Chester Arms and William Williams Mortimer

Newspaper articles.
Liverpool Mail – Saturday 02 September 1854
We had hoped to have been spared the necessity of referring to the Cheshire Magistrates again. The public journalist has no more delicate or painful duty to perform than that of commenting upon the conduct of judicial officers in the exercise of their judicial discretion. For his own sake he will be anxious—as for the sake of society he should be careful—to exercise the office of the critic, in such cases, with great moderation and forbearance; for it is the duty a well-regulated press to uphold the cause of order and the interests of morality, and to avoid placing them in peril by rash and inconsiderate attacks on those who are appointed to maintain the one, and to watch over the other.
But magistrates, after all, are only men. They are liable, like other men, to make mistakes; and their mistakes are all the more mischievous in proportion to the power which they wield, and the public position which they fill. An injudicious exercise of discretion is often as injurious in its consequences as corrupt exercise of power; and society, which suffers from the act, however unobjectionable the motive, has a right, when it feels itself aggrieved, to protest, to remonstrate, or to complain. The mouthpiece of society is the press; and the temperate expression of public opinion, through the press, is, in fact, the only protection which the people of this country have against the errors—whether willfully or only hastily committed—of public men. This is our justification for the remarks which we are about to make, and which, we hope, will involve violation those principles forbearance and fair play which we have endeavored to lay down at starting.

In another part of our paper will be found a copy of a resolution, adopted at a meeting of respectable inhabitants of Parkgate, at which the vicar was in the chair. That resolution—upon which a memorial is to be founded, to be addressed to the Secretary of State—complains that a license has been granted for opening an additional public house, in a place where none was required; and that the magistrates, who made the grant, neither read, nor duly considered, the objections which were set forth in a memorial which was presented against it.

With reference to the first point, we know it will , be said that the giving or withholding of a license is a matter which the law has placed in the absolute discretion of the magistrates; and that nobody else has, technically speaking, any right to interfere with it. Undoubtedly this is so. It has, however, always been admitted, that this discretion should be exercised, not inconsiderately or capriciously, but with reference to public interests and public wants. The magistrates of Liverpool have felt themselves so far restrained by this consideration that of 170 applications, for new licenses, which have been made to them this week, they have rejected all but two; and they rejected them expressly the ground that no case of necessity had been made out—that it had not been proved that more public houses were required in the localities in which it was proposed that these 168 should established—and that, in the absence of such proof, it was their duty not to multiply temptations, or give increased facilities for drunkenness. Who will say that they were wrong in this view of their duty, in the teeth of the express declaration of the learned Recorder, on Monday, that he attributed a great portion of the drunkenness prevailing in this town” to the “latitude” with which the licensing power had in past times been exercised.

But, unless the magistrates of Liverpool are wrong in the estimate which they have formed of their obligations—unless they have entirely misapprehended the considerations which should guide them in the exercise of their discretion”—can these Cheshire magistrates, whose conduct we are now discussing, be possibly in the right? The inhabitants of a place like Parkgate—the people whose lives are passed in it, who are directly interested in its prosperity, and see what goes on in it , from day to day— are surely, the best judges , of its requirements: and when we find, not only the clergyman and the dissenting minister, but all the respectable and disinterested inhabitants of the place, concurring in a representation that no new public, house is required; and that the number already existing is sufficient, and more than sufficient, for all the wants of the place, it does seem a strange thing in a bench non-resident magistrates to say —without a tittle of evidence upon the other side—either that, in their view of the case, it is necessary, or that they are resolved to sanction its establishment, whether it be necessary or not.

