Poisoning of the River Alyn, 1870

type: Beyond Scotland - Wales

Wrexham Advertiser
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Poisoning of the River Alyn

......The summons was then withdrawn, and the charge against Mr. William Beale Marston, of the Oil Works, Coed Talon, was then taken. Mr. Marston, at the outset of the case, said be might remark that it was unnecessary for any one I to set an example so far as he was concerned, fer in reality it was he who had set the example in the first instance, for he had done everything in his power to abate the nuisance before Mr. Thomson's attention had been called to the matter. He had been at the expense of £100 in stopping the use of a condensing engine, and setting up another engine; and he was perfectly willing to do every- thing reasonable which Mr. Davies, their chemist, might suggest, so as to prevent even the appearance of injuring the water.

Mr. Marston then complained of the short notice he had had that these proceedings were to be taken; that he was only summoned the previous day; that Mr. Swetenham was at the bottom and top of the whole proceedings; and that they were only the result of a little ill-feeling on the part of Mr. Bridgman towards him.

Mr. Bridgman: That cannot be. I never saw the gentleman before to-day. (Laughter.)

Mr. Smith said Mr. Marston had asked him to take the case for him, but he felt himself unable to do so without he had time allowed him to get up some information. However, the prosecution bad present in court a very eminent chemist from the Royal Institution, and he would suggest that that gentleman should go to the works and see what was requisite to abate the nuisance, and Mr. Marston would act upon his recommendation.

Mr. Ayrton: I cannot agree to that.

Mr. Marston : It was only yesterday that I had the summons, and I have had no opportunity of engaging a solicitor.

Mr. Bridgman said they ought to know the grounds upon which the application for adjournment was made. He had evidence to prove what Mr. Marston turned into the river, and the effects of it upon the fish.

Mr. Marston: It would be impossible for me to rebut that evidence at a few hours notice ; but I don't see why, if the case is withdrawn against Mr. Thomson, it should not also be withdrawn against me.

After further attempts had been made for an adjournment, Mr. Marston said: Then I would sooner let the prosecutors state their case, and if you do fine me I will pay it. Mr. Bridgman then stated the case against the defendant. He denied that there existed any personal feeling against Mr. Marston, and said the informers took these proceedings simply as a matter of public duty.

On the 19th of May last, in consequence of the state of the River Alyn, and the numerous complaints which bad been made with respect to it, the Sheriff of Chester (Mr. Gregg), Mr. Mostyn Owen, and others went to inspect the river, and when they got to Rossett mill they detected a strong smell arising from some foal staff, which they afterwards found was put in the river some fourteen miles higher up. They proceeded along the river to a small branch of it which ran to Pontybodkin, where Mr. Marston's works were situated, and when near the works they found the water very much discoloured, and the smell arising from it was very bad ; and the banks exuded, and came out to a very great degree. The noxious matter of which the prosecutors complained was at that time flowing in gallons from defendant's works into the stream.

Samples of the water were taken by Mr. Ayrton and Dr. Watson, which were analysed ; and the water would be proved to contain such a quantity of poisonous matter that no fish would live in it — that, in fact, neither animal life nor any life whatever existed in it. An experiment had been made with it by keeping it for some time in a greenhouse, and the result was that it contained neither animal or vegetable life ; whereas in a similar experiment, carried on under the same circumstances with pure water, the result was that it swarmed with both. It was of very great importance indeed to all people that the river should not be polluted, not only for the sake of the fish, but of the cattle which came down there to drink, and which had now ceased to water there. Such being the case, he thought their worships would see the necessity of putting a stop to the nuisance.

Mr. Ayrton, examined by Mr Bridgman, said : I am one of the conservators of the River Dee Salmon Fisheries Association. In consequence of my attention being drawn to the River Alyn, I visited it on the 19th of May last. I was accompanied by other gentlemen, and we went to the Rossett first. At the Rossett mill we detected a strong offensive smell, and the appearance on the water of tar let into the stream. We afterwards went up the Alyn to Ferm bridge, Pontblyddyn, twelve or thirteen miles above the Rossett, in the county of Flint, where the river was a great deal worse. The smell was offensive to a degree, arising evidently from the matter floating on the water, and which was much greater in quantity than it was at the point below.

