08. The Case for the Defence – Lady Mabel’s Evidence

July 1920

Mexborough & Swinton Times, July 1920

The Case for the Defence

Opening the case for the defence, Mr Mortimer said that the question for the jury was whether the defendant had succeeded in justifying her statement. The whole question was whether what Lady Mabel Smith had said at that meeting, upon the facts of the case within her knowledge, and in her personal experience, was fair comment.

He was going to ask them to say, when they had heard the evidence or persons who could speak as to details, that her comment was eminently fair. He could understand people saying, “well, we should not have made the same comment; we should perhaps have been more cautious,” but the question was whether a fair person, having in his possession the facts which Lady Mabel had in her possession, could have conceivably said what Lady Mabel said.

The person who made aspeech might be prejudiced, might have strong views, might be obstinate in maintaining those views, but if her views were honestly expressed, on facts within her knowledge, Lady Mabel Smith was entitled to their verdict.

Can anyone doubt that the question of houses today was a burning question – a question that was discussed all over the country – and that it was to the advantage of the general public that its representatives should express an honest opinion on the matter? He was going to ask them to say that Lady Mabel was merely making a comment that was a fair comment on the conditions existing at the time in Denaby Main. Theyor anybody else may take different views as to the conclusion that had been drawn, but if she was commenting fairly on the facts she was entitled to a verdict.


Lady Mabel, then went into the box, and, examined, by Mr LowenthalL, said she was the wife of Colonel William Smith, and before her marriage was Lady Mary Fitzwilliam. On her mother’s death, she went to live at Wentworth Woodhouse. As a girl, she had been interested in social conditions. She went to live at Maltby about 1889. From time to time she went to Denaby, and was acquainted with the conditions of life there.

In 1912, she was elected on the Rotherham rural district Council, and in 1919, on the West Riding county council, of which she was still a member. She was a co-opted member of the County Education Committee for about three years until she became an elected member. She was on the Public Health and Child Welfare committees.In allthese subjects she had taken a very keen interest.

She had visited Denaby on three or four occasions as a lecturer in connection with the Workers Educational Association. On different occasions she had visited the houses there and had herself observed the conditions of the privvy middens. She had herself seen the sanitary cart in the daytime and particularly noticed an incident in which a woman ran, too late, to save a child´s frock which was hanging on the line under which the cart passed. From the condition of the frock afterwards she could not say what the cart contained. She had in mind, when she went to Denaby to make the address, the condition in respect of the privvy middens, houses with open yards and the sanitary arrangements. The thing which brought these matters more before was that she went to a house where a friend refused to let her see the state of the privvy middens, although she knew that she (the speaker) was not squeamish about such things.

The title of the lecture was “Model Housing,” but, by mistake, it was printed on the cards. “How to make a better England.” In substance she did not dispute the accuracy of the transcript of speech. She believed at the time she made a speech that the condition she was referring to were horrors and she still believed it. From what she knew of the scavenging of Denaby, she believed it might fairly be described as “want of scavenging,” and from what she saw in June, she said so yet. The conditions did affect her peace of mind, especially with regard to the bringing up of children. She tried to say to the people of Denaby that it rests with them to see that these conditions were improved – in view of the urban powers enquiry. She said that she was not blaming the colliery company or any particular section of the community and that if she was laying any blame it all it was upon “ourselves”


Mr LowenthalL: From first to last did you intend to reflect on the colliery company in anyway?

Witness: not in the least.

Mr Lowenthall: And from first to last what you said were honest expressions of the opinion you then held and now hold? – Yes

Mr Waugh: Were you afraid that houses will be built similar to those you of describing Denaby? – No.

Mr Waugh: Were you kindly explain this passage: “I read in this enquiry that the colliery company holds lands on which it intends to build in the near future.”

Witness: It was stated at the enquiry and I said so.

Mr Waugh: Did you consider that they would build insanitary houses?

Witness: I am afraid I did not consider that question at all.