But the memorialists have more to complain of than a mere difference of opinion. They had been told by the magistrates, upon a previous occasion, that the proper way of expressing their dissent upon a matter of this kind, was by memorial to the special sessions. They had acted upon that information. They had prepared a memorial, which was perfectly unobjectionable in its terms—which set forth their opinions in temperate and respectful language—and which stated facts in support of those opinions which ought to have ensured it attention, even if the names of the memorialists had not given it weight. They had deputed one of their number to present it, and they had requested, through their representative, that it might be read by the magistrates clerk, in order that, at all events, both sides of the case might be brought before the Bench at once. The request was altogether ignored. The memorial was not read by the clerk, and it was not read by the magistrates themselves. Two of them, we are told, out of seven, looked at the signatures, and partially perused the document, and then the consultation went on as if nothing of the kind had occurred. This, to say the least of it, was hardly a courteous proceeding towards gentlemen who had come forward in the interests of public morality, to represent that “ the vice of drunkenness was already painfully prevalent among the lower orders in Parkgate”—to suggest that “seven inns and public-houses,” for a population of 700, were more than amply sufficient and to ask that the magistrates would consider, what all experience proves, that “where the number of public-houses has been increased beyond the actual requirements of the place, the result has been too generally to lead to a great increase in the vice of drunkenness, by the increased competition for custom produced by the establishment of any new public-house.” But even this is not all. The memorial states that this was the third application for a license for this house. It was asked for only this time twelvemonth —was opposed—and was deliberately refused, upon grounds which were specifically stated. The circumstances remain unaltered. The same reasons which existed then exist still; yet the magistrates (for, with two or three exceptions, they were not the same) have decided to do, this year, what their own colleagues refused to last year, without condescending assign the slightest reason for the different at which they have arrived.

We repeat, in conclusion, what we stated at the outset, that we refer to this subject with regret. We are anxious at all times to uphold authority—so anxious, indeed, that, although the censor’s office is a painful one, we cannot suffer authority, without remonstrance, to damage itself by its own rashness. We are anxious, as far as we can, to protect the administration of justice by the magistracy from the injury which must be done to it, if the example set by the magistrates of the Hundred of Wirral- in reversing, without saying why, the decision of a competent tribunal, and in ignoring altogether, if not treating with contempt, a temperately-worded memorial upon a subject in which the memorialists had deep interest, and upon which, on public grounds, they were fairly entitled to be heard – should be generally or often followed.

PARKGATE—THE LICENSING SYSTEM. A meeting of gentlemen, who had signed memorial to the magistrates of the Hundred of Wirral, against the proposal to license an additional public-house at Parkgate was held on Tuesday evening, at the Mostyn Arms, the Rev. Richard Gleadowe, the yicar of Neston, in the chair, to consider what steps it might be necessary or desirable to take in consequence of the prayer of the memorial having been rejected, and of the manner in which it had been received. Mr. Atkinson, who had attended the petty sessions for-the purpose of presenting the memorial, reported to the meeting that he had handed it to the bench with a request that it might be publicly read; but that that request had not been compiled with —that two magistrates (including Sir E. Cust), out of seven who were present, had looked at the signatures, and had partially perused the document—and that, almost immediately afterwards, it was announced that the license had been granted, although he had reminded the bench that it bad been distinctly refused last year, upon the grounds of the unsuitability the premises for the purposes to which they were supposed to be applied, and that the state of things which then existed had undergone no change; a discussion followed Mr. Atkinson communications to the meeting, in which Mr. Dover, Capt. Johnson, and other gentlemen took part, and a very strong opinion was expressed that an increase of public-houses was wholly unnecessary; that it could only operate injuriously on the morals of the place in which drunkenness already prevailed to a serious and distressing extent; and that the magistrates ought, at least, to have read and considered the memorial which was stated to have been signed by almost every respectable Inhabitant of the place. Eventually, this resolution was unanimously proposed:—“ That a representation be made to the Secretary of State, complaining of the magistrates having granted a license for a public- house in Parkgate, where none was required, and without having read and duly considered the objections to the license set forth in our memorial’ .Thanks were unanimously voted to the Vicar for his the chair, and the meeting separated.

The following is a copy of the memorial presented at the petty sessions:-

“To the Magistrates acting in and for the Hundred of Wirral, in Petty Sessions assembled.

“Gentlemen, —We, the undersigned, beg leave to address you, with reference to the application now making, for the third time, by Mr. William Williams Mortimer, for a license for a house and premises at Parkgate, in this hundred.

