1916 court: Threshing machine ‘not fit to thresh with’

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At the Malton County Court on Friday before his Honour Judge Fossett Lock and a jury, an action was brought by Simpson Allanson, farmer, Thornton Dale, against William Robinson, farmer, of Levisham, for £100 damages.

The claim was that the defendant entered into a contract with the plaintiff for the hire and use of a portable threshing machine and engine on the terms that the defendant was to fetch the same and return it after use when required by the plaintiff, and was to keep it under cover while in his possession.

The defendant, it was alleged, refused to return the threshing machine and engine, and had failed to keep it under cover whereby it had become damaged. The plaintiff claimed the price of the machine and the engine - £100 or alternately the return of the same and £80 damages for breach of contract.

Mr JH Harris, barrister, appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Gerard R Hill, barrister, for the defendant.

Several witnesses were heard.

Thomas Smith, engine driver and blacksmith, of Pickering, said he saw the engine and machine in 1914 at the defendant’s son’s farm, and they were both at that time in very bad condition, not being fit to thresh with. It was certainly not in a condition to travel to Lockton.

Mr Hill addressed the jury on the defendant’s behalf and said that the case would no doubt never have been brought had not his client bought a new threshing machine and engine in 1914. He went on to combat the suggestion that there was actually any contract entered into at all in 1904, for this was a long time since and neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were very clear either, as to the date or to what took place. Had the plaintiff been a reasonable man he would have himself gone to Levisham and brought away the machine and the engine in order to make his loss as small as possible.

He submitted that the only agreement to come between them was that the machine and engine should stop at Levisham until they were worn out.

The real fact was that by 1914 the engine and machine were worn out, and as the plaintiff himself said, would have “cost more to repair than what it was worth.”

Mr Harris, on behalf of the plaintiff said this was really an undefended action, inasmuch as that there had been no sale of this engine and thresher to the defendant; he could not keep it unless he paid for it, and he had not paid for it, but had only hired it.

He submitted that the plaintiff was entitled to a verdict in any event, and also to reasonable damages.

In summing up, his Honour said it was a very great pity that people did not observe an Act of Parliament passed about 250 years ago with regard to the drawing up of contracts in writing. He thought it was quite clear that the machine and engine had been entirely under the defendant’s control, but he did not think there was any evidence to justify them in finding that one of the terms of the agreement was that the machine and engine should be kept under cover.

After being absent from the court for three-quarters of an hour the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff with £18 and costs.