The nearest works to Ferm that we saw in operation were those of Mr. Marston. We proceeded up the stream to Mr. Marston's works, and we saw the stuff in its concentrated form pouring into a brook below Mr. Marston's works. We followed the stream, the banks of which on Mr. Marston's property were saturated with this noxious stuff. Wherever we put our foot on the turf near the stream this stuff issued from it ; and we traced it to the outflow pipe at Mr. Marston's works, where we could have collected any number of gallons. Some of the stuff was pouring out of the pipe at the time, and it floated into a stream which runs into the Alyn.

Mr. Marston : Do yon mean to say it is a tributary of the Alyn?

Witness : Yes. Mr. Marston: It is a tributary to the Nant brook.

Mr. Ayrton : But it empties itself into the Alyn at Ferm bridge.

Mr. Bridgman : Is it a salmon river ?

Witness : Yes.

Mr. Marston : No, it is not. There never was a live salmon seen in it — there might have been dead ones. (Laughter.)

Mr. Ayrton, in continuation, said : The same stuff which I saw running from Mr. Marston's works was identical with the stuff we saw running in the Alyn. Some portions of be stream we saw running below Mr. Marston's works was a mass of dirty fluid. I know well the nature and habits of fish; and the stream I speak of was in such a state as to be utterly impossible for fish to live in it. In a portion of the Alyn there are salmon in abundance, that is near Rossett mill. I took a sample of the water from the Nant stream, about a quarter of a mile below Mr. Marston's works. It is marked " Sample No. 4." I also took a sample of the stuff that was flowing from the outflow pipe by Mr. Marston's works, that was No. 8 sample. I afterwards delivered them to Dr. Watson. They were sealed up. Cross-examined by Mr. Marston : The association to which I belong is established under an act of Parliament, and is not a private company. Mr. Swetenham met us at Rossett, Mr. Swetenham is not the learned informer in this case, nor am I his deputy. I did see what appeared to be a dam at the outflow into the stream.

Mr. Marston : Did you see any turf near the stream? — No.

Mr Marston : You said this moment you did.

Witness : I don't think I did.

Mr. Kelly (after referring to his notes) : You certainly did say so.

A Magistrate : But what does it matter whether there was or not.

Mr. Marston : I want to show your worships that the water cannot be so poisonous if turf is growing on the banks. But the fact is there is no grass near my stream. There have been ashes on the banks for years.

The witness was further cross-examined relative to a pipe which was in the pond understood as the " outflow," and was used for carrying off the oil from the surface of the water ; and admitted that he had seen the pipe, but where he took the sample from was a point immediately below it. He saw liquid water flowing out of the pipe, and it was from that flow they took the sample. Mr. Marston here again suggested that Mr. Davies, or any other gentlemen which the court might appoint, should be authorised to take samples of the liquid for a further analysis; but Mr. Bridgman objected, and said that inasmuch as Mr. Marston seemed to doubt the evidence of Mr. Ayrton, who was a gentleman of veracity, he would ask Mr. Swetenham to give evidence.

Mr. Marston : This is better fun than ever, to have the great man before us. (Laughter.)

Mr. Swetenham was then sworn and examined by Mr. Bridgman. He said: On the 19th of May, I met Mr. Ayrton, Mr. Quellyn Roberts, Dr. Watson, and others below the Rossett. We went there to trace where the impurity of the Alyn arose from. We first visited the mill, near the Rossett. I detected a particular smell, which I recognised because I knew it so well before — (laughter) — but it was not so strong as it generally is. It was very dry weather. I know the smell perfectly, and it was the same smell as we smelt at the Ferm. We went from Ferm to Mr. Marston's works, smelling as we went along until we got to the top of the stream, and it was the same smell all the way up. (Laughter.) Mr. Marston's works would be from fourteen to fifteen miles along the stream from the Rossett. As at Ferm bridge we noticed in the stream ochreous matter, and by the side of the stream oily matter lying in the hollow. We then came up to the point where the stream comes from the South Level Pit, and joins the Nant stream. (Here Mr. Swetenham pointed out the various places upon a tracing of the locality.)

