Sunday, 24 March 2013

Water Splash Tragedy

No, not the tragedy of water splashing into your beer. A real tragedy, one invloving two deaths.

People come up with all sorts of excuses to get off a drunk driving charge. This one is particularly weird.


The recent water splash motor tragedy near Shenley, Hertfordshire, where two men were found dead in a motor car, had sequel at Barnet Police Court to-day, when the driver the car, Victor Alphonso Mercihant, a general dealer, of Barnet, appeared on remand charged with being drunk charge of the car.

A verdict of "Death from misadventure" was returned at the inquest last week on the two men — George Smith and William Soul — after Dr. G. B. Egerton had attributed death to heart failure following exposure accentuated by alcohol.

Lord Strafford was tho presiding magistrate to-day, and the Bench included two women. Merchant pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Levy, prosecuting for the police, said that the culminating tragedy of this motoring and drinking expedition, ending as it did in the death of two men, should be a lesson to all drivers to abstain from alcohol. On November 16th, 2.45 p.m., Mr. J. Stirling, garage proprietor, was at the water splash on the Shenley and Arkley roads, and saw a car coming towards him. He put his hand up to stop it, but no notice was taken. The driver, after various manoeuvres, went into the water splash, and it seemed to nose dive into it. The men were all laughing and joking. When a police officer arrived later he shouted to those the car, but as there was no reply he waded into water. The men all appeared to be in a drunken state, were snoring loudly, and were fast asleep.

When Merchant awoke he said to the officer: "We can pull in here for sleep, can't we?" He got out of the car, tried to run away and fell. When taken to Shenley police-station the divisional surgeon certified that Merchant was recovering from the effects of drink.

He understood defence that would be put forward would be that these men died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and that Merchant was suffering from carbon monoxide. He was drank at 3 o'clock, and recovering from the effects of too much alcohol 6.20 p.m. In a statement he made at the police station Merchant said that he and his brother intended going on a fishing expedition, but it was pouring with rain, they remained the Arkley Hotel, where two old friends — the dead men — joined them. He had two bitters there. Then they went to the Lord Nelson, where they had some more drink.

"I paid for four pints of mild ale," the statement continued, "and another man paid for four more pints of beer. After a time we all commenced to play darts, and I had no further drinks, but I think my brother and the two other men had some more. At 2.30 p.m., all left the public-house together, and to my knowledge my mates were all quite sensible and sober.

"At the water splash I saw a big car stuck in the water, and tried to pass it on the left. I left the road, and got up on the grass, which was all under water. My brother started the car several times, but the back wheels skidded. While I was endeavouring to drive the car out I collapsed over the wheel, and the next thing I remember was being pulled out of the car by a constable, who said, 'I have been trying to wake you up an hour ago.' So far as I can recollect both side windows in front of the car were open. In my opinion, my friends were not drunk when we left the Lord Nelson. As a matter fact. I have never seen them drunk, and have seen them drink gallons."

When the plans of the scene of tho accident were produced, Mr. Vyvyan Wells, for the defence, challenged their accuracy.

Mr. Weymann, the landlord of the Lord Nelson, said the men were all jolly and lively when they left his house. "They were quite sober, he added.

Mr. Levy's application to treat Weymann as a hostile witness was refused.

Professor J. S. Haldane, whose evidence for the defence was interposed, said that after reading the report of the inquest he communicated with the defence, and agreed to give evidence. He had read a statement concerning a test made by Dr. Walters, of Middlesex Hospital. "It absolutely conclusive," he said, "that these men died of carbon monoxide poisoning. There is not the smallest shadow of doubt on the subject."

Questioned on tho comparative effects of alcohol and carbon monoxide poisoning, he said: "I don't think havo ever been drunk, but I have been under the influence of carbon monoxide." (Laughter.)

Professor Leonard Hill, whose voluntary evidence was also interposed, agreed entirely with Professor Haldane.

The charge was dismissed.

Mr. Wells applied for costs, but these were not allowed."
Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 27 November 1929, page 9.

I'm not sure what to make of that. Did the men really die of carbon monoxide poisoning?  It seems unlikely, given that the car windows were open and the engine wasn't running. Sounds like a pretty pathetic excuse to me.

Even based on what he admitted to drinking, the driver would have been over the limit today. Two pints and Bitter and two of Mild is a fair bit, especially when you consider beer was a bit stronger then. The Bitters were probably at least 4.5% ABV and the Milds 3.6% ABV.

The Lord Nelson and Arkley Arms both seem to still exist. Here's the Lord Nelson:

Do you see what's above the first floor windows? Two cannons. Isn't that interesting. I wonder if it was a Taylor Walker pub? Because I have details of their beers for 1929.

It was Cannon Brewery not Taylor Walker. You can find a corrected post here.

Want to take a look? Sure you do.

Taylor Walker beers in 1929
Beer Style Price size package Acidity FG OG ABV App. Atten-uation
Brown Ale Brown Ale 8d pint bottled 1043.30
X Mild 6d pint draught 0.07 1013.8 1043.8 3.88 68.49%
KK Strong Ale 8d pint draught 0.07 1014.9 1051.2 4.71 70.90%
X Mild 6d pint draught 0.05 1014.7 1044 3.79 66.59%
X Mild 6d pint draught 0.06 1013.6 1042.6 3.75 68.08%
X Mild 6d pint draught 0.06 1013.8 1043 3.78 67.91%
KK Strong Ale 8d pint draught 0.08 1016 1055 5.06 70.91%
Pale Ale Pale Ale 7d pint draught 0.05 1010.4 1044 4.36 76.36%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001
Truman Gravity Book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number B/THB/C/252

The Pale Ale at the end would be their Bitter. So my guess of  4.5% ABV wasn't far out.


Martyn Cornell said...

The Lord Nelson was a Clutterbuck's of Stanmore pub when Clutterbuck's was sold to the Cannon brewery of Clerkenwell in 1923, and the Cannon brewery was taken over by Taylor Walker in 1930. So in 1929 the pub would have been selling Cannon brewery beers. The cannons on the front of the pub there look like the ones that Allied used as the logo for its revival of the name Taylor Walker as a pub trading company in 1979: Taylor Walker never really had a logo, so Allied pinched the Cannon brewery's trade mark when it needed to invent one for TW.

Ron Pattinson said...


thanks for that. I had wondered about whether it was a Cannon Brewery pub. I should have looked into it a bit more deeply.

Now I need to go and dig out the relevant Cannon Brewery beers.