14. The Plaintiff’s Case

July 1920

Mexborough and Swinton Times July 23 1920

The Plaintiff’s Case

An Unjustifiable Attack

Mr Waugh, for the plaintiffs, said that the jury, at the wish of the defendant had been asked to view, Denaby. Theyhad seen 1700 houses, 1143 of which had privy middens, and it was for them to say whether anything they saw would justify the allegation of the term ” horror,” or, in the words of Miss Swallow, a stronger term than that.

What had the colliery company done? They were not responsible for the privy midden system. There were two systems which, when this village began to be erected in 1864, could have been adopted – the privy midden or the pail system. Dr Wilson had said that the privy midden was better than the pail system. There was not at that timea water supply sufficient to supply each house with it, and there was a standard for each block. Later on, water was discovered, and was brought into the houses. It had been asked why did they not get a water supply before? The answer was that they sank a pit in 1906, and in the sinking water was discovered. No man in his senses would sink a pit in order to discover water. The cost would have been enormous.

Then came the epidemic of 1911. In 1912, the report of the doctor was received, and in 1913 steps were taken to improve the supply. When that had been done, they voluntarily converted 101 privy middens. Then came the war, causing shortage of labour and material. One witnesses stated that whenever she went a Denaby, there was always a smell. Well, the jury were there on Friday, I wouldn’t know whether there was anything objectionable, but, if there was, it was not the fault of his clients, but of the contractors. That was the condition of things when Lady Mabel Smith, who was the daughter of an Earl – and therefore importance attached to their words – wentto Denaby, and gave a lecture on “Model Villages”. Why did she drag in the colliery company? What had they to do with it? He ventured to think that reason for doing so was contained in words:

“I do hold views about the advisability of Colliery company’s, or any other companies, owning the houses of their work people.”

She started out with the view that the Colliery company ought not toown the houses, and in order to justify that view she made that attack on the Colliery Company. What doesher statement mean? It ignored altogether since 1906, there had not been a house built with a privy midden, that water closets have been voluntary adopted by the colliery company, and it suggested that unless the people wake up the Colliery company were prepared in the future to perpetuate some of the horrors that were stated to exist in Denaby. It might be that the defendant was ignorant of the facts of the case, but a person ought not to make comments when not in possession of the facts. A person must not invent the facts.

He submitted that her words suggested that the Colliery company were unmindful of the housing conditions of the work people and the way in which the children were brought up. If that was not slanderous he could not conceive anything more damaging, at a time when there was a shortage of coal and a difficulty in getting colliers.

Would colliers come to live in a place like Denaby if they believe the Colliery companyhas simply a soul for making money, and did not care for the moral, intellectual, and physical life of the people living in the village? He called their attention to the various things that were shown to them what the Colliery company had done for their people, and ventured to say that it was absolutely wrong to say they did not care for the welfare of the people, and that, for the sake of money, they would perpetuate the state of things which everybody condemned, but which could not be altered until more water, more labour, and that sort of thing had been obtained.

Lady Mabel Smith had had an opportunity of saying that she did not intend to make an attack on the colliery company, and her reply was that she had not had an opportunity to peruse the shorthand notes of speech.

He submitted that the speech was not fair comment, but that it was using the occasion of a lecture on one subject to drag in the Colliery company, and to make an unjustifiable attack on them for something with which they had nothing whatever to do.

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