Damages by Fire: Davies v. Bagillt Oil Co., 1866

type: Beyond Scotland - Wales

The Wrexham Advertiser, 8th December 1866
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Holywell County Court - Tuesday, before R. Vaughan Williams, Esq., judge.

Claim for Court Fees. — Mr William Pierce, brewer, Bagillt, sued Mr Alfred Wood, late manager of the Bagillt Oil Company, Limited, for 17s, an amount which the plaintiff had paid for a summons for £16 14a against defendant. During plaintiffs absence defendant had paid the amount, minus the 17s, to his clerk at the office, who was not aware plaintiff had entered an action in the court. A gentleman from Liverpool appeared for defendant, and denied defendant's liability, as he had ceased to belong to the company. — Non-suited, his Honour refusing the application for defendant's costs.

Damages by Fire. — Davies v. the Bagillt Oil Company was an action brought by Ishmael Davies, Blossoms Inn, Bagillt, against the above company for £40 14s 6d, damages alleged to be done to plaintiff's property, consisting of timber, saw-bench, fence, garden produce, and other articles, which had been destroyed by fire, which was caused by tar at the oil works boiling over, becoming ignited and running down to plaintiff's premises, burning a fence on its way.

Mr P. Ellis Eyton appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Tidswell, of Liverpool, was counsel for defendants. Mr Eyton having briefly stated the facts of the case, he called the following witnesses : — Benjamin Lloyd, said he resided at the Moss, near Wrexham. He had had some experience as distillman at oil works. He had been engaged at Ferney and Co.'s, of Saltney, amongst the distilleries for 2 years. The stills at the Bagillt oil company's oil works were old boilers, oval shaped ; those at Saltney were larger and flatter. On Saturday, the 4th of August, he asked Mr Hunter, manager of the Bagillt works, how much the boiler would hold, but he could not tell him. Witness charged it properly as near as he could guess. He had not left Saltney then, and he went there that day and returned on Monday, the 6th, when he told Mr Hunter there was too much fire under the still, and witness said he must have half of it I out. He cautioned Mr Hunter against filling the boiler too full or he would have a fire before long. Witness had never had a fire during his experience at these oil works, for he took care not to overfire or overcharge.

Cross-examined by Mr Tidswell : Mr Hunter might have charged witness with being drunk, but he denied it. He had left Messrs. Ferney's because they gave other men more wages than he had though engaged at the same kind of work. He knew the boilers at Bagillt works well as he had tipped and cleaned them. They were thin. If the boilers were flat they would not be so liable to boil over. The fire did not get into a lump on a flat bottom. The boilers were set on bricks. He did tell the manager there was too much fire.

By Mr Eyton : It was after I told them there was too much fire they charged me with drunkenness. — John Roberts said he was a collier, and he was engaged as a labourer at the Bagillt Oil Works on the 10th of August, when the fire took place. He saw the boiler boiling over. They used it for melting the tar. It boiled over through the manhole and broke out into a flame of fire. The fire ran down the hill to the boiler marked No. 2, on the plan produced. There were casks of oil between the place were the fire broke out and the other boiler. The tar went into the premises of plaintiff and everything was on fire there.

lshmael Davies said he was the tenant of the Blossoms Inn, Bagillt. He remembered the fire and saw the tar boiling over all in flames, and running down to his garden. It commenced at the No. 1 boiler, and he saw it running to the bottom boiler, destroying the hedge on its way and set the oil on fire at the other boiler. It then went to his timber and burnt it. He had split and sawn timber there, and a saw bench with a circular saw. It was worth £15. It was worked by a steam engine. He had also a wooden press worth £5, a grinding stone and frame, and the garden produce. He was afraid of the fire entering the house and he had the furniture conveyed to another place. The timber consisted of 25 feet of ash, 20 feet of oak, 30 feet of yellow deal, five pairs wheelarms, three dozen pick-handles, and other things, which were much damaged. He had also three pulleys, red lead, shovel handles, &c. He suffered too by loss of business through not having material and tools to work. His claim for that was £18. —

Cross-examined by Mr Tidswell : He saw the fire breaking out all at once. There was no cover over the saw bench. He could not replace it without paying £15 or £20. (A rotten piece of wood scared was handed to witness.) He did not know whether that piece was in the earth or not. He was not sure whether the piece produced came from his premises at all. He had been working for the company, but they didn't give him work after he applied to them for damages. — Charles Jones, millwright, said he had seen the articles that were burnt, and said the charges claimed by defendant were reasonable. —

Mr Tidswell then addressed his Honour for the defence, stating that the claims made by plaintiff were unreasonable, supposing his clients' liability were proved, which he denied. One of the vats was struck by lightning on the day of the fire, which the company could not prevent, and consequently this damage was not done through any negligence on their part. — He called Edward George Hunter, who in the course of a long examination said he saw a flash of lightning striking the grease boiler and it immediately began to boil over through the man-hole door. There had not any fire under the stills for 36 hours previous to the accident.—

ln cross-examination he had been warned previous to the 10th of August by Mr Bate, the owner of the Blossoms property that the oil works were not fenced, so as to prevent an accident. He was closely questioned by his Honour as to the probability of such an accident taking place from a flash of lightning. In reply to some of the questions witness said that the crude grease was moderately inflammable, and when struck by lightning it boiled over. The boiler was about half full at the time, the grease slightly warm, and when in that state gas of an inflammable kind arose from it. When this was struck by lightning it caused a commotion, and the froth and smoke would arise, causing it to boil over. —

Theophilus Howe, a fitter, also said he saw lightning on that day. — Enoch Jones, joiner, Bagillt, valued the timber destroyed in the plaintiff's yard at £8 16s, and William Hays of Chester, valuation was £8 19s 8d.— Mr Eyton then called Mr Isaac Taylor, land surveyor, who passed the place at the time of the accident —

Robert Taylor, blacksmith, J. Roberts, and Ishmael Davies, stated that there was neither lightning nor thunder on that day. Davies said he saw fire under the retorts on the morning of the accident, and witnessed William Kenrick throwing coal on it. The thunder he heard was that in the boiler. (Laughter.) — Mr Eyton then characterised the defence as most extraordinary. He had not a breath of suspicion that such a defence could be set up. — His Honour then summed up and gave judgement for plaintiff for £21. There was also a claim against the same company by Mr Bate, of Kelsterton, for damages done to the building. The parties agreed to a verdict for £17 with costs on the higher scale.

The Wrexham Advertiser, 8th December 1866