“We beg leave to state that, in our humble opinion, there is not the least necessity for any additional inn or public house in Parkgate, there being no less than seven inns and public-houses there-a number more than sufficient for all the wants and requirements of the place.

“We take leave further to point out to the magistrates that it has always been found that, where the number of public houses has been increased beyond the actual public requirements of the place, the result has been not only unfairly to injure the inns and public-houses already existing; but too generally to lead to a great increase in the vice of drunkenness, by the increased competition for custom produced by the establishment of any new public-house; and we believe may, without at all exaggerating the facts, state that the vice of drunkenness is one already painfully prevalent amongst the lower orders in Parkgate.

“Mr Mortimer, we understand, states that he contemplates his house, if licensed, being used more especially as a boarding- house; but it is perfectly obvious that it could not profitably be occupied solely in that way—nor is a license necessary for any such purpose. When once a license is obtained, there are no means of preventing a house being occupied as an ordinary public house, which, it cannot be doubted, would be the result in the present instance.

“We take leave further to submit that the pleasures and advantages of Parkgate, and, indeed, of any other watering place, almost, if not entirely, depend upon the quiet and orderly character and comfort the place, which is always encroached upon the existence of any public-house, however necessary such houses may be.

“ We beg further to represent that many of us are owners of individual houses closely adjacent to the one in respect of which the present application is made, and which we have purchased with a view to our own individual occupation and enjoyment, without the most distant idea that any new public house was ever likely to be established in our immediate neighbourhood, or that our property and its quiet enjoyment would in that way be prejudiced, as it clearly would be, by the granting of the present application.

“ We well know that the magistrates are not influenced by any personal or private consideration either in granting or refusing any such applications, but we feel assured that they would not prejudicially affect the comforts, much less the interests, of those who are concerned in the matter, except on the ground of the clearest necessity for doing so ; if that could be shown we should not (however much opposed it might be to our own individual interests) make the slightest objection to the present application ; but feeling perfect}y confident as we do that no such necessity can be shown to exist, we humbly and respectfully entreat that you will refuse the present application.

Liverpool Mail – Saturday 09 September 1854

We have received two communications on the subject of the Parkgate license; one from Mr. William Mortimer, who is the owner of the house for which the license has been granted, and whose letter will be found in our seventh page; and the other from an anonymous correspondent, who writes from Birkenhead, and who signs himself (over an erasure) “A Cheshire Magistrate.” We have given the preference to Mr. Mortimer’s epistle because he has given his name, and because he has appealed to us upon the ground that we have published matter injurious to his private interest. We must, however, state distinctly, once for all, that we have no quarrel with Mr. Mortimer, and do not intend to be drawn into controversy with him. His object is, of course, to make the most of his property: and, if he could realise a larger rent for it by converting it into powder magazine, or a bone mill, or a manufactory of artificial manures—or by applying it to any other dangerous or pestilential purpose—we have no doubt that he would think himself entitled to do it, without any reference whatever to the comfort or convenience of his neighbours, and to leave them to protect themselves from being poisoned, or blown up, as best they might. It has been proved, by all experience, that men will not be deterred from the pursuit any selfish object, except by the prohibitions and penalties the law.

If the law relaxes its prohibitions, we know too much of human nature to expect that men in Mr. Mortimer’s position will be prevented from availing themselves of the license, by any consideration of the higher interests of morality.

We have to do with the Magistrates only; and have just three points to establish in order to make out our case. We have to show:—

First, —That the Magistrates reversed the decision of the Special Sessions of last year, without assigning any cause;

Secondly,—That they granted the license in opposition to the opinion of those who were of necessity the best judges of the condition and requirements of the place;

and Thirdly,—That they neither read, nor gave consideration, to a temperately worded memorial, which was signed by the Vicar of the parish, the resident dissenting minister, and number of the most respectable inhabitants.

