade, and they traded with 303 houses as well as their "tied" houses. They had also private trade."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

Not only does that tell us how many tied houses Holes had, it also gives us an idea of how much they were brewing. I was surprised that they already had as many as 92 tied houses back then. When Courage bought them in 1968 they had 207. They'd obviously been buying pubs like crazy since taking over the brewery in 1885. The biggest-selling beers cost 36s and 42s a barrel. Let's take an average of £2 a barrel. Which would put their output at 10,000 barrels in 1885 and 35,000 barrels in 1892. Which sounds about right, as by 1909 they were brewing about 50,000 barrels annually.

This is great. James Hole was called as a witness. What a thrill - getting to hear James Hole himself talk:

"Mr. James Hole was sworn in, and said he joined the firm in 1847, then only carrying on the business of maltsters. Since then they purchased the Castle Brewery, prior to which Mr. Marsland was taken into partnership. In 1890 the business was turned into a company. The business was a large one, extending over a considerable area, and was increasing. They had at present 92 tied houses, and were also doing business with 300 freehouses. They got a gold medal at the Paris exhibition, and had a very large private trade. Their relations with their tenants had been exceptionally satisfactory, and, far as he knew, there had been no complaints, nor any grounds of complaint. They used the form of agreement they found in use when they took over the brewery. The condition was the tenant should sell no ale, beer or porter except that of Hole and Co., which should be obtained at the usual trade price, with a discount of 10 per cent. The free houses had the beer at the same prices. The houses were only tied for malt liquor. There was no foundation for the suggestion that they treated their tenants infamously; on the contrary they were treated indulgently. Cross-examined, witness said the discount was not the same to a free house. To a tied house it was ten or fifteen per cent., to a free house about twenty. In some houses, where simply beer was sold, the discount was 15 per cent."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

Isn't that handy? He's told us that their pubs were only tied for beer. Now there's something odd. Their tenants were tied to Holes for Ale, Beer and Porter. Why's that odd? Because Holes didn't brew a Porter. Perhaps they're using the term generically, to cover both Porter and Stout. Because they did brew a Stout.

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald - Saturday 26 December 1891, page 1.

When Mr. Marsland took the stand he gave some more details about their tenancies:

"Since his firm had carried on the business, since 1885, there had been 56 changes of tenancies in 92 tied houses. Seven of the tenants died, five of them moved into other houses of the firm's, and 42 left their own accord, making 54 ; of the other two, Buxton, the case referred to above, was one, and the other received three months' notice. The valuations were made between the out going and in coming tenants. It was only in exceptional cases the firm held part or the whole the valuations. It was only so in five cases. They never got a transfer of the license beforehand, and every tenant was bona fide one They had succeeded in getting respectable men who had stopped with them. They always gave an agreement to a tenant to take away and read before he signed it."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

Buxton, the tenant kicked out, seems to have been not just getting pissed but taking the piss as well. It's not as if he wasn't warned:

"John Deacon, Sergt. of Notts Police at Retford, said he knew the house Buxton used to keep. He received many complaints of the house, and on several occasions saw the tenant drunk. He had cautioned Buxton on two or three occasions. Buxton's father on one occasion gave information as to the condition Buxton was in. Witness went to the Railway Inn, taking another officer with him. Buxton was not in. There were two men in the house drunk. A farmer's son in the village was serving drink. Buxton came "beastly" drunk, and used bad language. He was summoned and convicted of being drunk on his own premises. Witness should say he would not have been allowed to continue to hold the license."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

The cross-examination of Richardson is a great read, but sadly too long for here. It's just like a courtroom drama, with Richardson squirming under the questioning of the prosecution and the judge. His defence - that he hadn't meant his remarks about tied housed  to refer to Holes - looking more and more flimsy. Especially when he admitted that he knew Buxton had been kicked out because of a conviction for drunkenness, something he hadn't mentioned publicly. In fact he'd quoted very selectively from the letter. Something which didn't impress the judge. He said this in his summing up:

"They had had some observations made on the use which Mr. Richardson made of that letter, which he got from a tenant of Hole and Co., and he (the Judge) was bound to say it was, in his judgment, a very improper use of a letter in correspondence of that kind, use which ought never to made by a man the position of Mr. Richardson — to take half a letter with the view of proving his case - viz., that tenants were turned out on three days' notice — and not to give the true facts of the case, which were known to Mr. Richardson, and which had been supplied to him, was, in his Lordship's judgment, the very worst form by which an untruth could be told; the suppression part of the truth was the worst form of falsehood."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

The jury wasn't impressed, either. It didn't take them long to come to a decision:

"The Jury, after fifteen minutes' deliberation, found for the plaintiff, and awarded £50 damages."
Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 11 March 1892, page 7.

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