7 March 1903
OF PROMISE CASE AT HYDE
A Faithless Dukinfield Romeo — A Strange Introduction
Amusing Evidence in a Unique Trial
Hyde people have had this week the unique experience of
having a breach of promise case in their midst, and what
is more, of having it heard under the roof of their own
court. The event took place on Tuesday, before His Honour
Judge Reginald BROWN, and the parties in the action were
Virginia GREGORY, of Wilton-street, Denton, factory operative,
and William JAMES, of Astley-street, Dukinfield, painter
and paperhanger, and the amount claimed was £50.
Plaintiff was represented by Mr W F CHAMBERS, solicitor
of Denton, and Mr Arthur LEES, solicitor, Ashton, represented
CASE FOR THE PLAINTIFF
Mr CHAMBERS said the proceedings in that case were certainly
novel and unique in the sense that from all information
he had been able to acquire, it appeared that that was
the first time such an action had been brought into the
County Court. Many people who had heard of these proceedings
were in wonderment as to how such an action could be brought
there. It was not necessary to explain to the court that
the action was taken under section 64 of the County Courts
Act 1898, giving such County Courts jurisdiction in these
cases with the mutual consent of the parties.
Plaintiff was a reeler in a
cotton mill and defendant was a painter and paperhanger.
The parties met some four years ago at a Sunday school
in Dukinfield. They did not know each other for some little
time after meeting, but the defendant must have become
enamoured of the plaintiff, and he sought for an introduction
to her. He was accordingly introduced to the domestic
household by a musical friend named COOPER. Mr COOPER
brought him to tea one Sunday evening.
On the Monday, the defendant
appeared to have come to the conclusion that plaintiff
was a fit and proper person to walk out with, for he turns
up again, and in the course of the conversation invited
her to have a walk and suggested an engagement. Being
a prudent girl and seeing things as a sensible girl should,
she said she was willing to become engaged if her parents
agreed. Her parents did agree, and they became properly
engaged, and defendant was received at her home as the
accepted suitor of the daughter.
The engagement went on from
that time up to January of the present year. The two parties
then lived in separate parts of the district, but the
defendant made proposals to the plaintiff’s parents
that he should come and live with them as he had no parents
and no kith and kin. Eventually it was agreed that he
should come and live with them as a lodger. He remained
there until January 7th.
The wedding was arranged to
take place last Easter, but as plaintiff’s father
had died in the meantime, the marriage was postponed.
The engagement went on in the usual style, and there was
no doubt, although it was said that the course of true
love never did run smooth, yet in this case there had
been no quarrels whatever.
About a year afterwards they
began to build their little nest. At one time they purchased
a suite of furniture for £5 5s, on another occasion
a bookcase and books, a pair of bronzes for the mantle
shelf, and subsequently family Bible. Later on they purchased
a clock. Then they bought cutlery and a tea service. All
these articles were bought partly with plaintiff’s
and partly defendant’s money.
They continued to live in peace
and harmony under the maternal roof until January 7th
of this year. On that day, for some reason which has never
yet been explained to the plaintiff, defendant walked
out of the house in an extraordinary way, and the next
they heard of him was a letter which he produced from
a solicitor demanding the return of certain articles belonging
to him and also certain boxes of clothing. The boxes of
clothing were given up, but the furniture was retained.
Not content with simply demanding these things, he created
a great disturbance in the neighbourhood of plaintiff’s
home. He brought a lurry for the articles, but he was
not allowed to take them.
With regard to the interrogatories
which had been administered in the action the question
to be considered was whether the promise to marry was
admitted in the first paragraph of those interrogatories
and subsequent ones, and the purchases were also admitted.
But it was not denied that the promise to marry was mutually
rescinded or words to that effect.
What he (Mr CHAMBERS) contended
was that there was no rescission whatever. On the 7th
January defendant gave plaintiff and her mother the understanding
that he was coming over and that the engagement was broken
off. Plaintiff refused to release him and said “if
you don’t keep it I shall sue you.” Defendant
then said you can do whatever you like.