The first point is virtually admitted; and the second is established by the evidence of Mr. Mortimer himself; for it is clear, from his own showing, that the only expression of public opinion from Parkgate was strongly against the grant, and that not a single inhabitant of the place signed the memorial in its favour. He says did not ask them. Of that, of course, we know nothing; but it certainly does seem strange that he should have canvassed “Chester and other places in the county,” and all the while have kept away from Parkgate, where the people, one would have supposed, must have known best whether further accommodation was required. We dare say Mr. Mortimer might have increased his one hundred and fifty signatures to fifteen hundred, so long as the parties signing his memorial were assured that, whatever mischief might come of it, would be kept away from their own doors. However that may be, this fact, at least, clear, that opinion in Parkgate, so far as the magistrates knew, was entirely on one side, and that the decision which they gave was in direct opposition to it.

The third point only remains:—“ Was the memorial read;” and were the objections “duly considered ?” Mr. Mortimer admits that “it was not read in extenso,” but says that “the purport of the several paragraphs was stated.” Our friend, the Cheshire Magistrate, in the anonymous communication to which we have already referred, was about to hazard the assertion that all the magistrates upon the Bench saw it; but, upon further consideration, he appears to have struck out the word, and to have confined himself to a statement “that all had the paper before them, knew of its object, and of the respectability of the signatures attached to it.” We are not responsible for the facts; we dealt with them only as they were communicated to the Parkgate meeting, and are, therefore, under no obligation to establish their accuracy by evidence. It does, however, seem to that these statements in our correspondents’ letters fully confirm the memorialists account of the circumstances, as given in the Mail last week. It is evident that the memorial was not “read”; it is not pretended that it was ; and, if not “read,” it is utterly impossible that it could have been “duly considered.’’ No man who had not read it in extenso” could state the purport of the several paragraphs,’’ and, to its object ”being known,”—if that merely means that the magistrates were aware that its object was to defeat the application for a license—it amounts to a mere quibble.

We are not going to discuss with the “Cheshire Magistrate,” the question whether “drunkenness is dependent upon the number of public-houses opened,” or whether if is, as he represents it, so entirely “ a question of supply and demand,” that an increase of public-houses would have no greater effect in increasing the consumption of beer than an increase of bakers’ shops would have in increasing the consumption of bread. High authorities have expressed a very decided opinion that drunkenness does increase with the facilities for obtaining drink. We referred last week to the language of the Recorder, and the conduct the Magistrates, of Liverpool; and only yesterday had under our notice a memorial in which 150 of the clergy and influential inhabitants of Leeds have committed themselves to the same view. The Magistrates the Hundred Wirral, at any rate, can hardly take advantage of the Free Trade argument, which has has been put forward in their behalf, since we find a contemporary stating that, at these very Sessions, there were TEN applications for licenses from inhabitants of the township of Birkenhead, and that only five were granted.

It was scarcely the part of the prudent champion to impute personal motives. If Mr. Mortimer and his friend “the Cheshire Magistrate” had been wise, we think they would have avoided it. It is a game which two can play—but we carefully abstained from beginning it. We had heard, for instance, that Mr. Mortimer had written a book, which he had dedicated to a Liberal M.P., who is also a “Cheshire Magistrate,” and hails from “ Birkenhead “ and we had been told that this gentleman, not bring in the habit of attending the Neston Bench, happened to be there upon the day on which this license was applied for; but we never thought of suggesting that there was any connection between these two facts, or of drawing any inference from the coincidence. It always best to give people credit for acting honestly, however much you may differ from them: and, in this instance, the imputation of improper motives is without a shadow of foundation.

We have done with this subject now, and do not intend to return to it. Mr. Mortimer has got his license, and has told his story: He has succeeded in showing that at least one of the memorialists whose remonstrance has made him so angry—the Rev. the Vicar of Neston—hemmed in, as he says he is, between four public-houses in that village—must be a tolerably good judge of the evils which such places, when established in excess, produce. For the future he had better eat his cake in quiet. We cannot afford to make weekly sacrifices of space for the gratification of a correspondent, who is alarmingly afflicted with the cacoethes scribendii and, unless the Cheshire Magistrates speak out for themselves, we can admit no further communications on this subject, except they be inserted as advertisements, and paid for in the ordinary way.

