Adulterated milk and the Inspector of Nuisances

 

There were no cases from the Thames or Worship Street Police Courts reported in the London press on 17 June 1881. As an exercise in following one court for seven days then this has been something of a failure. However, the absence of reportage is not evidence that the court did not do any work – we know these courts sat daily. Henry Turner Waddy recorded that:

‘All the police courts are open for business on every week-day of the year, Good Friday and Christmas Day only excepted. The ordinary hours are [from] 10 am to 8 pm’.  The Police Court and its Work, (London, Butterworth, 1925)

The manuscript records of the Thames court reveal that it opened on Saturdays as well. Given that they heard dozens if not hundreds of cases daily it stands to reason that the press representation of them is highly selective, when we can see that on some days they reported nothing from one or more of the courts then clearly we need to look carefully at what was (and was not) chosen by the reporter or his editor as worthy of inclusion.

With nothing from either of the two East London courts it is necessary to look at the others on this day.

Earlier in the week we had a short report of an assault that arose out of a dispute between rival milkmen. Well today that same milk company, the Farmers’ Dairy Company (FDC), were back in the news. George Shepparton, the manager of the FDC, was summoned to Clerkenwell Police Court for ‘selling as unaltered milk from which the cream had been extracted’.

We are encouraged to drink low fat milk and avoid cream but the Victorians had different concerns when it came to food. In the 1800s it was the adulteration of food which brought prosecutions: bread with bleached floor, or watered down beer, and of course milk from which the cream had been removed.

The case was brought by William Roache, the wonderfully entitled Inspector of Nuisances. He had seen a man selling milk in Lancing Street (near Euston Station) . The vendor was shouting ‘Fresh Farmhouse milk, twopence a quart’. He bought a pint and then informed the seller that he intended to have it analysed. This prompted the vendor to tell him that it was in fact ‘skimmed milk’.

In court the deface and prosecution lawyers argued over whether the milk had been intentionally sold as something other than skimmed milk. The prosecution said that since it was advertised at ‘Fresh Farmhouse milk’ that implied it was full cream. Mr Wakeling, for the dairy, argued that:

‘the price at which the milk was sold was sufficient to show that there was no pretence that it was anything but skimmed milk’.

Today a pint of milk is likely to cost much the same regardless of whether it is full fat, semi-skimmed or virtually far free. After all you are probably paying more for the packaging now than you are for the content. Supermarkets sell milk at ridiculously low prices compared to cost of producing it.

Back at Clerkenwell the magistrate felt he needed more time and advice before he could make a decision on the evidence he’d heard. He sent the parties away and asked them to return in a  week. Meanwhile he dealt with several other cases of adulteration.

Percival Hawes was convicted of selling milk from which all the butterfat had been extracted, he was fined £20 plus cost. Andrew Carrucio of Gray’s Inn Road was similarly convicted and fined, as was James Ernteman who operated a business on the same road.

George Matthews of Camden Town was summoned for selling adulterated mustard. Mr Roache claimed he had been sold mustard which was mostly flour with a small amount of turmeric (for colour). Matthews countered that he had bought it wholesale from a reputable business so ‘he thought he might safely trust them’. Roche said that the mustard powder he’d been sold came not from a wholesaler’s tin but loose from a drawer. The conviction stuck and Matthews was also fined £20 plus costs.

These are not petty fines, £20 in 1881 was a significant sum of money, close in fact to £1000 in today’s prices. So the state, in the form of Mr Roache the Inspector of Nuisances for St Pancras, was doing sterling work. Today I think that job is part of the role performed by councils and the Food Standards Agency, which checks up on labelling to make sure it is accurate and not misleading. It is worth remembering that this has such a long history.

[from The Standard , Friday, June 17, 1881]

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