1917 court: A light dusting down over the price of flour

For offering to sell by retail maize semolina at a price exceeding the maximum rate of 3½d per 1lb, George Rowntree, 20 and 21, Westborough, was summoned before Mr James Dippie, Alderman Pirie, and Mr AW Sinclair at the Borough Police Court, and his assistant Nellie Dodds, was summoned for aiding and abetting.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 23rd December 2017, 11:30 am

When asked to plead Mr Rowntree said before doing so he would like to ask should not the charge comply precisely with the order?

The magistrates’ clerk: What is the objection to the charge?

Mr Rowntree said he did not wish to raise a technical point, but the objection was that in the amended order the words contained in the charge “at the rate of” did not appear. It simply said “at the price per 1lb”.

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The magistrates’ clerk said under the original order it spoke of “at the rate of.” He should advise that the summons was in order. Mr Rowntree then pleaded not guilty.

The chief constable said that Mr Moore, 1 Carlton Terrace, went into the shop and later made a communication to Special Constable Musham, who then went in and pointed out to the assistant, Nellie Dodds, that she had charged Mr Moore at the rate of fourpence a pound for maize semolina, as twopence was charged for half a pound.

Mr Moore, cross-examined, by Mr Rowntree, admitted that he was Special Constable Musham’s agent in going to the shop.

Do you devote your time to this without any rewards? - I have nothing else to do.

The magistrate’s clerk: Did you get anything for going into the shop? - No.

Special Constable Musham found the maize semolina was charged at 2d per half pound, which exceeded the maximum of 3½d per 1lb. The assistant said the maize semolina was 3½d a pound.

Mr Rowntree: Did you admit the paper giving a list of purchases has been tampered with since leaving the shop? - Yes, but not the figures.

The name and address on the paper are not yours, nor Mr Moore’s? - That is so.

Then the name was put down as a trap? - No.

What was your object in coming in? - I have had reports about these things before and I have had the carrying out of the food orders.

The total of all articles sold on that sheet was 4s 6d. Was the total wrong? - I have not reckoned the list up.

You are a good scholar and you can do it now? - I only take it on the maize semolina. There was a mistake in the flour, which was charged 8d and not the maximum of 8½d per quarter stone.

Mr Rowntree at this stage wished to ask the chief constable whether he did not consider this a trivial case.

The chief constable: I consider this individual case a trivial one, but I had a very good reason for testing Messrs John Rowntree and Sons in this way, because of other complaints and reports, but I have passed them by without a caution.

Mr Rowntree: It was November 8th when this occurred, and it was all this time before proceedings were taken.

The chief constable: I have six months in which to lay my information and shall lay it at any time within that period.

Mr Rowntree: Is there any difficulty in getting farthings?

The chief constable: I do not consider that. There were two articles in which a farthing was involved and that made a half-penny.

Mr Rowntree, addressing the bench, said that the articles had been charged according to the long established practice in the town.

The usage continued now for such a large number of years in itself sufficient for anyone and the assistants of anyone to follow out, unless public notice of any sort had been given calling attention to the fact that in future farthings should be and must be taken and allowed.

His second point was that no excess charge was made beyond the maximum owing to their having charged, and regularly charging, 8d for the quarter stone of flour.

Whoever, added Mr Rowntree, wanted a half pound of semolina excepting Mr Musham? In effect they never sold it by the half pound. The amount was exceedingly trivial, and at a period like this, when the call on the time and strength of everyone concerned was heavier than any man could bear to get through, it was exceedingly trivial and annoying to have one’s time taken up in this way without any public statement that in future farthings would be taken. It was of great importance that orders of that nature should be strictly observed. The bench imposed a penalty of 10s. They expressed sympathy with Messrs Rowntree in the great difficulty of their trade under the present conditions.

Mr Rowntree: The difficulties increase because of the difficulty of getting farthings from the banks. We have tried at three different banks.

The case against the assistant was withdrawn.