Sir,—ln your paper of to-day there what is termed “a report of the proceedings of a meeting of the respectable inhabitants of Parkgate, at which the vicar was in the chair,” and a long leading article also appears on the same subject, vis., the granting of an excise license by the magistrates of Cheshire for a house belonging to me at Parkgate.
You will at once perceive that I must feel an interest in the affair; and I consider both the articles to have a tendency prejudicial to that interest, I beg to furnish you with a statement of the facts, upon perusal of which you will see that the report which has reached you is partial and inaccurate.
The magistrates who met at the general annual licensing meeting, at Neston, on the 5th August, were John Deane Case. Esq., chairman, Hon. Sir Edward Cust. Rev. Mark Coxon, William Jackson, M.P., Richard Burton. Esq.. W. W. Congreve, Esq., and J. B. Glegg, Esq. Upon my tenant’s name being called, and before I had submitted plans to the justices Mr. Atkinson, solicitor, appeared in opposition to me, and in support, as he said, of a memorial from nearly all the respectable inhabitants of the place,— an assertion at which I was much surprised, knowing that a considerable majority would have been and were in favour of the grant. It turned out, however, that all the respectable inhabitants dwindled down to the number of seventeen in all—males and females—including lodgers, non-residents, and even the learned person himself who presented the memorial, which you have given at length on the seventh page of this day’s Mail. To this I replied; for although it was not read in extenso, the purport of the several paragraphs was stated.

The first was the announcement of their opposition to this my third application; answer to which was, that alterations making last year were not finished at the licensing day, and the plans then produced, not showing them in a sufficient state of forwardness, my premises In their then state were deemed insufficient, and my application was dismissed. I since find the meeting was held in August, and the work not finished until the end of October.
The second expressed the opinion of the memorialists, that there was no necessity for any additional inn at Parkgate, there being no less that seven inns and public-houses there—“a number more than sufficient for all the wants and requirements of the place.”
And in the third they gravely “point out to the magistrates that it has always been found that where public-houses had been increased beyond actual public requirements of the place,” existing interests were injured, and drunkenness increased, “a vice painfully prevalent among the lower orders in Parkgate.” In reply to these two paragraphs, the latter of which I suppose was intended to be dependant on the first, was very short. The existing houses are not sufficient, instead of seven inns and public-houses there are only five, of which three alone have accommodation for boarders, vis , the Mostyn Arm, the Pengwern Arms, and the Ship. To raise the number into seven, they must have pressed into their services two beer-houses. Any reply or argument on their fourth paragraph, commencing “Mr. Mortimer, we understand, states that he contemplates his house,” &c., was of course useless; my contemplations were not stated to the magistrates, nor was anyone person in Park gate or the neighhourhood asked for his signature or support of them.

The novel information which they next convey to the justices when they “ submit that the pleasure and advantages of Parkgate, and indeed of any other watering place, almost if not entirely depend upon the quiet and orderly character and comfort of the place, which would encroached upon by the existence of any public house, however necessary such bouses may be,” was doubtlessly considered by them as very important. To me, though impertinently presumptuous, it appeared quite useless, and was unworthy of notice. It received none.

The following paragraph deserves attention, “ beg further to represent that many of us are owners of individual houses closely adjacent to the one in respect of which the present application is made, and which we have purchased with a view to our own individual occupation and enjoyment without the most distant idea that any new public house was likely to be established in our immediate neighbourhood, or that our property and its quiet enjoyment would in that way be prejudiced, as it clearly would be the granting of the present application.” It would be about as difficult to discover who are the “many owners of property closely adjacent” to mine, as it will be to ascertain who “purchased” with a view to their individual occupation and enjoyment, nor does a reference to the list of the seventeen memorialists greatly assist us. Their leader could not, of course, wish to be considered one of the many who purchased for quiet occupation and enjoyment, for the first name which presents itself is that of the Reverend Vicar of Neston, the amateur surveyor of the highways, who soon after his appointment last year took up his residence at the Vicarage House, in Great Neston, next door “the Brown Horse” having in front to the right the “White Horse** “the Red Lion,’* and immediately in front the “Black Bull,” next door to “The Greenland Fishery.” The roll does, however, present the name of Mr. Alderman Dover, of Liverpool, a gentleman who to his numerous avocations there, adds that of Township Constable here. He certainly resides in a recently purchased house of his own, within two doors sf mine; and the intervening house between us is my property, it will be my interest as well as my duty to prevent an annoyance him as to own tenant.