Mr Waugh: Did you believe that the colliery company, if left to themselves, will build houses like those you have condemned? – No

Mr Waugh:Will youexplain this: “it rests with you to say how these houses shall be built, to say if you will have what we now see before us – you know what it is like. Are you going to see perpetuated in the 20th century open courts and all the other horrors there are here perpetuated again.”

Witness: The colliery company are, presumably, not the only people who are going to build houses in this district.

Mr Waugh: But you were referring to them. You say “The colliery company owns lands on which it intends to build.”

Witness: I was pointing out to my hearers that if the conditions of the houses and other conditions were not such as it ought to be, the blame rested on them, and I asked them not to be in a hurry.

Mr Waugh: No, you say the colliery company.

Witness: I certainly did not mean it

Mr Waugh: you say then: “if you don’t get urban powers, your Rural Council has a right to refuse plans it considers unsuitable.” So that you suggest that if the colliery company can get the plans through they will go on building these houses?

Witness: No, I suggested that the rural district Council were responsible for the housing


Mr Waugh: did you know that houses, plans which had been passed in 1901, had been voluntarily, although the plan showed open courts and privvy middens, been made – 306 of them – with closed courts?

Witness: No

Mr Waugh: Did you make any enquiries of what had been done in the meantime?

Witness: I had all the official reports.

Mr Waugh: Did you yourself, before making the suggestions, make any enquiry?

Witness: I don’t quite understand that question. Do you mean an account of the lecture?

His Lordship: if you were not making any attack on the company, the answer would be that you did not make any enquiries.

Mr Waugh: You were talking about new houses?

Witness: I alluded to the fact that new houses would probably be built.

Mr Waugh: did you say: “Don’t, in your hurry to get houses, allow people to put up houses that you will be ashamed of in other years.”

Witness: I did. I am afraid that will happen to a great many houses we are putting up now, not only in Denaby, but all over the country.

Mr Waugh: You had no animosity against colliery company’s colliery officials?

Witness: none whatsoever


Mr Waugh: what did you mean by this: “her ladyship referred to the particular kind of drab on the mantelpiece that is kept for colliery villages”?

Witness: I alluded to a letter in a newspaper, and the remark was a quotation.

Mr Waugh: Did you say: “keep the drab for the colliery offices”? – Yes

Mr Waugh: Why did you dragthem inif you’re no feeling against them?

Witness: I felt that if there was any drab in life that had to be used it should be used there (laughter.)

His Lordship: She felt that it ought not to be wasted. (Renewed laughter)

Mr Waugh: Did you say: “I don’t want reporters to make a note of that.”?

Witness: Yes, it is a little joke. One always makes to the press they always take it in good part.

Mr Waugh: You knew the press were there? – Yes

Mr Waugh: Your views are rather socialistic?

Witness: I should require a definition of that before I can answer (laughter.)

Mr Waugh: You think that collieries and that sort of thing ought not to be in the hands of private owners?

Witness: I don’t think so.

Mr Waugh: What are your views?

Witness: I can’t give my views here. His Lordship would rule me out of order ( laughter).

His Lordship: Can you ticket yourself? Are you syndicalist, socialist or nationalist?

Witness: I think I am a little bit of everything (laughter.)

Mr Waugh: All things to all voters – is that it?

In re examination by Mr Mortimer witness said that her speech lasted from 40 to 60 minutes and the only portion complained about was about 25 lines.

Mr Waugh here asked permission to put another question in cross-examination and submitted to witness a letter she received from the Colliery Company, complaining of the speech, and asking her to publish a correction. The reply received through her solicitors was that she had been away from home and had had no opportunity of perusing the shorthand notes of speech.

Mr Mortimer, Resuming his cross-examination elicited that witness had not been supplied with a transcript of the shorthand note until the writ had been issued.

Mr Mortimer: You had said at the meeting that you made no imputation against the colliery company? – Yes

Mr Mortimer: You say that now? – Yes

Mr Mortimer: is there anything in view of what has happened since that you want to withdraw from that speech?

Witness: No, nothing.

Mr Mortimer: You honestly believe all you said? – Yes

Mr Mortimer: has anything come to your knowledge to make you withdraw any sentence in that speech?

Witness: Nothing whatsoever

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