Nostalgia: 1917 Police Court; Pub owner stumbles over ‘absurdity’ of Act

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The absurdity of regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, with regard to the selling of intoxicants and non-intoxicants after hours fixed for the closing of shops and for consumption off the premises was emphasised in a case at Scarborough Police Court before Mr SN Smith (in the chair) and other magistrates.

The defendant was Eliza Jane Hansom, licence holder, Sun Inn, Dean Road, and she was summoned for having failed to close her premises for the serving of customers not later than eight o’clock in the evening on June 17th.

Mr Tasker Hart, solicitor, appeared for the defendant who pleaded not guilty.

The Chief Constable pointed out that shops had to be closed for the serving of customers at eight o’clock on all evenings, except Saturdays (nine o’clock). The same applied to other premises “not being a shop” which engaged in retail trade. Thus, if the Sun Inn was not a shop, technically, it was another place within the meaning of the Act. There was exemption as to certain foodstuffs.

Regarding this case, continued the Chief, it was a fact that licensed premises might be kept open up to the closing time of licensed hours (nine o’clock) for the selling of intoxicating liquor to be consumed on or off the premises, but they could not sell non-intoxicants, say a bottle of lemonade, for consumption off the premises.

Just in order to bring the case forward and prove to the defendant she could not do such a thing, observation was kept on the Sun Inn on June 17th, which was a Sunday, and the closing hour for the sale of such articles as mentioned was eight o’clock.

At 8.45pm PC Taylor saw a woman enter the Sun Inn, apparently not carrying anything, and immediately afterwards she came out carrying a bottle of lemonade. He stopped her, asked her to go back, and Mrs Hansom admitted having served her. Mrs Hansom said: “Yes, I served her, but I did not know I was doing wrong. I thought I could serve minerals after 9pm.”

That was the case, said the chief. It was not a serious case, but it was regarded as an unfair thing for shopkeepers to have to close at a certain time, when certain other people could sell similar things after the closing hour. There was no offence against public order, or public morals.

PC Taylor corroborated.

Mrs Hansom went into the box and, in answer to her solicitor said she had been licencee of the premises for six years, and previous to that her late husband was the licencee for nine years. Two years ago she was fined a guinea for selling a bottle of beer under a similar sort of order. She then did not know she was doing wrong, it was sold about four minutes past nine, the closing hour being nine o’clock. No copy of the order under which the present case had been taken had been served upon her.

Mr Hart, addressing the bench, admitted a purely technical offence. Mrs Hansom had erred entirely in ignorance.

The statement of the Chief Constable had shown what an extremely absurd order that was. There was the Sunday Observance Act, which apparently was not put into force at Scarborough at all, and under these regulations Mrs Hansom might keep open for the sale of intoxicants on and off the premises, but after a certain hour non-intoxicants could not be sold and taken off the premises.

Mr WS Rowntree: Is that correct that intoxicants can be sold off the premises after eight o’clock?

Mr Hart said that was so. Non-intoxicants, however, could not be so sold, although non-intoxicants could be consumed on the premises.

Mr Rowntree: Then if this had been a bottle of beer it would have been all right?

Mr Hart: Yes. He added it seemed absurd.

He suggested that no conviction should be recorded against Mrs Hansom in view of the safeguarding of her licence in the future, but that the case should be dismissed, and that Mrs Hansom should pay the costs.

The magistrates dismissed the case, the first of its kind at Scarborough, on the payment of 4s costs.