It also contains the name of the solicitor who appeared against me, a person whose delicacy did not prevent his buying, and making his habitation, a house situate next door but one to an inn—a house for which, by the way, it is said, he is not a little desirous of obtaining a license to revive, under its ancient sign, the Old Talbots, the trade of which he complains in others. L am inclined to think these two comprise the entire of the many who purchased for their own individual and quiet enjoyment, in my immediate neighbourhood—for unquestionably, with the exception of two others, they are the only persons who so bought or complain—and of these two, one a most respectable gentleman of Chester, who has subsequently let his house furnished to a party from Liverpool, and the other is one who, upon retiring from keeping an inn at Parkgate for several years, made a purchase at the Mostyn sales, which he keeps now as a boarding-house, two doors from the worthy alderman.
Having thus shown that only four parties bought property near to me, am I not justified in the assertion that the concoctors of the memorial (whom I believe to be the two persons to whom I have referred) wilfully endeavored to impose upon the justices a false representation of their own standing and importance ? I fully acquit the majority of the seventeen of any such intentions. Some of them I believe to be incapable of doing so.

I have hitherto alluded to five of the memorialists; the remaining twelve can be shortly disposed of. Two of them are the mere temporary occupiers of furnished bouses. One is a clergyman, of whose stated residence 1 know nothing; he has been staying some time, and is at present domiciled in the house of a lady, who does not at all participate in his objections. So is the other, an officer of militia, who, from your report the Great Meeting, appears to have been principal mover in the proceedings. He leaves his present residence at the middle of this month, and will be succeeded in its occupation a man in the Commission of the Peace, who at the meeting at Neston signed my license. The owner of the house informs that he inadvertently signed the memorial, at the request of the gallant captain, a circumstance which he much regrets; as also did a gentleman of long-standing at Liverpool whose property here far exceeds that of all the rest put together.

The remaining names may be very summarily-dismissed, they consist only of four freeholders and five tenants, having among them six boarding establishments. I have now endeavoured, as briefly as the execrable arrangement of these ill-natured and ill-constructed clauses would permit, to answer them. Substantially I had done so before. Of the proceedings at the meeting at the Mostyn I know nothing. Its twofold object, the attempted personal annoyance of myself, and the hope of degrading in public estimation the administration of Justice, is of course, defeated; but the wishes and the intentions of the promoters are now patent to such of the community as feel an interest in the affair. The source of their ill-feeling may traced to their mortified vanity at not being consulted,—that their patronage, forsooth, was not solicited. I distinctly stated that no application should be made by, for me, or my tenant, to any inhabitant of Parkgate or the neighbourhood. I was averse to asking for anything, which, by its refusal, might lead to any difference unpleasantness. Nor was it all requisite. Memorials were presented to the Justices, signed upwards of one hundred and fifty most respectable inhabitants of Chester and other places in the County, who were in the habit of visiting Parkgate, and who emphatically asked the magistrates to comply with the application made for a license, and this they did in the hope of thereby getting other and increased accommodation. They asked for this, not as an indulgence to me, but they stated their strong sense of its requirement. Their high respectability was vouched for by the gentlemen who officially attended the court from Chester, and the justice of their request induced the magistrates lo grant its prayer. I send it to your office that you might see the signatures.—l am, sir, your obedient servant, Parkgate.2nd Sept., 1854. W. WILLIAMS MORTIMER.

Newspaper articles accessed through The British Newspaper Archive
Newspaper articles are also available on which is available free of charge in most Cheshire libraries.