He then described the points from which they took the samples, and said wherever we stamped our feet on the side of the stream the oil came out in beautiful colours. Mr. Marston's works are immediately upon this stream. We then crossed the railway and went on to a meadow, having the stream on our right, and both in the stream and meadow there was a great deal of oil. The water was low, and in receding had left a considerable quantity of this oily and black matter on the sides. Leaving this place, we came to a kind of round dam on Mr. Marston's private property. The whole of the water, so far as I could see, which formed the brook here came through the pipe, which appeared to be slanting upwards from the oily pool, but I cannot say that a sample was taken out of it. What came out of the pipe appeared to be water. - If there was any oil in it, he could have detected it. The sample I saw taken was from a distance two yards from the pipe.

There were no works in operation between Mr. Marston's works and the place where the sample was taken. However, there have been many old works there, which have been allowed in time past to turn their refuse into the stream ; and l am satisfied that all the injury to it is not attributable to Mr. Marston's works, but is as much attributable to those works as to his. Mr. Swetenham here explained that be was of opinion the stuff which they noticed on the side of the stream had come from the old works, which were situated on the slope with the stream ; and, in support of his opinion : said that when they stirred the stuff, they noticed that the effect produced was to make it cling to the banks— if there was a straw sticking out, or a piece of wood across it, it seemed to come back, its natural tendency being to adhere.

He then referred to a previous outflow of stuff from Mr. Marston's works, but added that that gentleman had immediately put up filter beds, and expressed himself sorry that anyone should suffer from any- thing issuing out of his works ; but that the tank had burst, and the liquid had got out accidentally, as he (Mr. Swetenham) discovered was the fact.

Mr. Marston : I am very much obliged to Mr. Swetenham for, the way in which he has given his evidence. It has rendered it unnecessary for me to ask him a single question.

Mr. George Churchill Watson gave corroborative evidence as to the points from which the samples were taken ; whereupon Mr. Marston contended that there bad been no evidence adduced to prove the poisoning of the Dee. Mr. Edward Davies, of the Royal Institution, Liverpool, then gave the result of is examination of the samples which had been submitted to him by Dr. Watson for analysis, which was very complicated. Mr. Quellyn Roberts, an alderman of Chester, then gave evidence as to the points from which the samples were taken ; and Mr. Swetenham (recalled) said that unquestionably there were many boggy places in the stream, and there were many clear marks of tarry staff. The sample of which he spoke was taken from the boggy land on the side of the stream, and be must say it came from Mr. Marston's works. A thimbleful of oil on the water would show itself for miles.

Mr. Marston again suggested the appointment of a person to inspect the works, but the prosecutors objecting,

John Hughes, the chief watcher of the River Dee conservators, said he knew the nature of fish, and that the Alyn was a salmon river. Salmon came up to Gresford and Rossett to spawn. He bad seen salmon in the Alyn in January last. Salmon spawned at Rossett and Gresford. The witness then went on to explain that the nuisance was in the Nant brook and not in the Alyn ; whereupon Mr. Marston contended it had not been proved that he had turned the deleterious stuff into the river.

After considerable discussion and a speech from Mr. Marston the bench retired, and the Chairman said : We have given this case our serious consideration, and we have come to the conclusion that the water is very deleterious to animal and vegetable life. We believe it flowed from Mr. Marston's works, but it has not been proved to us that when it reached the Alyn it was not so diluted as to cease being injurious. It has not been proved that any fish died in the Alyn on the 19th of May, which is one point in the case for the prosecution upon which the prosecutors have entirely failed. They ought to have produced water from the Alyn, and proved that fish had died there since. However, we are convinced that the matter came from Mr. Marston's premises, and we hope he will carry out his promise by doing all in his power to prevent a recurrence of the nuisance.

Mr. Marston thanked the court for the kind consideration they bad given to the case, and said that he would be most happy to do anything that Capt. Owen might suggest, so as to prevent even the appearance of a nuisance.

The Wrexham Advertiser 23th July 1870