Market Lavington Museum

A speeding traction engine?

This court report appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald in 1883. It concerns a traction engine used by Edward Box of the Lavington Brick and Tile Company.

Devizes Divisional Petty Sessions. Monday.

Mr. Edward Box was next summoned at the instance of the Highway Board for having driven a traction engine on the 25th May through part of Market Lavington, at a greater speed than two miles an hour.

Mr. LUSH appeared for the Board, and Mr. HOPKINS for the defendant.

Mr. LUSH, in opening the case, said the offence Mr. Box had committed was particularly dangerous, as the road where it occurred was very narrow. He then called William Basing who said he lived at Potterne and was Inspector of Traction Engines for the Highway Board. On the 25th May he was in the village of Market Lavington at about a quarter to eleven o’clock in the morning when he saw a traction engine coming from White Street into the High Street. He was standing about 100 yards below in the main street. Edward Box was driving the engine and the name on it was W. A. Box. Seeing the engine was going very fast he took his watch out of his pocket and timed the speed of the engine from Burgess’s corner to Mr. H. Lush’s house on the left hand side of the road leading out of Market Lavington to Easterton. The engine was stopped once for one minute and one second for Mr.Box to speak to a man in the street, and the time taken was four minutes and three-quarters. He measured the distance the following day and it was 440 yards, being exactly a quarter of a mile. The engine was going fast the whole distance. He should think the road was not more than twelve or fourteen feet wide, and the engine was going according to his calculation over three miles an hour.

Cross-examined – He was a weekly servant in the employ of the Highway Board receiving weekly pay. When he saw the engine first he was standing in the High Street. He was not in the Volunteer Arms. He followed the engine whilst he was timing it. He walked about fifty yards behind it at his ordinary pace. He could not say exactly where it was the engine stopped, but he should think it was about 300 yards from Mr. Lush’s house. He followed the engine until it got beyond Fiddington, when it went very much faster. He went on as far as Easterton, where he saw the defendant and spoke to him about driving so fast. Mr. Box did not say he kept his right speed, as he was told he (witness) was going to time him, and he (witness) did not say he did not want to do so as he had no watch. Some one treated him to a glass of beer, but he could not say whether Mr. Box paid for it. All he knew was he ordered a glass of beer, and did not pay for it himself. He rode back to Market Lavington in the same cart with Mr. Box. It was a little uphill in Market Lavington street.

Re-examined – He walked his ordinary pace after the engine a little over three miles an hour. He made some notes in a pocket book. The time he put down the same day and the distance the following day.

By Mr. HOPKINS – He put down the time after he left the Oak at Easterton.

The distance having been admitted, P.C. Saunders was called and described the road traversed by the engine. It was about 16 feet wide, he said, with plenty of room for anything to pass the engine.

Mr. LUSH submitted that it had been clearly proved, upon the evidence of Basing, that the distance traversed was 440 yards, in 4 ¾ minutes, out of which time there was a stoppage of about one minute. He then called Reuben Butcher, a corn dealer and farmer, of Market Lavington, who at the outset expressed a hope that his testimony might be dispensed with; as it was, he said, an unpleasant thing to give evidence against a neighbour. The Bench, however, decided to hear him, and he was accordingly sworn. He said he was in his house in High Street, opposite the Green Dragon Inn, and saw a traction engine, driven by the defendant, coming down the street about eleven o’clock in the morning in question. It was going rather fast. – Mr. LOCKE : what should you call rather fast? – Witness : Quite four miles an hour. He was looking through the window, and watched it for fifty or sixty yards. It was going unusually fast. He had seen it pass down the street scores of times before, and it was going on this occasion at a greater speed than usual. – Cross-examined: The width of the window through which he was looking was about four feet. His attention was drawn to the engine by the pace at which it was going; it shook the house while passing. He had had no unpleasantness with the defendant that morning. He was not present when there was a disturbance between the defendant and his (witness’s) niece.

Mr. HOPKINS observed that Mr. Lush had taken great pains to prove that where the alleged offence took place was in Market Lavington Street, which was a fact that he (Mr. Hopkins) did not dispute on the part of the defendant, and he admitted the distance was correct. He regretted, however, that there was not a proper plan of the locality before the Bench.

Mr. LUSH – Why didn’t you bring one?

Mr. HOPKINS – It is generally considered to be the duty of the prosecution to do so, and not the defence.

Mr. LUSH – If you had asked me to have brought one I would have done so.