IN THE BOX
Plaintiff entered the box and said she first met the defendant
at Dukinfield. She met him on the Sunday, he proposed
to her the following day, and they commenced to walk out
on the Wednesday. They were to have been married that
Easter, but it was postponed on account of her father’s
death and sickness. They were living in Market-street,
Denton, and defendant was living with them. She was always
ready and willing to marry him, and the arrangement was
never broken off by her. She remembered the 7th January,
when defendant went away on his own accord. She asked
him what he was going for, and told him he couldn’t
think much of her if he were going.
On the following Saturday,
she told him she would sue for breach of promise. Later
he came and asked for the furniture, but plaintiff replied
that she had helped to pay for the furniture and that
he would not be allowed to take it. He went upstairs and
threw her things out of a box where they were kept. Plaintiff
and her mother begged of him to stop and told him the
neighbours would only talk. He said it didn’t matter
to him, he was going away.
They had never had any bother
of any kind. When he came again on the Saturday night
she told him of the promise to marry, and he said “Yes,
but we are not married yet.” He told her she could
do what she liked, but that he would not marry her.
Cross-examined by Mr LEES,
plaintiff said defendant was a friend of Mr COOPER’s,
and it was Mr COOPER who introduced him to her. The first
time she spoke to defendant was when he was brought to
tea. She did not know he was coming to tea until he turned
up with COOPER. She was not aware that it was an improper
thing for a man who was a comparative stranger to another
to take that man to people he did not know. It was done
She only walked out with him
before the Sunday he came to tea. After that night they
began to walk out frequently together. Defendant had often
wished “he were married,” and in November,
1901, he proposed marriage. When he suggested that he
should become a lodger her mother did not like the idea,
but after a bit of begging she took him in. She said she
did not like a young man who was engaged to her daughter
to come and live there.
Mr LEES: Have you never had
any quarrels? No, only just now and then like anybody
else. Didn’t you get him to assist in the house
work? — Now and then. He would please himself. —
(Loud laughter.) He used to do the scouring when he took
a fit. — (Laughter.) It were only now and then though.
He only gave my mother 10s in the winter, and did a bit
of scouring for t’other. — (Loud laughter.)
Didn’t he look after
the domestic duties, peeling potatoes and that sort of
thing? — That was my job. (More laughter.) Didn’t
you sometimes delegate it to him? — No, He wouldn’t
do it. And because he would not do it you had quarrels?
No, we never had any quarrels about peeling potatoes.
If I had said anything about peeling potatoes he would
have taken the sulks for a week. — (Loud laughter.)
Can you have any affection for a man who sulks for a week
and will not peel the potatoes? — I would not think
anything about him. If he said he would not do it I used
to do it myself. — (Laughter.)
The Judge: You have not yet
told me how old you are? — I am 26 and he is about
24 or 25. Mr LEES: Would there have been any claim against
JAMES but for the letter demanding the return of things?
— Yes. Is it true that on the 4th January you said,
in the presence of defendant and other people, that you
had got a “rum ‘un” and that you did
not know what to do with him? — No. Did you say
to him, “You can go your way and I am going mine?”
— Well; By gum! Telling them lies. — (Roars
Miss GREGORY went on to say
that she was a reeler in a mill, earning about £1
a week. She would not say that she earned more money than
the defendant, because he did not work in the winter.
The Judge: How did he live if he did not work? —
He put money away in the summer. The Judge: I am glad
to know somebody does that in this district. — (Laughter.)
The plaintiff, proceeding,
said defendant gave her money to put in the bank to prepare
for the marriage. They had between them saved about £6.
Mr LEES: Have you had any other courtship previous to
this? — This is the first. — (Laughter.) You
can get another young man if you bide your time; you are
a good looking young woman you know. (Laughter.) Have
any of your friends had courtships which have been broken
off? — No. Tell me, have you ever heard of a person
of your station in life bringing an action for breach
of promise? — No. The Judge: You have not got sick
of him or anything? — No.
Harriet GREGORY, mother of the plaintiff, was the next
witness. She said she knew that two were engaged. They
had been engaged for two or three years, and so far as
she (witness) was concerned, she had always done her duty
to the defendant. Asked to give a substantial reason why
she believed they were engaged, witness replied, “because
he were always theer!” — (Loud laughter.)
