A mason stares poverty in the face, and gets little sympathy from the bench

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There was very little Mr Horace Smith could do for the man came to ask for help at his police court in Dalston in December 1889. The man – who said he was a monumental mason (and therefore cut and inscribed gravestones and the like) – was in debt.

More specifically he was behind on the rent for his workshop, owing his landlord £4 10(which is approximately £370 in today’s money, but would have amounted to a fortnight’s pay for a skilled tradesman like him).

His landlord, however, had sent in the bailiffs to seize goods (his headstones, most of which were already inscribed) to the value of £30, so way over the cost of the debt. The mason wanted the magistrate’s help in fighting the order, which he thought excessive.

Mr Smith agreed it was excessive but said he could order the return of the goods if the debt was settled. The mason didn’t have the money and didn’t believe that the goods taken could be sold at auction either. After all, he said, ‘nobody will give much for tombstones with inscriptions’.

The justice agreed but could offer no more help. If the man wanted damages for excessive distress he would have to go to the County Court, and that would probably mean settling the debt first, and cost him time and money, which he didn’t have. It was a vicious circle: to pay his rent the mason needed his stone and tools back, work was slow at the moment and now his landlord had undermined him.

Mr Smith had limited sympathy:

‘The moral of it all is that you should pay your rent, and people should not take premises which they cannot pay for’.

And with that, he dismissed the case.

[from The Standard, Monday, December 09, 1889]

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