Mr. HOPKINS – I did not ask you because I thought you would be sufficiently conversant with the subject to have provided one. Proceeding, Mr. Hopkins said the distance between Mr. Burgess’s shop at the corner of White Street and Mr. Lush’s house was 440 yards, and by Act of Parliament they were allowed 7½ minutes in which to do that distance. He should be able to prove, by the evidence of six witnesses who saw the engine travelling through the street, that the rate of speed allowed by the Act – two miles and hour – was not exceeded, and that, in fact, they did not go quite so fast as they might legally have done. His witnesses would also prove that instead of stopping only one minute one second, as stated by Basing, the engine halted between five and six minutes for the purpose of repairing a strap: and that as a matter of fact the time occupied in travelling over the distance specified, including the stoppage, was 14½ minutes. If he could satisfy the Bench on that point, there was an end to the case. It was not within his providence to state whether or not it was good policy on the part of the Devizes Highway Board to employ spies to watch the defendant’s engines about ; but it was at any rate an un-English way of doing business, to watch a man in that way for the purpose of snatching convictions. There had been several such cases lately before the Bench, in which the defendant had unfortunately figured. In this case the defendant felt that he had been put upon, having been compelled to go to great expense in defending himself; and if the case went in his favour he hoped the Bench would allow the cost of the witnesses. Mr. Hopkins then proceeded to call evidence on behalf of the defendant. The first was that of Albert Smith, an engine driver in the defendant’s employ, who said he had been accustomed to traction engines for fifteen years, and remembered the 25th May, when he started with one about the middle of the day from the defendant’s yard in White Street. The defendant intimated, before starting, that the engine was to be timed in going through the street, and in consequences of that, defendant, who could manage an engine very well, took the driving under his own control. The pace in going up the street as far as Matthews’s did not exceed two miles an hour, at which pace the governors regulating the speed were placed. Witnesses steered the engine the whole of the time. They stopped at Mr. George Matthews’s some five or six minutes for the purpose of having the governor strap repaired. The defendant was timing the engine himself all the way and when they again started from Matthews’s they did not exceed a speed of two miles an hour, because they knew they were being watched. When they got on as far as the Oak, at Easterton, Basing came up and asked what time it was, saying he had no watch with him; he made no complaint at all as to their having driven fast. – By the Bench : He had been a driver some years, and would swear they did not go beyond two miles an hour in the village street, nor exceed four miles an hour afterwards. – Cross-examined: Owing to the governor strap breaking the engine might have gone faster for a few yards just before getting to Matthews’s, but not for a longer distance, as they pulled up as soon as they could shut the steam off.

James Day, a labourer in the employ of Mr. Sargent, deposed that on the day in question he was at work for the defendant, and walked in front of the engine. Defendant had cautioned him to be careful as to the speed, as they were to be watched. The rate at which he walked was not quite up to two miles an hour. He recollected the engine stopping four or five minutes at Matthews’s to have the governor strap mended that had just broken. The engine was moving slowly enough for him to go and get his great coat, and keep in front of it all the time. He went the whole of the journey with the engine, and saw Basing coming up to the engine at the Oak Inn. He remarked that they seemed to be going at a pretty good speed, and that he had timed them. He was, however, not wearing a watch and went into the Oak and asked the time.

Cross-examined – Basing might have had a watch but if so there was no chain attached to it; and for his part he (witness) would not be likely to ask what the time was if he had a timepiece with him.

George Matthews, a blacksmith working with his father at Market Lavington, said on the day named he saw the defendant’s engine coming up the street at about two miles an hour. The engine stopped at his father’s house to have the governor strap repaired for a space of five or six minutes. – By the Bench: The strap could not possibly have been mended in a minute and a half. – Witness, continuing, said the engine, after resuming its journey, continued at about the same pace through the street. After it was out of sight witness saw Basing coming up the street, and walked with him as far as the Oak, but did not see him look at a watch.

Ann Matthews, wife of George Matthews, sen., said she saw the engine stopping in front of their house for about four or five minutes. Her son and Basing left together and went in the direction of Easterton.

John Burgess, of Market Lavington, grocer, proved seeing the defendant’s engine pass his house on the 25th May, and go on up the street. He said he could see the engine as far as Mr. Butcher’s; it was going at about the ordinary speed – two miles an hour. He took particular notice of the engine on that day because he knew it was going to be timed. – By the Bench: He watched it for about 150 yards as far as the Green Dragon Inn, where there was a bend in the road. – Cross-examined: He was a neighbour of the defendant, but did not supply him with groceries. He could swear that to the best of his belief the engine was not going more than two miles an hour.

The Bench, after consultation, dismissed the case.

Mr. HOPKINS applied for costs, pointing out that the defendant had been put to considerable expense in securing the attendance of witnesses. He said when cases went against him on previous occasions he had had to pay the costs of the witnesses brought forward by the Highway Board, and it would be rather hard if he were not allowed the costs on the present occasion.

Mr. LUSH objected to the paying of the costs, stating that there was a distinction between this case and previous ones. He had shown by the evidence of a disinterested witness that to him (the witness’s) opinion defendant was going very fast and that therefore the prosecution had reasonable grounds for bringing the case before the Bench.

The Bench intimated that they could not allow costs.

This may have been the engine involved – a Box patent machine. This photo dates from 1893.