Witness said she remembered
the 4th of January when plaintiff and defendant, Mrs BRITTON,
and another daughter were present. They were conversing
in a jocular way and talking on insurance topics, witness
remarking that she knew of one person who would have a
decent hand when she “popped off,” and that
she had her in for £50. Mr LEES: Wasn’t that
why plaintiff wanted to wait until you were gone before
she got married? — I know nothing of that.
Continuing witness said she
never remembered plaintiff saying defendant was a “rum
‘un,” and that she did not know what she would
do with him when she got him. When defendant went away
her daughter began to cry and begged him to stop. He said
“I shall not marry you.” When he said that
he cocked his head nearly as high as the ceiling. —
(Laughter.) Mr LEES: Did he ask for your consent to become
engaged to your daughter? — It were not necessary.
One was as willing as the other. — (Laughter.)
VERSION OF THE AFFAIR
The defendant, who appeared in the box in his working
attire, denied that he had ever broken off the engagement.
There had never been any day fixed to get married, but
she always said she would wait until her mother had died.
He suggested marriage in November 1902, and she replied
she was not ready.
On the 4th January the plaintiff
and others were talking about the young fellows they knew,
when Virginia said “I have got a rum ‘un.
I have not got him yet, but I don’t know what I
shall do with him when I get him.” — (Laughter.)
She slung the engagement ring at him, and he picked it
When he went for the articles
of furniture, which he said belonged to him, the plaintiff
said she would smash them before he should take them away.
There were £5 in the bank belonging to him, and,
taking all the year round, he earned about £1 a
week. In answer to Mr CHAMBERS, the defendant said he
had not appeared in his best clothes, but it was not because
he wished to impress the court with his poverty.
He narrated how on one occasion,
when he was out of work, Virginia wanted him to do some
house work, and because he would not she began to sulk.
— (Laughter.) They made it up again. The Judge:
But this conversation about you being a “rum ‘un”
was the last straw. — Yes. — (Laughter.)
Plaintiff (recalled) said she
never threw the engagement ring at defendant. She always
gave it to him on Sundays to put in the box. She let it
drop to the floor, and defendant picked it up and said
“Thank you.” She only wore the ring on Saturdays,
Sundays and holidays.
Mr LEES said that having regard
to the position of these parties, he thought it was somewhat
ludicrous to bring an action for breach of promise of
marriage. They were both in work, and if plaintiff would
only bide her time some other young fellow would come
along and marry her. Her sole object in the case seemed
to be to retain the furniture, and his opinion was that
had it not been for his letter there would have been no
such action. He submitted that plaintiff was never ready
and willing to marry defendant.
His Honour said that by the
law of England of that nature could be brought into a
court of that character, although it was the first case
he had ever heard of having brought. Still, if the parties
had sufficient confidence in the tribunal, without even
having a jury, the tribunal ought to be somewhat proud
of the matter.
Reviewing the evidence, His
Honour expressed himself of the opinion that the promise
to marry was undoubtedly made, and that it had not been
proved that plaintiff was the cause of the marriage being
continually postponed. But even if she had been defendant,
must have a consenting party.
One part of the defence was
that the agreement to marry was rescinded by the mutual
consent of the parties. Referring to the alleged bother,
he could see no reason for believing that plaintiff said
defendant was a “rum ‘un.” On the other
hand, he appeared to have been a respectable and a provident
young man, as he offered the first instance which he (the
Judge) had ever come across of an operative trying to
put some money for a rainy day. It was certainly to the
young man’s credit. Looking at all the probabilities
of the case, he felt bound to accept plaintiff’s
story, and award her £10 10s.
The Judge ordered that the
£10 10s should include the £6 in the bank,
and the money was ordered to be paid at the rate of 10s
JAMES also sued Mrs GREGORY for the return of the furniture.
In the end (with consent of the parties) His Honour allowed
the claim to be withdrawn against the mother, on the understanding
that Miss GREGORY was to keep the furniture, and give
credit to JAMES for £8 18s 3d on account of the
balance of the damages in the breach of promise action
and the taxed costs.